The Real Thap Phraya
Well, Stickman seems intent on filling his Christmas inbox with responses and I suspect that his well-judged piece on Pattaya and its limitations will generate a deluge of replies positive and negative. Here, in my Pattaya condo late on Sunday it's
certainly brought great merriment to Mrs. Anonymous, a Bangkok resident who loathes Pattaya but let's us stay here for a while to get it out of my system until we get permanently settled here in Thailand and she hopes Bangkok.
Me, well how do I feel? Pretty brassed off if truth be told…there am I, just off the Ekkamai bus back from Bangkok and the weekend reverse commute as Mrs Anonymous is now studying weekends in the big mango. We had wheeled along the Beach Road back from the Pattaya North bus terminal along with a songtaew full of fellow passengers, not a sex tourist among us – although OK to be fair I’ve had my moments – and I was idly mentally penning a submission, one I’ve been mulling for some months about the new Pattaya… I log on tonight and that blighter Stickman has beaten me to it!
Mrs Anonymous has done the trip to Bangkok and back twice in three days and regaled me with a tale on Friday night of a drunken and wildly rude falang and his companion who’d made a big fuss on the bus back from Bangkok that night. I reflected on the journey which we’ve done a mass of times now and reckon though that this is the exception, not the rule. I’d state the fact that it is 90% Thai passengers and for 113 baht works out at close to a baht a kilometre, which is unbelievable coming from the UK where a similar journey would be ten times that, maybe twenty. OK, the bus will periodically veer off into the wilds of Chonburi and surrounds to drop off folks on the way back and even more erratically on the way out to Bangkok, but it's comfortable, reasonably clean and cheap.
And that describes Pattaya to my mind too. Stickman called it more accurately I think when he mentioned a while ago about the gradual migration of the bars away from the main locations. Sit on a songtaew along the Beach Road from the Dusit hotel onwards now and there are fewer and fewer bars on display. OK, there is a little outbreak of sleaze around sois 7 and 8 but overall there is a distinct and clear gentrification taking place on that main, and potentially quite scenic, entry to the town itself. Even the Tahitian Queen, as old as many of the dragons Stickman pictures on the beach road, seems quietly to be down-playing its main focus and instead styling itself as a rock house.
It is on Second Road though where I think the real changes are most visible… the strip of bars close to Tiffany’s and the Big C are either gone – as in the case of decent scale operations like U-Too replaced by a new little set of shops and similar; a rubble strewn wasteland where there were once racks of rock band bars on the corner of Soi 2 or even in the case of that centre of many long-term Pattaya expat evenings, called shall we say the ‘Pacific’ for decorum’s sake, a bar now dwarfed by the rise of the new Tune (AirAisa) hotel and with its days clearly numbered.
Long gone are the days when you could play pool there and be watched by such luminaries as Jimmy White (incidentally he said I was s**t and never a truer word said). Since we are on the subject of celebrities, Linekers – OK, no real association other than the name but you get my point – transmogrified into Silhouettes which never stood a chance and now is a very commendable and far more busy Indian restaurant. No, the falang bar trade in these parts is dying a death. Whether the comparable Third Road trade, which seems oriented to the Japanese and Koreans out from Laem Chabang and other industrial sites will change is unclear to me but judging by the empty local ‘special bar’, back behind the Royal Twins, times are as hard for the Asiatic themed establishments as they are for the Western focussed sites.
And gone too – and here I do agree with the weekly article – is the little edge that Pattaya had. These remaining bars now are manned with either the ladies left-over that the falangs won’t take out of the bar industry – in fact not out of the bar that much – and attitudes and service has plummeted in parallel with the decline in sinsotability. The owner of the above-mentioned bar married off her cousins to a bunch of Belgians and Brits five or more years ago, stunners the lot of them (the girls I mean in case you are wondering). The same is true along Walking Street – we’ll come to that in a minute – but eye candy wise, it’s a thin show these days, even amongst the lovelies and hello girls.
As for Soi Bukhao, one wonders what that little road to nowhere will become. We’re handily placed between Second Road and Bukhao currently and the flood of new developments along the soi here – whoops, perhaps flood is the wrong term given what happened to one of the underground car parks that filled in minutes on the one day we got wet in Pattaya back in September – but anyway, the same kind of infill of large scale, clean and upmarket priced condos is continuing a-pace. Starting at 60, 70, or even 80,000 baht/m2 and upwards, often more, the cheap Charlies who used to fill the bars here won’t be found in these parts so much I wager… and with the vast tracts of space still to be filled between Second and Third Road, north of Pattaya Klang, the trend will continue.
