Author Archives: Stephen Cleary

Thailand: Greatest Urban Myths (Part 1)

Even for those who have never stepped a foot in the Land of Noodle Soup & Nose Jobs, chances are they’ve heard some classic Thailand myth worthy of an editorial column in the most sensational European tabloid. So worthy actually, that some of these urban legends have surfaced in such papers. But if you don’t read one in The Sun (UK), you’ll soon find a couple in some redundant second-hand guidebook, on trashy Internet forums, blogs written by 16 year-old school kids or daft videos on YouTube. However, the place best of all for enjoying Thailand legends are in the company of some know-it-all-farang at an expat pub or a hippy hangout who has consumed just that one too many Singha Beer. Yes, told by one those experts who after staying in Thailand for an incredible 6 months, believes he deserves an honorary doctorate in everything Thai.

1. Go to Prison for Stepping on a Twenty Baht Note

This certainly has to go down as one the longest-standing, most circulated and absurdist urban myth east of Europe. And what is peculiar is that when it is told or written is always a twenty baht note, as if you couldn’t find a pic of the King on any other banknote. The fact of the matter is the lese-majeste law in Thailand states that the act committed has to be done with ‘malicious intent’ ie… you would have to stamp on it and shout insanities before someone would pay any attention and call in the Boys in Brown. It does not refer to any foreigner fresh off the plane who on dropping a bank note, quickly steps on it before it flies off in the breeze.

2. You Can Hire a Professional Gunman for the Likes of 5,000 Baht

What a load of nonsense! One of those totally daft rumours told by expat wanna-be gangster farangs while sat on a barstool. And like ’20 baht note’ ‘5,000’ is the commonest fee you hear and read crop up. The only ‘gunman’ you are gonna find at a stupid price like that is some drug-crazed motorbike-taxi driver or any other complete low-life amateur whose only previous experience of shooting a gun was of a water type during the Songkran Festival. Then, ‘get what you pay for’, as soon as he gets caught by the cops, he confesses immediately to having been hired by you. According to Thai language sources which include plenty of interviews with former convicted professional gunmen, the real cost goes from 200,000 to 10,000,000 baht depending of course on the potential victim, ie… from your average conservationist to a wealthy and powerful politician. That price includes: the agent fee, an accomplice, investigation into routines/itineraries, total confidentiality if all goes wrong and a few months for the gunman and accomplice to stay in the jungles of Thailand or Cambodia etc… until the case dies down.

3. Thai Women Have to ‘Sell Their Body’ to Escape Poverty

Over my dead body. Any lady-of–the-night desperate to earn money can get a job in a factory and work her bum off for 6 days a week, 9 hours a day. With paid overtime at an average factory in the Central Region an employee, with no education at all, can rake in around 10,000 month. Many such damsels instead prefer to make a much easier living in the hope that they’ll go on to meet some rich sugar-daddy, regardless to whether they are married or not, who is going to transfer a big wad of money into their bank account every month. As for that sob-story of “I need money send home to take care family” academic Thai language studies have already proven that ladies-of-the-night save and send less money back home than other migrant workers of proper professions.

4. Civil Servants like Police, Soldiers & Teachers Get Really Low Salaries

Working permanently for the state is a dream job for many Thais. Salaries are low but only at the bottom of the ladder. Work as a civil servant for ten, twenty, thirty years and your salary will be very respectable by Thai standards. On top of that you can get interest-free loans, a nice pension, free accommodation, best social healthcare, retire at 55 and get plenty of other benefits. Salaries for civil servants have rocketed over the past decade or so. 10-15 years back the basic salary for a school director was around 30,000 baht, it is now in the region of 55,000. You’re average civil servant in her fifties rakes in about 30,000 a month. For a policeman with the rank of Sargaent-Major with 10 years experience, with a little danger money payment he will pull in around 20,000 plus – compared to 10-15 years ago, no more than 10 grand – same applies to soldiers. None of these salaries include possible ‘commission’ money. Compared to the West, such salaries are pittance, but for here in Thailand they are very decent indeed.

