Stickman Weekly  4/4/2010



Stick Does Khon Kaen

Her voice is angelic, the sultry notes she purrs raising the hairs on my arms, my decision to dine at what may be the most expensive Thai restaurant in the city vindicated.  With looks to match her voice, she reproduces the works of some of the finest female artists, Carole King and Celine Dion amongst them, superbly.  I had ventured over to the nightlife area of Khon Kaen which is centred around the city's best hotel, the Pullman.  But in Khon Kaen things don't get going until late, so I had time to kill and the ground floor restaurant provided a pleasant spot to skill some time.

I glance at my watch for the umpteenth time and decide that with 10 PM long passed, surely the locals have come out to play.  I get up, my bill long since settled, and stroll through the elegant lobby.  The bell boy catches my attention with an almost imperceptible raising of his eyebrows and I stop for a moment.

"You want lady", he asks me, the combination of what he's asking and his toothy grin make me feel it's somewhat unbecoming of his position in such a fancy place.

"I have someone in Bangkok", I tell him.

"Mai pen rai, she not know", he tells me, a big grin on his face and no doubt thinking of the cut he would get.  "You come, you enjoy!"

I wonder just how he would arrange it if in fact I was keen.  It's almost a prerequisite of his job to have a network of people to be able to call upon and to be able to come up with creative solutions to such situations.  Would he make a call to one of the bars around the corner and order take out?  Or would he perhaps make a call a bit closer to home?  A family friend?  A sister?  This being Thailand, perhaps, God forbid, he might even call his wife!

I repeat that I am out for a good time, but not a woman.  I get a confused look, suggesting that a man can't have a good time without having a woman.  He's getting manipulative and I move on.  I stroll out to the road and turn left.

There's no-one around bar tuktuk drivers and samlor riders.  They ask me where I am going in English.  I tell them I am going for an evening stroll in Thai.  They ask me if I want a girl.  I ask them if they want a boy.  They look confused and shut up.  That was the desired outcome.

I am in town for a wedding, but tonight is free so I'm keen to explore Kohn Kaen's nightlife neighbourhood. 

I walk perhaps 100 metres away from the Pullman and hit a road with many large Thai-style venues.  I have barely walked a few metres when a bunch of pretty girls start waving at me from the other side of the road.  They're sitting outside a large 4- or 5-storey building with a fabulous neon front.  I cross the road.

The name of the bar may be in English, but the girls don't speak a word of it.  I am addressed in Thai.  It's a karaoke venue and I'm invited inside.  I decline.  This type of venue just doesn't interest me.  The way to enjoy such places is as part of a group, a large group, where a bottle is opened, girls are brought to entertain each guy and you all get merry together - and as is the quirky nature of many Thai nightlife venues, invariably end up going home alone.  There's a reason why we refer to these venues as Thai-style - they just don't appeal to the average Westerner.

I proceed slowly down the road, passing Didine's, the pleasant French-run restaurant popular with the local farang populace.  I dined there once and it was pretty good.  Tonight I wonder about the lack of air-conditioning, a common issue at so many Khon Kaen businesses targeting foreigners.  Why is that?  Thais wouldn't pay those prices for a Western-style meal without air-con so immediately they have limited their customer base to the relatively small number of Westerners living locally.  Inside the restaurant, fans are pointing in all directions, blasting warm air around.  Admittedly it's 2 or 3 degrees cooler than the capital, but it's the hot season, the hottest month of the year.  Do these business owners really think their customers like the searing 40+ degree heat of Isaan?  Is an air-con unit really too expensive to run?

Beyond Didine's is a small strip of darkness with no streetside businesses, or perhaps venues that closed earlier.  50 metres down the road I pass four girls on two motorbikes.  They're dollied up like tarts.  Probably because they are tarts.  Despite there being almost zero light, and the hopes of getting a shot minimal, I point the camera in their direction.  Two almost bring the bike down as they shriek and squeal in horror.  I lower the camera and seeing not one smile nor friendly expression I decide to continue on.  10 PM at night and it's roasting, my pace slow as I pass small Thai restaurants, clones, each offering a similar small menu, just a few dishes, local specialties perhaps.

Up ahead I spy a large venue with huge signs.  Rad.  It seems to be a magnet for the masses and the car park is full.  The neon doesn't give much away, the only certainty is that the cheapest version of Johnnie Walker is available.  I wonder to myself if Somchai made a spelling mistake.  Perhaps Rad was really supposed to be Red, as in Johnnie Walker Red, which the venue is promoting.  Inside the main entrance there are corridors leading to different "wings", each with its own music style and DJ, some wings with a live band.

