Report From The Front
I am just back from my first visit to Thailand in almost 4 years. Thought I’d drop a line on what’s changed, the impact of the Covid closure, the changing demographic of customers, and the impact of marijuana legalisation etc.
My over-arching observation would be that Bangkok’s bar scene is almost back to normal but Pattaya has a long way to go to get back to its glory and in some ways I’m not sure it ever will.
Certainly Nana is already back to what it was. There are a couple of bars that are short on numbers, but I reckon that was always the case. Cowboy is a little further back, with dark, dead spots, but Suzi Wong was heaving when I was there, so I reckon there’s a good chance the soi will be back to normal by the coming high season.
My advice to anyone visiting for the bar scene is to give Pattaya a miss for the time being. Walking Street is dead, and with all the pale males having long since moved on to LK Metro/Buakhao, I’d advise any Walking St bar owner to cut their losses and move to the new hotspot. The bars that once proliferated in the likes of Soi 7, 8 and 13+ are now all but gone and everything is now coalescing around the giant Tree Town beer bar complex and along Buakhao up to Metro. I reckon any bar trying to make it work outside that area is going to wither on the vine (aside from the Thai-oriented discos etc).
The slow transformation of the go-go bars from a kinetic form of soapie fishbowl into a western-style strip club is almost complete. Maybe its just shortage of staff in some places, but you get the strong impression that they don’t want girls being barfined until very late in the night, if then. I could only shake my head in bewilderment at a popular gogo just off Walking St quoting me a barfine of 1500baht at around 2.30 in the morning. I’ve long said that Thai bar owners simply do not appreciate the trade-off between volume and margin, but even by their self-defeating standards this was crazy. So too was the small Cowboy bar with one customer that was charging 250baht for a standard spirit, while another bar two doors up (with many more customers) was charging less than half that at 120baht. This may be a theme in the coming months as the more dimwitted bar owners try to make up for lost time by charging silly prices.
The number of customers from the subcontinent is certainly up, and the bars appear very divided on how to approach this. Some were still getting door staff to use the old ‘members only’ excuse to keep them out, while other bars who were more in need of customers were letting them in. While I observed some (mostly single) Indian chaps behaving as any other customer would, there were also the groups who would wander around and refuse to sit down, or argue over the menu and drink requirements for several minutes before leaving without paying a thing, or a large group who would pay for a drink for one girl and think that entitled all of them to grab and grope her in a manner approaching aggressive. For other customers, this is at best distracting, and at worst infuriating. How will this play out in the long term? I can see more bars introducing the Baccara policy of making every customer buy a drink before being allowed to enter (which I would do in these circumstances), and bars ultimately being divided into two categories: those that cater to the Indians and those that don’t and a pretty strict colour line soon emerging.
Ganja – while the number of people opening up stores/vans/carts etc would seem to indicate this is will be a goldmine, I’m not certain its going to have as much impact on things as you’d think. First off, its not cheap. To buy the equivalent of two joints worth costs around 800 to 1000 baht. I’m sure some tourists who intermittently, or even regularly, smoke weed may well buy some while in Thailand, but I don’t think at those prices that there’ll be many who are going to take it up now just because its more easily found. Certainly there’s no risk of Thailand being over-run by foreign stoners, as they can probably buy weed cheaper in their own countries without shelling out for long-haul flight just to buy it in Thailand.
Masks are everywhere. Very few Thais are bare-faced, but plenty of westerners are. For the first couple of days I took the ‘when in Rome’ approach and wore a mask, but soon dropped wearing it outdoors, and ultimately even indoors. The good news is only one business (a local bank branch) insisted on a mask as a condition of entry. So if you’re prepared to accept the occasional dirty look from conformist Thais for not wearing a mask, you’ll be fine most of the time without one.
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