Getting started with golf in Bangkok

It’s been said that if you want to get ahead in Asian business – or politics – you can’t afford not to play golf. We can’t estimate the amount of money you won’t make if you fail to get swinging on a course, but we can give you an idea of what it costs to get started playing.

Before committing to one club as a member, you’ll want to try out a few courses. There are scores across Bangkok and surrounding areas, so these are an arbitrary selection of some of the more popular. Greg Norman-designed Thana City charges walk-ins Bt1,620 on weekdays and Bt2,100 on weekends; a cart costs Bt400, caddy fees are Bt200, shoes are Bt150 and clubs are Bt600. Bangkok Golf Club charges walk-in weekday visitors Bt1,050, and Bt2,100 on weekends. A caddy costs Bt210, club hire is Bt500, shoehire is Bt100, and a cart costs Bt500 on weekdays or Bt600 on weekends.

Subhapruek is one of several courses offering discounts to afternoon golfers. Guests’ fees on weekdays are Bt750 before midday and Bt700 afterwards; weekend fees are Bt1,700 before midday and Bt950 afterwards, including caddy. Hiring shoes costs Bt200, while clubs are Bt500. Nick Faldo-designed Krung Kavee charges Bt800 weekdays and Bt1,500 weekends. Caddy fee is Bt200, a cart costs Bt600, shoehire is Bt200 and club hire is Bt600. Muang Ake Golf Course is good choice during the week, charging Bt610 to visitors, while weekend fees are Bt1,030. Caddy fee is Bt200, shoehire is Bt80 and clubs are Bt300.

For practice you’ll need to head to a driving range. Each forty balls at driving range Aree will set you back Bt50; hire an iron for Bt70 or a wood for Bt100 per session. At Sukhumvit Soi 18, forty balls also costs Bt50, but hiring a wood or an iron is Bt50. Bangplee charges Bt100 for 120 balls, with an iron or a wood costing Bt50.

Classes are offered at most driving ranges, as well as at some golf clubs. At Aree, classes are Bt500 an hour, or buy a set of ten for Bt4,000. At Bangplee, an hour’s lesson with a pro will set you back Bt800. British PGA golf professional Daniel Wyborn offers private classes at the Thai Country Club and Sukhumvit Soi 18 driving range for Bt1,500 an hour.

Eventually you’ll want to join a club. Bangkok Golf Club charges Bt35,000 for a year’s membership, with only a caddy fee of Bt210 then applicable. Subhapruek charges Bt40,000 for one year’s membership, after which green fees are Bt50, and caddy fees are Bt200. Krung Kavee Golf Course sells 30-year memberships for Bt550,000, after which there are no green fees.

The cost of a new set of golf clubs varies dramatically based on what brand you buy. According to Transview, a new Titlist set including 3-9 irons, pitching wedge, sand iron, three woods and a putter sells for Bt70,000 to 100,000. A similarly composed set from Mizuno can cost from Bt20,000 to Bt100,000. Pan West sells Callaway iron sets from Bt42,500; a Daiwa set costs Bt29,500. Extra Callaway woods range from Bt11,500 to 19,500, while a Ping putter costs around Bt6,000.

For beginners, second hand sets are a good idea. Honma Center says their Titlist secondhand iron sets (when in stock) start from Bt15,000; Callaway starts at Bt18,000 to 25,000; Mizuno starts from Bt23,000 to 25,000 and Bridgestone costs upwards of Bt22,000.

Golf balls start at around Bt280 for a dozen from brands such as X-cess and Maxfli, and range up to around Bt2,000 for brands like Tour Special and Nike. Golf bags range from Bt4,000 for local brands to around Bt40,000 for some Japanese brands. Golf shoes made in Thailand start at around Bt1,000, while imported brands such as Nike can cost up to Bt9,000. Expect to pay around Bt350 for a golf glove; Bt700 for a golf umbrella; and Bt100 for a large container of tees.

Finally, after a hard day on the course, head to Being Spa for a special "After Golf Release Package". The two-and-a-half hour session includes a sport massage, fitness facial for men or aromatherapy facial for women, and an ocean mud foot treatment. It costs Bt3,500.

And while relaxing, catch up on the latest developments in the golf world by browsing through the English-language Golf Magazine (Bt295), Golf International (Bt295), Golf for Women (Bt225) or Asian Golf (Bt195), Thai-language Golf Digest Thailand (Bt150) or English and Thai-language On Green Golf (Bt90).