This is then the essence of the ‘new’ Pattaya for me. I have been commuting from the UK for work purposes several times this last year and whilst the planes are not always full, it is hard to spot many of the hardened tourists who were perhaps the main lifeblood of this place once upon a time. But not now and I doubt they’ll be seen again. No bad thing then… but what is there in its place?
Stickman isn’t a driver these days but when you get into the jalopy and spin south through the sheer urban sprawl of Jomtien; crest the hill in Pratumnak and see block upon block of largely Russian owned condos being built or trek a little north back to Naklua and swing through the Wong Amat area with swanky temples to Mammon you realise the vast scale of property development taking place here. Those of us old enough to know the stories of the Costa del Sol and abominations such as Torremolinos will draw parallels.
Two chaps – on one of the condo developer sponsored TV channels – were extolling the values of owning property here in Thailand last week and I listened in, somewhat amused. They suggested that you can’t go wrong with property as you own the asset and its value only ever increases. Maybe… but this is Thailand don’t forget. A wise man once told me to buy land ‘…because they aren’t making that any more…’ but perhaps they are, just its 48 stories up in the air and like the top floor penthouse of a very popular development here, yours for the snip of 80 million baht…. and you even get a well-known snooker player for a neighbour apparently.
I’ll keep the money in the Third World banking system back in the UK and use the interest to rent a while longer yet but there are seemingly tens of thousands, literally, of foreigners and Thais flocking here to buy and whilst you can cram a lot of folks on a 747 these days in cattle class, the view has to be that the money wins for now and Pattaya will only go in one direction, at least for a while.
Finally, the centre that Pattaya seems to advertise quite openly, Walking Street – what’s happening there? I’d sensed something not right and initially attributed it to the influx of western Asian tourists, with different emphases and an interest in a different type of companion amongst other things… there must be more shisha pipes per square kilometre here now than in downtown Kabul. I though that maybe this and the influx of Indian tourists, six to a room (and elsewhere apparently) was upsetting the balance.
But again it was Mrs Anonymous who made me see the light or rather got me to go down Walking Street in the early evening light when it was still meal time and I was still sober. The southern half down towards Bali Hai is now really dedicated to the Russian crowd, with few if any venues and instead a new array of eateries and the odd music shop. This explains why this half of Walking Street dies off before midnight, as the eateries close and the mainly family oriented former Soviets head towards home. Walking Street as the old style, hardened falang knew it is increasingly then concertina’d into a shorter space and whilst it was fun watching your favourite Pattaya regular walk up and down a couple of times, by the time you’ve sunk two beers in the best bar in Pattaya she’s done six laps and the novelty has worn off.
I just went back and re-read today’s article and realise that I’ve not really said anything that wasn’t already said there… but it is fun having a view anyway. Is Pattaya now so bad? Not really and I’m not sure Bangkok is any better, in fact I think it is a lot worse. I’d hate to have invested in property anywhere near little Africa around Sois 1 through 7 and I believe On Nut is an ex-bar girl ghetto.
Idling the weekend away whilst madam studied, I did play a few games of pool with a pleasant American guy in one of the better Soi 4 pool bars this weekend. The girls there are as ugly as sin now too and we both agreed the atmosphere was pretty stale in Bangkok these days… just the same as the article describes Pattaya. You know the only things we both agreed hadn’t changed? I still suck at pool and we both were Stickman readers.
It were ever thus.
Thanks for the thoughts and the quick reply to my weekly piece.
Thailand is changing and the people who visit the country are changing. Attitudes have changed a lot and what was acceptable in the '90s may not be seen in quite the same light today. While some will lament the way the bar industry is changing, I would suggest that it's not all bad. There are many nicer bars today and a good time can still be had. But for those looking to recapture the magic of years gone by when there was a genuine warmth and joy from the girls, that, I believe, is increasingly hard to find. I believe that those seeking similar attitudes to what you found in the past, Angeles City in the Philippines is probably a better bet although I am going on 3rd party reports here.
It should be said that for every person unhappy about predictions that the bar scene will be squeezed, there are at least as many celebrating it. It's not that long ago that naughty boys were the dominant group of expats but that is not the case at all. These days there are plenty of expat circles where sex tourists and sexpats are dissed!