The End Of Cowboy
I’ve always enjoyed reading both the weekly column and the readers' submissions. As somebody who has been both a visitor to and a resident of LOS, there is much that has been written in both areas that I can identify with, even if I had not
verbalized it to myself. In recent weeks however, Stick has been addressing a situation that has been aggravating me for some time now, and only shows signs of getting worse. I assume this is why he has brought it up himself. I am referring to
the fact that more and more western women have been encroaching on territory that does not belong to them, namely the drinking establishments of Soi Cowboy. Notice I identify that location in particular. I feel that Patpong was ceded to the tourists
a long time ago, in fact before my time. And good luck to them. I’m not against some tourist couples getting their gogo bar “experience”. Any male Bangkok resident who goes there knows the rules. I am not all that familiar
with Nana Plaza, but I get the sense that it has not been affected to the same degree as Cowboy. This may have something to do with the layout and architecture of the place, which in my view would present something of a mental barrier to the casual
visitor. NEP somehow has a more businesslike feel to it, as opposed to the Disneyland-lite that Cowboy has become. I am not really a fan of Nana, perhaps because I feel that it can be a little bit claustrophobic. Ironically, it may be this aspect
that is preventing it from suffering the same fate as Cowboy at the moment.
I should make it clear that I do not actually participate in the nightlife scene beyond being an observer. This is just my personal choice, and of course I know and have known plenty of guys who have gone further. I am happy just to go to some of my favorite places, sip a couple of ice-cold Heinekens, and admire the pretty girls. This is a top-notch form of relaxation for me. A large part of the reason for that is that it is an escape from the hyper-politically correct world we all now inhabit in the west. However, every time I see a non-Thai female walk through the door, my bubble bursts. It feels as if the magic has just got up and fled. Although I am not the type to leave at that point, I might as well, as the sense that something, anything might happen is no longer there. Your mother, teacher etc is now in the room and you had better damn well behave!. God knows how I would feel if I was actually interested in partaking!
There have been a couple of experiences that have been formative in creating this attitude I now hold. A few years ago I was in one bar, sitting at one of the stools next to the stage. A male and female couple came in and sat at the other side of the
stage, thus giving me the opportunity to observe them at close quarters. It was clearly the first time that the female had been in such a place, as she frequently whooped with excitement, and her face shone at the novelty of it all. The girls
began to show off for her, which made it worse. It is always nice to see people enjoying themselves, but her demeanor was not creating the correct ambience for the place. This lady was treating it like an amusement park, which of course it was
for her. I have also seen on a number of occasions groups of couples traipse through the doors at various places. This of course instantly kills the mood of the bar. However, what has made me fear for the long term future of Soi Cowboy recently
is not what I have seen, but what I’ve heard. On two separate occasions recently, urbane farang female residents of Bangkok have casually mentioned to me that they’ve been on Soi Cowboy. One of them was getting something to eat from
one of the vendors, and the other was doing a tour with some male friends. I also heard recently of a group of American “spring-breakers” (Aren’t they meant to go to Mexico?) parading around the bars and taking photos of the
soi itself. Any “stigma” that may have once have been attached to being on Soi Cowboy is rapidly dissipating, and with it I fear the sense of excitement that makes it worthwhile going to.
So who is to blame for this state of affairs? I identify three parties. Firstly, the owners and management of the bars. They could very easily make it clear that farang women are not welcome in these night spots, but they choose not to. It is probably correct to say that this is simply the result of short term thinking, a desire to get a couple more drinks sold per night. Secondly, I feel that the men who bring farang women into the bars are also culpable to quite a large degree. In fact, I feel a sense of brotherly betrayal when I see one of these Knights escorting their damsels through the door. Quite often, the farang women would not be brave enough to come alone, and so these guys are acting as enablers at the expense of the rest of us. Finally, of course, the women themselves are to blame. Now, I would suggest that most western people who have an affinity for Bangkok have a reasonable streak of libertarianism in them. (To digress, I wonder what percentage of US citizens based in Thailand would vote for Ron Paul? We often hear that the Texas congressman does very well with serving military and the youth vote. I suspect you could add Bangkok expats to that list!) They probably enjoy the ability to do, within reason, what they like without the same level of attention from the government. I like it too. I also like the fact that other people can engage in pursuits that they couldn’t do back home. As long as they are not hurting someone else, what’s the harm? I don’t have first-hand knowledge of this, but I believe there are places where women go to get guys for the evening, not to mention the gay zones. I wouldn’t dream of intruding into their fun! I’m content to know it exists, because it means that Bangkok as we know it still thrives. If heterosexual western males started going in to those places, they wouldn’t be the same, and Bangkok would have lost something else of its character, something which although it doesn’t directly affect me, contributes to the vibrancy of the city as a whole. I suppose there is a fourth “villain” attacking Cowboy come to think of it, and that is the increasing sophistication of the city. That honking great mall that has just opened at Asoke is just a symptom of this. “Normal” activities are creeping closer and closer to Cowboy, resulting in greater mingling of the two worlds.
What about solutions? I only see two really. The first and most practical is for the bar owners to take charge and ban farang women from entering, full stop. Ideally, this would be done multilaterally. A far more drastic event that could occur naturally is for another nightlife street to spring up somewhere, away from the main drag of Sukhumvit. Bangkok is a big city, it has many nooks and crannies, and the BTS has extended into comparatively unknown territory. It would certainly be more awkward to get to, but it may help to recapture some of that spirit and frisson of excitement that, for me, is currently lacking.
For sure, the inundation of Western women to Soi Cowboy, as well as the gawking sorts from Khao San Road, and the north Asian tour groups have changed the atmosphere of Cowboy. Just last night I was in Cowboy and there were two gorgeous – and I mean that, gorgeous – Western girls sitting outside Dollhouse having a drink. They were early 20s and both were knock outs. I have to admit it was quite nice seeing them.
Personally, given that I don't participate, it doesn't actually bother me at all. But if I was fooling around, yeah, I might feel a little differently about it.
But I have to say that Nana Plaza has a really sleazy, seedy atmosphere – and it feels very down-market out on the soi. Hopefully when the plaza is redeveloped as will happen later this year things will improve!
* The issue of a "new" type of tourist visiting Cowboy is one I find fascinating and it would be interesting to hear readers' thoughts on this, whether you're a naughty boy or not!