My first stop is a smallish wing where a hard rock band blares out Thai hits.  It's too loud and I don't care for the style of music, so I slip away down a corridor.  The entire place is flash, is beautifully designed and is all very tasteful.  There's a mix of customers wandering along the corridors, some clearly hi-so Thais, and others who look desperately poor.  As I later learn, the rich and the poor mix harmoniously side by side in Khon Kaen.  The next wing I enter has a young crowd listening to Thai pop.  It's better, but the crowd is too young for me.  I've yet to see another white face.  Out of that wing I go and I notice I am getting confused looks from the staff, the sight of a Westerner exploring the complex is obviously not one they see every night.  I see a small sign in English next to a large door.  Coyotes.  Bingo!  This is where I want to be!

I enter the coyote section of Rad which is about the size of Angelwitch Pattaya.  It's big, and like the rest of the complex is very nicely done out and has a really fantastic sound system with massive speakers pumping out exactly the same hits you hear in the better bars of Cowboy and Nana.  It's quite dark - but not too dark - with much less lighting than a farang gogo bar, most of which is directed at the girls on stage.

The girls, oh the girls.  One word.  Wow!  On stage are about 20 girls dancing, most of who look to be around 20 - 23.  They are fair skinned, tall and have curves.  They've got the look that Thai guys like, which also just happens to be the look I like.  The place is busy and I am led to a seat.  The seating is nothing like a farang gogo bar with no tiered seating.  There are small sofa style seats with a table in front, or booth seating.

Being a Thai-style venue I'm unsure of what things cost.  I order a beer.  It's a very reasonable 100 baht.  I ask the waitress about the dancers, intimating that I would like one to come and sit with me.  The waitress explains that it might be a problem because they don't speak English.  I feel like calling her a moron, for our whole conversation to this point has been in Thai.  I smile, and tell her I speak the lingo to which she smiles.

Shortly afterwards a lady is brought over and I offer her a drink.  It's steep by farang venue prices at 200 baht.  She sits down and we chat away.  She impresses me with her politeness and dare I say it her intelligence, let alone her looks.

If you wish to take a girl away from the bar it will set you back 10 lady drinks before midnight, 5 after midnight, effectively 2,000 baht before midnight, 1,000 baht afterwards.  And it should be noted that this is not so common and there is no guarantee of anything happening.  If you wanted a bit of rolly polly you'd need to negotiate that with the girl - and I got the feeling that the sky is the limit.  These girls don't seem themselves as the sperm receptacles that their sisters in other parts of the industry are.  In fact many are hoping to meet a decent guy to become their boyfriend and leave the bar, or perhaps get themselves into a mia noi situation.  What is more common is taking the girl into a VIP room for an hour, which will set you back 850 baht.  This is made up of a fee for the room, a fee for the girl plus a drink for her, the breakdown of which I cannot remember exactly.  The upshot of it is that she will strip for you in the room and fool around and let you grope her - but there will be no sex.  It was explained that some of the girls will do more.  It's all very hit and miss.

I hate to talk of women in terms of "quality", for such is just plain crass, but the women dancing in the coyote section of Rad in Khon Kaen appeared to be more attractive, and more interesting, than what you find in any gogo bar in Bangkok or Pattaya, even the likes of Rainbow 4 and Baccara where the prettiest girls can be found.  I did not see one map of the world (birth scarring) and while some had tramp stamps, they were much less prominent than the girls who make it down south.  The dancers in Rad are much taller, towering inches and inches above the midgets we see in the capital and in Sin City.

There were a few Western customers in the coyotes section, perhaps 5% and I figured them to be locals.  Strangely, they look largely like the Thais in the venue, youngish, aged under 45, and for the most part in shape.  By day I only seemed to see the dregs of Farangdom around Khon Kaen, which is all kind of weird.

In Rad you have a seating area to yourself, but a Thai guy, Cat, asked if he could sit next to me and I was happy for him to join me.  A friendly fellow, we got chatting and what a riot he turned out to be.  A real playboy, he was a regular.  He introduced me to one of the dancers who was a regular of his for a while and later regaled me with tales of going down to Ko Phangnan where he said he specialises in charming Western girls at the Full Moon Party.  He talked of a half-Portuguese / half-English girl he had fallen in love with and this Bangkok agony uncle found himself giving advice of the heart to a Thai about Western women, a first.

From time to time I received forwarded emails with photos taken inside Thai venues and it's obvious that a flash was used which makes me think there is no problem taking photos in such venues.  So I ask Cat whether it's ok to take photos.

"They will fxxxing kill you if you try!"

I tell Cat that my camera doesn't even have a built in flash so it would not be possible anyway, to which he asks me how much it costs and then roars with laughter that I could be so stupid as to spend so much on a camera that doesn't have a flash.

I send the girl who was with me away, as interesting as she was, I prefer to chat with the Thai guy.  It's not long before he has a lithe-bodied lovely wriggling all over him and the small sofa seat is cramped.