Thana City Golf and Country Club
100-100/1 Moo 4
Bangna-Trad Rd. Km 14
Bangplee, Samutprakarn
Tel: 336 1968-78

Bangkok Golf Club
99 Moo 2 Tiwanon Rd. Bangkadi, Muang,
Pathumthani 12120
Tel : 501 2828

Subhapruek Country Club
102 Moo 7, Bangna-Trad Km.26
Bangplee, Samutprakarn
Tel: 317 0801-4

Krung Kavee Golf Club and Country Club
115/2 Rangsit – Nakhornnayok Rd
Thanyaburi, Pathumthani
Tel: 557 2891, 577 4147-9

Muang Ake Golf Club
52 Moo 7 Pathumthani
Tel: 997 7315-6

Aree Driving Range
Sukhumvit Soi 26
Tel: 259 8425-7

Sukhumvit Soi 18 Driving Range
End soi
Tel: 258-0985-6

Bangplee Driving Range
12/4 Moo 7, Bang Na Trad
Tel: 316 1547

Daniel Wyborn
01 889 0061

1st fl Thaniya Plaza
52 Thaniya Rd Bang Rak
Tel: 231 2113

Pan West International
43/1001 Moo 3 Ramintra Rd
Bang Khen
Tel: 552 8812, 970 5832

1st fl Thaniya Plaza
52 Thaniya Rd Bang Rak
Tel: 231 2179

3rd Fl Emporium
622 Sukhumvit 24
Tel: 664 8564

Honma Center
841/12 Sukhumvit Rd Soi 47
Tel: 258 7401, 258 7249

Being Spa
88 Soi Sukhumvit 51
Klongton Neua
Tel: 662 6171

Volunteering in Bangkok

It’s easy to get caught up in your career, working insane hours so you can buy that new car or save to head away on that exotic holiday. But sometimes it’s worth stepping back and considering whether you might gain satisfaction in other ways – by giving your time to help people in a way that means something to you, for instance.

Feel good, enhance your employment prospects too
Besides making you and others feel good, if you’re out of work, volunteering can help you back into the workforce, says experienced Bangkok-based volunteer Yvonne Ziegler. "Just getting out there on a regular basis helps you when you’re unemployed. Plus you’ll meet people, develop skills such as answering the phone and writing, and learn to relate to co-workers."

Volunteering can also help those near completion of school or university work out what sort of work they’re suited for. "Volunteering often makes people waiting to work really examine how they can use their job skills in ways other than which they’ve been taught," Yvonne said. "For instance, ordinary teachers take up ESL teaching, social workers take up jobs in slums, and computer programmers teach computer skills to street kids."

Where to volunteer in Bangkok
There are a wide array of places to offer your time and skills in Bangkok. Those interested in helping children could assist the Friends For All Children Foundation, which runs an orphanage currently home to 23 children aged from 3 months to two years. They require volunteers to visit and play with the children from 9 to 11am and 2 to 4pm daily. "Just having some time and being willing to volunteer is enough to help our children," said director Saovanee Nilavongse.

The Bangkok School for the Blind always requires volunteers, particularly to teach English conversation to their students, who range from kindergarten to secondary school age. Volunteer coordinator Panna Narintorn says both English and Thai speakers are also required to record books from Mondays to Fridays. "If people can teach any special activities, such as swimming or music classes – which they can also do on Saturday mornings – that is very useful," she said. They also need helpers to type documents in English which are then translated to braille.

If you have an interest in handicrafts, you could assist in the running of Sop Moei Arts, a handicrafts shop selling products made by ethnic Karen from 15 villages in Mae Hong Son province. The project started with a shop in Chiang Mai, which is now run by the Karen themselves, and the Bangkok shop opened in 1998. "We need volunteers to work any time Monday to Friday. Only two skills are required: being able to interact with people, and introduce them to the beauty of handicrafts," said lead volunteer Masako Isomura.

Language teachers could consider giving their services to Empower, a non-profit organisation helping women in the sex industry through health and vocational education. They also have an ongoing requirement for helpers to distribute condoms and sex education information, run art projects and give legal, sexual, and financial informational workshops. "Volunteers must stay in Bangkok longer than three months – otherwise it’s too disruptive to students," a representative emphasised.

Rejoice Urban Development Project, a Chiang Mai-based charity providing assistance to people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS, needs volunteers with a wide variety of skills. Volunteers onsite can assist with medical, administrative, translating and marketing tasks, among others. Interestingly, Rejoice now also accepts online volunteers from around the world who can assist with such tasks such as writing, research, marketing and graphic design. "Our online volunteers work three to four hours a week," said Rejoice’s assistant director Gareth Lavell. The group is affiliated with websites and, from where they recruit online volunteers.

With sites such as these, volunteering has truly gone global. These sites seek help from volunteers who can work at home to assist with projects around the world – so if there’s no requirement for your particular skills in Thailand, the world’s now your oyster.

Friends For All Children Foundation
25 Soi Ruamrudee 1
Ploenchit Rd Patumwan
Tel: 252 6560

Bangkok School for the Blind
420 Ratchawithi Rd
Tel: 246 0070

Sop Moei Arts
Soi Klang (in Racket Club compound)
Sukhumvit Soi 49
Tel: 712 8039 or Masuko on 01 639 4869

P.O. Box 1065
Silom Post Office
Tel: 236 9272

Rejoice Urban Development Project
70/1 Amarin Court, Klong
Moo 6, Suthep Muang
Chiang Mai 50200
Tel: 053 806 227

Online sites

Deregulation benefits investors

The deregulation of securities brokerage fees in October last year has led to savings for investors as competition between brokerage houses becomes fierce. ING Baring’s head of domestic sales Vichai Putthatiwat says that commissions are currently as low as they can go. "Prices are very cheap. They cannot get any cheaper."

