Has Thailand Changed or Has Stickman?

I’ve been a loyal reader of Stickman for years.  I think he’s provided reams of valuable advice and probably kept countless hundreds or even thousands of farangs from losing their hearts and their wallets.  But more and more the tone of his column is depressing.  He sounds like a man who doesn’t want to keep living in the gutter of the bar scene but knows his readers would drop off if he raised the caliber of conversation.

Case in point is this week’s column where he says:

In the past those attempting to part a tourist from their baht would do so through deception, tricking or conning them.  Violence seldom entered the equation.  It would be a rarity to be clubbed on the head and have your valuables grabbed.  It’s changing.  In major centres crimes of violence are increasing markedly while the cons and scams show no sign of letting up.

But then he goes on to talk about scams.  No real evidence of a crime wave of violent crime against farangs as his second sentence seemed to imply.  Just the same old, same old scammer stuff.

For instance he talks about the Grand Palace scam that has been going on since the day the first tourist set foot in the country.  He complains that back in the old days if you spoke Thai or looked respectable the scammers wouldn’t bother you.  Now, even if you dress nice and can speak Thai they still try to rip you off.  That’s hardly major evidence of Thailand becoming more unfriendly to farangs.

He’s beginning to sound more and more like a man who harks back to the days when you could by a soda pop for a nickel and everybody left their doors unlocked at night.  Is crime increasing?  Sure.  Is it increasing in every country in the world?  Yes.  I used to live in a country where when I grew up the biggest threat was a good ass beating if someone didn’t like you.  Now my same school has metal detectors to stop guns and knives from being carried into classrooms.  Believe me, I miss the good old days too so I can sympathize with his overall sentiment but it doesn’t really excuse making scare statements like “clubbed in the head” and then provide scant evidence that this type of crime is increasing to a point that should be alarming.

Another example of how he’s recently been throwing out very ominious sounding openers and then failing to make a case that comes even close was a few columns back when he wrote about how expensive it is to live here in Thailand now.

One of the attractions of life in Bangkok is the perceived low cost of living.  But the truth is that the cost of living in Bangkok has soared over the past five years.  If you had told me that you I would need a million baht a year to have a reasonable lifestyle I would have laughed at you but that that is what I need today.  Living on less than a million baht a year in Bangkok is not as easy as you think, at least if you want a semblance of a decent standard of living.

But if you read the rest of his article he cites almost no real price increases other than petrol which has soared in cost worldwide.  Every other “increase” he cites has to do with the fact that he’s slowly upgraded his lifestyle.  His definition of “reasonable lifestyle” has changed but he’s blaming it on price increases.  He doesn’t eat street vendor food nearly as often.  He lives in a nicer apartment.  He specifically shops for imported foods rather than buying the local version.  None of these things has anything to do with the soaring cost of living, which is the entire premise of his article.

Further making his point harder to accept as a critique on what Thailand has become is the fact that a good chunk of his expenses were for hobbies and travel.

OK, so with my monthly spend of 64,200 baht, I am still well short of the million baht a year I said I spend.  So where does the rest go?  Simple, international travel and hobbies.  Even a weekend away in a neighbouring country can cost a chunk of change and if you look at a few days in Singapore or Hong Kong, it adds up.  The further you go, the more it costs.

And then there are your hobbies.  Diving, biking, golf, collecting antique maps and in my case photography.  Hobbies can really cost.  Photography is one of the more expensive hobbies and it’s easy to sink a lot of cash in.  So spending on international travel and hobbies rounds it out to about a million baht a year.

Then there was the very odd quote:

Dinner for two invariably costs a couple of thousand baht, irrespective of whether it’s dinner and a few drinks at The Londoner, a hotel buffet and a couple of glasses of wine or dinner at one of the French or Italian restaurants – and we’re not talking the high end spots here.  If these numbers sound high, just look at the high end venues where these numbers wouldn’t even cover a main course.

Where does a dinner for two at a normal restaurant run 2000 baht?  Listen, I’m single and date a lot so I have a pretty good handle on what it takes to take a lady out to a nice restaurant for a decent meal.  Granted, I’m not taking anyone out to the highest of the high-so places but most nights I get out of there under 1000 baht.  Depending on the place, well under.

Like I said, these are places good to take a date to.  To-Sit over in Siam Square – Thai place with live band and packed with locals – less than 1000 for dinner and drinks.  Korean Bar-B-Q over near Time Sqaure on Sukhumvit, again, less than 1000 baht all in.  There are tons more but these are the two most recent places I’ve been to for dinner with a date so I roughly remember what they cost.

But I think the key is the couple glasses of wine he mentions.  Wine is expensive here in Thailand.  I would hazard to guess that his bills would be far closer to 1000 than 2000 if he cut out the wine.  I mean, if you live in the UK and smoke you’re paying about 290 baht a pack vs. 75 baht here so it’s all about what vices we care to indulge ourselves in.