I really want to capture the action here, keen to get some photos.  I know the risks, but I am also pretty good at playing dumb.  I figure that if caught, I will play the dumb tourist.  I had not been told by any staff member that I could not take a shot and there are no signs saying no photography.  The security staff look professional, the sort of people I could talk with, perhaps even reason with.  I'm going to give it a go.  This is too much of an opportunity to pass up.

I manoeuvre the camera on to my lap.  There's little light in the bar.  I remove the lens cap.  I know that with the glass exposed light could reflect and while the venue is not lit anything like your typical farang chrome pole palace, it only needs one ray of light and I am sprung!  I take a guess at the settings, dialing in ISO 6400, F1.4, 1/40th second.  I figure in the low light this may, just may, give me a result.  The hard part is pointing the lens at the stage and locking focus on a girl.  With my finger over the shutter release button, I ease the camera so the lens is pointing at a girl on stage who is illuminated, knowing that I need something bright for the autofocus to lock on to.  I gently depress the shutter release button half way down and feel the motor in the lens snap into focus.  On what, I do not know.  I depress the shutter button.  I feel, but don't hear the shutter open and close.  I just have to look awkward, slowly moving to get the right angle.  I start to get paranoid that the staff have noticed me.  Thais are an incredibly observant lot and they are also quite protective, especially when it comes to such an exposé.  I'm keen to check out the results but know it would be suicide to review the image in the bar.  I excuse myself and go into the toilet.  Did I nail the focus?  Did the Stickometer read the light right?  Was 1/40th second a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action, but also allow in enough light?  I go into a cubicle and check the image.  I nailed it!  The focus is spot on.  The difficult lighting has been well exposed.  The shot even turned out to be nicely composed.  BKKSW would be proud!

I return to the bar more daring.  I fire off a dozen shots and my new Thai friend is none the wiser.  I hold a glass over the camera although it barely covers it, and I am squeezing up against Cat and his companion, with no chance for the camera to be a silhouette from any angle.  Bang, bang, bang, bang.  I fire again and again and again, recomposing the scene a little each time.  After a dozen shots I feel I have pushed my luck far enough and I place the lens cap back on.

It's getting on for midnight and as much as I like this bar, I want to check out other venues.  The DJ announces with great pride that Rad is the most popular coyote venue in all of Isaan.  The crowd screams and the girls clap.  It could be tripe but it is a flash venue with heaps of really attractive ladies who, unlike so many Thai-oriented venues, are willing to liaise with Westerners.  As much as this venue gets the serious thumbs up, it is time to move on.

I exit Rad and across the road is a dark soi.  I see small Thai homes with Christmas tree lights around the frame, the unmistakable sign of Thai-style neighbourhood karaoke bars.  The bottom end of the market.  I stroll along the soi as Thai songs blare from both sides of an otherwise quiet soi.  I wonder what the neighbours make of this nonsense.  In this unlit soi of no street lights, a soi dog howls, maybe the unfamiliar smell of the farang has reached him.

I continue further, taking in the scene.  There are three girls sitting outside a ramshackle bar, three of the ugliest girls I have laid eyes this evening are waving at me.  They say that farangs get the ugliest girls but I have just disproven that.  These are Thai bars for the poorest Thai guys.  I shudder to think that they actually pay these girls for entertainment.

There are several shacks with Christmas tree lights.  I wander slowly past them and stop to take in the surroundings, now directly behind the large hotel I had eaten in earlier.

It's an unusual scene, a quiet residential neighbourhood with housing for the low income plus a handful of small karaoke bars, perhaps more accurately described as brothels.  Just a hundred or so metres away are expansive, elaborate nightlife venues that must have cost tens of millions of baht to build.  Perhaps 200 metres away is the flashest hotel in the province, maybe in all of Isaan.  Here in what is probably the wealthiest centre in Isaan, the extremes of rich and poor exist in harmony, side by side.  You wouldn't call it surreal, but it makes you think.

I continue further along the soi and wonder what is more disturbing for the residents at this late hour, the howls of a soi dog or the fake panting of an aged hooker.  Horrid thoughts.

I am welcomed into one bar where a girl speaks remarkably good English.  She is friendly and has a genuinely warm smile.  I sit down outside.  We BS and I play tourist, not letting on that I am resident in Thailand.  She cuts to the chase.  The upshot is that I can have four girls back in my room, all night long, for a grand total of 4,000 baht.  I had no plans to be a naughty boy and goodness only knows what you would do with 4.  That said, they are very, very average and I wouldn't go there even if they paid me.  I make my excuses and leave.

I walk to the end of the quiet lane and hit a busier road and turn left, where there are more nightlife venues, more bars, more discos and more venues to check out.  It's Thai style venue after Thai style venue and I am amazed at how many are doing a good trade.

