Living and Working in Bangkok Entertainment
Whatever your pleasure, Bangkok will serve you well with seemingly unlimited entertainment options available. Bangkok has long been known as a party town, a place where almost anything goes.
The cinema is a reliable source of entertainment and tickets are cheap ranging from 100 – 160 baht depending on where you go. Movies at many of the most popular and centrally located cinemas in Bangkok are screened in English with Thai subtitles though you should check because some places may have an English version at one time and a Thai dubbed version at another time! (In provincial Thailand movies tend to be dubbed in Thai). Movies are played loud and most cinemas are comfortable with reclining seats and very efficient air-conditioning. HM The King's anthem is played before the movie starts and you are expected to stand and pay homage to HM The King. Cinema etiquette in Thailand is not what it is in the west and young Thais may natter to one another through the movie and in a worst case scenario may even chat away on their mobile phones! A few harsh words in English will usually shut them up! TIT – This is Thailand!
There are various snooker and pool halls located here and there. Ask at your apartment and they will be able to tell you where the closest hall is. The costs vary but are usually about 100 baht an hour. The nicest facility in my opinion is The Ball In Hand which is located down Sukhumvit Soi 4 in the Rajah Hotel complex. Great tables and this place is farang owned and run, that is owned by farangs who are passionate about snooker and pool. And if The Ball In Hand is full, you could always go further down Soi 4 where you'll find Brunswick, which is also very nice. There are numerous ten pin bowling outlets and they are usually quite flash with all sorts of facilities available. I have been told that the bowling centre in Mahboonkrong is very good.
There are many types of Karaoke bars but I guess a number of foreigners will distinguish them as two different types – the sort where you go with a group of friends and sing songs for fun, I guess you could term them entertainment venues, or those places where you go along and an attractive young lady sings for you, sits with you and you try and chat her up. The variety where the attractive girls work tend to attract a lot of Thai, Japanese and other Asian customers and I gather that some girls in some of these places may offer extra services. I also understand that these Karaoke bars can be very, very expensive. All in all, not my cup of tea.
Bangkok has many large discos and they are located all over the city. Royal City Avenue (RCA), just off Petchaburi Road is a street with lots of bars that tends to be patronised mainly by young affluent Thais – you will find very few foreigners here at all. In fact, every time I go there, the crowd seems to get younger and younger. Many of the 15 year old students that I teach pride themselves on being able to gain entry to some of the bars. RCA isn't nearly as popular as it was a few years ago and has more than a bit of competition with an area of bars having popped up in Sutteesan, which intersects Rachadapisek Rd, near the Chaophya Park Hotel. RCA was very popular 2-3 years ago but is less popular now. The bars at Sutteesan are better in that they seem to attract both the middle and upper class Thais – not just the richer Thais like RCA does.
Soi 4 on Silom Road is a good bet if you like a bit of variety in your nightlife. You get all sorts down there from the majority of gay bars to alternative bars to the downright weird. I'm not gay, but I still find it a fun spot. One thing's for sure, soi 4 is never boring! If you like to people watch, there are a lot of tables set up outside the various venues that allow a ringside view of the glamorous parading for all to see, as they make their way to their favourite bar. This is one area where drinks are a lot more reasonably priced than some of the naughty bars or true upmarket venues.
One of my favourite venues to kick back, sink some awful Thai beer and chew the fat are any of the many beer gardens that pop up around the city in the cool season. Operating from around mid November until late February, the most well known of these are the large beer gardens that set up outside the Central World Plaza. They get going each day late afternoon as the after work crowd escapes the grind in pursuit of a drink and way to wind down after the long Thai work day. The beer garden outside the Central World Plaza is excellent in that it is subdivided up into areas where you can buy beer from each of the main Thai breweries. There's usually a big Singha area, Kloster and Carlsberg too. There are also lots of food vendors offering the usual Thai food at reasonable prices. It's a great atmosphere and it gets really busy so, if you get there later on, getting a table can be difficult. It's also a great place to meet some Thais. If you spot someone you like the look of, the Thai way of doing things is to get the waiter / waitress to deliver a note to that person from you. After exchanging one or two notes, you may swap mobile phone numbers and call each other. If you like the sound of each other, then you may just move table… If you can read and write Thai, then ANYTHING is possible!