Yet others aren’t so sure. Phillip Securities’ analyst Adisak Kammool describes the industry as experiencing a consolidation period. "The first step has been price cutting, but we won’t feel the full effects until 12 to 18 months after liberalisation first came into effect. I think we will see an average of 0.1 to 0.15 per cent established for the industry."

Prior to deregulation, commission fees for all securities transactions – that is the buying and selling of shares – was 0.5 per cent. (Local mutual funds companies, however, were charged 0.3 per cent.) It was illegal for brokerage houses to grant a better rate for a client no matter how large their volume of trading. In other words, houses were effectively insulated from price competition, meaning they had to compete on the basis of services provided instead.

All that changed on 1 October, when houses were free for the first time to set their own prices; price drops occurred immediately, and now investors pay a maximum of 0.25 per cent on any transaction.

In an industry that derives 80 to 90 per cent of its income from commissions, the effect was bound to be serious. Adkinson Securities’ head of research Amarit Singnarong says that on the positive side, deregulation is helping the industry become more efficient. "Everyone’s looking to trim fat. Before they didn’t care – it was a lucrative business. Now the bubble has burst and we’re on a recovery path."

Things are certainly different now. Managing director of Seamico Securities Alistair Burgoyne says that not much beyond price is differentiating houses anymore. "It’s very much a price-driven game. We have a situation where no one is making any money. The end client is the sole beneficiary in this situation."

With the focus on price, attention to research is dropping, leaving those investors seeking high-quality guidance for their purchases and sales with a lower quality of information.

"Quality of research has dropped tremendously," confirmed Kim Eng Securities’ Lan Ung. "Well-qualified analysts are becoming very rare here – companies just can’t afford them anymore, once they take into account both their drop in revenue stream and the fall in the baht over the past few years. It’s not that local analysts are bad, but they do lack the experience international analysts bring."

However, individual investors have not traditionally sought out and paid for high-value research anyway. "Discount houses have never provided research, and high quality houses have given it away," Ms Ung said. "It’s traditionally mutual funds companies that have relied on good research."

Despite the tough times, no houses have yet closed their doors, and mergers have been slow to occur among local houses. "People here continue to hang on in the hope that things will improve – in other countries there would have been more mergers by now," said Ms Ung.

Nevertheless, she predicts they will start occurring, or at least houses will look towards appointing a central settlement office to save on back office and administrative costs. "Over the next few months the stockbroking industry will undergo some dramatic changes here."

Adkinson Securities’ Marco Sucharitkul says that any mergers are likely to be strategic. "For example, if a firm specialises in local and foreign institutions but they lack retail experience, they may approach a retail firm to merge. It won’t be a case of big fish eating small fish, it will be strategic for both."

Kim Eng
Up to 1m: 0.25
1m to 5m: 0.2
> 5m: 0.15
100m/month and over, can possibly negotiate to 0.1 or less

Capital Nomura
Up to 20,000: Bt50
20,000 to 1m: 0.25
1m to 3m: 0.2
3m to 5m: 0.175
5m to 10m: 0.15
>10m: 0.1

Seamico Securities
Any amount: 0.25 (Min Bt50)
Large transaction: Negotiable

Kiatnakin Securities
Up to Bt50,000: Bt125
50,000 to 300,000: 0.25
300,000 to 500,000: 0.2
500,000 to 2m: 0.175
2m to 5m: 0.15
>5m: 0.1

ING Baring Securities
Up to 1m: 0.25
1m to 5m: 0.2
>5m: 0.15

Selecting a shampoo

We’ve all sat in hair salons and smiled nervously as our stylist has suggested buying an expensive salon shampoo. We’ve thought about that Bt80 bottle of pleasant-smelling shampoo sitting at home in our shower recess and wondered, "Is the extra price for that really worth it?"

Paying around Bt300 to 400 for a salon-sourced or upper-end brand name shampoo can seem extravagant. But stylist Schai from Schai Coiffeur insists that price is an important indicator of quality. "The formula and the ingredients are very different [between cheap and expensive shampoos]. Salon shampoos are more targeted towards hair types, and they’re more concentrated than supermarket shampoos."

Salon shampoos today are all of a comparable standard – the important thing is finding the right product for your hair type, and this is where your stylist’s advice is paramount. "It matters who you buy from," said Schai . "They must understand the products they are selling, and know whether they are going to be good for your hair."

If you’re on a tight budget and your hair is in good nick, Schai has good news: a general shampoo probably won’t harm your hair. "Those shampoos are just not helping your hair as much as they could be. But the cheapest shampoos, which have more detergent, could dry out your hair," he warned.

