Why You Must Pay A 1,000 baht Barfine
I knew I was OK and in the right place as soon as I stepped off the plane.
Twenty years ago, before the sky-train; before metered taxis and before George Bush Snr. had uttered the expression ‘Read my lips – No more Thaksins’ (or something of that nature) Bangkok was exciting, threatening but alive. Patpong was energised, the scammers were still in nappies and a tuk-tuk was almost a means of travel worth considering. Today, just back in the UK after my umpteenth trip, I think I have to deliver a small, personalised contribution to the end of the myth that Thailand is the Land of Smiles.
It is over folks and I suspect it might be a good time to cash up and run whilst you still can.
I have inestimable admiration for Stickman and have enjoyed the fruits of his research – although I sincerely hope no sloppy seconds – over ten years or more. I’m daft enough to believe it is still the same guy writing after all this time and I’m actually a big fan of the recent change of journalistic style of the weekly column. I’ve fallen for every single Thai scam there is and bought more motorbikes for uncle’s sick buffalo than any person still living. I think I got married in Ubon about five years ago but it only lasted a week which was about the same as the hangover.
I’m using the personal pronoun far too much already so let me just position things in that I’ve worked internationally for an oil company for the last decade and the perks and benefits mean that Thailand was a cheap and fun playground for years. I have been in and out maybe fifty times these last ten years.
But not now… now Thailand is a scary place. I saw bits of the ’97 crash and what it did but this is different somehow. At the traffic lights on the Pattaya Second Road (the Tops junction) you could wait ten minutes to get through the lights a few years ago, there were so many cars. These days, you might well get mugged as it is such a lonely place… and that extends through the whole city. Phuket is a no-go area in all contexts now – over-priced beers, bars, hotels and certainly costlier young friends. I’d been skipping out of Bangkok for a few years but two recent returns there only underline how desperate things are there.
To illustrate, my haunts in Bangkok have always been – surprise surprise – the Sukhumvit Soi 4 or 5 area; I liked the JW Marriott and also tolerated the Boulevard (now a dreadful rip-off joint that some of the Nana girls won’t even enter). The ethnic mix of the area has now has changed – Stickman has suggested this – and it is a pack of slavering dogs now… it just doesn’t feel safe walking between Nana and the hotels even.
Nana Plaza and its woes are chronicled well enough; the spirit seems willing but the flesh is weak and not cheap. And the loss of Angels – although perhaps its old incarnation rather than the last few years of entrance fees, costly beers and no girls – is a bigger blow than the area can manage to absorb. Soi Cowboy has improved in terms of look, but the last few postings suggest that it is also just smoke and mirrors. Bars like Spice Girls are pure and nasty rip-off. Most prominently Tilac is getting the reviews it deserves now – good looking girls but a real pain if you actually sit inside and just want to have a drink. I suspect I saw the chap who posted about the rip-off he had there last week (Thursday); the massage mamasan is as mad as a box of frogs but she is only working the crowd.
I think the best indication of what has gone wrong is Long Gun. It was seedy, dark and great a few years back – the girls were crazy but stuff happened. They have done the place up now, taken out the knackered chairs, cleaned up the loos but the biggest thing they have taken out is the atmosphere. It is the same everywhere… there is a generation lost of sweet, naive but decent girls who would come and stay with you, sleep the good sleep in your bed and take care of you in return for a little short time consideration. Where have they and the atmosphere gone?
Basically, they have been replaced by a whole new breed and they are scary.
Let me introduce to you Oh. She’s nineteen – don’t say a word, I’ll do the full story properly another time but yes I should know better – and a University student. Not necessarily a stunner, but with that half-Japanese look and a nice smile. Best of all though, she could read and write English and I do find that an attraction – twenty years on I have mastered at least five or six words of the tonal and total enigma that is the Thai language. It was my last afternoon before a night flight home and I stupidly had a beer in – as one mia noi once described it – the chicken farm that is the Soi 7 Biergarten.
She hit up on me with a story around translating e-mail addresses… she made me laugh and it was a short stroll across the road for a room and a quickie. Cute face added to the cutest nom I have seen in twenty years and it was worth taking the number; she came out to the airport with me and we kept in touch for a couple of months whilst I was back in the UK.
Fast forward to this trip; the sweet little student that I said goodbye to in June was all of a sudden a three month veteran. We played pool – my real vice – in that embodiment of Mordor that is New Wave and I had the distinct and uneasy feeling that I was with a long-term part of the local scene. Smoking, knocking back the beers and beating me at pool (OK, anyone can do the last one) this was a much more ‘grown-up’ version than I had seen. We hung around for a couple of days before I went off to Australia and elsewhere (again see below) for a fortnight or so.
I got back to Bangkok at the start of last week; ever the fool I called her and we met up in the hotel. Briefly. Very aggressive now, purely a money thing. Even in those few weeks she had hardened up even further. We did the usual day time haunts and ended up at the back of Gulliver's. Again, another place that used to be fun but there is clearly a ‘crew’ that is working that venue. I can’t work out if the boys doing service and the tables are fraternal or otherwise with the girls but it was all first name terms and knowing looks.
And that is the nub of it for me. Stickman was waxing about these out-spill of University girls now the economy has hit. I’ve met three recently; all swear blind they were studying hard but have had to stop for money… can I possibly help? Oh even claimed that she was still studying and had exams in August… or September. Or maybe it became October. Whatever.
No way. There is a look in these girls eyes now… it is a smile and a joke when the money flows but at the slightest hint of a ruffle or a low bid, the eyes harden and at 6’ 4” I feel distinctly threatened by a 5’ 0” set of Muppet lookalikes. The ‘love’ has gone… it is a business and the business is going to the bad. I know it was never love – as someone once said we are baht beautiful but Satang stupid – but in the ‘good old days’ it was at least fun.
So, what on Earth is the point of this story and what is meant in the title? Biergarten and many such venues of course carry no bar fines. The nicest Thai girls I met this trip in a month – on and off – were out on the Beach Road on Pattaya. Honest, polite and clear in the ‘deal’ so perhaps there is one positive spill-over from the economy decline. Again bar fine free. But actually these were not the nicest girls I met this trip.
Do yourself a favour, as I finally did this last month. Get on a plane and head over to the Philippines. You will be transported back in time and space to a place that is now what Thailand once was. The signs at the hotels say ‘No Dogs, No Benefit Claimants, No Kiwis’ (or something of that nature). The girls are sweet (hi Mary Rose), the beer is good (compare the San Mig ale to Beer Lao, not Singha) and there are one or two clubs in Angeles such as Atlantis that make Tilac look like a Pattaya Soi 6 knocking shop. So dear reader… if you are still with me you might ask why the high bar fine (although I believe it is starting to be matched in some Phuket and Pattaya locations)? Why?
Because the bar fine of 1,000 baht covers the bar and the fee for the lady.
I knew I was OK and in the right place as soon as I stepped off the plane.
The sad thing is that I agree wholeheartedly with every single word you wrote. The industry in Thailand has gone to the dogs.