I’m not saying that everybody should be living on less than a million a year and that Stick is living like a king.  What I’m saying is that you can’t go from eating street vendor food twice a day to eating out in farang restaurants ordering wine with your meal and then claim that the increase in your expenditures is due to skyrocketing prices.

Another article a few weeks back Stick talked about what a ghost town Pattaya is these days.  He mentioned specific sois and claimed they were almost deserted.  The next week another blogger on a different site posted pics from the same sois and they looked like they were doing pretty good trade. Sure tourism is down. Nobody is debating that. But from the way Stickman described it there were tumbleweeds blowing down most of the sois.

Like I said, Stickman has been an invaluable resource for many years but it simply sounds like the guy has lost his passion.  Maybe he should turn over the naughty nightlife reporting to someone who is burnt out on it as he obviously has become.  Maybe some time away from the bar scene will brighten his tone a bit.

Even one of his featured letters made a similar sort of recommendation:

I think like many of us who came to Thailand young, you just got initially fascinated with the bar scene and then, with time, you just became normal again!  It is good to know that one’s basic moral values in the end bring you back to some centre point of decency.  As for the older guys who come here divorced and become professional mongers, I think that is a different experience altogether.  You could of course just turn the column into a general Thailand column which in many ways would be much more interesting.  There is nothing wrong with mainstream journalism and that is a career path which may offer you some degree of reinvention here in Thailand.

Maybe as his lifestyle, interests, and tastes have changed over the years so should his role.  Maybe these days he would be better suited to be the editor of the Stickman Weekly rather than the author.  He could still contribute pieces when he wanted but it would take the day-to-day pressure of coming up with a weekly report and he could concentrate on things he enjoyed more.

I don’t know.  It’s just a suggestion.

7 thoughts on “Has Thailand Changed or Has Stickman?”

  1. Excellent post. I subscribed to Stickman’s Twitter feed for about one day before I got fed up with endless rants about bar girls and negative short time/long time experiences.

    I constantly read posts/opinions by foreigners who live here and say they can’t get by on 40-60,000 baht per month – and then you look at what they spend their money on: western food, expensive apartments and bar girls – no wonder.

    IMO, Thailand is actually cheaper than it was five years ago. There are good deals and discounts everywhere. And really, if you live in Thailand, you should be eating Thai food most of the time. It’s incredibly cheap. A meal for two, including a few large beers or small bottle of whiskey and mixers for me (my gf doesn’t drink) averages 400-600 baht. A meal for two with drinks in an upmarket Thai restaurant no more than 700-1,000 baht – and I mean “Thai” not “Thai catering to tourists.”

    Many Westerners also choose to live in tourist areas where it seems obvious they will pay much higher prices and may often be subject to scams of some sort.

  2. I agree, good post …

    Eventhough I am a farang I feel I don’t belong to the cathegory stickman represents. i always thought that these grumpy farangs “fascinated by the bar scene” and bitching about how Thailand is going downhill and was better before don’t realize that they might be responsible for that situation, at least partly. A little bit of introspection will do them (and Thailand) good !



  3. I think everyone outgrows the bar scene after a while, or rather, gets used to it and develops other interests, and then yes, the question becomes, what do you turn to, especially if you made your name with your reports on the naughty nightlife.

    On a related note, every year I read reports about how the current season is dead and it is the worst on record – whether on Stickman, Asia Bugle, or elsewhere. I wish I would have saved these postings from previous years; I don’t recall ever reading an upbeat assessment. Makes me wonder if bar owners do this on purpose, or they are a particularly depressed bunch of dudes.

  4. 1 Leosia 07.15.09 at 4:45 pm
    I constantly read posts/opinions by foreigners who live here and say they can’t get by on 40-60,000 baht per month – and then you look at what they spend their money on: western food, expensive apartments and bar girls – no wonder.

    I’m one of these gusy who can’t get by with 40 – 60 K Baht. Yes, as a Franang you can survive in Bangkok with 40 K but you cna’t live a decent lifestyle with that amount on your hand. Why should I live in LOS just to survive? I came over to have a better quality of life than in my former home Europe. Until today this works perfectly for me, but you might have to work harder for that.

  5. Interesting read guys. I’m Thai, no longer a girl and don’t work in bars and did think stickman provided an interesting insight into farang realms of consciousness as I often wondered what is the fascination with bar girls apart from the obvious!

    Glad to know that there are more to farangs than what the stickman suggest, ha haa!

  6. The whole of Asia is full of scammers looking for Westerners. Happily they’re usually confined to the main tourist traps. Nanjing Road in Shanghai was a nightmare to walk down because of touts and pimps, but everywhere else was fine.

  7. I think stick changed when he got married. He doesn’t talk much about his wife but that was clearly his game changer. He tries to live like a Westerner in BK, of course that brings Western expenses. I don’t get why he thinks BK is go great – except I do get, after all these years he loves the bar scene still.

    I think Living Thai by Chris in Chiang Mai is currently better. He posts daily and does not teach. He has internet business to free him from anywhere. He bases himself in Chiang Mai and has the money and freedom to travel the kingdom.

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