5. Getting Caught with Some Ganja is a Very Serious Crime

Getting caught smoking a reefer is about as equivalent to getting caught stealing a packet of crisps from a mini-mart. And I’m not joking! Being caught however with a kilo of it stuffed inside your rucksack at Suvarnphumi Airport is another matter of course. This myth has got around the backpacker scene so much that once a backpacker gets arrested on an island with a big Bob Marley on him, he falls into the hands of corrupt cops who wanna sucker as much money as possible out of him ‘in lieu of not serving the next few years banged up’. And such cops are renowned for their lying negotiation jargon. Even though it is possible the judge could give a first offender a very short stint behind bars, most instead get let off with a suspended sentence and a small fine (same as very petty theft). However, judges ain’t too chuffed with those who get caught again.

Follow-up blog post can be found at Thailand: Greatest Urban Myths (Part 2)

More Edith Clampton & Readers’ Responses

(Would be extremely difficult to get these two mixed up – but Mrs Clampton did)

Due to the positive feedback from the last blog “The Legendary Edith Clampton (Mrs)”, I think it’s only fair to write up a part 2 and include some of the readers’ responses – some of which are in concern to Edith’s complaints in the first blog, so you may have to look back. I’m sure you’ll have to agree, this is the Bangkok Post at its editorial best.

Not Up to Scratch (reader’s response) from first blog

SIR: My company subscribes to the Bangkok Post which I read every morning. I look forward to reading Post Bag as it often provides insight into the thoughts of the expatriate community and certain sectors of Thai society. However, I have always felt annoyed by the frequent letters of some correspondents. Which brings me to the reason for my own outburst on these pages: Edith Clampton.
I have just read her latest adventures in Southeast Asia. Doesn’t Edith realise that the green buses are called “mini-buses”? The micro-buses are red. The drivers are relatively considerate. The conductors are young women. The fee is 15 baht. (Did Edith pay 15 baht for a green mini-bus ride?) Unfortunately there is no outlet for your electric toothbrush, and sometimes no Bangkok Post on a mini-bus and that is why the conductor looked at you that way. I would not have been sitting with Khun Parker, driving behind the bus. He would not have been driving very safely while rolling on the floor laughing.

John Knipfing

Who has the Right to Elephant Dung (reader’s response) from first blog

SIR: Thank you Mrs Clampton for bringing up the subject of elephant dung. I have discussed this with my legal advisors and they offer me the following: The drunken farang woman would be the legal owner only if she said, “Here elephant, I would like to loan you these bananas”. If she says “There elephant, these are for you”, then the bananas become the property of the elephant and subsequently the elephant can claim full ownership of the manure. Regarding the mahout – he would be the owner if the papers could be produced showing he was the legal owner of the elephant. Unfortunately, Khun Hazel is left behind on this one and has no claim to the dung.
Legal action could take a long time an collecting evidence would be a nightmare. I suggest dropping it.

Wilbur Featherly-Jones
Commander RN (Retd)

Pizza Men on Bikes Prove Too Elusive (reader’s response) from first blog

SIR: Mrs Edith Clampton recently brought to our attention the difficulty she had with stopping one of our Pizza Hut delivery drivers to buy a pizza.
Edith could make her life easier if she was to call and place an order for pizza. By so doing, she is going to make it safer for herself and our delivery drivers. If Edith lets us know where we can meet, we would then have our drivers deliver a pizza to her.

Choompot Tantisoonthorn
Manager-Call Service Centre
Minor Group Food Division

Teething Troubles (readers’ responses and Edith’s response to angry Filipinos) from first blog

SIR: Congratulations go out to Mrs. Edith (wealthy person) Clampton for the most pathetic letter I’ve read this year.

