Around the Traps in Southeast Asia: Part 26
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Singapore: After one hundred days offshore in Mexico, and a horrendous four-day travel to get back to Southeast Asia, I arrived in the Lion City cashed up, looking for a cold beer, and bit of female companionship. The usual haunts of the “working girl” along Orchard Road had shut down. Orchard Towers (aka “The Four Floors”) was an empty shell. Where the bars and massage shops once stood, there were only closed doors and dimmed lights. After thirty years of providing a great night out for cashed up, thirsty oil field workers it was the end of an era. Top Ten, Crazy Horse, and the Country Jamboree were all gone. An institution for whoremongering in the Lion City had shut down for good on the 31st of July 2023. The word was that during the two years of pandemic restrictions the locals, who lived and worked in the area, had gotten used to the idea of not seeing hookers coming and going from the towers. The government had been successfully lobbied and bar owners were given a years’ notice of closure. Most, being unable to find viable alternative locations to set up shop, had gone out of business. But not all. The most successful bar/club in the towers, the Ipanema World Music Bar, moved to a 12th floor premises on Cecil Street.
Most taxi drivers in Singapore know the new location of the Ipanema Bar. Cecil Street is on the Eastern edge of China Town and the bar is in the YSY Building. There’s some signage at the entrance and doormen will direct you towards the lift, in the lobby. The new premises is similar in layout to what was the old establishment at the towers. There’s a spacious floor area surrounding a sunken dance floor. One end of the floor area has a square bar which is surrounded by high top tables. At the other end, beyond the dance floor, there’s a raised platform which accommodates a resident band.
Once you enter the bar itself it’s simply a matter of finding a spot to make yourself comfortable and check out the working girl action. During weekdays (Monday to Thursday) finding a table which overlooks the dance floor isn’t an issue, even if you arrive after 10 pm. Friday and Saturday are a different story. The place gets packed with local Singaporeans and expats, looking to let off steam over the weekend. If you arrive after 10 pm, on either of these nights, you won’t get a table. Once you decide on a table, or a bar top to lean on, a wait staff will soon be offering you a drinks menu. One of the great things about having a beer in Singapore, as opposed to just about anywhere else I’ve been out drinking in Southeast Asia, is there’s always draught (tap) beer available. Instead of drinking out of a bottle, you get the option of enjoying a pint (or half pint) out of a glass mug. The Harry’s chain, which is a great choice for some pub food and a couple of warm-up drinks, always has tap beer available. The Muddy Murphy Pub, opposite Orchard Towers, also has a wide selection of beers (and Guinness) on tap.
The main attraction of the new Ipanema Bar, as it was with the old establishment, is the “working girls” (a polite term for a hooker). The main crowd working the Ipanema Bar now are Vietnamese ladies. To be honest, just about all the girls working the floor here are Vietnamese. There’s the odd African and East European but from what I saw, it’s almost exclusively Vietnamese. The primary reason for this is most customers hooking up with these ladies are local Singaporeans and they prefer the Asian spec, which is fair skin and no tattoos. Taking this into consideration the darker skinned Thai ladies, wouldn’t get much of a look in. Fifteen years ago, it was predominantly Thai working girls on the scene. But that was back when most of the clientele were farang expats, oil workers, and tourists. These days you hardly ever see a Thai working girl at the Ipanema Bar. In my experience Vietnamese girls tend to be less inclined to ask for drinks and in many instances, they don’t drink alcohol. They also tend to be less fun than Thais and are quite hard-nosed when throwing their sales pitch at you. If you’re not interested, they’ll move on quickly. On the upside, I’ve always found Vietnamese ladies provide very good service once you get them back to the hotel room. Unlike Thais, they’re less inclined to try and switch on the TV or fall asleep in a drunken stupor on your bed. The ladies working at the Ipanema Bar are all freelancers, and there’s no bar fines to pay. The current short time rate is 200 – 300 SGD, depending on your negotiating skills and the time of the night. A half pint of Tiger beer is 16 SGD, and the bar closes at 3.30 am.