The quality of a shampoo is to an extent determined by its pH (a number on a scale of 1 to 12 that measures acidity or alkalinity). Human hair and skin has a pH of around 4.5 to 5.5, while shampoo has a higher alkalinity or a pH in the range of six to 10. This higher alkalinity opens the hair shaft, and lets the shampoo get inside to clean.

The Attitude’s hairstylist John Moy explains that good shampoos have a pH of seven to eight. "Those nine to 10 – the soapier ones – are likely to leave the hair shaft slightly open, which makes the hair look dull." So the degree of foam you get from your shampoo is not, contrary to popular belief (and many advertisements) a good indicator of its effectiveness.

Joico, one of the newest salon brands in Thailand, has a range of 300ml shampoos, including Chelating Shampoo Resolve, for maximum cleansing (Bt350), Treatment Shampoo Biojoba, for chemically damaged hair (Bt430), and Lavei Deep Cleansing Shampoo (Bt320). Paul Mitchell’s line includes Shampoos One, Two and Three (250mL). One is for daily use (Bt235), two is for daily use on oily hair (Bt235) and three is to get rid of buildup (Bt255). Sebastian this month launches its Laminates range, which adds a Cleansing Polish (Bt395, 250mL) to their other shampoos, including Mohair , Spandex and Stark Naked Shampoos (all Bt395, 250mL).

Heading outside the salons, Boots Tricologie line includes shampoos labelled Rejuvenating, Nourishing and Deep Cleansing (all Bt340, 250mL). The Origins haircare range, available at Central Chidlom and Ladprao and The Emporium, carries shampoos The Last Straw(Bt590) for conditioning, Clear Head (Bt490) for daily use, No Deposit (Bt 490) to get rid of buildup and Snow Removal (Bt490) for dandruff control. The Body Shop has a selection of shampoos in its Palmshine range, including a Rebalancing Shampoo for oily hair (Bt230, 250mL), Conditioning Shampoo for dry, damaged or colour-treated hair (Bt230, 250mL), Volumising Shampoo for fine/flyaway hair (Bt230, 250mL) and Deep Cleansing Shampoo (Bt320, 150mL).

Once you have the right shampoo, to put it to work Mr Moy recommends that you lather your hair for one to two minutes to allow it to get used to the water and the shampoo. Concentrate on your scalp and roots, and use the balls of your fingertips rather than your fingernails, which can damage the scalp. Rinse and repeat, as by the second wash the hair shaft will be open and able to be really cleaned. "This second wash is especially important for people who use styling products," he said. "If these accumulate, they’ll lead to problems later on." Finish with a conditioner.

Makeup can help you save up

Buying a new lipstick or a new eyeshadow can be a great pick-me-up, but if you tend to impulse buy makeup too frequently, it can also eat into your budget. A good way to save cash while also keeping up with the latest trends in makeup is to get a complete makeover when the urge to spend bites.

Many cosmetic counters offer a makeover service for free if you are interested in buying some of their products. Spending over a certain amount at a number of counters, however, makes you eligible for scheduled makeup classes that are more in-depth. Several brands also have separate specialised institutes that you can attend for lessons – some completely free, others charging an amount that you can then redeem against a purchase of their products.

Bobbi Brown provides a free no-obligation makeover to interested customers at their counters located at Central Chidlom, Ladprao and Pinklao, Emporium and Zen. Appointments are recommended, so call in advance. If you spend more than Bt5,000, however, you become eligible to register to attend a three-hour workshop conducted once a month in the relevant department store’s classroom. Class size is limited to 15 to 20 people, with everyone given their own station of cosmetics to use. One teacher takes the class, with seven or eight makeup artists assisting the class.

For the month of July only, Red Earth customers at Central Chidlom, Ladprao and Bang Na are being offered a free day-long class if they purchase Red Earth products to the value of Bt2,800. Normally, customers are provided only with a free short suggestions as to how to wear their makeup at counters.

The Body Shop offers several types of makeup classes. Their 90-minute basic class costs Bt1,500, but you can redeem up to Bt1,200 on any Body Shop purchase, effectively making the class Bt300. If you don’t want to buy any products, the class costs Bt590. Heading out into the world of work? They have a specialised 90-minute class on interview makeup, priced at Bt1,500, with a Bt1,000 rebate offered, or a flat Bt690. A two-hour advanced class isBt1,500, with Bt900 redeemable, or a flat Bt690. A 60-minute trend lesson will keep you up with what’s happening this season. Cost is Bt1,500, with Bt1,200 redeemable, or pay Bt590 for just the class. Classes are available only at their Central Ladprao and Pinklao stories in Bangkok, and at Central Airport in Chiang Mai.

Clarins and Lancome have their own institutes located at The Curve Lane, Central Chidlom. At Institut Clarins Paris, a one-hour class costs Bt2,000, but this amount is then redeemable against the purchase of any Clarins products. At Lancome Institut de Beaute the classes are longer: a ninety-minute class will also set you back Bt2,000, and again this amount is redeemable against purchases of Lancome products. Lancome also has group classes: take yourself and three friends along for a three-hour class that will cost each of you Bt1,500, then choose products up to that amount for your rebate.