Non-electric toothbrush

SIR: I was utterly amazed about Mrs Clampton’s tale of woe. Only now in my lifetime have I read about someone with the guts and “grotty pearly greens” to gnash with, blame her oral problem on my country’s current power crises. What I perceive is a case of sheer laziness on Mrs Clampton’s part. To top it, her vivid description of her oral condition is really repulsive. I guess Mrs Clampton should switch to a nuke-powered toothbrush (if there’s anything like it, she’s in luck) to scrape off all those accumulated ‘sediment’ on her teeth.

Arlene Esperida

SIR: When Mrs Edith Clampton complained about power failures in the Philippines one would think her life was placed at a very grave danger because her dialysis machine couldn’t function. But no, it was only her status symbol electric toothbrush. How shallow, how self-centred and how silly of the Bangkok Post to provide space to this whinging airhead. Weren’t there enough letters that day worthy of attention?

Emmanoel T Francisco
Newport Beach, California

SIR: Why so many people are taking it upon themselves to condemn me, because of my misfortunes in the Philippines, is beyond me. Their replies in Post Bag make me look stupid and I feel the real reason of their attack is because of my wealth. I didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for me so I kept my original letter short. For their information, I also returned to Thailand with a terrible bout of the flu. No electricity also meant no electric hair dryer and as the Philippines has no fire-places, I was forced to spend many nights with soaking wet hair. Regardless of what people say I will never return to that rag-picked country again.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Keep First Class First (Edith)

SIR: On a recent overseas flight (steve notes: Thai Airways) I was appalled at the conduct of some passengers. I had just settled into my seat when a herd of interlopers were moved into the first class section. They were loud and smelt like they hadn’t bathed for weeks. I complained to the head waiter on the flight but he explained his hands were tied – they had been upgraded by a higher authority.
Higher authority or no higher authority first class passengers shouldn’t be expected to have to suffer a flight sandwiched between backpackers. What upset me further was that I arrived ay my destination looking like a basket case whilst my maid, Khun Hazel, who travelled in economy arrived as bright as a button. Airline officials in high authority will now need to review their policy on upgrading, or genuine passengers will be forced to seek alternative ways of travel.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Keep First Class First (reader’s response)

SIR: I fear that our dear friend Edith Clmpton (Mrs) has got in a muddle again! Regular readers of the Clampton saga will no doubt recall that not long ago she went on a green mini-bus, under the mistaken impression that it was a micro-bus. Now she had a mishap on her flight, apparently by getting her tickets mixed up. Her maid, Khun Hazel, who “arrived as bright as a button”, most likely travelled in the first class cabin while poor Edith roughed it in economy.
I believe the “alternative way of travel” Mrs Clampton is considering may well be the rail journey from Singapore to Bangkok on the Orient Express, and I look forward to reading her account of the journey in your columns.

Michael Marsh Edwards
Nonthaburi

Discomfort (Edith)

Notes: Comfort 100 is a portable urine bottle which can be used by motorists in heavy traffic.

SIR: Could someone please introduce a law that it makes it compulsory for Bangkok taxis to have curtains between the driver and the passenger. Several times now I have caught the driver’s beady eyes looking at me in the rear-view mirror when I have been desperately trying to use the Comfort 100.
The whole experience gave me anything but comfort.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Discomfort (reader’s response and Edith’s response)

I was utterly shocked and disgusted by one of your Post Bag letters headed “Discomfort” by Edith Clampton. I was totally embarrassed just reading such a shameless complaint.
I am from New York, USA, and I’m coming to the end of a wonderful two-week holiday in this beautiful country, and about to take back such blissful memories. WHAM! then I read this sort of putrid filth, this woman should be ashamed of herself. Yes, we have Comforts in the States and of all sizes, the 100 being the largest, and it’s an acceptable woman’s personal appliance, for private use, certainly not in the back of a taxi!
Thailand does not need this type of woman. She actually had the “Brass neck” to inform us that the taxi driver was “watching her”! and she was having a problem with that! I’m surprised he didn’t crash his taxi. Of course he was watching her, he was wondering what the “buzzing was” was!

