Stickman Weekly  8/3/2009

Nakhon Phanom, The Beauty Of The Real Thailand

The pollution, the people and the general madness, as alluring as Bangkok can be, sometimes you just need to escape.  I have felt an unusual sense of fatigue in Bangkok recently and craved something a little slower and a little more laid back.  I didn't want to fly out of the country.  I wanted to feel the real Thailand.

But where could I find it?

Pattaya wasn't an option.  It's fun, of course, but even more crazy than Bangkok and hardly the real Thailand.  Phuket I went off years ago.  Ditto Samui.  Hua Hin is pleasant but still too international.  Chiang Mai reminds me of Phi Phi Island - look in one direction and it could be paradise, truly paradise, but then you turn around and there are ten thousand Westerners behind you and the temporary illusion is gone.  Chiang Rai?  Mmm, I would prefer somewhere with a beach or at the very least, water.

I have never really liked the south so that leaves Isaan.  Somewhere on the Mekong would be nice.  Nongkhai perhaps?  Pretty place, but the people aren't as friendly as elsewhere in the region and there are way too many foreigners passing through.  Mukdahan?  Nah, the city just feels vapid and dull to me.  Hmm, what about Nakhon Phanom?  Pretty waterfront, few foreigners, relaxed and quiet.  Perfect, let's go!

Nakhon Phanom is 700 km by road from Bangkok if you take the most direct route or closer to 800 km if you go straight up highway 2 to Udon Thani and then turn right.  The latter is recommended as the roads are much better and while it may be a longer journey, it takes less time.

Five and a half hours, 550 kilometres and a 400 baht speeding ticket later, I found myself in Udon for the second time in two months.  Despite being home to a large shopping centre and a number of farang-oriented venues, Udon remains one of the poorest provinces in the country.  It only took a short stroll through the downtown area before once again I was wondering to myself how the locals can be so nice to foreigners with the archetype commonly found there.  Cat calls to women in the major shopping centre and general unsavoury behaviour didn't endear me to the local farang populace.

The popular Irish Clock seemed to be having a teachers' convention as all around me were English teachers groaning about their jobs with students taking the blame for the teachers' lack of job satisfaction.  To make matters worse, two Rajaphat teachers sitting right beside me were mouthing of about how their students wanted to bed them and how, if they had a chance, these impressionable girls would get lucky.  No wonder foreign English teachers have the reputation they have.  The waitresses in the Irish Clock were quite aware of what was being said and while they might not have caught all the detail, they sure got the gist.  To say they were unimpressed with these two seedy characters would be the understatement of the week.  As much as I like the Irish Clock and manager Steve is a great host, I just couldn't block the crap out and left.

I quickly did the rounds of the Udon bars including the Day & Night complex and as reported last week, most venues were very quiet.  Most bars had only a few girls, some had only two.  They can't be making any money.  The girls in the picture below were perhaps the prettiest I could see although two of them were not available, one being the bar owner's girlfriend and the other her friend.

Udon was just a quick break before continuing the journey to my destination.  For the first time of what has been many visits to the farang capital of Isaan, I couldn't wait to get out of there.

From Udon Thani, the provincial capital of Nakhon Phanom is almost 250 km away, exactly the same distance as Bangkok to downtown Korat.  The roads are good for the most part and apart from some short stretches where there's no passing lane, you can move at a decent clip.  Even those with a light right foot should be able to cover it no more than 3 hours.

And so I arrived in Nakhon Phanom.  On the way into town I caught some signs advertising a new hotel, the iHotel where for 550 baht you could get a room with all the mod cons, including a 5 star bed and wi-fi throughout.  The hotel was not in the heart of town but 4 km from the city centre.  No sweat if you have your own transport but sufficiently far out as to be difficult if you don't.

Nakhon Phanom is a small town.  I couldn't possibly guess the population but I would have thought about 30,000.  Even that might be on the high side.  It's a pretty town insomuch as there's a road running along the riverfront with a bunch of well-kept temples while across the river is the small Lao town of Thakek.  As soon as you get a couple of hundred metres inland, the town looks like any other small Thai town.  As you'd expect there are a number of restaurants lined up along the riverfront road although surprisingly, not so many on the river side.

Nakhon Phanom might not be tourist central but that is just fine with me.  I wanted somewhere just to hang out and relax.  The first thing to do was to attach my favourite lens to the camera and start walking, exploring and snapping.  And so I walked, kilometre after kilometre, from well outside town, into town, and right out the other side.