It's not quite as hot and uncomfortable and certainly not as polluted as Bangkok, but neither is it pleasant.  Since losing several kilos I find I deal with the heat better, but still I sweat.  I remember that fool who once told me that you could put a turkey and a Thai in an oven and the turkey would be cooked before the Thai had broken out in a sweat.  A fool he was, but as not as big as me for momentarily believing him.  Look closely and even the Thais are sweating.  In those open air bars popular with Thais, those with a sweety in tow sit back and allow their girl to pamper them, dabbing their forehead and cheeks with a par yen every so often.

I approach a bar that's pumping, and appears full of university age students and young adults.  U Bar.  There's a live band and they're good.  It's typical Thai venue loud but I'm not perturbed, inquisitive eyes from all directions making me forget the pain of the ridiculously loud music.  In most uncharacteristic fashion, my arm is grabbed by a girl who I later learned had watched me as I walked past the venue. I am invited not to sit with them, but to claim a few inches of floor space and perch.  No-one is sitting in this jammed venue.  I find myself in the company of three very, very attractive women, who lamely claim that they are thrilled to have a Westerner to practice their English with.  You don't need to know what happened later...

I vaguely remember making it back to the hotel, passing various farang-oriented bars on the way.  What a sorry sight most were.  Little money seems to have gone into them and you're given no reason to go inside.  I did stick my head in one bar to try and figure it out.  The walls were painted blue and the entire contents of the bar could be listed as 5 ugly girls, a crap sound system, a few chairs and a couple of tables.  Oh, and there was probably a spirit house but I don't remember for sure.  The girls would be scraping the barrel in some Third Road beer bar in Pattaya, yet here in Khon Kaen this is what is offered to farang.

The most popular bar for Westerners is said to be the Number 1 bar, a popular expat spot where the increasing number of Khon Kaen's farang teachers often meet up.  An emblem on the sign suggested that it is New Zealander owned, as is the Kiwi Cafe, a favourite afternoon hang out and frankly the only place that has people I'd really want to engage in conversation.  OK, so I am happy enough to chat with anyone about anything once, but some of the Westerners in Khon Kaen are awfully unimpressive.  I know there must be intelligent and interesting folk around but those strolling the streets didn't look pretty.

Khon Kaen seems to have a disproportionately high New Zealand influence.  In addition to the Kiwi Cafe and the Number 1 bar, two of the most popular expat spots, this sign was spotted on a road in rural Khon Kaen.  Exactly what is up the lane I do not know.  A rugby academy?  A bunch of sheep for hire?  Mr. Stick's mia noi's residence?  Who knows?!

There's a reason that Khon Kaen is not on the farang nightlife radar.  Unless you speak Thai, you're invisible.  Sure, some girls speak English and many of the women in the better places, such as the coyote section of Rad are students - and doubtless there are English majors amongst them.  But like in most Thai-oriented venues up and down the country, they get fed up explaining how things are to Westerners who are used to a different style of partying, and frankly a different - read lower - level of pricing.

But what of Khon Kaen by day?  The city I first visited in '98 has come a long way and can now stake a claim to being the most developed and most farang friendly city in the northeast.  The list of positive changes is lengthy.

You no longer need to battle with tuktuk drivers to get a reasonable fare.  The city of Khon Kaen now has metered taxis, operating at the same rates as those in Bangkok.  They will not go out of the city on the meter - no doubt because they won't get a fare to return - but for journeys within the city limits they are great.  There are not many cabs at this point but I expect I will see more and more on future visits.

Khon Kaen's major shopping centre used to be Fairy Plaza, the pokey shopping centre not far from the 9-level temple, home to Swenson's, McDonalds and a bunch of Thai-style stores.  It was hardly the place for a day out.  That's all changed with the recent opening of Central Plaza, a true Bangkok style shopping centre in the heart of the city.  It's massive and features a number of stores that specifically target Westerners, such as a branch of Asia Books.  There are branches of most major Thai chains and I got the feeling that you could find pretty much anything you want there.  With Central Plaza in town, there'd be less need to go to Bangkok for those hard to find things.

One does wonder how a place like Khon Kaen could sustain such a large and relatively upmarket shopping centre.  Just a kilometre or two away at the fresh market or at the bus station is evidence of the rural poor.  The city still has a lot of beggars - genuine beggars facing real hardship.

While Khon Kaen has gone a bit more upmarket, it still has the charms of Isaan with its large markets, samlors and locals with a ready smile.

The 2010 version of Khon Kaen has a nice balance between Isaan charm and farang convenience.  There are perhaps only two other spots in Isaan with which Khon Kaen competes, Udon Thani and Korat.  Udon Thani has the biggest farang-oriented bar area in all of Isaan, although it really is nothing more than the equivalent of a small Pattaya block of beer bars and Korat has the advantage of being not too far from Bangkok and an increasing population of Westerners.  By most measures, Khon Kaen seems to have more going for it than either Udon or Korat.