Shiseido also has its own institute with beauty consultants to provide advice on their products free-of-charge. Individual customers are encouraged to drop by, while groups of five to 10 people can book in advance for a series of free lessons. One bonus here is that there’s no pressure to buy – products are not for sale at the institute, you need to head to a counter once you’ve decided whether you like what you’ve tried.

Clinique counters provide demonstrations to customers on how to apply their products, but they also have a special workshop event coming up from August 20 to 31. At selected counters customers can register from August 1 to be entitled to make an appointment for a full at-counter makeup lesson during that period. Bookings are limited.

Protecting your hair

Hot, polluted and humid: Bangkok is your hair’s worst nightmare. Add blowdryers, curling tongs and hot hair rollers to the equation and your hair’s going to need all the help it can get if it’s going to remain strong and healthy. Thankfully, an increasing range of protective products are now hitting the shelves – but you don’t necessarily have to spend up big to keep your hair looking beautiful.

Blowdryers, curling tongs and hot hair rollers are by far the most damaging to the hair. "The sun, after all, does not equal 220V of heat," says The Attitude’s hairstylist John Moy. "These items are directly damaging and ruining the hair at the technical level."

The way you use your heating implements can help minimise damage to an extent. For instance, when blow drying your hair, stop when it’s ninety per cent dry instead of fully drying it; and don’t hold curling tongs to your hair any longer than necessary.

But for complete protection, investing in a heat protection product is necessary – particularly for chemically treated hair, which is already damaged and easily susceptible to further damage. In general, such products work by coating the strands of your hair with a protective film, so the heat of your blow dryer or other heating implements won’t burn or dry out the hair shaft.

"Look for products that have a moisturiser, as these will be nourishing for your hair," said Mr Moy. "Really, they are all good. It comes down to what the client likes, and how much they want to spend. If you don’t want to spend anything at all, don’t colour or perm your hair in the first place, and don’t use heating tongs."

Hitting salon shelves worldwide this month is a new range of Sebastian haircare products called Laminates, which includes a Hair Spray Finishing Polish (Bt475, 250mL) with silicones to protect hair from heat damage. The Body Shop’s Palmshine range, launched earlier this year, includes a Conditioning Mask for normal hair (Bt470, 150mL), with contains shea butter, a jojoba oil derivative and conditioning agents to protect against heat damage.

Those with dry, damaged or colour-treated hair should instead try the Intense Conditioning Mask (Bt470, 150mL), with similar ingredients. Or, suitable for all hair types, there’s the Leave-In Conditioner (Bt320, 150mL) that features shea butter and a conditioning agent, again to protect against heat damage.

Many products now incorporate UV protective ingredients too. Tigi Protein Protective Spray (Bt390, 240mL), designed for hair that’s coarse or dull, protects it from UV rays plus heating products; The Body Shop’s No Hassle Detangling Spray (Bt320, 150mL) contains a heat-styling protection ingredient plus a sunscreen.

For those who don’t necessarily blowdry their hair, but spend plenty of time in the sun, there are specialised products too. Boots’ Tricologie haircare range includes a waterproof protective gel, Protect & Condition Swimming Gelle (Bt260, 150 ml), while L’Oreal’s Kerastase range includes a Solaire Huile Protective Spray (Bt450, 100mL).

But there’s good news for your wallet if it is just sun protection you’re after. "You can really use any moisturiser, or even Johnson’s Baby Oil – just a touch over the surface of your hair," said Mr Moy. "Specialised products are really just gimmicks."

Schai Coiffeur’s Schai adds that not everyone needs to use sun protection products. "It’s an extra. If your lifestyle means you face a lot of exposure to the sun, then these products will help keep your hair colour stable, and prevent your hair from drying out."

The condition of your hair should also help determine whether you use such products. "If your hair is not in good condition, or it’s coarse, protective sprays will be more effective. But if your hair’s in good condition, it doesn’t matter a lot."

Bangkok’s commercial property market

Experts advise those looking to expand or move into premium quality Bangkok office space to move quickly. With virtually no new space coming onto the market over the next two to three years, premium office space prices are expected to modestly rise, while incentives offered to tenants will drop off.

Mr Suttipan Kreemaha, associate director of Colliers International’s research and consulting division, says that although the market can be described as "stable overall", the effective rental rate is expected to rise for premium and A-grade office space in the short term. (Colliers grades property into premium, and grades A, B and B minus.)

"Previously tenants entering a lease of three years would have got three to six months rent free. But with the improvement in the market, the rent free period has fallen from six to three to two months now, which squeezes up the effective rate."