Phuket: After three enjoyable days in Singapore, I was back in Phuket. Late August on Thailand’s most popular resort island is the height of the rainy season. As my taxi worked its way out of the airport melee, the grey mass hung heavy and low over the landscape. By the time I reached my apartment, some forty minutes later, it was bucketing down. Surveying the area in front of my apartment block I noticed the owner of the hotel complex nearby had another crop of weed on the go.
August and September in Phuket are typically months of heavy rainfall. Understandably the tourist numbers of the past high season were well down. The Russian hordes of January and February had been replaced by Indians and Arabs, just in lower numbers. The roads through Patong were less congested and getting a seat at my favourite street side café (at the beach end of Soi Bangla) for a spot of people watching, wasn’t an issue. At around 6.00 PM, both ends of the soi get closed off to traffic and it becomes a walking street for the revelers that fill the bars every night.
For any older guys, such as myself, getting some P4P isn’t as straightforward as one may think. Phuket has a different dynamic to Bangkok and Pattaya. The girls working at the beer bars and gogo bars (and even the freelancers in the clubs) tend to prefer younger guys. It goes with the beach resort, partying theme of the place. It’s for this reason that when I’m in the mood for a bit of horizontal folk dancing, I’ll go to one of the many massage shops dotted around Patong. The fact I also live over the hill in Kathu, sees me riding home no later than 10 pm to avoid the potential for an accident, from overindulgence.
My time in Phuket is always about getting healthy, working on my fitness, and preparing myself for another adventure trip to some area of Southeast Asia. In this regard a 300-meter-high peak near Phuket Town is a great workout in the late afternoon. The peak, known locally as MONKEY HILL, has three transmission towers at the top and is visible from a few kilometers away. It’s a favoured spot for Phuket locals to get a good workout in the cool hours of the late afternoon. From the parking area, at the base of the hill, there’s a 1.9 km sealed roadway to the top. At a steady walking pace, it takes around 30 – 40 minutes to reach the top of the peak. For those, such as myself, who can’t run/jog, due to knee issues, this is a great alternative for elevating the heart rate over a sustained period. For those who want a more invigorating hike, there’s a 2 km jungle track, around the southern side of the hill, which takes you to the very top of the peak. A hike up this alternate route is best in the high (dry) season. During the wet the trail is muddy and often has small streams running across it. On the steeper sections, knotted ropes have been installed to make the ascent a bit easier.
Another great aspect of Phuket during the rainy season is the fantastic sunsets you get over the ocean. This is due to the cloud cover which often fills the skies. It doesn’t happen every day but when there’s a gap between the horizon and the cloud cover, the results are quite spectacular. A great place for sunset viewing, a cold Singha, and some Thai food is LEK’S RESTAURANT on the Northern end of Karon Beach. Lek’s is the last restaurant along the dirt road and is an open-air style eatery. Note: If you’re going there for a sundowner, take some mosquito repellant. The premises back onto a creek and after sunset, the mozzies are out in force.
Northern Vietnam Tour: I spent three weeks back in Phuket (doing plenty hikes up Monkey Hill) preparing myself for a one-month trip to Vietnam. In mid-September I flew into Hanoi and my itinerary included the following locations:
- Mu Cang Chai
- Na Hang
- Ba Be
- Cao Bang
To make things flow a bit better, in terms of transportation, accommodation, and access to the various sightseeing locations, I booked a private tour through MR. LINH’S ADVENTURES (Hanoi). Granted it cost more than going with a group, but it enabled me to focus on the video & photography without feeling rushed (no obligation to keep up with the group). My tour was 9 days/8-nights, starting in Hanoi, going up to Sapa, then across some remote areas in the north, with the final day being at the spectacular cross border waterfall of Ban Gioc. This was a custom tour, and the price included a tour guide, a driver, all transportation, accommodation, food, and sightseeing fees.