There is that not insignificant issue of intelligent conversation, something that I personally crave.  The Internet is all very good and well but you need face to face contact.  At least I do.  There must be interesting, well-rounded Westerners around but I did not come across many.

If you end up in Khon Kaen, check into the Pullman, formerly the Sofitel.  That's what I'll do next time.  You don't need to walk more than a few hundred metres away for that's where most everything is.  It's a 5 star hotel and I'm told you can get a room for around 2,500 baht a night.  It's got some nice restaurants and the 2 for 1 special on the local 130 baht microbrewery beers, claimed to be the first microbrewery in Thailand, is a good deal.

I once said that I am amazed that guys would go to Pattaya to find a wife and then relocate to the part of Isaan where their lady comes from.  The approach is flawed.  It would be much better to go to Isaan, check out where you'd like to live, move there and then start the search for a good woman.  You'll be better off on both accounts.  You'll be living where you want to live and the woman you meet needn't come from a bar background.

It is the women of Isaan who Western men predominantly get involved with and more than a few Western suitors have gone upstream over the years, looking to catch the biggest fish.  If you've got time, this approach will pay dividends.  Khon Kaen has a lot of very nice women.

Khon Kaen might not be for me, at least not at this point in my life, but I believe it's almost certainly the most livable place in Isaan for Westerners.  And the nightlife, if you are on top of your game, is spectacular!




 

Last week's photo


 

Where was this photo taken?


 

Last week's photo was taken of the translation and investigation office that is next to the bridge which goes over the Saen Saeb Canal near the Pratunam intersection.  A good number got what I thought was a rather difficult photo correct!  If you're a long time reader you will know I used a shot from the same location a number of years ago.  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 correctly guess the photo wins a signed copy of Stephen Leather's superb Private Dancer, which many refer to as "the bible".  It's widely regarded as the best novel set in Thailand's bar scene!  We have a new prize provider starting this week and all going well, which will run for at least a year!  The third person to get the photo correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the very best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express.  Duke's is very conveniently located on the 5th floor of the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok.

Terms and conditions:  The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days.  To claim the book prize you must provide a postal address within Thailand now.  Prizes are not transferable.  Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month.  You only have one guess per week!

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 - Just another day in Sin City.

During a recent trip to Pattaya, I spotted something I had never seen before - Asian tourists using the baht busses without paying.  One afternoon, two Indians aged about 25 clambered on to a bus I was on as it headed north along Second Road.  They were talking so loudly to each other that they were almost shouting.  They seemed unaware of the electric bell presses in the passenger section of the bus which are there to signal the driver to stop.  I say this because after about half a mile, they suddenly realised that they had passed their destination - which appeared to be Alcazar's in North Pattaya.  They signaled this fact with even more loud shouting to each other.  One guy turned and gave the driver a last verbal blast, and then quickly scrambled out of the vehicle - which was moving slowly through heavy traffic.  He jumped on to the road right leg first, stayed upright somehow and immediately ran away from the bus as fast as he could.  His mate was not so lucky: following behind, he also launched himself off the vehicle's rear tailgate, but it was moving a bit faster by this time, and he was unable to handle the extra speed.  With arms and legs flailing, he hit the road hard, his nose taking the brunt as he cannoned straight into the tarmac.  We fellow passengers watched in amazement as he stood up slowly, looking dazed, holding his blood-soaked nose.  Meantime, the bus moved away at an ever increasing speed.  Amazingly his companion, still running at full pelt along the road and away from the scene, did not even stop to look around to see what had happened to his pal!  The baht bus driver did not seem concerned either, even though two of his passengers had swiftly disembarked without paying.

Pitfalls of moving to Thailand at a young age.

I have seen too many people retire to Thailand too early.  Others encourage them and say "go for it", but it's sad to see them heading back a few years later, broke and trying to find a job in their home country.  Whatever they did before is out of date and they have screwed up their real retirement by not working for the years that they were in Thailand.  I had a friend go back last month after 9 years here, broke and 48 years old.  His emails tell me that he finally found a job with a family member that will pay his living expenses back home but there's no room for savings.  He is screwed for the rest of his life.  I have one friend who has been here 21 years and is living from pay check to pay check as a teacher.  He is now 51 years old and is scared about the future.  I would be too!

Believe it or not, there *is* a legal driving age.

I've just spent a week up-country with my wife in a small town in Roi Et province.  What really troubles me up there, and you see this in many places up-country, is young kids no older than 9, 10, 11 or 12 riding motorbikes.  Well below the minimum legal age for riding motorbikes on public roads and, of course, they would not be insured and, likely, in an accident it would never be their fault!  I drive our pick-up truck up there but I'm always shit scared that one of these inexperienced kids - both males and females - will get it wrong and hit our car when, of course, it will be our fault for being in their way or whatever, especially when / if I'm the driver being a farang and seen to be brimming with money.  The police seem to take no notice whatsoever; they're far more interested in hounding motorists in road blocks.

