Bangkok, First Half of March, 2022
I went to Bangkok in the first half of March and I thought readers might be interested in what I found. I mostly cover general things in BKK with a small bit about the naughty side of life.
Something I read on the travel blogs was true. On a flight from Australia the business cabin had 2 empty seats out of 28 and economy only had 20-30 passengers with a capacity of around 250. Everyone in economy had 3 or 4 seats to lie down & stretch out. I don’t know how long that will last but I presume it will until travel becomes popular again – maybe 3 – 6 months.
Before the trip I was interested in which businesses / shops would survive and which ones wouldn’t. I expected the medium & large businesses would be OK and the smaller ones would not, especially the ones that relied on the tourist trade.
Arrivals and Hotels
I got my Thailand Pass under the old rules – Day 1 in quarantine until receiving a negative PCR test and isolation again on Day 5 until receiving another negative PCR test. Only Thai logic could allow a potentially infectious person to circulate in the community for 3 – 4 days but those were the rules. Getting the Thailand Pass was the hardest thing I’ve done this year. It was difficult to get my head around the process and then to make the arrangements. At least it’s easier now; a few days before I arrived they changed Day 5 test to a rapid antigen test with only the requirement to report the result via the app (more to come on that later) with no formal isolation / quarantine needed on Day 5 if your result is negative.
I booked one hotel for the Day 1 process and another hotel for Days 2 and later. Because I got my Thailand Pass under the old rules I thought they would apply to me but was pleasantly surprised that I got the new rules. Even better, the Day 1 hotel is required to provide the kit for the rapid test on Day 5, so that was given to me by my first hotel. The second hotel acknowledged the Day 5 requirements were different, that I’d prepaid under the old rules, and returned those funds to my credit card. I thought it was well done by both hotels and impressed with the transparency / lack of shenanigans from both.
I’ll give a plug to my Day 1 hotel. Before the trip I read that to avoid problems you’re probably well advised to use a good quality hotel for the arrival, secure transport, drive thru PCR test and room until the result is received. I chose the Intercontinental, mainly because I’m in their rewards program, and the room rate included buffet breakfast. I haven’t stayed in a 5 star hotel in Thailand for so long that I’d forgotten about the buffets. They had a wide range of Western, Japanese, Chinese and Indian food also with fruit, pastries and an egg counter. I walked in to the breakfast buffet; I ate so much that I felt like I rolled myself down the aisle to get out. It was great.
I won’t go into details of the second hotel, but I got a good deal on a room in the Somerset Maison Asoke in Sukhumvit soi 23 and it was a nice place to stay. The rooms were in good condition, new or newly renovated, the hotel had friendly staff and they provided the obligatory shuttle transfer to the BTS / MRT station.
Open and Closed
I normally stay in Sukhumvit soi 11 because my Thai partner likes it, there’s a lot to do. The normal hotel we stay in was closed so we stayed near Asoke instead. Soi 11 was interesting. There were more businesses open than I expected. I use a salon opposite the Mercure Hotel that I thought would be closed as it’s a small business that offers haircuts & above board massages and their customers are almost all tourists or foreigners. I was surprised it was still open. My normal haircut lady was still there and she told me their landlord reduced the rent a lot in the difficult times and increased it periodically until now it’s back to the pre-COVID level. It sounds like they were lucky having a good landlord. Most other businesses in soi 11 seemed to be normal or close to it. There were some casualties, like the Australian bar, but most businesses were still there.
I noticed the low number of people around the city and lack of cars on the road. Most of the time you could get a seat on the BTS and if you chose to stand you had space around you – not packed in like sardines as it was 2 years ago. Driving times (or taxi journeys) were a lot faster than before and in soi 11 I could walk on the road and generally not worry about cars. It was a strange feeling. I can’t say the same about soi 23 – if I walked on that road I would have ended up in the local hospital – but soi 11 was quiet.
I’ve gone to the same tailor since 1986. He has a business driven by locals and last time I went he was so busy I couldn’t get a coat fitting inside of two weeks – I had to wait until my next trip for that. I was pretty sure he’d be OK as most of his customers are Thai. The good news is he was still open. The bad news is his business has dropped a lot. As I said, last time he was so busy he only did the work for me because I was a long-standing customer. This time I had a modest request of one sports coat but he wanted me to get trousers, shirts … anything else. He was clearly struggling to get orders. Unfortunately, I only wanted the one coat. It was ready for a fitting after 5-6 days and ready to pick up 2 days later. I hope his business picks up because he does good work and deserves to do well. His shop is on Sukhumvit Road, near soi 49 in Thong Lor. I’ve never asked him but if he owns his shop from the time he opened, or soon after, he’d have a big capital gain based on that investment.
MBK was a surprise. I go there using BTS. All the shops at the National Stadium station were closed, except a single Lawson 108 convenience store. All the other shops had their shutters down. It was like the BTS had forcibly shut all the shops but it couldn’t be that because that one convenience store was open.