The far north of Vietnam has what is generally considered to be the most spectacular scenery of the country. The entire area, north of Hanoi and up to the border is filled with rugged mountain ranges, spectacular waterfalls, and a good number of large volume caves. In August last year I did a motorbike tour through Ha Giang Province, known locally as the Ha Giang Loop. During my travels I was reliably informed (by an expat resident in the area) the best weather for visiting the far north is in late September, and October. I planned my trip accordingly. Additionally, being just at the end of the rainy season, the scenery was green and vibrant, and the waterfalls were at peak flow.
Hanoi: I arrived in the capital as planned, on Sept 17th, and had a couple of days to sort myself out before embarking on my nine-day tour across Northern Vietnam. I booked into the REX HOTEL, located in the bustling tourist area known as the “Old Quarter.” This is the most popular area for tourists and travellers coming to Hanoi, and is characterised by narrow streets teeming with motorbikes, street side restaurants, and cafés. A little time spent wandering around the laneways and I soon figured out where all the Euro, British, and Aussie tourists, who used to visit Thailand had gone to; they were in Vietnam. There were no Arab, Chinese, or Russian tourists to be seen. Something else which is immediately apparent when wandering around the laneways is the number of travel and tour agents offering trips of varying lengths and schedules, to the mountainous areas to the north. Hanoi has become adventure central for the younger backpacker crowd, wanting to get away from the mainstream tourism of places like Thailand.
One of the great things about Vietnam is the coffee culture and in Hanoi, there’s no exception. These days when you sit down at one of those little street side cafés, you’re given a menu which, aside from the standard options, includes egg coffee, cheese coffee, salted coffee, iced coconut milk coffee, and, on the odd occasion, even yoghurt coffee. The egg coffee and iced coconut coffee tend to be the most popular choices for the connoisseurs.
Northern Vietnam tour highlights:
The rice terraces of Mu Cang Chai: This is a very popular sightseeing attraction in Yen Bai Province. Unfortunately, if you don’t get there before the end of September, the only things you’re going to see is terraces of stubble. The site is easy to access and there’s a parking area right next to the road on route QL 32. If you’re on an organised tour, as I was, the guide will take care of the entry fee requirement. The distance from the parking area to the viewing area is 1.2 km, and all uphill. If you’re not up to the hike, local motorbike taxi operators, offer rides to the top for around US 2.00. I did the hike option as I wanted to be able to make the most of photo opportunities on the way up. I also had the drone with me and was looking forward to getting it into the air. For anyone whose interested, click the following link for the location: MU CANG CHAI RICE TERRACES
Click this LINK For a more in-depth review of the Yen Bai area.
Sapa and Mount Fansipan: At 3143 metres at the summit, it is recognised as the highest mountain in the Indochina Region. There is a cable car service which takes sightseers to the summit. This 7 km ride up to the top of Fansipan is a fantastic experience. Although it’s a mass tourism set-up, the views during the 25-minute ascent are brilliant. Note: For anyone interested in going there, a couple of things to keep in mind. 1. Try to do it on a weekday as it’s less crowded. The locals generally go on the weekend. 2. Go early, to beat the weather and the crowds. The mornings are generally clearer than the afternoons, due to heat and humidity build-up.
If you’re interested, checkout out my YouTube Video on the cable car trip and the summit.
Click this LINK For a more in-depth review of Sapa and Mt. Fansipan.
Na Hang Lake Tour: This is a more remote, and less visited, area to the north of Lake Ba Be. The primary sightseeing attraction of Na Hang was a large lake, created by the damming of the GAM RIVER. As yet the area is not developed for tourism. The topography surrounding the lake is a pristine wilderness of jungle clad peaks. There’s a small marina at the southern end of the lake where flat bottomed, motorised boats can be hired for a cruise up the lake. The scenery is some of the best in Vietnam. KHOUI NHI waterfall is only a few minutes from the marina and is just a 300-meter hike from the edge the lake. It’s a beautifully scenic spot a great place for a swim.
Click this LINK For a more in-depth review of the Na Hang area.
Lake Ba Be area: This natural body of water (not a dam) is the largest lake in Vietnam. It’s spread is 6.5 square and it is largely surrounded by jungle clad peaks. If you’re in Ba Be, boat tours can be easily arranged from the accommodation area. Other notable sightseeing attractions in the area are PUONG CAVE and HUA MA CAVE
Click this LINK For a more in-depth review of the Lake Ba Be area.