You could never call the tuktuk drivers of Udon Thani aggressive, especially if you've experienced them in the capital but up there in Nakhon Phanom they are laid back and relaxed.  They might raise their eyebrows at you, or they might wave their arm a little, but that's about it.  They won't chase you across the road, they won't scream out "Hey, you" and thankfully, they won't ask you if you are seeking the company of pooying.

So there I was, sitting there on the promenade, looking across at The Hotel Riveria on the Lao side, reflecting on how being born on the other side of the border, just a few hundred metres away, could make such a massive difference in the path one's life takes when an older Thai guy sits down next to me.  Dressed in a safari suit and sporting some flash pens, I had him pegged right away.  In Thai, he asked me where I was from and after replying, I said to him, "You're a teacher, aren't you?"

"Close.  I am a school principal."

An apologetic wai on my part brought a smirk to his face and for the next three quarters of an hour we chatted about life in the area, from the influences of the Vietnamese to the period of the Vietnam War and the GIs stationed there to marriages between young Thai women from poor families and older Western guys - which make up the majority of the small number of Westerners in Nakhon Phanom, he claimed.  We hit it off and were on the same wavelength, sharing similar views about life and the world today.

"So can you start working for me in mid-May?"  I chuckled to myself and was unable to keep a wry grin from leaping on to my face.

"My life is in Bangkok."

"But you've just been telling me for the past 45 minutes how fed up you are down there!  Come up here for a year.  You like it here.  You speak Thai.  You could find another wife up here", he grinned, as if it was no different from merely buying a hamburger.  "Teach at my school.  I can offer you 20,000 baht a month plus free accommodation.  We need to employ three foreign teachers so you'll have friends!"

I chuckled again.  His effort to recruit me was valiant.  I could just imagine being an employee of his and at week's end being dragged around the local hot spots and showed off as his new Thai-speaking foreign ajarn.  I would have been not only his first foreign teacher but his friend, his confidante and his pet.  I'd have no peace.  He seemed genuinely disappointed and even surprised that I could turn down such an offer.

"It's a famous school", he kept telling me.  The sun was setting and I made my excuses...

You could consider it quaint charm or just as easily brand it terminal boredom, but come early evening, Nakhon Phanom shuts up shop, as can be seen in the photo above taken around 6:30 PM, looking up the main road running through town to the river, which was just behind me, over my shoulder.  It seems that everyone goes home and in many ways the lifestyles the locals lead remind me very much of the West.

Party central Nakhon Phanom most certainly is not.  On my last visit there was a small square with some bars, restaurants and a couple of Thai style night spots but since then a couple of venues have closed down.

The province's most famous attraction is Wat Phra That Phanom which is located some 50 kilometres south of the provincial capital.  It's an easy half hour drive on a good road that follows the river.  Typical vehicles on the road are much older than you find in Bangkok and many are driven, even in the heat of the hot season, with the driver's window wound down.  12 and 13 year olds ride motorbikes to school and are scary as they weave all over the road.  One can only assume that helmet laws are not enforced for few seemed to use them.

Wat Phra That Phanom really is one of the most fabulous temples in Thailand.  Unlike the Grand Palace or Chiang Mai's Doi Suthep it isn't over-run with tourists.  You can wander around in peace and quiet and enjoy the complex almost entirely to yourself.

In fact the town of where the temple is, That Phanom, is also a pretty spot, very relaxed and unlike the provincial capital has many restaurants right on the bank of the river, most of which specialise in Isaan delicacies.

In the blazing Isaan sun, I gazed across at Laos, just a few hundred metres away.  I was taken back to April 1998 and the time I spent on Karon Beach in Phuket.  I found a nice, quiet spot on the beach, had the local massage lady trained to bring me a bottle of water every couple of hours and sunk into the sand, feeling the stresses of the previous year fade away.  The feeling on the promenade at That Phanom was no different.  Bangkok was a million miles away.  This was what I had come to experience.  Peace, quiet and the real Thailand.  In this far flung corner of the poorest region of the country, right at the very border, I had found my peace and tranquility.  But I was dreaming if I thought it was going to last...

