Pattaya Bar Girls; Cost, Quality & Russians
There’s been a lot said about Pattaya bar girls and the current Thai nightlife scene in previous submissions, and reading through them made me want to throw my two cents worth in. I’m not going to carp on about all the stuff that I agree with, which is most of it, but there are a few things that I’m at odds with.
In particular, I’m focusing on Thai bar girl economics, the real cause (in my opinion) of the decline in the nightlife scene, and the Russian girls in Pattaya that are a pain in the ass for some but lovely beyond description for others.
First of all, a bit about me. I’m an Englishman, degree educated in Economics (sorry ‘Professor’, I’m going to be calling you out on some of your previous submissions), been traveling to Thailand for lots of years, lived there on a couple of occasions, and I own two Thailand focused websites of my own. Pattaya has always been my favourite destination because, unlike our commentator the venerable Stick, I like the nightlife, the bars, and the girls that work in them…
Pattaya bar girls, past & present
You don’t need to be as well travelled as Magellan to know that, historically at least, Pattaya bar girls have long been the top naughty boy magnet on the planet. Bangkok takes a bow on this point, and Phuket is tiny in comparison. I say ‘historically’ because, as has been noted in previous submissions, the nightlife scene is evolving into something very different to what it once was.
In days of old Pattaya bar girls were renowned for their apparent love of old, fat, balding western men. They’d stop at nothing to entice an aging specimen into their bars with cries of “sexy man, I go with you” as soon as a Zimmer-frame entered their peripheral field of vision. The Pattaya girlfriend experience was commonplace and all was right and proper in naughty boy land…
Unfortunately, reports coming from expats these days tell a story of a town that has lost a lot of its former charm. Pattaya bar girls are not so lovely (read desperate) as they once were and both prices and service standards have moved sharply in the wrong direction from the customer’s point of view. Worse still, the all-important fun factor is not what it used to be.
Personally I’d have to agree, to some extent, with the disappointment coming from long-term repeat visitors and I think that the downward trend is likely to continue. That said, Pattaya bar girls are still a heap of fun, and I’d also say that the city’s crown as top party-zone on the planet is safe for the time being.
Pattaya has always been a sort of adult fantasy-world, and anyone that went there knew that the romantic overtures coming their way were not real. I’ve often compared the Thai girls there to the ‘sirens’ described in Homer’s Odyssey; they can lure you in with their charms even though you know that you should keep your distance.
Whilst that’s undoubtedly true, knowing that a thing is not real and being immune to its charms are not the same thing. Many a sensible fellow has wandered completely off the reservation after a brief visit to Thailand’s sin-city. The old adage about planning your next visit before your current one is finished remains a reality, Pattaya is still like a drug that sucks you in… literally!
Whether your reality-blinkers are switched on or not, when you wander down a narrow street with dozens of Pattaya bar girls on either side of it shouting out at you to come sit with them, you can’t help but get swept away by it to some extent.
Now, let’s have a look at the main bone of contention amongst the majority of disgruntled expats and repeat visitors – the rising bar girl prices, falling service standards and their causes…
Thai bar girl prices and service standards
Pedantic note to the Professor – regarding your Sept 3rd 2014 piece, the study of microeconomics is not restricted to the decision making process of individuals; a larger part of it is actually focused on analysis of market structures relating to entire industries i.e. from perfect competition right through to pure monopoly. I make the point because supply & demand models are theoretical and, whilst they are very useful, any real life industry will have its own peculiar characteristics that influence prices and products.
One particular characteristic of the Thai bar girl industry is that a big proportion of its customers are tourists; 2-week millionaires with money to burn who aren’t going to become loyal long-term repeat customers. That means that demand for bar girl services are less price sensitive, and that the industry’s market-structure will do little to encourage reliable, high-quality service standards.
