Saturday, November 18, 2006


I like to write in an energetic atmosphere. My recent setting of choice here in Bangkok is a bar/restaurant on Sukhumvit, Soi 7 called The Bier Garten. It’s a big, noisy, barn-like place without air conditioning. It features a large menu, plenty of seating, and cheap beer served in the bottle. It has a staff of perhaps 40 people.

There are always 20 to 50 ladies there during the day who are not employees. I have never been there after dark but I imagine it gets livelier. These ladies are private contractors. They range in desirability from 2 to 10. Their price, I imagine, varies in proportion. For the price of a beer they are glad to tell me their problems. Right now they do have a problem. The number of potential clients has been cut in half.

It’s not the recent military coup or the existing martial law that has reduced the clientele, although those didn’t help. No, the problem is the Thai Government, before the coup, changed the rules on visas. It used to be that a 30 day tourist visa could be renewed indefinitely simply by making a trip to the border and getting a new entry stamp. Perhaps as many as 50,000 Westerners have been living (many working) in Bangkok for years on 30 day tourist visas. (I have heard there are many more here with no visas at all.)

That is all changed now. Under the new rules a tourist visa can only be renewed once and will be granted only 3 times in six months. This is literally unsettling for many thousands here. Many have already gone to Cambodia which has very liberal rules on visas. Many more will follow. They haven’t many options because getting a non-tourist visa is difficult and probably impossible for most of them. (I am here on a one year retirement visa to get which I had to offer proof of my solvency. The bar for that is not low.)

As these Westerners leave, they are taking with them a lot of money that has been going into the Thai economy. Not just “Ladies of the Night” will suffer. All these men (some women also) spent money here. Practically none were indigent. I estimate that one could live sparsely in Bangkok on $500 a month. A one room apartment can be had for $100. But very few of these people lived at that level. More likely they put more than $1000 on average into the Thai economy. That loss will be felt at every level of the tourist and housing industry.


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