Specifically, the average effective rent in the premium category rose by 11.2 per cent in the year to the first quarter 2001, according to Colliers April 2001 Bangkok Bulletin. According to the report, the overall vacancy rate dropped from 34.9 per cent at the end of 2000 to 33.5 per cent at the end of this year’s first quarter. CB Richard Ellis put the vacancy rate at 31 per cent for the first quarter.

According to Mr Suttipan, the areas to shift into now are the CBD (which includes Ploenchit, Sathorn, Silom and Ratchadamri) or anywhere near a BTS station. He said the BTS opening has not had a great impact on rents, but it has led to some clients staying put when otherwise they may have moved elsewhere to upgrade.

Moving outside the CBD doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a better deal. "Prices don’t necessarily drop off," said Amy Rodil, director of CB Richard Ellis’s research and consultancy division. "They’re comparable or even higher, so long as the building is good quality and has good management."

Ms Rodil advises tenants planning on leasing to do so as soon as possible. "Especially if you are talking about high quality space. For the next two to three years – at least until All Seasons [on Wireless Rd] opens – the market is going to be a bit tight, with not much choice available. Rents are still cheaper than a few years ago – the peak of the market saw prices at Bt600/m2, now rents are around Bt400/m2. Now is the right time to look at moving."

Robert Collins, director of Jones Lang LaSalle’s commercial division, estimates that across the CBD vacancy rates are a lower 27 per cent. "At the peak of the market in 1996, vacancy rates were 18 to 22 per cent, so we’re close to the best we’ve had anyway. It’s the grade B and C buildings that are remaining dormant."

Consequently, Mr Collins says that these are the properties currently representing best value. "Grade B space is not bad, it’s just not as glamorous and isn’t in a key location. These are the buildings worth looking at in all geographical areas at the moment."

With rent free periods drying up, other incentives may start to drop off too – but some landlords may still be prepared to go that extra mile for a deal. Mr Collin’s advice when it comes to negotiating a deal is simple: "Just ask. Parking rates, air conditioning rates – every item is negotiable. Don’t just agree to what your landlord offers."

And if you want the best deal, heading to an agent is probably a better bet than attempting to negotiate alone. "You can’t exclusively rely on the information that your landlord gives you," Mr Collins said. "A good agent will know other deals that have happened recently, and should be able to negotiate you the best deal on that basis."

Cutting through red tape

"No! I don’t want any of your stupid little dangly conical hats. I didn’t yesterday, I didn’t this morning when I passed you, and I didn’t when I passed that woman selling the exact same thing five metres back there. Thank you."

That’s what I wanted to say to the hawker in Hanoi. I really wanted to say it, and I was aware that just wanting to say such things made me a hypocritical, nasty and socially insensitive redneck. Instead I smiled. "No, thank you!"

Vietnam was breaking me. I had been there for nearly a month, travelling overland from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi on an extended holiday – I was using Bangkok as a base for travel at last! I had two assignments to complete while I was there, both related to that most curious of north Vietnamese traditional performing arts: water puppetry.

I’d seen the water puppets on a previous visit to Hanoi, where the best troupe is reputedly based. They were pretty cute. The wooden puppets are mounted onto a float, and are manipulated underwater by puppeteers who stand behind bamboo blinds hanging from an indoor pagoda built over a pool. The music is feisty and loud, and both tourists and Vietnamese children love them.

Gathering a bit of background information about the puppets and their history would be a snack. I brushed aside my daily experiences in Thailand of having to leap immeasurable obstacles to extract the most basic information from people (in English – so yes, it’s my fault).

A typical Thailand example: I want a brief comment from a stock analyst to include in a story.

"Well, my manager is the only person allowed to make comments to the press," the woman it takes a half dozen transferred lines and repeated explanations to reach says.

"Can I speak to your manager?" I ask.

"He doesn’t cover that area," she laments. "I do."

"Well can you ask your manager if you might be allowed to make a comment in this case?" I prompt. She puts down the phone and comes back in a few moments.

"Look, I’m very busy. Can’t you call someone else?"

Twenty-five years of living under communism would probably make those sorts of calls more difficult. But mere inanimate puppets? They’d be a cinch.

To err on the side of caution, however, I had tried to prepare by calling the puppetry theatre while still in Bangkok. Incredibly, I found the right person within two quick calls.

"Just give me a call when you arrive!" she said. "No problem!"

"I won’t have much time in Hanoi. If possible, could I arrange times to speak to people now? I could send you a fax or an email with what I’d like to know," I said helpfully. You gotta have that fax or email fallback in Thailand – a name to quote at least, but a piece of paper is always a better bet.

"No, just show up!"

In Hanoi it was drizzling. It was enough to make the light for photographs rotten and your clothes continually damp, but not quite enough to get the ubiquitous postcard sellers and shoeshiners to stay indoors. I was unnecessarily grumpy and tired; the charm in those dilapidated old shopfronts eluded me and I just wanted to be back in Bangkok. Only the puppets stood between me and my flight home.