For an analogy consider the restaurant business. If a restaurant is located in a local village community then it will aim to deliver the best quality service that it can, or face gaining a poor reputation and losing its customers in the long run. If, on the other hand, the restaurant is located on a motorway (freeway for our American friends) then the bulk of its customers are likely one-time-only and there’s little to be feared from serving up a plate of inedible garbage at exorbitant prices. The same logic applies to the Thai bar girl industry where a large proportion of customers are only visiting for a short holiday and will therefore be, more or less, one-time-only customers.
The one saving grace for service standards in the bar-girl industry is that many girls, at least historically, play the long-game and try to snag a long-term boyfriend or husband. Take that away and the consequences for service standards quickly become apparent. You see it most these days with gogo girls rather than beer-bar girls because they focus more on one-off short-time encounters rather than providing the renowned long-time Pattaya girlfriend experience.
In this situation any industry will gradually evolve into one where quality service means little, and charging customers rip-off prices is standard. It also goes some way to explaining the Thai mentality of raising bar prices when customer numbers (demand) is falling. What’s the point of giving a cheap, high quality service, and satisfying a customer that won’t return regardless? You could argue that Thai tourists do return each year, but serving the same customer for two weeks each year isn’t exactly repeat custom in the local village restaurant model. If a bar isn’t making money right now, who cares about next year, just ramp up the prices and make hay while the sun shines!
It will take time for an entire industry evolve of course, no one bar can act in isolation because a customer can just move on to another bar, but the industry overall might well move in this direction over time, and most expats would note that it has been happening for years already. One take-home learning point here is not to walk into a bar with few/no patrons and expect a ‘valued-customer’ experience, instead, go there at least half expecting to get right royally shafted.
The current state of affairs is all a bit of a worry for bar-scene lovers; Stick has noted in his 2nd Oct 2016 column that there is a sense that the Caucasian tourist is becoming more seasonal in nature, and I wonder if that’s due to fewer long-term visitors and expat customers these days. If that trend continues then it will only further damage incentives to provide quality service because there will be even fewer customers that can become repeat customers.
Only this week I looked into an application for my usual 6-month tourist visa and got a shock. Whereas last year you could get a 3-entry visa with just an application form, your passport, 2 photos and the fee, these days you also need to provide 6-months of bank statements showing a continual balance in excess of £5,000 and either a letter from your employer or your last year’s income tax return. I mean, even if you have thousands lying around, who the hell keeps it in a bank account on a low interest rate? It seems to me that long-term visitors (repeat customers as regards the bar-scene) are being squeezed out for one reason or another and bar-girl service standards are not likely to benefit from it.
On the subject of an economically developing Thailand with the better job opportunities that this brings, meaning that would-be-bar-girls have alternative employment options, I’m a bit sceptical – sorry Stick, I know that this was one of the tenets of your Feb 9th 2014 piece. Economic development might be playing a small part in reducing bar girl numbers but the gap between what a low-skilled worker in Thailand can legitimately earn in formal employment, and what she can earn by the hour on her back, remains enormous. A quick Google search of Thailand GDP per capita shows annual earnings at less than $6,000 (compared to about $53,000 for the USA). The Thai economy is improving but for a lot of girls the only real alternative to prostitution is desperate poverty and a lot of Pattaya bar girls have got kids, parents and an errant boyfriend/husband to support. A low wage for those girls just doesn’t cut it.
So why are Thai bar girl numbers declining?
I have an alternative explanation for the reducing supply of girls in the bar scene, and it all comes down to technological progress rather than economic progress. In a nutshell, the number 1 fear of most ladies entering the Thai bar girl industry is that the folks back home will get to hear about it. That likelihood is much higher these days with everyone walking around with mobile phone camera/video capabilities, and with the ability to post it all on YouTube or Facebook in an instant.
At the same time, dating sites and apps have made it much easier for the girls to find customers much more discreetly and without ever going near a naughty bar; so that’s where an increasing number of them work now – online instead of in bars! If economic growth and alternative employment options are behind the reduced number of girls working in the bar industry then shouldn’t that also reduce the number of girls ‘working’ the online scene – if so then the numbers don’t stack up because the online dating scene is going from strength to strength, and a sizable proportion of the girls there are working girls masquerading as regular girls. Even the girls that do work in bars spend half the night on their mobile phones trawling for customers online.