I was approached by a solid, but fit-looking older Thai man who asked me in surprisingly decent English where I came from.  When I responded New Zealand he became all animated and excited and went on to say that he was a lifelong rugby fan, had played for a leading Bangkok school hence his physique and he worshipped the All Blacks.  We had a love of the game in common and here, on the edge of Thailand, looking out over the mighty Mekong, the boy from New Zealand and a Bangkok transplant leading a quiet up country life were talking rugby in great detail.  He went on to tell me that he had represented his school at rugby and they had played a certain famous New Zealand rugby school...and won!  I tried my best but I simply couldn't suspend my disbelief!  I quietly thought to myself that this particular school's team would probably beat the Thai national team comfortably, but I wasn't naive enough to say that.  Calling him on it would have meant big loss of face.  I didn't want that. There was no need to spoil the moment.  Who cares if I had just been told a massive porky.

We chatted about life, the differences between life in the Big Smoke and life on the Mekong before eventually I excused myself and wandered further along the promenade.  There was not another foreigner in sight.  My mobile started ringing and I didn't even look to see who it was.  I turned it off, grabbed a drink and just sat back and took in the scene.  I had another quiet spot all to myself and felt the sun beating down on me...

But that feeling of total relaxation wasn't to last long again (!) as three motorcycles pulled up behind me and a bunch of school girls jumped off and headed for the nearby gazebo.

There were 8 of them, all tarted up and on the young side to be carrying bottles of Spy Red, I thought.  I closed my eyes and pretended to be asleep, hoping that they would ignore but knowing that the sight of a long-nose would be more than a talking point.  They chattered away about their exams, school having finished for the year and this being exam week.  Perhaps they thought the alcohol would improve their chances in the afternoon exams?  They were downing wine coolers quick fast and within minutes the bottles were empty.  A phone call went out and shortly after what appeared to be one of the girl's older sister turned up with several more bottles.

They were gossiping about all and sundry as young girls do.  A schoolmate passed by on the back of a bike ridden by what must have been the local stud and as the bike drifted into the distance they couldn't resist calling her a black bitch and various other nasty names before admitting that she was with the most handsome boy at school!  I couldn't help thinking that this lot will be right little vixens in years to come.

The heat of the sun was baking me and I was drifting into a slow, ever so relaxing doze when I realised they were talking about me.  They wanted to know who I was and what I was doing there.  Gentle, polite questions.  They went on to tell me that they drink whenever they have money and besides, it was the last day of exams, the last day of the school year so they felt they had earned it!  They looked young and revealed that they were M2 students, so 13 or 14 years old.  Drinking starts early in the provinces.

With schoolgirls nattering away in Thai and a gregarious rugby fan 50 metres up the road, I could find no peace so I decided to return to the temple complex.  There had been almost no-one there and with plenty of comfortable seats, I could find a pleasant spot to relax.  Not achieve enlightenment mind you, just relax.

But it seems the Gods were against me.  Perhaps they disapproved of the idea of an agnostic on the grounds and so they sent a group of B5 students, pictured here, to talk to me, that is 11 year olds.  They were from the school adjacent to the temple.  After establishing that I spoke Thai, they bombarded me with questions.  These were the friendly, polite students I had read about before I came to Thailand.  As engaging as they were, I could not help but feel sadness talking with them.  About a third had really bad teeth problems, many had nasty sores, scabs or scars over their body and you just know that some had had a rugged time of their short lives.  Thankfully, none were malnourished and so they shouldn't be.  No-one should ever go hungry in Thailand.

Unable to find the peace and tranquility I was looking for in the town of That Phanom I returned to the provincial capital.

It is hard to say if there are more Westerners resident in Nakhon Phanom now than on my last visit, but for sure there seemed to be more around.  Typical of Isaan, most were aged 50 up and many had that same sunken, almost desolate look that I saw amongst the Western residents of Udon.  It's like they're at the end of the line and they know it.

While I enjoyed conversations and interactions with many locals, the same cannot be said of the Western population.  One of the great things about travel is meeting the locals, learning about their lives and sharing stories.  A little after 8 PM on Tuesday evening I saw someone I recognised coming down the road.  I waved and said hello but he ignored me and kept going.  Perhaps he was in a hurry?  The next day I saw him again on his motorbike, cruising along the waterfront.  And then I saw him again, later that day.  I started to wonder if he was he stalking me!