The next surprise was Tokyu. It’s gone. You can’t get in to MBK using that shop any more. The replacement is a Japanese style food and knick-knack shop that has barriers inside so you can’t walk thru to MBK proper. You have to walk about 50 yards extra to another entrance. Tokyu is a big loss; they always had good things to look at and sometimes buy.
Inside MBK things were quiet. “Ghost town” would be too strong to describe it, but it looked like around 30% of the shops are gone. Particularly the small traders MBK managed to squeeze into the corners & corridors – they’re mostly gone. The large area dedicated to stalls on Level 5 or 6 was still there but with fewer stalls than before. The restaurants up on Level 6, I think one floor beneath the cinemas, were mostly gone. One or two were still open but they looked out of place given so many were bordered up.
As I’m getting older I need bifocals or progressive lenses to see properly. And I need new glasses every 1-2 years because my eyes are changing (degrading) so fast. It’s 2 years since I changed them so I “had” to get new glasses on this trip. There are 4 optical shops around the escalators on the ground floor of MBK near the TOPS supermarket. Well, there were 4 optical shops; now there’s only two.
Soi 33 is one of my favorite haunts. There are a few places on that street and its side streets that I like to visit for a good time. Walking down the street there are all those massage places with “Hello mista”, “Hello handsum” and “You want massage” called out as you go past. Always entertaining. I’ve never visited any of these places in soi 33 but one or two had some really good looking ladies and the thought had crossed my mind. Besides the massage places, soi 33 has a number of other businesses that I have visited – places offering, let’s say, refined entertainment services. These are mostly pitched at Japanese & Koreans but they’ve never said “no” when I visited. This is a long preamble to say that soi 33 has been devastated. It almost doesn’t exist any more. There are hardly any massage places there now, only 2 or 3 that I saw and only one of those looked even partially interesting. All of the other places I used to go were closed – either abandoned or notices indicating they’d been shut down.
See the photos for rules in BKK. Almost every business checks your temperature on entry. I didn’t experience seeing anyone with a high temperature so I don’t know what happens but presumably the measuring device has an alarm.
Two years ago they had people with handheld “guns” to measure temperature on entry. Now they’ve progressed to non-attended temperature checking. You put your hand – palm or fist – a few inches away from the scanner and it shows your temperature.
I didn’t get a photo of this but in busy places, like the entrance to BTS / MRT stations, they automatically scan a wide field of view allowing multiple people to be monitored at a time. The temperature of everyone walking thru is displayed on a monitor for security to check. It’s very Brave New World …
I had my first visit here, as opposed to looking at it when I went past on a boat. I’m not a good photographer but anyone can get lucky 1 time in 1,000; this photo was taken behind Wat Arun.
I took this photo on the main Sukhumvit Road one afternoon. It’s good to see people haven’t lost their sense of humor.
Soi Cowboy & Nana Plaza
I’m less a fan of the bars now than I was when I was younger. But I was in town and wanted to see what it was like, right? I put one night aside to see the bars. Whether it was a good or bad idea, I made it a Wednesday. I figured if things were good I didn’t want to get lost in the crowds on Friday & Saturday. Sunday-Monday-Tuesday are rarely good days. Thursday is getting close to the end of the week. So I chose Wednesday.
Staying near soi 23 it was easy to go thru Soi Cowboy going to & from anywhere. It wasn’t great. Very few of the bars on the actual soi were open on the inside. I think in the few weeks since I left this has changed. But mostly I saw bars with ladies on the outside doing their best to get people to stop for a drink. I noticed Kazy Kozy was open inside; they had music and seemed to have a good vibe. I was stopped by a good looker at Suzie Wong’s and she indicated they were open inside. When I looked it was dead so I did a quick U turn to get out of there. Crazy House, not technically on the soi itself, was definitely open inside but I didn’t try it because I’m not a fan of the place. Across on the Asoke side of Cowboy the pub style Country Road was doing a good trade but it’s not what I was looking for.
Things at Nana were a bit more normal. The beer bars facing the street were quite busy.
In the plaza itself, on the ground floor, there wasn’t much happening inside the bars but the outside areas in the courtyard were busy. There were a good number of ladies available for chatting. I did a walk around on the two floors above and it was distressing (compared with the old days). As these bars have no outside area they were restricted to inside and there wasn’t much happening in any of them. I went to Billboard, having heard it was at least decent. I don’t agree. The floor space is maybe half of what it was before so instead of having several (two?) distinct areas, now there’s only one. The night I went they had ladies on the stage, some sitting in chairs, others standing. They were dressed in skimpy outfits, but hardly revealing. They weren’t allowed to dance. Honestly, it wasn’t good. I rarely drink alcohol so I ordered a soda water. “Them: Sorry, we don’t have that. Me: OK, I’ll get a Heineken.” I think it was Baht 150, but there was a special and I got two for the price of one. I drank one but wasn’t enjoying myself so I abandoned the other one and left.
