Readers' Submissions

Future Of Bangkok Nightlife

  • Written by ABC
  • January 6th, 2005
  • 7 min read


I've read many commentaries speculating on where the nightlife / red-light activities for Westerners in Thailand is headed on your website. Both those that claim it is here to stay and that it is on the way out sound sensible. The debate has been in my mind for some time, as it has likely been for many readers of your website.

After reading various newsletters and websites that address this "industry" in Thailand for the last 2-3 years, and pondering this issue, I have come to this conclusion today.

The Thai nightlife / sex industry for Westerners will get more and more expensive. It will eventually get to the same cost levels as the price of "services" found in the Makati area men's clubs in the Phillipines. Prices there average $200 USD or 8,000 THB for long-time. Even now, prices in Bangkok (NEP, SC, PP) are in excess of prices found in Angeles City (1000-2000 THB) and towards those found in Manilla proper (can't remember the name of the gogo bars there, but long-time runs for 3000-6000 THB). Remember that the prices I'm quoting are "all inclusive", as is the tradition in the PI. If you add the barfines and fees for Thai bargirls together (since prices are "a la carte" in LOS by tradition), prices in LOS have already exceeded some Phillipine venues and are soon going to hit the ceiling prices found in the PI. These top-end prices are found in the touristy areas of Brazil, Cost Rica, etc. Furthermore, prices in Bangkok are not that far away from those found in Orchard Towers / Singapore, if you account for the higher local incomes and a dramatically better infrastructure in Singapore. Perhaps this isn't important for the vacationer, but it is for the locals and expatriates that make their money to pay for "services" in Thailand or Singapore respectively. It may also be important for the "long term punter tourist" who isn't interested in the sub-par infrastructure of Thailand.

With prices hitting the above levels, North American punters will have no financial reason to fly 24-30 hours to Thailand, when they can fly 3-12 hours to South America. Asian and European punters will no longer have any real financial incentive to fly to LOS when they can just as easily fly to Indonesia (cheaper or equal prices), Singapore (more Western amenities), or just pay for one-off services in their part of Farangland, where they can just get it when they want and not have to "store up demand" for 3-8 months at a time. In places like the UK, Europe, etc., I suspect 10,000 THB gets the services of an immigrant Thai or Asian bargirl. It certainly does in North America.

These prices were gathered from boards and thru personal collegues / contacts / friends in the last year. Understandably, if someone knows and wants to pay less, they can, though quality can and often is affected. These prices reflect what is asked and paid by vacationing punters to the major tourist areas. If the prices are correct, Thailand is no longer the great bargain it once was, and many just continue to believe this once true fact when it is now just a myth.

Soon, people will need to justify choosing to visit Thailand for "bargirl activities" more because of the Thai women's look and cultural aspects, as the economic considerations are already gone or will be very soon. And for those well-traveled men who have been or seen the bargirls of Brazil, Singapore, PI, Costa Rica, etc., you cannot argue Thai bargirls are across-the-board more attractive. It is a personal thing and I know more than a few friends in North America who actually do not find Thai women to be anything special. Some are hooked on Brazilian women, others on Russian / East Europeans, and a few prefer Indonesians.

Thailand's attraction has always been a combination of culture, looks (of women), AND money. Money was always a critical part of the mix. For most punters, if the money part goes up substantially, as it already has, they would just as well pay less elsewhere for a different but perhaps equally exotic alternative culture with women of a alternative foreign look. After all, for many punters, the main issue is the "transaction", and in this transaction there are two main components – money and the "action". Language is a tool to get there, and culture is an environmental factor. Time is money, so if it costs the same to get a bargirl in Brazil and Thailand, why not go to Brazil where the flight takes less time? Again, the only real arguments left are the culture and appearances unique to the women of each country, and not all punters prefer Thai women, or if they do, perhaps not enough to justify the extra travel time or costs involved. Punters existed way before Thailand became a major destination and they will continue to exist, and travel elsewhere, when Thailand is no longer the destination of choice it is for now.

Why are prices going up in LOS? Most would likely agree it is due to increased Thai government regulation, control, and restrictiveness. This is due to various factors, such as international pressure, the Thais understandable instincts to hide the dirty red-light industry, and increased availability of alternative "best uses" for the land / buildings / money dedicated to the Thai nightlife for foreigners. Why keep ram-shackle bars open when multi-million USD hotels can be built to charge Western hotel rates to wealthier, "cleaner" farang tourists who are willing to pay more money for more respectable services? The cash flow is often higher but in most cases the capital gains from the improvements alone are enough to justify going “clean”. That is the mentality of the Thai government and many landowners, despite the arguments (true or not) by punters that punters spend just as much if not more than clean tourists. It is hard to believe punters spend as much, when most pay $25 / night at the Nana Hotel / Dynasty Inn / etc., while "clean" farang tourists and business men so often pay $90-150 / night at the Marriott / etc. The same goes for 150-250 meals as compared to $15-35 meals. And while the argument that punters are also going to pay quite a bit for “clean” activities (shopping, visiting tourist sites, etc.) with their new bargirl “girlfriends”, it can be easily argued that the clean single tourists would do the same with their non-bargirl girlfriends (I never said single Thai women would stop looking for the better provider) — so will the clean married tourists with their accompanying wives and kids.

Punters and bargirls interact due to money, but in many ways, money is telling the Thais to go the clean way now….in so many ways, it simply pays more and it is more respectable.

Do I like the ways things are going? Not necessarily, but then my feelings or desires don't really control where Siam is moving.

Stickman's thoughts:

I have to disagree with this. In 1998 (and no doubt well before that too – which I can't comment on because I had never been there before then) girls in beer bars in Pattaya charged 1,000 baht all night and 500 baht short time. These prices remain the same. Drink prices have moved, but not enough to prevent people from visiting. Hotel prices have moved, but not that much.

In Bangkok, prices have moved, but there are still guys who get the same prices as were charged in the late '90s. The fact that the baht is much weaker now than it was pre crash, then I think punters are still on to a good deal.

For a whole host of reasons, I don't think prices will move much at all. There will be price increases in certain areas, but they will be like small, expensive pockets of the industry, such as Rainbow 2 in Nana where the girls cater to Japanese clients and can charge much more to punters who willingly pay. But in the rest of Nana and the other foreign bar areas, I don't think prices will move that much. Just my thoughts.

But, I would not be surprised to see the government take further steps to clean up the industry. That would not surprise me at all.