So, all in all we have a naughty bar industry where there is little incentive to provide customer satisfaction, and where the supply of girls is dwindling relative to demand. There’s only one direction for prices and service standards to go in this scenario…
The biggest take home point of all is that if you are looking for quality service and a cost that won’t require you to secure a generous line of credit from the IMF, online dating is the way to go and increasingly so in future. For my tips on how to get the most from the online dating scene, have a look at my FREE Thai Online Dating Cheat Sheet.
Some more bar girl industry misunderstandings…
Another pedantic note to the Professor – in your Feb 17th 2014 article you referred to luxury goods as being those for which demand rises when prices rise; wrong again I’m afraid! I think that you are referring to ‘Giffen goods’, they are quite rare in reality. Luxury goods are just normal goods with the distinction that when income (not price) rises, demand for them increases more than proportionately. I’ve no doubt that, if you are reading this, you are appreciating my pedantic corrections and will respond accordingly in due course 🙂
Are Pattaya bar girl services a Giffen good example? Highly unlikely; prices are clearly moving up but I’d warrant that this is not causing demand to go up. Any increase in demand at this time is incidental and I’d bet that there would be even more demand if prices came down. I don’t think falling prices are likely though, with so many bars struggling right now and with little incentive to provide quality service, I’d bet that the rip-off prices will remain.
One more point before I move onto something else, when I say rip-off prices I don’t mean that the girls don’t deserve better pay, I actually think that they do deserve better pay. I use the term rip-off in the purely mechanical economic terms of supply and demand and accept that in this regard: “deserve’s got nothin’ to do with it” (Clint Eastwood quote – ‘Unforgiven’)
Final pedantic note to the professor – your analogy of wage rigidity in your Oct 7th 2014 article, as applied to Thai bar girl prices, is not accurate. Bar girls aren’t on wages as such, not when it comes to extracurricular activities where the girls are more akin to salesmen. Do you mean to imply that salesmen will refuse to earn less when they sell less, lol? Clearly their pay is not subject to the sort of wage-rigidity that Keynes and others were referring to, and your entire analysis in that article is flawed. I’m afraid that you’ve got it completely arse about face again, lol.
Russian girls in Pattaya
I want to add a few words about the Russian girls in Pattaya, not the regular tourists but the working girl variety. They get a lot of bad press and I must admit that I’ve had some bad experiences with them myself in the past in terms of poor attitude. Without naming any bars, anyone familiar with Walking Street will know where to find them but be forewarned that the prices charged in those establishments for drinks are sky high and that the girls often expect sizable tips for performing a personal dance – and that’s a compulsory dance and tip by the way!
Another thing that has spurred me on to comment about Russian girls in Pattaya is the attention that they get from a lot of long-term visitors. A lot of expats talk about them as goddess-like specimens, but to my eye I just don’t see it. I’m not saying that they aren’t attractive, they are, but I’m not sure that they deserve the accolades thrown at them for physical beauty. I’m a bit biased on this though; I admit to having visited the East European city of Prague, and the girls there really are absolute knock outs and far more beautiful than their Pattaya Caucasian counterparts.
At any rate, variety is the spice of life and if you find yourself looking for a European delight then my tip is to head to one of the discos. Mixx Discotheque at the end of walking Street is the best for this.
In short, despite the decline of the Pattaya bar girls and nightlife scene, the city still offers a lot of fun. The girlfriend experience is still widely available and whilst prices are rising they are not completely out of control at the current time. I do think that the online scene is starting to offer a better option though, especially so if you are headed to Bangkok rather than Pattaya, so don’t forget to check out my FREE dating cheat sheet (see link above).
Professor – I await your rebuttal 🙂