I went back to the ground floor because it felt more lively. I don’t know its name but near the back right corner there was a bar that happened to have a young, mischievous lady who was stepping & sidestepping into my path to get me to come into their defined space. Being a man of little resistance I let her shepherd me in. She was entertaining but she had a less-hot friend with her. They asked for a lady drink far too fast and I said I’d leave it a bit before I’d buy them a drink. Here I am, drinking my soda water, engaging with one hot young lady (who turned out to be a 25 year old university student, at least that’s what she said) and her older & less-hot, clearly working-girl friend. After I had one drink with good interaction I caved and bought both of them lady drinks, which were quite generous in size. I spent about 1½ hours with them having a really good time. I really wanted a ST with the young, hot one but the older one kept clinging on. Being a gentleman (well, not wanting to offend the older one) and also not wanting two ladies, I left at 11pm after a thoroughly enjoyable time. When it was getting towards 11pm it was interesting, and disappointing, that they started asking about bar fines; I was thinking there was no point as they wouldn’t be needed after 11pm. I guess they were trying to do the right thing for their bar. I definitely would have been interested in meeting the younger one with or without a bar fine. But it didn’t happen.
The Morchana app is a bit of a mystery. I downloaded it before I went to Thailand, at the same time I got my Thailand Pass. I was happy that some of the registration steps were bypassed by it reading the Thailand Pass QR code. However, I was disappointed that it kept saying there were invalid details in my Thailand Pass. I had the option to re-enter data manually but every time I did, no matter how careful I was, I got the same error message.
When I checked into my Day 1 hotel they asked if I had the app. I said I did, but it had errors and I didn’t know how to correct them. The front desk guy doing my check-in asked if I had the errors before or after entering Thailand. When I said “before” he asked me to try it again. I did and it worked just fine. The error reading my Thailand Pass QR code was now gone. He said this happens consistently; apparently you have to enter the country for the Thailand Pass to be activated and after that the registration step works.
The other problem I had with the Morchana app was I needed to register the results of my Day 5 test but couldn’t find a way to do it. After trying for a while and asking the front desk of my hotel about it I gave up. However, after a few more days it started giving me notifications (one per day) that I needed to register my Day 7 test result. That’s not good programming, is it? A Day 7 test that’s been a Day 5 requirement since it was launched in December. It gave a URL to register the test, which I did, including a photo of the test kit result. The next day it had another notification saying I hadn’t registered my Day 7 test result. Hhhmmm, yes I did. It gave a URL to register (the same URL as the previous day) and this time I went to the front desk of the hotel asking them what they thought. The lady there suggested I enter my passport number as the “Lab Number” – something that made no sense to me. I did what she suggested and uploaded the same photo as the day before – and I wasn’t followed up again. Maybe the passport number entered as the Lab Number did the trick?
My regular massage lady is still upcountry. I guess she doesn’t think it’s worthwhile to come back to BKK yet. Maybe she’ll never come back, I don’t know.
Early in the trip I went to Soi 7/1 – before the underage issues Stick’s been writing about – and found BJs on offer. On an afternoon stroll I had offers while walking past several of the bars but not all of them. I went to the end of the street to see everything on offer, and the last one (Wood Bar, such an imaginative name) was offering them for Baht 700. The others were 800, same as they were in the past. Maybe Wood Bar had a sale. Anyway, a subsequent visit to Wood Bar provided the only extra of the trip.
My usual routine when leaving BKK is to check out of the hotel and entertain myself with a massage in the afternoon before going to the airport for an overnight flight back home. With my massage lady missing, me not being a fan of the “hello mista” massage places, soi 33 dead in the water and my lack of success or follow thru with the Nana Plaza lovely, what would I do about my normal routine? I’d come across good reviews for a place called Doki Doki Massage in soi 31. I figured it was worth checking out. That was a good idea. The small foyer inside the front door had a sign saying Baht 3,000 for 60 mins and Baht 3,500 for 90 mins. They also told me they give a Baht 300 discount for bookings. But they only had a few ladies at that time of day and didn’t have anyone free for another 30 mins; they showed photos of two ladies and I chose the one who was available 10 mins earlier than the other. I was surprised when they said they considered this to be a booking and gave me 300 off the price. They provide nuru massage. Man, is that slippery. Happy days. I chose the 60 min option as I was short of time when I got there and the 30 mins wait made it even more challenging. But I managed to keep my “leaving BKK” routine. Oh, that means I managed two extras on the trip, which is not a good return for a two week trip. I was happy with everything at Doki Doki and suggest it’s worth a visit on your next trip. Soi 31 is close to soi 33 and I had just as much fun there as I did in my old places.
I was pleasantly surprised by how many shops / businesses I like are still operating. The only real casualties were my massage lady and a breakfast cafe I used to visit occasionally. I’ll miss both but it’s not the end of the world. Soi 33 has been devastated and MBK isn’t the same as it was. The naughty places are still around and doing their best to operate as normal – you just have to pick your locality. Most bars had restricted operations when I was there but Stick’s weekly reports indicate things are opening up and I guess they will soon be back to normal. There are definitely fewer visitors to BKK and the travel blogs I read that say “now is the time to visit” are probably right because it’s easy to get around and people just appreciate you being there, presumably spending money.
I’ve already booked the flights for my next trip in late July.
The author of this article cannot be contacted.