I called the theatre, but they hadn’t heard of the woman I had spoken to. "Miss Tan," I repeated with some desperation to a voice that kept breaking into hysterical giggles. "Is there someone else there I can talk to who deals with the press?"

"No, no one else!" he giggled joyfully.

I physically went to the theatre, where someone called the director on my behalf. He was available for an interview the next day.

At the appointed hour my interpreter Jim and I we were led to seats in the foyer. A few of the attendants appeared and whispered apologetically to him. "The director has a very important party to attend," Jim conveyed. "He cannot make his appointment."

We made another appointment for the following day. "If the party was so important, why didn’t he know about it yesterday?" I whined rhetorically to Jim on the way out. Jim explained politely that the director was an important man, and it wasn’t unusual for such people as us to have to make repeated calls in order to meet with somone like him. Communism hadn’t quite managed to make everyone equal after all. I was in familiar territory now.

The next day the man with my assignments in his hands appeared. He sat on the edge of his chair, fingering his gold watch and tapping his toes impatiently as Jim translated questions.

"When did the theatre open?" Jim asked.

He smiled, tapped his toes noisily and embarked on a seemingly intriguing and lengthy anecdote. He laughed, Jim made a few encouraging remarks. He was really quite personable after all! Finishing with a drum of his fingers on the table, he smiled at me.

"1985," Jim translated.

And so it went. "We want to take Vietnamese culture to the world," was one complete sentence I did manage to write down. Could he give me any references to works in English on water puppets? Any materials at all? No, there was nothing- just an out of print book we might track down. Could I interview some of the puppeteers? He would have to check and let me know the next day.

We didn’t track down the book, but I did attend a performance that night where I discovered that there was an English-language program that did in fact contain plenty of good information in English. It also completely contradicted much of what the director had said. I was ready to conclude that puppets sucked.

The next day I planned on heading north for a three-day trip, giving me just enough time to squeeze in some interviews before flying back to Bangkok. Jim emailed me to let me know he had made arrangements to interview puppeteers right in the middle of it. I explained that I had said I couldn’t make that time; he was obviously reluctant to cancel the appointment.

"I made up an excuse," he told me eventually. "Don’t tell them it was because you had paid for your ticket to go away – that is an unacceptable excuse to a Vietnamese."

A few days later, I interviewed the puppeteers and got Jim to delicately ask the director how it was that some of his facts conflicted with the program.

"The program says the troupe began in 1969. I was wondering what exactly it was that began in 1985?"

The director looked at his watch, he tapped those toes and drummed those fingers, before nodding sagely and launching into an explanation. The history of the theatre was clearly complex; there were nuances and shades of meaning that he was quite clearly taking the time to explain to Jim.

"Yes, those dates are different," Jim translated.

On the way back to my guesthouse for the last time one of the hatsellers approached me.

"Looking, looking! You want to buy, yes, yes?"

"How much?"

"One dollar." I handed over the money and took the red-stringed hats, planning to hang them over my computer screen. They sit here, reminding me to appreciate how easy – relatively – information is to access here in Thailand. And of how easy it is to misdirect your temper.

A good Australian film

The Sum of Us

"Russell Crowe and John Polson kiss. I don’t know about you, but that certainly flicks my switches," said my Australian friend, who has seen the 1995 Australian release The Sum of Us numerous times. And this is why I was surprised it was chosen to open the one-off Australian Film Festival happening at Grand EGV these next few days.

After all, when Australian novelist Luke Davies read an excerpt of his writing on masturbation at an embassy-sponsored Chiang Mai cultural evening, it caused a minor internal scandal. So now we were going to officially showcase an Australian film about – gasp – homosexuality?

Three cheers for the maturity of this choice – even if it was largely driven by the fact that Looking for Alibrandi had already been shown on Cinemax throughout May, and that Russell Crowe is now a major star. The Sum of Us is a heartwarming but unmawkish film about all kinds of love and how it might be found both in unexpected and expected places, like your own home.

Harry Mitchell, played by an affable Jack Thompson, lives with his only son, Jeff, played by a young Russell Crowe in one of his first features. Jeff is gay, although Harry prefers to say he’s "cheerful", a rare euphemism used by a man who otherwise supports his son’s sexuality right down to buying him pornographic magazines and interrupting him and his lover to ask how they’d like their cup of tea in the morning.

While it could almost seem strange – this need for Harry to be so involved in his son’s sex life – it’s really just the opposite extreme of the way most parents behave towards their children’s sexuality, whichever way it blossoms. Perhaps Harry’s interest stems from the fact that his own mother lived with another woman for 40 years: "It just skipped a generation with me," Harry believes.

For Jeff though, Harry’s wish to be helpful becomes a hindrance when he brings home Greg (John Polson, also the organiser of the now-famous Australian short film competition, Tropicana). Greg lives in an oppressive home environment, and hasn’t yet told his parents about his sexuality. To be suddenly talking to his prospective lover’s father about safe sex and breakfast in the morning is all a bit too "domestic". Greg takes flight and Jeff’s left wondering who he’s ever going to meet.