There's no shortage of young, pretty ladies in Nakhon Phanom.  Your typical Nakhon Phanom lass, at least in the city, has slightly fairer skin that you would expect for the Isaan region, no doubt partially influenced by the Vietnamese who settled in the area.  Nakhon Phanom would be a great place to find a good woman to be a wife and I can't imagine any Westerner there remaining single for very long.  There are lots of really pretty ladies available.  Those I chatted with were very, very nice.

I have no idea what the girly bar scene is like.  There was one bar near the waterfront that seemed to have two different names, William's (suggesting a foreign owner) and Maya Love or something like that.  I didn't really pay much attention.  Walking past in the evening I heard the familiar, and frankly unwanted calls from the girls sitting outside, "Hello, where you go?"  Exactly how the bar works, I do not know.  It looked like a sort of hostess bar, almost like Secrets in Pattaya on a smaller scale.  Venturing to Nakhon Phanom to be a naughty boy would be sort of like going to Alaska for a beach holiday.

At night the appeal was more the riverfront restaurants and the illuminated temples.

You know you're in the real Thailand when the police say hello because they seem like they are happy you're there and they really want to make you feel welcome.  In both Nakhon Phanom and in Thai Phanom, 50 km to the south, Thai policemen greeted me with a big smile.  It made a nice change.

Nakhon Phanom is hardly the easiest place to get to.  You can fly, take a bus, but that would be a real haul, probably 10 hours or more, or if you have your own wheels, you could drive.  That's probably the best way because a car really is necessary for getting around - and trips into the countryside and down to That Phanom are a big part of the reason to visit.

Venturing all that way to the far flung corner of Isaan alone might raise eyebrows, but at no time did I feel alone.  The friendly locals always had a ready smile and were willing not only to give you the time of day but to be engaged in conversation.  No, not once did I feel lonely which is very much unlike the way I feel on say Pattaya's Walking Street where I may be surrounded by thousands of working girls but I still feel alone.  Maybe that says more about me?

I can't help but wonder why those in Nakhon Phanom haven't written about it.  Are they trying to keep their town a secret?  Too late!

The real Thailand is out there.  It takes some getting to but if it's what you're seeking, it still exists in Nakhon Phanom.  It really is a beautiful part of the country where the smiles are natural, the wais flow, and where Westerners are made to feel very welcome.  Like the ladies of Thailand, if you want the best, you have to try a bit harder, but when you do, you'll be well-rewarded.

So I desperately needed a break from Bangkok and perhaps I am shining a slightly overly rosy red view on Nakhon Phanom, but it really is a lovely place with wonderful people.  But when you're sitting on the balcony above the Indochina Market enjoying good food at give away prices while watching the reflections of the sun against the clouds over the mountains of Laos, Nakhon Phanom feels just wonderful.  I'll be back.

 

Where was this photo taken?


 

Last week's picture was taken inside The Strip Bar on Patpong's soi 2.  Due to a huge number of people getting the picture right every week, I have a more difficult picture this week.  The first person to email me with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant.  The other prize is offered by ThailandFriends.com, 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.  The prize offered is one month premium membership 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 third, forth and fifth people to get the picture right, I will send you a few packs of Bodyguard's high quality, extra large-sized condoms for you to try out!

Terms and conditions:  The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days.  Winners of the Bodyguard Condoms must provide a postal address within Thailand.  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 - Don't register the marriage!

One must wonder how many farangs listen, learn and remember rather than thinking with their loins.  I think you should advise readers that it is not difficult to avoid some of the potential intimidation that a Thai wife can bring to the relationship by marrying in a temple which is not a legal marriage in the eyes of the law, hence potentially avoiding property settlements if the marriage dissolves.  Don't register the union with the local ampur!  If the farang buys or builds a house always have a legal registered document which indicates the building will be leased back to him for the next 30 years and the document is to indicate his heirs, which do not include his wife.  Be very cautious and certain of one's relationship before ever registering the union with the province ampur!

Marriage, a failed institution.

Good job on this week's column but will anyone pay attention?  It speaks volumes to the institution of marriage, which in my mind again is a failed institution.  Guys really do make doormats of themselves.  Bottom line is that it speaks to their own insecurities.  They think little enough of themselves that they just tolerate being stepped on.  If they had any self-esteem, they would walk away.  Anyway, the older (and hopefully wiser) I get, the more and more I believe that marriage is merely a business arrangement that destroys what may have been a decent relationship by giving neither party the incentive to make things work.

Stickman has it all wrong!