Mrs Ruth Dempsey

SIR: We were absolutely dumbfounded to find the Australians have their very own version of the Comfort 100. But as I explained to my maid, Khun Hazel, you’d have to pretty desperate to want to use it.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

(general reader’s response)

SIR: I have read a lot of letters written by this Edith Clampton, and sad to say most of them are just about her ridiculous and often pathetic “tragic misfortunes”. Judging from the way she writes letters, I can say that she is a sour person, has a very serious attitude problem, is very difficult to get along with and is someone whom I do not want to know.
I hope the Bangkok Post will not publish any more of her letters. As for me, the most I could wish for is to watch Edith Clampton (Mrs) being caned in Singapore. Just a thought…

Anti-Edith
Trang

Shoddy Footwear Maid Somewhere (Edith)

SIR: I fear I have to warn the general public about some shoddy workmanship that is being brought into Thailand from a third world country.
Last week I purchased a birthday present for my maid Khun Hazel. Her green thongs had seen their day and I bought some fashionable plastic ones with lovely pink roses on top. They lasted a week and the roses fell off. Hazel was devastated. The name on the side of the striped plastic strip was Femme Fatale but the country of origin was not clearly visible.
I held the questionable thongs to the light and read Maid in China but at another angle it looked like Maid in France. I think both countries need to investigate immediately and report back to the readers in Post Bag about this matter.
And who suffers? Not the manufacturer, not me, but dear Khun Hazel who has to wear old green thongs until next birthday – it just isn’t fair.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Shoddy Footwear Maid Somewhere (reader’s response)

SIR: I was appalled to read the latter from Mrs Clampton in which she complained that a pair of rather dubious flower-bedecked plastic thongs she had purchased for her maid as a birthday gift fell apart within a week.
I wasn’t appalled by the faulty merchandise as you get what you pay. I was appalled by Mrs Clampton’s meanness. She states that the sufferer of the shoddy merchandise will be the maid, “who has to wear her old green thongs until next birthday – it just isn’t fair”.
Surely if Mrs Clampton can afford to have a maid, she can afford to replace a pair of green thongs. If she had purchased more durable footwear in the first place, the maid wouldn’t be forced to wear the deteriorating green thongs.
I think Mrs Clampton should release the tight grasp she has on her pursestrings and purchase durable footwear for her maid. If Mrs Clampton cannot afford to purchase such footwear, perhaps she should do her own housework.

Alan Breten
(A Shocked Tourist)

The Legendary Edith Clampton (Mrs)

On reading the title, most of you are probably wondering “Who the heck is she?” Well, she was one of Thailand’s most well-known farang names during the early to mid 1990’s; a name that was highly controversial, but in the stupidest way possible (She even has her very own Wikipedia entry).

So, who was Edith Clampton (Mrs)? She was simply a regular ‘letters to the editor’ (Post Bag) writer at the Bangkok Post. No-one quite knows her nationality, but we do know that she was married to Mr Clampton and had a personal driver called Khun Parker and a servant named Khun Hazel. We also know that she was extremely wealthy, fervently disliked the Philippines and held scruffy smelly backpackers in much contempt (but she did have a little sympathy for them, however). Edith is a legend for two reasons 1. There has been no-one else like it in the English language papers 2. She never existed.

From 1993 – 96, the editing bosses of the Bangkok Post allowed Edith to submit some of the most hilariously daft comments for publication in their Post Bag. She was highly ‘controversial’ because a large minority of the Post Bag readers actually took her letters seriously, including embassy officials and big coperation heads. At the end of the day, what made Edith’s letters so classic were probably the incredibly serious replies which often bombarded the sub-editors desk in batches. After Edith’s demise in 1996, after too many readers complained about what had to be the pen-name of a joker, it wasn’t until years later that the editorial bosses finally admitted that Edith Clampton (Mrs) really was a nom de plume and her letters were made up fiction, by an outsider they eventually got to know personally. The Post has never revealed the true identity of Edith and the writer remains a secret.