To see highlights of all the above-mentioned locations, click on this YOUTUBE LINK
Ban Gioc Waterfall: This is the highlight sightseeing attraction of Cao Bang Province. The waterfall is currently listed as the world’s 4th biggest cross border falls and is the largest in Southeast Asia. The best months to visit are September and October, when the rains have abated but the falls are still at peak flow. Apparently, the border line, between Vietnam and China, runs down the middle of the main falls. To get up close to the main falls, motorised rafts can be hired (for USD 2) which will take you upriver and around the face of the falls. As the rafts move towards the northern bank of the river, you’re actually in China for a few minutes. Once again, if you’re thinking of traveling to Vietnam, Ban Gioc Waterfall should definitely be on the bucket list.
To see highlights of Nguom Ngao Cave and Ban Gioc Falls, click on this YOUTUBE LINK
Saigon: After a fantastic nine-day tour across Northern Vietnam it was time to head to the “big smoke” for some good food, a comfortable bed, and some female companionship. TBH, Ho Chi Minh City isn’t a standout location if you’re looking for some P4P action. The options are limited, compared to Thailand and the Philippines. There’s no go-go bars here, and the beer bars (hostess bars) around District One tend to have more of an Asian spec about them. In other words, instead of just ordering a single drink, there’s an expectation that you’ll order a bottle of something when you sit down. This might be okay if you’re a hard liquor drinker but if you’re a beer only person, like me, it’s just not worth it. For the younger crowd there’s BUI VIEN. In the evenings it’s a closed off street with outdoor bars, clubs, restaurants, and hordes of people milling about. The drinks are inexpensive but the noise factor here is a total assault on one’s hearing. Generally, this is a spot where the backpacker crowd congregate at to get blasted.
If you want to go a bit more upmarket there’s a couple of notable freelancer venues, such as the APOCALYPSE NOW and CHILL SKY BAR, but the drinks are expensive (for Asia) and the girls “working” there are asking nonsense money to accompany you back to your hotel. Short time prices were quoted at USD 200. If you stick around into the wee small hours, you can haggle them down to USD 100. As I did. Even so, the fun factor isn’t quite the same as Thailand. The attraction of Ho Chi Minh is it’s just something a bit different to Bangkok. While the P4P scene isn’t anything like Thailand or the Philippines, the historical aspect, the food, and the coffee culture is worth checking out. However, five days here is normally enough. My next and final stop on this tour was Bangkok.
Bangkok: I hadn’t been in the big Mango since the last week of 2022. Although I’d never consider living there again, I still consider it a great place to enjoy oneself. Coming from Suvarnabhumi, the traffic is as bad as it always is but once you arrive in lower Sukhumvit, the “Rot tid” is soon forgotten. I was quickly running out of days before I’d head back to Mexico and decided to live it up. I booked into the Holiday Inn Chidlom for three nights, with an eye on the nearby late-night venue called Mix. First up though I was going to check out some go-go bar action.
Soi Cowboy: I arrived on the “Hangover Soi” quite late. A late flight from Saigon had me doing a bit of a scramble to get to Soi Cowboy by 11 PM. I hadn’t been on the strip for four years but as I walked towards the entrance of Shark Bar, it seemed nothing much had changed. The touts were still out on the street trying to entice you in. I took a seat in the bleachers and a quick look around the premises told me nothing in the bar had been changed or updated. There was a bit of a tired look about the place. The bleachers were half full. Most of the punters were of Asian origin, ogling the girls hanging off the chrome poles.
Given the hour, there were still quite a few ladies up on the platform. But I didn’t recognise any from the pre-covid days. Perhaps age and other opportunities have moved them on. Many of the girls seemed to be flat chested. A sure sign they were new, or young, and were still saving up for their first set of plastic boobs. A young lass (flat-chested) dropped herself next to me. Introductions were made and drinks were ordered. Her name was Nit, or Noi, or something. She was twenty-one, fresh faced, and full of enthusiasm. Another young Isarn hopeful looking for a future in a Bangkok go-go bar. On a bit of a fact-finding mission, I made a note of the prices in the bar: A Singha = 180 THB; a lady drink = 200 THB; bar fine = 700 THB; ST = 3000 THB; LT = 6000 THB. I finished my beer and took my leave.