I love your weekly and have read it ever since I started living and working in Bangkok in 2005 but your negativity about all things Thai is really becoming tiresome!  Of course there are some downsides to life here, but when compared to the negatives of living (for me) in the UK they are trivial to say the least.  A couple of weeks ago you even managed to criticise the skytrain!  Have you ever travelled on the London underground?  <Yes, and you could go almost anywhere in London on it - Stick>  Now this week you state that the bar scene has "changed dramatically over the past few years and in no way resembles the fun environment it used to be."  Has it really?  Or, as you practically admit in your next sentence, perhaps it's you that has changed.  There is nothing more tedious than old-timers moaning about how things were better in their day.  When weren't bars about the money?  If you can't have fun in the bars on Cowboy, in Pattaya and, yes, in Nana too, even without partaking, it must say more about you or the company you keep than the bars themselves.  For me Thailand remains an exceptional place to live and work.  Despite committing many of your cardinal sins (dating bargirls, buying a condo, hardly learning the language, "partaking" in bars), I love my life here and manage to earn enough to live a good life in all respects.  There are frustrations but I would no more return to live in the UK than pay sin sod for a bargirl.  Oops, maybe I've done that too!  Cheers and I still love the column!

Stickman has it all right!

I believe you and I have been here for about the same amount of time and from following your column for so long, I believe we share many common thoughts.  Thailand has changed and not just the bar scene.  Eight or nine years ago I would have taken death over leaving this place.  Today I think that I would rather be on welfare back in the States than subject myself to another decade in this place.  Everything here is an illusion.  It is the fountain of youth where 50-60 year old obese males get off a plane and are suddenly 40-50.  Listen to what they say!  Plumbers making $40K per year are suddenly owners of businesses making $200k.  Then there is the poor little Isaan pooying playing all the cards she has been given and instructed to use by her advisors.  The whole game is such a joke that I am able to enjoy the punch line from both sides.  But in the end the whole thing is a sham which has gotten into the mainstream of the lives of foreigners living here for legitimate reasons and now every Thai thinks that farang is a walking ATM.


Message Thai women for free at ThaiFriendly.com

High lady drink prices in Bangkok's gogos.

The price of lady drinks in Bangkok's gogo bars is just laughable.  For gogo regulars, I recommend you vote with your feet and go to Thermae.  There you will find female beauty beyond belief and the price of buying a girl a drink is the same as yours.  Besides, if enough farang go to Thermae, the Japanese will go elsewhere seeing how prejudiced they are.

All good things must come to an end...

The owners of the Nana Disco should be ashamed of themselves.  I hope they read your weekly and I hope they read this email.  They took one of the best hot spots in Bangkok and turned it into a customer-free zone.  That takes a very special lack of business acumen.  Richard Branson they're not!  Once upon a time, you could basically check into the Nana and, for all your pleasurable pursuits, NEVER leave.  I happily paid 150 for a beer back when the gogos were only 95.  But no, that wasn't good enough.  They had to fix something that wasn't broken and institute a cover charge.  If the Guinness book has a listing for the WORST businesspeople of all time, the owners of the Nana Disco should lead the (non) hit parade.  They should either put this place out of its misery or get the hell out of the way and let someone who knows what they're doing run it.

Bye bye mia noi or bye bye Thailand!

Am I scared of my wife?  Well, here are a couple of instances where her family has had influence.  When I married her 14 years ago as per the monk's wishes, the local police said that it would be impossible as it clashed with some local election or another, so her family went to the station and lobbied, and the police eventually backed off, and in fact even sent officers to police the traffic on the day.  Another instance was when I was thinking of applying for Permanent Residence and I went with my wife and son to our local Immigration office.  Of the six Immigration officers working there that day, four knew her and her family personally and persuaded me that Permanent Residency was too much like hard work and the fact that I was officially married to her, and it was pointed out that as long as this situation was maintained, then it would be much easier to get a marriage visa for only 5,000 baht a year, which they would renew without a glance.  Would that conversation have taken place if they didn’t know her and her family so well?  Her family also has good connections with the navy in Sattahip and on two occasions brought about by arguments about my mia noi she has offered thinly disguised threats about using her influence to have my visa revoked.  This above all else made me go into a ballistic wall punching mode, something that I generally would not do, and I think she now knows better than to threaten me with such action again.