In 1996, a compilation of these nonsensical letters were published in a book called Edith Clampton’s Letters and Readers’ Responses to Post Bag, but unfortunately the book went out of print years and years ago. I had always known of the book but was never able to find a copy anywhere – that was until a couple of months or so back when I came across a copy in a tiny English language section of a second-hand bookstore in northern Bangkok. Since the book has been out of print for going on ten years, it seems more than ok to share with the readers here some of the ‘delights’ of Edith Clampton (Mrs).
I’d love to post some of the pathetic replies too, but this blog is long enough as it is.

The first letter here is a classic example of the ignorance of Edith, an upper-class snob who thinks she is riding a brand-new Bangkok micro-bus when instead she’s taking a normal green bus. In 1996, the fare for a micro-bus was 15 Baht, and for an old green bus, 3.50 baht. The last letter, arguably the stupidest of all (the only one not Thailand-related here) caused the Filipino community in Bangkok to throw a complete frenzy and start mayhem at Post Bag.

Not Up to Scratch

SIR: I put the new micro-bus service to the test and have decided it is not the answer to our traffic problems. To say the least I am disappointed. First I was lead to believe the micro-bus had daily papers on board but when I asked the young conductor for a Bangkok Post he looked at me as if I was an idiot. Eventually he became tired of my nagging and snatched me a Thai Rath (Steve’s notes: a Thai language newspaper) from a fellow passenger. The overall service needs to be improved and I would like to suggest the following:

1. Make the drivers slow down and not keep changing lanes.
2. Don’t let people stand in the bus.
3. Insist that the drivers stop at designated bus stops (luckily I had my personal driver, Khun Parker, following in The Car)
4. Make the buses air-conditioned.
5. Forbid the conductor from hanging out the backdoor and waving his money tin around like a mad-man.
6. Change the colour of the buses from green to something more attractive.

The trip was very uncomfortable and I strongly suggest the micro-bus people seriously look at this service if they want Bangkok’s upper echelons to use this service.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Pizza Men on Bikes Prove Too Elusive

SIR: I’m afraid Pizza (Steve’s notes: Pizza Hut) and Dominos need a dressing down. From time to time their sales people ride motorcycles up and down my soi. And I have great difficulty trying to get them to stop. Other vendors like the lady who rides a bicycle and sells yogurt – she always stops. The ice-cream man, the fruit man and the rag and bone man, the pork-on-the-stick man and the somtam man – they never fail to stop. But the pizza men – I have to stand in the middle of the road and wave my arms about like an idiot before they even acknowledge me. And then they speed off when I try to open their box and buy a pizza. It’s high time somebody stepped in and taught these young hooligans a thing or two about salesman-ship – you don’t make money by swerving around your customers.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Oops!

Nowhere on the Phonecard does it say you can’t withdraw the card’s balance from ATM machines. Last week I held up many people while bank officials had to come and gouge my poor Phonecard out of the haemorrhaging Automatic Teller. I’m sure many other wealthy people have suffered this embarrassment and I hope TOT officials make it clear on the Phonecard that ATM’s cannot be used.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

No Help for Backpackers

SIR: I recently sheltered some German backpackers who through no fault of their own had run out of money and were stranded in Thailand for a few days. I helped them with some rice and let them sleep in the garage – and I’m not even German!
They told me they asked some German residents of Bangkok for shelter but were refused. They said the Bangkok Germans made them feel like second class citizens. Admittedly they were scruffy but I found them very friendly and each night I would venture into my garage and entertain them with some of my travel stories. Surely it is the responsibility of each nation to care for their own. Embassies should have a list of their citizens living in Bangkok and when travellers are stranded they could be given the list of names and addresses. This way travellers in trouble could go direct to their fellow countrymen for assistance.
We shouldn’t forget that Mary and Joseph were once stranded.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Surprise the Maid with a Cuppa