Diabetic Thailand.

Here's a fact you may not know - jasmine rice is the worst kind of rice a diabetic can eat because it's chock full of sugar.  And what's the rice that goes with Thai food?  Why, it's jasmine rice!  http://www.gilisting.com/2003/05/gi-foods-list.html.  As a diabetic myself, I try to have one meal a day that's just fruit, usually the chopped up variety from a nearby vendor.  Low fat yoghurt and / or porridge for breakfast.  The rest of the time I try to avoid Thai food, much to the horror of all the Thais I know.  Unfortunately some of my diabetic medication has the side effect of keeping my weight up (!!) and my hour-glass figure is, sadly, more a wrist-watch figure these days.


Looking for Thai girls? Look no more - you just found ThaiFriendly.com 

Thai food in Germany just ain't the same.

Your comments on Thai food were interesting, especially with regards to the ingredients.  I've always perceived even the street food as pretty healthy and eaten really well in Thailand.  I think you can't beat laab with these vegetable salads they serve up with it.  Not to mention som tam and seafood.  There's a fish restaurant on Ko Jum serves the best fish dinners I've ever tasted, for what is effectively a pittance.  And here in Germany you get great sausages at street stalls, but you won't get cabbage and raw greens to go with it!  French fries or bread rolls are the calorie crime here.  The funny thing is, in Western countries where the ingredients are top quality, you still can't find that authentic Thai taste in restaurants.  Even in a superb place close to where I live, where the cooks are all Thais and damn good, their som tam and laab, whilst delicious, just don't quite match what I can get on many Thai street corners.  Probably because the ingredients have either travelled a long way or simply come from somewhere other than Thailand.  And you're right, the hidden sugar in Thai sauces is a diabetic atrocity.

What others are eating.

Have you ever taken notice of what people are eating and their body mass index?  Next time you are in McDonalds, observe who is eating what food type then compare it with people eating the som tam and / or noodle soup.  I bet the latter are lean and mean whereas the former are overweight.  I have a theory about being overweight and reckon it is a way of life and not just a diet.  Were fat people born that way or were they weaned on unhealthy fast food?  You hit the nail on the head as far as exercise is concerned - it is bloody hard work trying to even walk on the crowded pavements through the Silom, Sathorn and Suriwong areas.

It IS possible to stay healthy in Thailand.

When I first came to this country a few years ago, I ballooned to a massive 250 lbs, no thanks to the food and drink that was readily available.  Thai food is some of the most delicious, but most unhealthy food in this world.  Nearly everything is fried and full of sugar, and they use the worst kind of oil - the street vendors often re-use it which can't be good.  All those delicious curries are filled with coconut sugar and coconut milk which contains hundreds and hundreds of calories.  It took a look in the mirror at my face fat for me to change my ways.  I stopped drinking beer and Coke, started going to the gym 3 - 4 times a week, and changed my diet.  There are plenty of healthy food options in Bangkok.  I ate a lot of sandwiches (proper ingredients can be found in Villa Market), made fruit salads, and drank tons of water.  Steamed vegetables became a regular part of my diet as well.  After a few months I was 35 lbs lighter.  I had more energy, wasn't tired all the time, and most importantly, girls started noticing me.  It IS possible to stay healthy in Thailand; unfortunately most people here just don't have the motivation to do it.

Spanky's 3 has opened in Patpong soi 3.  Spanky's 3 is the new name for what was once called The Strip, the venue known for tall curtained booths that customers could invite a girl inside of, a feature that is absolutely unique to The Strip.  Since the renovation, the booths on one side of the bar remain while those on the other side of the bar were removed and it now features conventional gogo bar style seating.

With Cigar Bob's passing, questions were asked as to the future of the popular After Dark magazine.  I can confirm that I have spoken with another partner who confirms that the magazine will most definitely continue onward in all its splendid glory. 

I didn't know him personally but it's still sad to hear that Robbie, who owned the Down Under Bar on Sukhumvit Soi 7/1, is the latest expat to depart, passing away last week.  RIP.

Bangkok Beat changed hands this week, not long after the owner, a long-time stalwart of the industry, put the word out that he would be interested in serious offers.  The one we know as Eden Club Marc is now totally out of the nightlife industry and will be concentrating on other ventures.  The existing management of Bangkok Beat remain and it should be business as usual.  Best wishes to you, Marc!