Raw Hide's reopening has not been without incident.  While the new sound system is receiving positive feedback, the bar is down on girls.  During the 2-month closure the dancers were sent to Long Gun where they had to jostle for customers in direct competition with their sisters and quite a few left with a handful relocating to Shark bar.  While Raw Hide may have reopened, the improvements are ongoing and the bar is still not 100% complete.

But they finally got the "E" and now the sign outside Raw Hide says "lounge" and not "loung".

If my eyes weren't deceiving me, business was well down in Cowboy this past Friday.  Things usually slow around Songkran but it would be no surprise if the big slow down started early this year.

The upstairs section of Mandarin is being used more and more these days as the number of girls at what was once one of Nana's best bars swells.

The Bus Stop on Sukhumvit soi 4 may be closed on Tuesday for cleaning.  Not refurbishing but just a thorough clean.  Yes, you're right, buses don't traverse Sukhumvit soi 4 - Bus Stop is a bar about 150 metres down Sukhumvit soi 4 on the right hand side.

More than a few readers have provided feedback saying that I am anything from blind to slowly losing my marbles when it comes to my scribblings about life, and business, in Pattaya.  Yes, Walking Street is busy and yes, some bars are doing ok, but trust me, many are not.  And away from the bar industry, there are many businesses really hurting. The New Zealand Natural ice-cream outlet, probably the best ice-cream you can find in Pattaya, at The Avenue, adjacent to Villa Market, has shut down after doing next-to-nothing business for the last year.  Speaking of which, foot traffic at the new Central Festival shopping mall has plummeted too!  There are vast open spaces which were crowded with shoppers shortly after its opening...but not now!  Store clerks are complaining about a lack of customers and very little business, particularly on high-end merchandise.  This really should not come as any surprise given what is going on around the world.

The terrace outside the Landmark Hotel is a great spot to watch the Sukhumvit Zoo and for the time being they are offering 2 drinks for the price of 1 from 6 PM until midnight.

Is there no love lost between Frenchy, the owner of Baccarra, and the Arab who owns, amongst others, Our Place, which is directly opposite Baccarra at the eastern end of Cowboy.  Every Friday night Frenchy puts on a free buffet at Baccarra with the pièce de résistance a pig on a spit.  I can't imagine The Arab is too pleased.

Sukhumvit can be a minefield and another long-time Stickman reader joined the "robbed on Sukhumvit club" this week.  What is interesting is that he was not robbed by a ladyboy and was a victim during daylight hours.  He was also sober.  He somehow got wedged in a group of 5 or 6 Thai men aged in their 30s who had all stopped walking.  He presumed there was an unseen obstruction ahead when a couple of seconds later he felt someone grabbing his ankle.  At first he thought someone had fallen and was trying to get up using his leg as a support but then he felt his leg being pulled off the ground.  He held on to the wall to steady himself and tried to see what was going on.  Suddenly there was shouting in Thai and the group ran off down the street, his pocket 7,000 baht lighter!  He gave chase but they all got away.  This attack was much more brazen than the dexterous ladyboys and it suggests that people are getting more desperate but also more organised, like wolves hunting in packs - and that is a real worry.

Nana Disco now opens at 10 PM. There is a 200 cover charge and for that your first drink is free, meaning that effectively the entrance fee is between 20 and 80 baht.  It may not be expensive but I still don't like entrance fees.  They just put me off.  Yes, I know it is in place to ensure that people actually buy a drink and not just linger but I still don't like it.  It will take a while for them to build up trade again and I am sure the early closings had a lot to do with the drop in business when their main competition, Spice, was closing much later.  The other problem with cover charges is that I don't think punters will cruise around the different discos as paying a cover at one venue and then paying a second cover at another.  Nana Disco is working on a new music combination and for those who like to dance, there are coyote dancers you can actually dance with.

But perhaps there is a lifeline for Nana Disco after all?  Its main competition, Spice in the Ambassador and the other so-called after hours venues, have faced a crackdown since earlier in the week with forced closure at Spice, at least, for 2 AM.  The other venues have been closing at various times, but earlier than usual.

And it seems that early closures are not limited to Bangkok.  Don't go thinking you can sneak on up to Chiang Mai and party all night long.  For the time being there is a strict close at 2 AM policy Chiang Mai-wide, and not just beer bars and farang venues but also Spicey, Lucky Club and the Thai after hour venues such as Discovery, Differ and Mandalay.  The word is that there is a new police chief in town from Bangkok and he's flexing his muscles!  One would think in these hard economic times that closing venues that do a decent trade would not be high on the agenda.

