I Took My Wife To Soi Cowboy
There have been a number of submissions recently about the decline of Soi Cowboy and the number of Western women and couples frequenting the bars there. I can sympathize with the mongers who view this as a negative development, but I have to hold my hand up and say that I once took my farang wife to a bar on Soi Cowboy. Here is my story.
In the early 2000’s I was offered an 18-month work assignment in Bangkok. As a junior executive I viewed the opportunity for its career enhancement potential. The company produced construction documents for building projects in Europe, Australia and the USA. The cost of staff in Thailand being far cheaper than it is the West made the company profitable and its services highly sought after. The hours were long, and I would typically work daytime office hours supervising my Thai staff and the evenings on conference calls liaising with my clients in Europe or the USA.
I had visited Thailand in the past, but never for work. I spent a month there on one occasion after completing my studies. Working in Thailand was a whole different experience from being there on holiday. I highly recommend Henry Holmes excellent book “Working With The Thais” for anyone going out to work in the kingdom. I don’t know if it would have helped me avoid any of the headaches that I experienced if I had read it before going there rather than six months after arrival, but it would certainly have helped me understand a lot of the quirks I observed!
The level of spoken English from Thai staff was generally poor. While all official discussions were conducted in English it was a distinct advantage for any manager to have at least a working knowledge of spoken Thai. The company employed a Thai teacher who would come in to the office one evening per week to give 90-minute intensive one-on-one Thai lessons to new expats.
In my role with the company I was the main point of liaison for clients. I would brief the local staff about the deliverables required for a particular project, allocate appropriate staff to the project and check the work as it was completed. At various project milestones the clients would come to Bangkok for a series of meetings, review the progress to date and discuss any changes or variations from the original brief that may have occurred since work on the project had commenced. When clients came from overseas I would be expected to take them out in the evenings.
Clients would typically visit for 3 or 4 days at a time so the amount of time for socializing was limited. Often these client evenings would start with a dinner where we would discuss business and then on to somewhere else for drinks. Bangkok’s nightlife is infamous and often clients would ask me to take them to girlie bars. I used to take them to Soi Cowboy as it was usually close to where we had been having dinner and after buying the first few rounds I’d make my excuses and go home to my family while they stayed out enjoying the nightlife. Whatever they got up to later in the evenings I have no idea. I never asked, but very often there would be a few tired looking clients sitting round the boardroom table the next morning with very red rimmed eyes! As a consequence of these nights out I got to know my way around Soi Cowboy pretty well.
My wife’s experience in Thailand was very different from mine. She had always been very naive and Bangkok was a real eye opener for her. She settled into life in Bangkok and enjoyed the advantages of not having to work, being able to afford a maid to help with domestic duties around the house such as cooking, cleaning and babysitting for our young son. The maid was from Northern Thailand and spoke enough English that my wife didn’t bother to learn any Thai though I was becoming quite proficient due to my lessons at work and interactions with my Thai staff.
We became friends with other expat couples and parents of children at the playgroup which our son attended each morning. Often I would work late or have business related functions to attend in the evenings. The maid / nanny would babysit on evenings when my wife also came out to socialize. One evening about 12 months after we had moved to Bangkok we went out to meet with some friends for drinks at The Huntsman pub in The Landmark Hotel. They have a live band there and it is quite a lively and popular place. At the end of the evening when we were getting in the taxi to go home my wife asked me “Have you ever heard of a place called Soi Cowboy?”
I told her that I knew Cowboy well as it was somewhere that I often took clients. She told me that the other ladies she was friends with had been talking about it and she would like to go there to experience it for herself. A quick word with the taxi driver to change our destination and minutes later we were pulling up under the famous fluorescent sign which marks the entrance to Soi Cowboy.
We walked down the soi away from Asoke, past Country Road and Long Gun. My wife’s eyes were the size of dinner plates taking in the sight of all the girls outside the bars beckoning customers in. About 2/3rds of the way down the street we stopped at one of the bars and went in for a drink. There was a handful of other customers and girls were dancing on the stage. We took our seats and ordered some drinks. One of the girls sat down next to my wife and they began a conversation.
After 20 minutes or so when we were finishing our drinks I decided that she’d seen what she came to see and we should leave so I called for the checkbin. As we left and were walking up to Sukhumvit Road to get a taxi my wife turned to me and said “What a lovely sweet girl she was, the one I was talking to”.
I said that if she liked her so much she should have given her 1,000 baht and she could have come home with us. My naïve, innocent wife looked at me aghast and exclaimed “Are you saying that you think that girl is a prostitute?”
“The one in the bikini with the plastic disc and Number 32 on it, yeah I think there is a fair chance she’s on the game don’t you?”
“No, no. I asked her and she told me that she just dances, she doesn’t go with men”.
“I’m sorry to shatter your illusions, but I’m 100% definitely sure that the girl you were talking to and most of the other girls in there were prostitutes”.
My wife looked shocked, took a second to compose herself then said “But she seemed so sweet, she even asked me if I knew of a recipe for baking bread”.
I mentioned earlier in the submission that I can sympathize with the mongers who are upset that their playground of Soi Cowboy is being invaded by western women, but that is what happens as these areas evolve. I’m sure that back in the day Patpong wasn’t the tourist attraction that it is these days. The more that people visit and share their experiences of places like Cowboy, the more that these places become fixtures on the lists of things to do and see in Bangkok. New areas will evolve and as far as I’m aware you don’t see many western women in Nana so there are still havens for mongers and I’m sure that new places will evolve to fill whatever needs there are.
What I have noticed with a lot of Western women in the naughty bars in Bangkok is that they are all smiles inside but as soon as they are out of earshot they call the women all sorts of horrible names, probably somehow trying to make themselves feel better…
your wife really must be the sweet and innocent type! Amazing!