SIR: Every year (in Thailand) we have Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and Children’s Day, but never a mention of Maid’s Day. And it’s about time attitudes changed. Many people accustomed to living in pigsty conditions in their own country now enjoy a clean and happy home here in Thailand. Thanks to the maid. But do they appreciate the niceties the maid performs?
In the Clampton household one day is set aside each year for my dear maid, Khun Hazel. It is her special day. On that day housework is forbidden. I also perm and cut her hair and let her use my make-up and perfume. She has full use of the car and driver Khun Parker, for an hour. She is also allowed to sit on my Italian Settee and watch whatever she wants on television. And at the end of her favourite day I treat her to dinner at S&P.
Relationship building with domestic servants is important and Maid’s Day will help strengthen the employer/employee bond. It can start with a little knock on the maid’s bedroom door 15 minutes before she normally wakes up and surprise her with a hot cup of tea.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Who Has the Right to Elephant Dung?

SIR: Elephant droppings have become increasingly popular as garden fertiliser but collecting is risky business. Last week an elephant went to the toilet in our soi and a public spectacle erupted. It involved my maid, Khun Hazel, shovelling the ordure into a bucket, a drunken foreign woman screaming she had fed the animal previously and was claiming a return on her investment, and the mahout, seeing the manure as a possible gold mine, trying to sell it. The elephant remained calm.
I fear incidents like this will happen again and again unless some legal expert can inform the public who is the rightful owner of the dung once it hits the streets.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Teething Troubles

SIR: My teeth have turned a grotty shade of green and I have enough sediment between them to grow potatoes and all because of the Philippines.
For the last two months I have been visiting that country and the power blackouts, from three to seven hours everyday, are beyond a joke. Each time I went to clean my teeth there would be no electricity and I was unable to use my electric toothbrush.
I would suggest wealthy people with electric toothbrush not visit the Philippines or if they do take a generator.

Edith Clampton (Mrs)

Part two has now been posted: More Edith Clampton and Readers’ Responses

Thai Visa Run in Vientiane, Laos

Well, about a few weeks back it was my turn, the first in years actually, to do a visa run to Vientiane, Laos. And I did the visa run on my own and not with some over-priced Visa Run trip company.
Thinking back, the last time I had been to Vientiane was just a year or so ago, that time with a buddy of mine who was looking for someone to accompany him on his visa run trip.

My first venture over the river into the Land of a Million Elephants (compare to Land of Smiles) was way back in the days of 1996 when the only known traffic congestion in the capital was caused by too many half-defunct rusty bicycles breaking down at the lights. And compare these examples for tourist-development: in those days the scenic village of Vang Viang, 3 hours north of Vientiane, was home to 3 or 4 guest houses and a single tin-shack that sold jars of Beer Lao in the evenings. Since then though, Vang Viang has turned into Laos’ equivalent of Khao Sarn Road. Then, in those “good ol’ days”, the only way foreigners were permitted to travel to Luang Prabang was by a pre-packaged airplane tour – now there are air-con buses with bus-hostesses handing out assorted cakes and blaring out the latest in Thai pop music. I doubt that any other country (besides perhaps Cambodia) in the region has developed so quickly over the past decade or so.