On a dim note, the sign out the front of Nana Plaza has returned to 1/3 lit, 1/3 dim and flickering, and 1/3 dead!

I was surprised to see three Japanese women in Tilac bar taking photos of the girls on stage and not challenged at all.  Not one member of staff said anything, nor even blinked - and Tilac is a big bar with a lot of staff.  The Japanese girls were clever, taking photos without a flash.  So perhaps I should try it out myself?  Looking around the bar, I did not see any no photo signs...

Speaking of Tilac, I reckon that #142 would be a real goer.  So does one of my pals but she won't let him barfine her, claiming that he's too old!  68 isn't that old, my dear!  Perhaps she's concerned that she might cause him to have a heart attack?

A poll was run on the Secrets forum, the popular naughty boy Thailand-related forum, to find out what users thought was the best gogo bar in Pattaya.  There were 2 rounds with all the gogo bars listed in the first round and the bars that scored highest listed in the second.  Baby Dolls just on soi 15 just off Walking Street was the winner as voted by Secrets readers.  If I had voted I would have chosen Catz and Angelwitch, Catz for the great atmosphere and friendly girls and Angelwitch for the sheer grandeur.

Down in Pattaya there'll be a party on Wednesday, that's March 11th, at Baby Dolls to welcome back Las Vegas Paul who has been Stateside for the last 6 months. There'll be the usual free food, fun and party games - and Ricky will keep his clothes on but then every man's got his price so if you pay enough, who knows.

The spot which was home to Taboo, in Covent Garden, reopened under the name of Black And White a couple of days ago.  I have yet to see it myself but have heard there are a couple of Jacuzzis so it would appear to be another venue of the "raunchy" variety.  It is believed to be the owners of X Zone behind it but again, I cannot confirm this.

Still in Covent Garden, Club Boesche has got some of their girls back but aren't doing the levels of business they were doing in the past.

Soi Cowboy's fabulous appearance is one of the reasons it is doing so well and it has not been lost on the booze booths that operate late at night up and down Sukhumvit.  More and more are making an effort to be eye catching with Christmas tree lights and what not, almost like little mini Soi Cowboys.

There are two bridges connecting Thailand to Laos, the Friendship Bridge in Nongkhai which connects Thailand with the outskirts of the Lao capital Vientiane and the second bridge which opened not so long ago connecting Mukdahan with Sawannakhet.  Construction on bridge number three will start soon connecting Nakhon Phanom with the Lao side.

I cannot stress enough to local pub, restaurant or guesthouse owners or venues where Western customers linger the value of having free wireless internet on the premises.  I get about an email a day from readers asking about free wi-fi in Thailand and clearly it is becoming increasingly important to travellers AND to locals.  Venues offering free wi-fi Internet access attract customers they may not otherwise attract and keep customers longer.  It's cheap to set up - just a computer and a wireless router is needed and that combo can be had for well under 20K baht and then the cost of the internet connection at say 1,000 baht a month.  Is this the easiest way for you to increase business?

Looking to dip your toes into a business in Bangkok but prefer not to make a hefty outlay?  A friend of a friend owns the internet cafe behind the gas station just a stone's throw from Nana Plaza.  He paid 2 million baht for the place and I think he bought it mainly to get himself a visa.  Now he wants to sell it for 500,000 baht.  He figures it can earn 25,000 per month if managed correctly so this would appear to be a decent business.  You can email the owner directly at : presidentnwres@yahoo.com.

If you're driving north on the main road out of Korat watch your speed.  There is checkpoint after checkpoint after checkpoint as the chapter of the boys in brown in Korat is conducting a massive crackdown on speeders.  I hate to admit that I was a victim and for the first time in Thailand was issued with an official fine.  That said, they were a little optimistic claiming that I was doing 145 km/h.  Not likely!  120 - 125 perhaps, but not 145!  Still, for supposedly being 55 km/h over the speed limit, a 400 baht fine, or in real money, about $11, won't break the bank.

