For anyone has spent time in the bars of Bangkok will know, speaking to anyone who traveled to Thailand in the 1990s, they will undoubtedly inform you it was the ‘golden decade’. Whilst I have written previously about the many factors that make someone come to this conclusion, many of them disputable and subject to the individual experience. I will concede there are some undisputable factors that stand the test of time.
So when I heard almost on repeat from in the know regulars, that Phnom Penh had the feeling of those halcyon Bangkok days. I decided to dig further into the quantifiable similarities that drew them to this conclusion.
Hence for this weeks opening piece, I have listed the four main topics of discussion I had at the bar when discussing this question during my time in Phnom Penh.
By far the most common conversation I had with anyone about the difference between Bangkok of old and the Phnom Penh of today was the cost of a beer. Whilst is not surprising that this was the number one topic, as the cost of living is always high on an expat’s agender. With many constantly relating the prices quoted ‘in country’ to the prices paid back home, however, in conversations in this context, it was still overwhelming.
For the record, a standard Bangkok beer will set you back 100 Baht ($4.5 AUD), with Go Go’s charging twice that at 200 Baht ($9AUD) and the rooftop bars advertised in tourism brochures twice that again at 400 Baht (yes $18 beers in Bangkok is a thing!).
In comparison, a beer in Phnom Penh runs around 2000 Riel (0.7c AUD), with a slightly upmarket or late opening bar around 6000 Riel ($2.15AUD) and top end rooftop bars around 10,000 Riel ($3.50AUD).
To be noted:
I won’t go into the price of other nighttime activities, but speaking to a few in the know bar owners the price spectrum is about the same.
The price and quality of food, however, is far better in Thailand than in Cambodia, and most of South East Asia for that matter, with only Vietnam coming a distant second.
After the cost of living, rules and regulation was the second most common comment made to me about the differences between Bangkok and Phnom Penh. With all Bangkok (besides the in the know speakeasy) bars to be closed by the relative tame hour of 2am. The title of a ‘good time’ city Bangkok was known with a considerable lack of all-night venues. these days that title cannot be claimed.
Couple this with regular bar raids and police shakedowns of mostly dark-skinned foreigners, since the 2014 coup many have regaled to have never seen such the city become such a nanny state. Whilst, of course, Phnom Penh is not perfect with semi-regular shakedowns and bizarre deceny laws, a common reply when asking a bartender what time is close, the response is most likely ‘when you stop buying drinks’.
This was by far the most interesting of comments that were made and could be a whole opening piece in itself, it was also mostly along generational lines. With older expats stating the rampant use of social media in Thailand one of the biggest turn offs of living in the county.
As the prevalence of free and fast wifi coupled with an abundance of cheap smartphones has resulted in a massive uptake in social media for Thai youths. Juxtaposition this against the same factors and the use in Cambodia in dramatically less, although as these driving forces move in the same direction I feel this the usage in both cities will be on par soon.
For those who have watched arguably Bangkok’s most international distributed movie, The Hangover 2 will know, a key storyline of the movie is the constant and severe power outages that occur in the city. Drinking a beer in a candlelit bar with zero air movement and only shadowed faces for company, is an oddly romantic experience that everyone must have once in their lives. However, I have been assured that whilst this was the case in the 1990s, the Bangkok of today is not the location where this can be found.
In all my time of living and traveling in not just Bangkok but the country of Thailand as a whole, I have experienced just one blackout, lasting for a total for three hours. Bangkok is a becoming a world-class city with some bars now the replicating shopping centers for their air conditioning capabilities.
In contrast, for my regular readers, I won’t repeat what I have already written about my time in Phnom Penh. However, I will leave a link to the post below were my experience can be found…
President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines has recalled his country’s ambassador to Canada this week after Ottawa failed to take back tons of rubbish it had dumped in the Southeast Asian country, the Philippine foreign secretary said Thursday.
The decision came after Canada missed a deadline last week set by Mr. Duterte for Canada to remove more than 100 shipping containers filled with household trash that had made its way to the Philippines more than five years ago. The containers hold common household trash, including used bags and soiled diapers, but they were mislabeled as recyclable materials.
The infamous Mount Agung volcano has erupted on the Indonesian holiday island of Bali, causing some overnight flight cancellations to and from Australia as an ash cloud rose into the sky, officials said.
According to the national disaster agency, the eruption lasted four minutes and 30 seconds and spread lava and incandescent rocks about 3km from the crater. Nine villages experienced thick ash fall. There were no reports of casualties. Flights run by Qantas Airways, Jetstar and Virgin Airlines were operating normally again by the end of the week.
Expert Tip: For anyone traveling to the region must always remember that insurance companies will not pay out on any incidents as a direct result of a volcano eruption, due to the act of God restrictions.
Smokers in Singapore will no longer have to sneak a drag on the street, with the launch of the city-state’s first air-conditioned “smoking cabin”, but the experience won few fans among cigarette puffers last week.
The country has some of the world’s strictest anti-tobacco laws and smoking is banned in most public places, with a fine of up to Sg$1,000 ($1000AUD) if caught. E-cigarettes are also banned outright.
The new cabins, which are fitted with a Danish filtration system that can purify cigarette smoke before it is released into the air, can reportedly fit up to 10 people at a time.
The Week That Was:
This week a Big Mac now costs the same in Thailand as it does in Australia.
Whilst much as been made over the exchange rate with the UK’s pound sterling, for example. In 2008, you could get as much as 67 baht to the pound, fast-forward to today and its 41. But the Australia Dollar has to has been severely impacted by the increasing Thai Baht, with the exchange rate in the dropping from 31 Baht in the same period (2008) to 21 Baht today.
I have already previously spoken about the cost of living in Thailand in this weeks post, however as any economists will attend too, the impact of the ‘Big Mac Index’ referenced needs further unpacking.
Speaking to an in the know Bangkok bar manager the impact of the poor exchange, rapid cost of living and historically low term deposits, referred to as the triple threat. Have all made for an extremely volatile situation for the local retiree. With those that have moved to the country prior to 2008 now having to take extreme cutbacks to discretionary spending.
These cuts backs are now having a severe impact on businesses geared towards accommodating the western market; think bars, restaurants, massage parlous and domestic services. Reports have also included funding for wives, girlfriends, and their families are dramatically down over the past 12 months.
However, perhaps by far, the biggest consequence of these price shifts are the entire movement of this demographic altogether. With many being forced either back to their respective countries or choosing to migrate to the ‘cheaper’ options of Vietnam and Cambodia. With the former reporting a massive increase in western migration over the past five years, with Cambodia pickup a percentage although still representing too much of the wild west for many peoples liking.
Photo of the Week:
I have chosen to repost last weeks photo, to receive some extra votes on my poll and ensure a fair result.
I took this photo on the Island of Koh Rong – I will be gathering a poll for next week with the question. Left or right who looks more unhappy in the marriage? Send your answers into firstname.lastname@example.org
The Week Ahead:
The next will bring some tough decisions for Indonesian President Joko Widdodo in ensuring his military continues to keep peace on the streets of Jakarta, as he attempts to select his new cabinet ministry.
The ongoing tension between the Philippines and Canada over disputed rubbish dumping may turn into further nationalistic pride due to mid-term elections. More to come for me on that.
I have managed to post every week this month and intend to continue this at times busy schedule. Please email if you have any comments, questions or general musings on the content or segments each week – it is always great to hear from the readers!
Harrison White can be contacted at email@example.com