What's up with San Miguel Light in Rainbow 4 (and presumably the other Rainbow bars)?  The Rainbow bars never used to stock what is rapidly becoming the Bangkok expat's choice but that has changed, although it is priced at a whopping 160 baht.  Talk about sticker shock!  What makes it unusual is that that piss in a green bottle, Heineken, is available at a more reasonable, standard gogo bar beer price of 140 baht a bottle.  The wholesale prices for the two beers are almost the same at 37.9 baht for Heineken and San Miguel at 36.25 baht.  I cannot work this out.

And speaking of beer, something odd is going on with Beer Lao.  A couple of months back Beer Lao started producing a new brew, Beer Lao Gold - and they did a miserable job of letting the market know.  I for one only just found out about it this week.  What is interesting is that some keen drinkers have been making disparaging comments about the current brewing of Beer Lao, the regular brew, the lager that so many of us enjoy.  It has been mooted that the Beer Lao available today tastes nowhere near as good as the Beer Lao that we have previously enjoyed.  At least one reader was recently in Vientiane, the Lao capital, where the finest of South-East Asian brews is proudly sold on every corner.  According to him - and assuming his memory is good - the current Beer Lao just doesn't taste the same.  He then tried a couple of bottles of the newly released Beer Lao Gold which he described as clean and crisp with no after-taste, truly representative of the great Beer Lao we have come to love.  So what this makes me wonder is whether Beer Lao has labeled what was once their regular brew as Beer Lao Gold, rightly positioning it as a premium beer - and have introduced a lower end beer in place of what was Beer Lao.  Of course, it could be that this is wrong and Beer Lao Gold is in fact a new, even better brew.  It would be nice to know for sure, one way or the other.

You've got to love the way a certain hotel on Sukhumvit describes the complimentary tuktuk service they offer, running guests from the hotel, which is located deep down a long soi, up to the main Sukhumvit Road.  "As tuktuks are open-ended, they expose passengers to the high level of pollution and offer almost no protection in case of accident."  Charming!

If you thought that Thai hospitals were a bargain, perhaps it's time to think again.  An expat mate broke a finger 3 weeks ago and it hasn't healed properly so he visited one of the big name Bangkok hospitals this week to see what could be done to fix it.  He was told that he would need a local anesthetic, the finger would need to be rebroken and then reset.  After the procedure he would be monitored in hospital for 12 - 18 hours and then released.  The total cost?  The hospital could not provide an exact figure but the estimate was 150,000 - 180,000 baht.  That's real money!  Of course you could get it done much cheaper at one of the lesser hospitals....but would you want to?!

There are stacks of Italian restaurants in Bangkok, hundreds in fact.  I was recently asked which are the best.  Tough question as there are many different grades as well as different styles, from pizza parlours, to trattorias, to mid-range to fine dining.  For me, I tend to seek out the highest quality I can find in the upper mid range bracket, but to answer the question, if you want the best, give Zanotti or Angelini a go.  Both are really excellent.  For decent mid-range, Limoncello on Sukhumvit soi 11 has superb food at good prices although the menu is a little limited.  For decent Italian at reasonable prices, Scala on Soi Sribumphen just south of Rama 4 Road is good.

Mrs. Stick and I were talking this week about the way many foreigners pursue a serious relationship with a Thai woman online.  Mrs. Stick made an interesting observation - and one which might help anyone playing the online game.  She maintains that a lot of the women online will do almost anything to score a farang husband and any reasonable guy should be able to not just meet, but quickly marry any of these women.  But, she says, the big problem is that the guys online seem to not concentrate the efforts on one girl - but on many.  So rather than making a reasonable effort with just one, they throw out a wide net and try and give themselves as many options as they can, even though they might actually be looking for something long term.  Her advice for those playing the online game who are genuinely looking for a serious relationship is to make a real effort with just one woman.  I don't agree with her 100% although I do see where she is coming from.

Music Station on soi 33 has developed a reputation as a very nice spot to enjoy live music venue but it also has some very attractive girls who are available.  The girls in the photo below can be found at Music Station and there are a couple more who are very nice.  Check out the bird with the frizzy hair who recently did a photo shoot for an ad for a motorbike that is to be marketed in the States.  An untypical Thai look, but wow, she's hot!


I have been asked to list The Arab's bars.  He owns or has a major shareholding in Midnite, Sahara, Kiss, Déjà Vu, Spice Girls and Rio.

There are some outstanding deals to be had on rented accommodation in Bangkok at the moment.  A good mate got a bargain on a place close to the downtown area.  The owner wanted high 30s a month but he countered with an offer in the high 20s - and got it!  And I think that's probably a good guide to work by - offering about 25% less than what is being asked.  It won't work at the lower end of the market where occupancy rates are usually high, but once you get north of the 20,000 baht a month mark there can be a lot of room to negotiate, especially in today's market.  Do NOT accept the asking price in the current economic environment!  And if your landlord moots raising the rent, let him know that there are plenty of available properties out there!