The final piece in the news and views section of last week's column concerned a lady that a friend of mine met on ThaiLoveLinks who flew down from Udon Thani to meet him.  He fed her and housed for the night and then put her on the bus back to Udon the next day.  She was livid at being tricked by an older woman to whom she was 17,000 baht out of pocket, a small fortune in rural Isaan for a solo mum raising a kid.  Since I ran that piece I received a number of emails from readers about the issue of online dating scams and how they are a big problem in the Isaan region and most of them concern that pet hate of mine, AGENTS!  There's a ladyboy in Surin who charges 1,500 baht to make profiles for local women on ThaiLoveLinks but when the girl finds a husband she has to pay the ladyboy a bonus of 2,000 to 5,000 baht!  But what disturbed me most was an email from an American mate I've known for many years in Korat who told a similar story.  No, not a ladyboy this time and not even a Thai but a FOREIGNER!  This crook works out of a pub and is supposedly the man to see if you are a poor Isaan girl looking for a "rich farang husband".  Typically, he tries to set the girls up with Americans and needless to say, he charges these poor, ever so hopeful girls an exorbitant fee.

A daring Japanese fellow has managed to record video inside a number of top Bangkok gogo bars including Baccarra and Rainbow 4 with his IPhone and has posted the clips to YouTube.  The quality isn't bad.

Don't be rude to Thai Immigration staff or you might be sent to jail!

The BBC reports that the Thai military deny a secret jail was used in this country by the CIA!

Now the shoe is really on the other foot as one of the Pattaya foreign police volunteers, a Brit, has had a complaint laid against him by ladyboys while in the line of duty!

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:  On another long weekend to my favourite beach town, some questions about wai-ing came up (the Thai custom of greeting with palms put together in front of you).  1) The Thai owner of an upmarket, family-run beach resort always greets me with a wai and an almost deferential smile.  We are both late forties, but I don't look like I own an upmarket beach resort on prime real estate.  Do I wai back?  Or just smile "Hello"?  2) A certain beach massage lady I've known for years there always wais me (even though we mostly chat, I rarely take a beach massage).  She is and looks a very respectable late 30ies, kind of a veteran already.  I guess I shouldn't wai back, but in this case I feel snobbish when only nodding "good morning".  Thanks for advice!

Mrs. Stick says:  You can smile, or say hello or return the wai if you want to.  If you acknowledge it they will already be happy but if you wai them as a foreigner you will make them very happy!  Because they are a service provider you do not have to return their wai.  For me sometimes I wai in this situation and sometimes I do not.  If you do wai them back they will think you are very nice and polite :)

Question 2:  We have been dating for 6 months.  Recently Nit decided that she wants an allowance of 40,000 baht / month, an 800,000 baht house for her parents in Roi Et, plus a 2,000,000 baht house and car for herself in Bangkok – all before we marry.  Thus, in the next 12 months I will have to find about 4 million baht.  I also worry that this is only the beginning of a long list of financial requests.  I want to marry her but her cash requests are a problem.  Everything else about her rings true.  I accept the house in Roi Et is a wedding gift.  I also accept that I am the sole provider.  She is 33 and a single mother.  How do I get her to be more realistic?  Is this unusual and is she just fleecing me?  I feel like I ordered a meal without looking at the prices and now a hefty check has arrived.

Mr. Stick says:  This question came Sunday afternoon and with the Mrs. out with friends, I think I can safely answer this one myself.  Her requests for money and material goods are BEYOND outrageous.  If a girlfriend - note girlfriend, not even wife - had asked me for that sort of money I would have ended it there and then, without a moment's hesitation.  She is just being totally unrealistic.  Thank her for being honest.  You know that her primary motivation for being with you is financial so she has given you amply opportunity to decide if you want to continue or otherwise.  I am all for guys helping Thai women and their families but sometimes greed enters the equation and they just ask for too much too fast as is the case here.

Unfortunately it seems that I have become a bit of a victim of my own success.  I have always prided myself on keeping on top of the website while many other things have been going on in my life.  I have always managed to do the daily site updates and seldom have I missed a day.  I have also managed to respond to emails in a timely manner - and that is no small task.  I have to say that the feedback and interesting emails I receive are an aspect of running the site I very much enjoy.  Unfortunately while I was up country this week I wasn't quite on top of things.  I wanted a break for a few days.  But boy oh boy, did some people get their knickers in a twist that it took me, God forbid, more than 24 hours to respond to an email!  I will always reply to emails and usually it will be very, very fast.  If I haven't responded there's usually a good reason so if on the off chance you don't get a prompt response, be patient!



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

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