In the meantime, the widowed Harry is looking for a second chance at love for himself. He plucks up the courage to go to an introduction agency, through which he meets Joyce, a divorcee with whom he gets along well but doesn’t tell about Jeff. Considering how adamant Harry is that he’s proud of Jeff, it’s a surprising secret to keep. Joyce’s reaction when she does find out is either a little over the top – or a stark reminder of how homophobic many seemingly ordinary and nice people can still be.

The Sum of Us was adapted from a screenplay by David Stevens, and it maintains a theatrical feel with the two main actors occasionally speaking lines directly to the camera. In the hands of lesser actors this would be downright annoying, but Thompson and Crowe simply make you feel like you’re really part of their story, and it proves a useful device for injecting some great Australian one-liners along the way.

While the movie is definitely gay-friendly, it’s still somewhat disapproving of gay promiscuity. Jeff and Greg are searching for meaningful partners; most of the other men on the scene, they complain, "only want one thing". Phew, says the subtext, Jeff and Greg might be gay, but at least they’re not promiscuous. It’s okay to like them!

On the other hand, Jeff and Greg can be seen as just two people seeking a stable relationship in a world where most people, regardless of sexual orientation, aren’t necessarily after the same anymore. And in the end, their relationship is seen as being equally important and potentially just as complex as that between father and son.

I guess the only disappointment was provided by an Australian Embassy staff member at the end. "I’ll never be able to look at Russell Crowe in Gladiator the same way again, haw haw," he guffawed. Some people should really just stick to Gladiator.

Vitamin C: Helping in the defense of your skin

Your skin will be smoother and more fresh looking; fine lines will disappear; your skin will be brighter and lighter. These are the various claims cosmetic companies make for vitamin C, and in theory the vitamin can indeed help your skin in several ways.

Firstly, Vitamin C is an antioxidant, which means it helps neutralise toxic "free radicals". These are the byproducts of chemical reactions that take place in the body. Smoking, exposure to sunlight and pollution, stress, drugs and a poor diet can all lead to an increased production of free radicals on the surface of the skin. In turn, free radicals speed the skin’s aging process and may also contribute to skin cancer and inflammation. Applying topical vitamin C assists in destroying free radicals, and reduces their harmful effects. "I do use vitamin C cream because it’s an antioxidant," says Samitivej Hospital’s Dr Wilai Thanasarnaksorn, adding that its application also helps prevent new pigmentation in the skin.

Secondly, vitamin C helps in the skin’s production of collagen – an important structural protein of the skin – that slows as a body gets older. When vitamin C is properly delivered to skin cells, it can help reduce fine wrinkles and improve the skin texture, often described as a "boosting" or "rejuvenation" of the skin by cosmetics companies.

In practice, however, there are two major difficulties in getting vitamin C to work. First of all, vitamin C molecules are relatively large and therefore very difficult for the skin to absorb. In dermatologists’ clinics, a process called iontophoresis – where a small electrical charge is administered to the skin – may be used to encourage the molecule to be absorbed. It costs around Bt1000 to 2000 depending on the product used, but is usually used to treat medical conditions such as melasma.

The other problem is that vitamin C is highly unstable. In the presence of air or other oxidizing agents such as light, vitamin C is converted to an oxidized form that benefits neither collagen synthesis nor free radical scavenging. In fact, in poorly prepared or stored products, the vitamin C may be oxidized by the time you apply it to your skin. "The stability of the vitamin partly depends on the process used when making the cream," Apex Skin Centre’s Dr Natipat Supaninachart says. "It can disintegrate within a couple of months of being on the shelf [even unopened]."

There are numerous vitamin C products available for the consumer wanting to test the for themselves. "It’s very hard to say which products are better," says Dr Natipat. "But the main benefit for any vitamin C product off the shelf is its moisturising effect."

If you’d like to give it a go on your own, The Body Shop has a citrus-fragranced vitamin C range, which includes Skin Boost (Bt990 for 30mL), Intensive Night Treatment (Bt990 for 30mL) and SPF 15 Daily Moisturiser (Bt790 for 50mL). The Body Shop emphasises vitamin C’s usefulness as an antioxidant, and claims its products will leave the skin feeling smooth and softer.

Helena Rubenstein also has a range. Available in Thailand since January, it includes a Super Energy Serum (Bt 2,800, 6.8 mL x 4 bottles), Moisture Mousse (Bt1,750 for 200mL), Daily Activating Fluid with SPF15 (Bt 1,850 for 50mL) and Super Energising Cream (Bt1,700 for 30 mL or Bt2,200 for 50 mL) and Anti-Fatigue Eye Care (BT1,500 for 15 mL).

But if you’re a little sceptical now, perhaps wait for a few years before giving the products a go. "Companies who are serious about vitamin C are working hard on how to diffuse it into the skin better, and how to stabilise it," says Dr Natipat, adding that vitamin C is a substance of current great interest to dermatologists.