In last week's column I mentioned that international cricket and rugby matches may soon no longer be shown in expat pubs due to an issue with the South African broadcaster and their satellite coverage.  A reader came up with a great solution.  He has been using TVU Networks, a program that allows you to watch sport streamed to your computer via a fast internet connection.  It was added to CNET Downloads as a recommended download.  All the cricket you want is available on one of the many sports channels, and as a Brit he can even see Sky News on there.  Of course you will need a good internet connection.  It is said that in Bangkok it works well with an 8Mb connection.

One of the things that this site does - and which is most certainly not my intention - is polarise Expatdom.  Readers have their opinions - and some are extreme.  Someone said something to me recently which got me thinking, something I had never considered before.  We were both talking about how messed up the expat population is.  There's no doubt in my mind that many Westerners in Thailand lead a lifestyle that really can only be described as a bit of a mess.  His comments to me were that I had done well to last this long and remain normal, which is a reason why some people can get so resentful.  I find it really sad really that people really worry about what someone else is doing.  Get your own shop in order first before you get too bothered about someone else!

Driving up to Khon Kaen this week, I can confirm that the coppers were out in numbers, accusing more than a few of breaking the speed limit.  It was claimed that we had been caught on a speed camera 3 km (!?) further back on the main road but I never saw it - and I have a bit of an eagle eye for such things.  Of course it would be a total coincidence that the car in front that had been waved over was driven by a Westerner too!

Last week I commented on how uncomfortable I find the BTS to be and I guess it has become a lot worse since it extended out over the river to the Thonburi side.  Since that happened, the number of people riding increased significantly.  I am told that the existing fleet consists of 35 3-car trains with a ridership of around ten million passengers per month, which averages around 350,000 per day.  Apparently the BTS *is* aware that at certain times of the day it is not just uncomfortable, but that they really do have inadequate capacity.  It has been reported that they have recently purchased 12 4-car trains.  They also plan to order another 35 trailer cars to increase the existing sets to four car trains.  At long last!  Apparently there is all sorts of bureaucracy in the way and signing off on the purchase and then putting this new capacity in place is taking longer than it should.

One of the major downsides of not drinking in Bangkok can be the heightened awareness of what is happening around you.  The bars aren't nearly as much fun when you're sober as when you're lightly lubricated.  I had an experience this week when stone cold sober...  I had been out with a mate late and, for some unknown reason, we went for a walk up towards Sukhumvit soi 3.  At the Nana intersection we crossed over to the Bumrungrad side of the road, walked up to the restaurant once known as Le Chevalier - which is now a Middle Eastern eatery - yet still has the prancing horses outside.  There is a small sub-soi beside the restaurant which my pal charged down, me a few metres behind.  As we got deeper and deeper into the soi, I realised that we were the only two white boys in the soi and we were surrounded by what felt like hundreds of young, big, mean and very hard-looking Africans.  The atmosphere in that soi late at night is like nothing I have ever experienced.  It felt like deepest, darkest West Africa.  We did receive smiles and plenty of hellos, but frankly it was about the last place in Bangkok I wanted to be at that moment.  I don't know what they were all up to, but there is one weird vibe down there.  Check it out for yourself - if you dare!



Quote of the week comes from an older guy with a burgeoning waist line, "I'm over my dick!"

There were a heap of really good readers' submissions this week and it was really hard to choose the best.  And being away from town for a few days, I have to confess that I still haven't read them all.  Of those I did read, the pick for reader's story of the week comes from Caveman, "The Western Man is to Blame".

With bombs going off in Bangkok, it's not quite as safe as we expect it to be.

Unusually well-researched Bangkok Post on the trafficking of Thai women into Singapore.

A Pattaya whore has drugged and ripped off a heap of her customers.

A Qatari pays 30,000 baht for pawing a sweety without consent.

From the Pattaya Daily News, too much oral sex can give you cancer!

The BBC has the latest on the red shirt protests.

The Bangkok Post takes a harsh look at the business of making suits and tailored clothes for tourists.

From Australia's The Age, a dream job becomes a nightmare in Ko Samui.

From the UK's Sun newspaper, Thai police are using monkeys.

ASK MRS. STICK

The Ask Mrs. Stick will be down for a few weeks as she takes a break from answering questions.



We crave as much info about Thailand as we can in the hope of better understanding the country and its people.  I hope that in some small way the scribblings in this column help.  One downside of the pursuit of knowledge is that once you start to see the big picture you may start to realise that all is not quite as you thought - and you might not enjoy life here quite as much as you did.  If you want to believe that you can hire a hitman for 5,000 baht, that Thai food is healthy and that the motorbike rider who drops her off at Nana every night really is her brother then that is up to you!  I do have to say though that the more we learn about Thailand, potentially at least, the less we might enjoy it.  For those who spend so much time poring over Thailand websites, it creates an interesting dichotomy.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick
 

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