Back to me trip info. My first mistake on the visa run was in taking the bus from the Morchid Bus Terminal in Bangkok to Nong Khai on the border. Arriving at the Northern Bus Terminal rather late-ish, I bought a ticket for something like the 9 o’clock departure. Having read up that the trip by bus was around 10 hours, I basically calculated that I would be arriving in Nong Khai at say… 7 in the morning – just in time to have breakie, cross the border and get to the Thai Embassy for opening. Absolutely not – instead our bus driver, thinking he’s Michael Schumacher, decides for himself that we are all in a desperate rush to get to our destination and rips the distance in no time – didn’t even bother stopping for supper (a norm on over-night buses). We arrived at more look 5 in the morning and it was friggin freezing by Thai standards – worse luck was to come, when on shifting through my bag, I finds out that I had forgotten my jacket at home. Shivering away, I could do nothing but twiddle me thumbs and sip hot coffee for the next hour or so before heading to border.

I advise therefore, to sod taking the bus to Nong Khai and instead a train which arrives after daybreak. The train station is also closer to the border (Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge) and there are shared songthaews (passenger pick-up vehicles) which do the run for just 20 Baht a person. From the bus station, I paid 50 or 60 baht for the tuk-tuk to the border – it’s much further.

Through immigration on the Thai side and it’s another 20 Baht by bus across the bridge. Arriving on the Laotian side and in need of a Lao visa (36 pound for Brits) I was met by a hundred or so foreigners also wanting one. Quite a wait altogether, probably about an hour to go through the whole procedure – that is exiting Thailand, going over the bridge and getting a Lao visa.

Now take a hint here – once you pass through Lao immigration you may be bombarded with touts suggesting you take one of ‘their’ songthaews to the Thai embassy in Vientiane. Instead, forget them and walk straight ahead where you’ll find a shared songthaew charging 50Baht each to take you direct to the Thai Embassy or hotel / guest house of choice. If you are looking for even cheaper than that, there are public buses which leave when as full as sardines in a can.

Second mistake – I went straight to the Thai Embassy for opening at 8:30 – and as it was a Monday I ended up getting ticket number about 350. Altogether, it took me around 2 and a half hours of being sat around mostly listening to foreigners about their Visa trip company run so far. Having paid a small fortune for their packaged trip, they had the privilege of being served first, but they also had to wait for ages. Forget it visa-runners, if you wanna do the trip, do it yourself and you’ll save lots of cash and enjoy the freedom of eating and drinking where and whatever you wish – even though you may make a couple of blunders along the way like me! Big Tip: Don’t bother getting to the embassy on time, arrive half an hour before the closing time of 11am when there are hardly any people left.

After the embassy, I took a tuk-tuk into Vientiane at about 40Baht and stayed at a guest house recommended by my buddie here in Suphanburi. The guest house was fine enough mind you, but it was pretty far from the river, a kilometer and a half walk. So, if you fancy being near farang eateries and the bars etc… better you find a place to stay near the fountain area.

There are a few things I love about Vietiane, but tops just has to be the awesome views of the sunset from the banks of the Maekhong River while having a having a Beer Lao and a coupla snacks – absolutely mandatory for anyone on their first trip. Second up perhaps, is the French bread – contrary to popular thought, French bread is a traditional breakfast for many of the locals. As for me, the bread with cheese spread has been a must-eat on ever occasion I been to Laos. Third up is the national female dress. Pop down the river for the sunset, and you can admire the local Lao ladies having a drink after work wearing their sarong (and high-heels#@!). A type of dress which got booted out of Thai tradition during the cultural transitions of the 1930/40s. Even the schoolgirls keep to wearing sarongs – altogether a pretty difference from the so-called Westernization of Thai outfits.

Before you know it, your Thai visa will be ready in a jiffy – next afternoon to be precise. Not being so daft this time, I got to the embassy well after opening hours and received my passport back in literally 2 minutes. Having done the trip on my own and not with a visa tour, I had plenty in my wallet left over for another fun day in the capital. Unlike the package tourists who get hauled back to Thailand as soon as they collect their visas.

