Readers' Submissions

Thailand Is More Than a Bar in Nana Plaza

  • Written by BKKSteve
  • July 28th, 2009
  • 10 min read


It’s been some time since I sat down with purpose and penned a submission. I’ve been busy working, traveling around Thailand, and writing a new weekly column on this site. Writing, at least the type of writing required for submissions is very different from the other type of writing I’ve been doing and it requires a certain motivation. My motivation this time centers on all the “sky is falling” submissions we’ve been reading lately telling us that Thailand has changed.

Of course Thailand has changed! Change is universal and change cannot be denied a growing country. Change is also common during tough economic times and such change is currently taking place across the world. So why the surprise that Thailand is no longer the same as it was 20 years ago?

I’ve lived in Asia in excess of 24 years. I’ve been fortunate enough to live in Japan, Korea, Taiwan for a very short while, and Thailand. I’ve traveled to every country in Asia save for China and North Korea. And I haven’t traveled just once, it’s been a sort of continuous pattern which finds me in these different countries periodically in the same way I travel home every now and then.

In all honesty I’ve noticed more change in my hometown in the way of the demographics, businesses, transportation infrastructure, and the general make up of the culture than I’ve noticed anywhere else. Is all the change in my hometown a good change? I suppose that would depend on where you’re sitting. Thailand is no different.

The problem with all these submissions we’ve been getting lately is that most of the writers have been sitting behind a bar in Nana Plaza. Or perhaps Soi Cowboy or Patpong. They came for the women. Folks, I spend a minimum of 7 and often up to 10-14 days a month on the road in Thailand. There is a lot more to Thailand than that tiny pond of scum they call Nana Plaza.

Nana Plaza is pretty much centered in the tourist area of Bangkok. As you work your way outwards for a kilometer or so you’ll find hundreds of hotels, shops, tailors, restaurants, and pubs that cater to western tourists. This magic kilometer is about 99% of what most western tourists see or experience while in the Kingdom. Yes, I know a great number of you have found Walking Street your natural epicenter, but the point holds. Besides for the occasional foray on a tuk tuk or tour bus to some “attraction” (usually ran for the benefit of tourists) most tourists and even long time visitors just don’t see much of Thailand at all.

Perhaps it’s the language barrier, the fear of the unknown, or maybe the unwillingness to visit places where you won’t find a 5-star and pillow top mattresses for the evening. When you read these submissions it sounds like the only thing Thailand has to offer is beaches, temples, and the bars in Nana Plaza. I can’t imagine being that limited in any country, and indeed you’ll hear these same people say that in their own countries there is so much more to do! Really?

Has anybody been reading my weekly column and seen the beautiful places and great people I experience every week? Most of these places have something unusual in common, in most of these places time has truly stood still for decades and sometimes centuries and nothing as changed.

The history of Kanchanaburi and the Death Railway, the wetlands of Beung Boraphet, Khao Yai National Forest, rural Chiang Rai, Hill tribe villages of the north, Kantoke theater, the spectacular and modern Wat Rong Khun, Sanctuary of Truth, Ayutthaya and the surrounding Ang Thong area, Doi Suthep, and lets not forget the rich Islamic culture of the south in Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat provinces. And I can’t wait to tell you about my visits to Mae Sot and along the Burma/Thai border.

Road trips and different cultures not your thing? How about attending a symphony performance by some very accomplished orchestras that regularly play at the Thailand Cultural Center in Bangkok? I’m personally thinking of attending Madame Butterfly put on by the Ekaterinburg Opera Theatre, Russia.. even if it's in Italian with English subs I think I’ll enjoy it. I’m not going to miss Romeo and Juliet by the Shanghai National Ballet either.

I’ve also been to numerous book signings held by famous western writers, photography exhibits, and art shows. And let’s not forgot how great Eric Clapton was when he performed at the Impact Centre some time back. Of course we have bands and acts from all over the world we can watch for the price of a drink at the numerous hotels in the city.

Meanwhile I look out my window and notice the BTS Sky Train link that connects downtown to the international airport is almost complete and the trains are whizzing by every few minutes on test runs. The transportation infrastructure has vastly improved over the last ten years that I’ve been in/out of Bangkok. The expressway is very convenient albeit a bit pricey, perhaps one of the best I’ve seen in a big city and I’ve been to many big cities and driven in them all. The newest public transportation system, the MRT Subway, is very nice as well.

Not long ago I was in Hua Hin and visited the brand new Villa international market. Very well done! New Villas open up every now and then in various parts of Bangkok, and I’m hoping they’ll eventually remodel some of the older ones centered around the tourist areas. My favorite is the Villa in Thong Lo located in the Avenue J complex. Avenue J also hosts at least 5-6 really great Japanese restaurants. MK Golds are starting to open more frequently, same great food but in a much more comfortable and plush setting. I recommend the MK Gold in Ekkamai.