Note that in many bars and discos in Bangkok, you do not usually get just a glass of Jack Daniel's (or whatever your poison may be), you buy the whole bottle! Yes, you pay anything from 1,200 – 2,500 baht and you get the bottle along with mixers and ice. If you do not finish the bottle that evening, they will keep it there, label it with your name and you can delve into it the next time you go back. At many of the places where I have been, they seem to keep the bottle for about three months. Alternatively, you can take the bottle home with you.
Many of the night-clubs and discos are hunting grounds for freelancers and high class prostitutes. If you want to avoid the girls of the night, go to an establishment with a reasonable entrance fee because that helps to keep them out. A lot of the venues that do not have an entrance fee may have some working girls hanging around. You may not notice them but they'll be in there, often all in a certain corner of the bar – all the regulars will know. As a farang, you may well be approached by some of them and not realise that they are actually after money, and not your rugged good looks…
Going to the toilet in a Thai disco or nightclub is often a real experience. First, a lot of the better places will have a very nice selection of after shaves and fancy fragrances for you to use, but this is only the start of it. Like so many places in Thailand, there will be a bunch of people working in the toilet and don't be surprised if there is up to ten of them! Each person will have a specific task which may range from sweeping the floor (yes, really!), to giving you a wet cloth to giving you a massage. For men, perhaps the most disconcerting thing here is that in some places, when you go to the urinal, you will feel someone put their hands on your shoulders and start to give you a massage – and sometimes there is more than one person doing it! Worst of all is that if this is unexpected, it can really effect your aim. Far from being the pleasant experience that they think they are providing, it is a total nuisance and a downright embarrassment. Pleas for a substantial tip even after you have told them that you do not want the damned massage can fall on deaf ears. I have resorted to taking a leak around the back of many a nightclub to avoid the nonsense in the loo.
For those who wish to indulge in the city's world renowned women of the night, Sukhumvit Road of service girls waiting for you in Bangkok, indeed throughout all of Thailand. This is, rightly or wrongly, a reason why many people choose Bangkok as their new home.
If you are a TV junky, you might cable / satellite TV in Thailand disappointing. Once called UBC and now known as True Visions, the major national cable operator really has only the basics with the news channels like CNN, BBC and CNBC (Fox News is not available), the movie channels such as HBO and Cinemax as well as a few local channels. There are three packages but even the top package really has a poor selection. Channels like Discovery and National Geographic seem to show stuff that is really old and a lot of the newer stuff that is shown elsewhere around the world is shown here really late. The installation cost varies whether you want satellite or cable and the monthly cost of cable runs between 850 – 2,500 baht depending which package you sign up for. As far as coverage of sport goes, English soccer – which is extremely popular amongst Thais – gets very good coverage. We get all of the Formula 1 and most of the golf and tennis. My two favourite sports of rugby and cricket get very little coverage. Some of the American sports are shown live, but from what I gather – I am not American and not really into the sports that are popular in North America – not that many. It should be noted that many apartment buildings actually have some sort of pirate cable system installed meaning it is free to all residents, as mentioned in the accommodation section.
In 2006 we lost the only 24 hour all English radio station, Metropolis 107. Now there are few radio stations with much in the way of English speaking DJs or English news. Metropolis was great because everything, apart from some of the advertising, was in English. You had English music, English DJs and the news was read in English – by native English speakers, no less. But this station was shut down. Prior to that we had Virgin 105 of which most programming was in English but that has since changed format. It is said that an all English programming radio station just is not financially viable in Bangkok, but that surprises me. Anyway, for the time being, there is no English radio programming in Bangkok and no radio station pitching to the local expat population, which is a real shame. I listen to radio programming from abroad via the internet these days.
There is a real lack of parks and sports grounds in Bangkok and while opportunities do exist to play sports, many require that you join a club. Most sports seem to have a local league of some description going and as I know that there is an ice hockey league – yes, in this heat, I would suggest that just about any sport can be played in Bangkok. On the whole, it seems that Thais prefer to watch sports rather than play them – can't say I blame them with the heat and all. As far as spectator sports go, you occasionally get big name football teams coming to Thailand to play the national team and sometimes, just sometimes, the national team wins like when they beat English team Arsenal in 1999. The Bangkok Rugby Sevens held around the end of the year is getting more and more popular with international teams coming along. You can always go along and see Muay Thai which is something everyone should do once. Do not get a seat ringside but rather opt for a seat up in the stands amongst the Thais which is far more fun. Farangs are usually shepherded to the counter selling tickets for ringside but these seats are largely for tourists only.