After a memorable coupla days in Vientiane it was time to head home. And it was very simple indeed. I just walked to the Talat Sao (Morning Market) and hired my own songthaew to take me to the border for a more than reasonable 100baht. There are direct Vientiane – Nong Khai buses which do the trip for slightly less, but they drop you off at the bus station. But I had thought sod to the bus and opted for the train instead. Going on your own like this, you also get the chance to wander around duty free where you can pick up bargain-priced imported French wines and premium whiskeys for your Thai friends and family.

Arriving on the Thai side, you once again get approached by tuk-tuk offering you a pricey ride; be adamant that 20baht is enough to get you to the train station and you’ll soon be pointed to a shared songthaew. I had no bother whatsoever getting a train ticket back (to Ayutthaya for connection to Suphanburi). Even if you gotta wait around a bit waiting for the train, there are a few restaurants just opposite dishing up eatable munchies where you can hang around till your train leaves. I had such a fine time altogether that I’m tempted to go back to Vientiane as soon as I can. Do the Vientiane visa trip on your own, don’t rush it, and it can certainly turn into an enjoyable mini vacation.

Expensive Karaoke Scam


(The following is a brief Thai>English translation from various local news sources)

Customers at Melody Karaoke, in the close vicinity of Prachacheurn Police Station, were originally charged an astonishing 30,000 Baht for 3 hours of karaoke. Charges included 100 Baht for a piece of candy.

It all started with a former policeman from Phayao province, Mr Atthaphan, who attended Melody Karaoke along Ngam Wong Wan Road in Bangkok with his girlfriend. After just 3 hours or so of having a fruit snack, a bottle of whiskey and enjoying a bout of karaoke, Mr Atthaphan was astounded to get a bill for approximately 30,000 Baht. After complaining of course, he was given a reduced bill with all the prices on, but it still run at an extortionate 16,350 Baht.

“This is not unique for Melody Karaoke; this thieving establishment has a well-known history for scamming patrons” says the Thai language Manager newspaper

At 12:30, last Tuesday, Pol Lt Col Suraphon from Prachacheurn Police Station received a report from a former Pol Lt cop, Mr Atthaphan, 42, that not only was he physically threatened to pay an extortionate bill, but Melody Karaoke also seized his and her mobile phones. Mr Atthaphan went on to say “We entered the karaoke at about 8:30, asked for a private karaoke room and ordered a bottle of whiskey with water and soda. Since we fancied a bit of company to help sing a few songs we also asked that a couple of hostesses come and join us”.

(After bargaining down the original bill of 30,000 Baht, Mr Atthaphon received a reduced one at just more than 16,000 Baht)

Yet, when Mr Atthaphon finally got the actual ‘correct’ bill he found that the karaoke had charged for the company of 7 hostesses, at an incredible 1-1,200 Baht per girl. With fast mouths, the girls supoosedly drank orange juice worth 3,900 Baht, sucked a few candy at 100 Baht a pop and munched on 3 plates of rose apples at 600 Baht

Even at the reduced charge of 16,350 Baht, Mr Atthaphon just did not have enough money to foot the bill – he only had 7,000 on him. He was then threatened by a bunch of bouncers to go immediately to the ATM machine next to the karaoke and withdraw the remainder. To make sure he wouldn’t do a runner, they seized the mobiles.

According to reporters, Melody Karaoke have been running a scam for a long time – just a few days previous another few gullible teenage customers got a bill for virtually 50,000 Baht – unable to pay the bill, they seized a motorbike.

Prachacheurn police claimed that they could nothing to help get any of the money back, as the couple had already willingly paid the bill. This, however, is in stark contrast to the law which specifically states that any establishment selling beverage or food must have a menu with prices on it. Melody Karaoake did not have one, and so the couple did in fact, not have to pay a single baht – Prachacheurn police looked over the matter though, and told the couple to just go home and forget about it. “16,000 Baht isn’t the end of the world” one police guy was reported to have said.

People living in the local vicinity claim that some Prachacheurn police are actually taking kickbacks from scamming karaoke bars like Melody. Prachacheurn police, however, deny this claim.