This summer my son and I have been to four movie premiers BEFORE they opened in the States. He can’t believe how nice the theatres are. Especially the SF Cinema at the Chaeng Wattana Central Mall. This is a great theater! It’s only been open a few months, but it’s huge, the seats are huge and spacious, and the food is decent. The prices are roughly 1/5th of what I’d pay in the States all included.

We’ve all heard complaints about Suvarnabhumi International Airport having grand opening problems, but have you traveled through Los Angeles International or San Francisco lately? Those airports are national embarrassments. At least 25-30 years behind the times. Age shouldn’t be a factor if your “culture” includes regular maintenance and upgrades as Singapore’s 21 year old Changi Airport shows, constantly being rated as the number one airport in the world.

Yes, I skip King Power’s duty free shops at Savarnabhumi, but not because of the scams. I’ve just never appreciated the way they “earned” the contract in the first place and then made us walk through their shops and put shops where restrooms should have been, until the media embarrassed the AOT into demanding changes. I just won’t support any business that takes advantage of the public, so don’t look for me in the King Power duty free shops.

Perhaps there’s just a profound difference between living in Thailand and coming to Thailand for a sex tourist holiday. Or living in Thailand coming from the perspective of someone who’s lived in Asia for decades, vs. someone living in Thailand because they had fun as sex tourist and thought it would be a grand idea to vacation all year round.

Sure, if your primary motivation in coming to Thailand is the sex industry and you normally limit yourself to Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy, and Patpong then you might have noticed the normal ebb and flow of quality services, or even more locals exploiting foreigners during tough economic times. I suppose you almost have to expect the more questionable practices of business and the more questionable practices of exploitation to be found in the same locations.

Do you know the location of the well hidden street where 20ish white skinned beauties line the street so you can drive by and pick one out without even fully coming to a stop? Where the better Thai clubs are where you can have your choice of perhaps a few hundred more just like them for less than the cost of a few drinks and a short time in Soi Cowboy? There is this one massage place I could tell you about that caters to the Japanese.. I know where these places are and I’m sure Stick does too. We’re just not writing about them because we know they’ll soon become ruined like every other farang frequented venue out there. We know about these places because we live here and have made Thai friends and become part of the community.

Friends, it takes effort and a certain amount of adjustment to move to any foreign country. None of the places I’ve mentioned above are secret, or hard to get to, or a mystery at all. They just require you to walk outside and have a look around.

Walking around my immediate neighborhood I’ve found three Radio Control car tracks with big memberships. Looks like a lot of fun. I’ve found many places to shop, get my hair cut, and anything else you’d want done. All at Thai prices. I look forward to Fridays and special holidays where the sois you normally drive thru are blocked off and food venders and merchants set up shop with an almost carnival like atmosphere. I love it when the community comes together with such events.

If I had school age children or a career in a field that made finding employment in Thailand difficult, perhaps I’d look elsewhere. Heck, when I lived in the states I regularly checked out other cites for the best overall quality of living, housing prices, schools, and jobs. Why shouldn’t I do that in Asia? I look at my own situation and ask myself if “Thailand fits.” It does. If it didn’t I’d be on the first plane out.

If Thailand no longer “fits”, I might leave for greener pastures. What you won’t see me do is leave Thailand and then criticize the country I’ve called home for all these years, or the country that produced my wife. Fair criticism is indeed warranted and even appreciated to a certain degree. However, if the service isn’t good at a restaurant I find it easier to find a new restaurant than to write a submission about it. At least have some semblance of relevance..

Some people are that bitter, or perhaps they just see their time in Thailand as an embarrassing stain on their CV, but whatever it is they see fit to write these submissions years after they leave Thailand. Make no mistake, I’d bet most of these recent subs have been written by guys who left the country years ago, or haven’t visited in a long time.. and they think their opinions are valid enough to tie them to current events in a newspaper and then try to justify why they had to leave or their career would fall apart, they’d join the Pattaya flying club, or whatever.

Pleaaazzzzeee.. you guys left because you felt you had a better choice elsewhere. I have no problem with this. But you don’t need to burn down one bridge before you cross another. You don’t even need to justify your decision. Just move on and enjoy your life. Why are you still so hung up on such a terrible place to the extent that you’d keep up on the country or write a submission? Perhaps you need to validate your decisions? Kinda silly if you ask me. Thailand is much more than a bar in Nana Plaza.

Until Next Time..

Stickman's thoughts:

A lot of the trick seems to be to live one's life away from the tourist areas, as you do. It is in the tourist areas where most of the problems are…