Baccara: After exiting Shark, I didn’t have far to go to my next stop. Baccara is right next door and is generally considered the best go-go bar on the strip. I pushed my way through the velvet curtains and the scene looked a lot more upbeat than Shark, which seems gloomy in comparison. The ground floor was almost full, but I was in luck. A couple of Asian guys vacated a seat right near the dance platform. After getting comfortable, and ordering a beer, I checked out the crowd. I was the only westerner on the premises. It seemed Baccara was a hotspot for the Asian punter. Above me, the glass floor revealed a horde of attractive lasses shaking the booty.
Just when I’d resigned myself to sitting alone, a couple of cuties rocked up and asked to join me. The good old double team. The experienced, older go-go gal, and the younger newbie learning the ropes. I didn’t mind. I had no intention of bar fining them. Introductions were made, and Tequilas were ordered. The older gal (26) spoke better English and fired off the usual fact-finding questions to establish where I was from, when did I arrive, and how long I was in town for. I replied, “I was from Australia, and I was in Bangkok for five days, before going to Phuket.” They got more enthusiastic and attentive. The younger one said she could “give me a good massage back at my hotel.” I replied, “I didn’t need a massage, I needed a lady to suck my cxxk.” She turned bright red. As newbies do. I knew she’d be completely hopeless in the sack. I finished my beer, tipped them 100 THB each, and took my leave. Baccara prices are as follows: Singha Beer = 180 THB; lady drink = 200 THB; Bar fine = 700 THB; ST = 3000 THB; LT = 6000 THB. Perhaps there’s some kind of collusion between the Shark and Baccara.
Mix: A taxi ride from anywhere along lower Sukhumvit, to the Mix Nightclub, is 100 THB. The drivers get a commission on everyone they drop off at the upstairs parking area. The Mix Nightclub is in the basement of the Intercontinental Hotel. A five-star joint directly opposite the Erawan Shrine. The entrance fee is 300 THB, at the door. For your 300 THB you get a voucher for one drink. With its low roof the velvet curtains draped around the walls, there’s a bit of Noir atmosphere about the place. Not as flash as Levels, it’s got a rawer feel about it. TBH, it’s a bit of an international meat market for the older “working girl.” Aside from the thirty plus aged Thai ladies, there’s also Vietnamese, Africans, and East Europeans frequenting the establishment. The main premises (as you enter through the double doors) has a spacious dance floor, with a DJ box directly behind it. An oddity of the place is the two small dance platforms, either side of the DJ box, where lithe twenty-year-old Thai dancers take turns shaking their booty. Upon inquiry, in an earlier time, they were also available for “hire.”
In pre-covid days there was also a bar area, of similar size, at the rear of the premises. This was the hangout spot for the East European and Russian ladies. The music in this bar was generally better than the main bar. The downside was the haze of cigarette smoke. The Russians and East Europeans, when not on the dance floor, would sit around puffing away on their Winfield Reds. If you were a non-smoker, five minutes in there was enough to have you coughing your lungs out. This bar has remained shut since the covid era.
There’s a long bar to the left, as you enter, and this is where most punters tend to congregate while checking out the offerings. For groups who want to party, there’s also the option of buying a bottle and getting a table at the seating area. A lot of the ladies tend to hang out along this bar as well. As mentioned, most of the ladies who ply their trade at Mix are of the older genre. In their late twenties or thirties. The type of gals who’ve been in the game long enough to know what they’re doing. In all the times I’ve been there, I’ve never had a dud. As with a lot of freelancer joints the prices here tend to be a bit more expensive than beer bars, or go-go bars. A beer = 250 THB. Whiskey and soda = 300 THB. ST price = 4000 THB. LT price = 8000 THB. Having said that, it’s still cheaper than a place like Singapore.
Until next time, safe travels.
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