Stickman Readers' Submissions November 30th, 2023

Trip Observations, November 2023

Here are some observations from the front after a just-completed trip.

 

HEAVING

mens clinic bangkok

The high season is definitely here. In 20+ years of visiting, I’m not sure I have never seen Nana Plaza as crowded as it was this past Saturday night. Even the crumbiest B-grade gogos were crammed. The previous night in Cowboy there was a veritable river of people passing slowly up and down the soi, though the majority appeared to be rubber-necking tourists. In Pattaya, the housekeeping staff told me the 72-room hotel I’ve stayed in for many years had every room occupied, and that was reflected by some very crowded bars.

 

SPOTTY DEMAND

Despite the encouraging signs noted above, not everyone is doing well, and certainly not all the time. After the heaving Saturday night in Nana, Sunday saw many bars having only a handful of customers. In Pattaya you can form very different impressions depending upon where you go. While a handful of bars on Soi LK Metro (the row of Queen of Clubs, Showgirls, Kink, Lady Love) were doing good business, it’s worth noting as many as 6 gogos in that small area remain shuttered two years after the nadir of lockdowns, and others that are open are struggling for staff and therefore customers.

 

DEMOGRAPHICS

The days of the ‘members-only’ charade to stop certain demographics gaining access to the bars appears to be a thing of the past. To be fair, the days of those with that profile ordering a bottle of water and four straws seems to have gone, and many appear as free spending as any Asian or western customer. However that is not a rule and many conform to the old stereotype. It must be a dilemma for managers of the more popular gogos as to how to keep out and move on the cheap Charlies when their seats are at a real premium. In Spanky’s I observed one group of three in good seats being repeatedly urged to buy more drinks but kept nursing their existing beverages for the half hour I was there, and couldn’t be budged. While they appeared of Indian extraction, westerners can be an issue too. In Cowboy, a couple of bars had young mixed (male and female) tourist groups making up the majority of their customers, and one such group of four were continually fobbing off the young waitress trying to explain they needed to replenish their empty bottles. She appeared at a loss so I chimed in and explained to the newbies that it’s not a free ride, and maintained a glare persistent enough to make them feel self-conscious enough to leave. So, for bars, numbers alone can be deceiving – it’s not just how many customers you have, but who they are and how much they spend. It would not surprise me at all to see one of the bigger bars introduce a quasi-entrance-fee e.g. pay 400 baht at the door and get a couple of tokens for two free standard drinks. Baccara has long had a selective policy of forcing people to buy one drink before entering, and that may need to be more widely introduced.

The other demographic trend of note is outside the bars, particularly at Nana. Those who haven’t visited for a while will be stunned to see the expansion of the third-world streetwalkers, which are now thick on the ground all the way down to the soi 6 entrance. And many of their customers are from the soi 3 / 5 crowd who come south of Sukhumvit to seek their prey. Walking down the road late at night, you would think you were in Accra or Dhaka, not Bangkok.

The northern side of lower Sukhumvit is lined with African drug dealers who are more brazen than ever. Walking from soi 11 to the Nana intersection, I counted 32 loitering gents from that part of the world. How is it allowed to happen? When you consider it is all on one side of the street, controlled by one police district, and not at all on the other side which is controlled by a different force, it’s not unreasonable to conclude that one group of officers is, shall we say, more open to persuasion than others. It does maker lower Sukhumvit at night more seedy and dangerous than I can ever remember it being, and I felt genuinely sorry for those holiday-makers (some with kids) who had booked into the area not knowing what they had got themselves in for.

wonderland clinic

In Pattaya, the demographic divide between the broader Buakhao area and the Walking Street environs is more entrenched than ever. In the former, it still feels like the Pattaya of old, home to a large chunk of the world’s white divorcees. Yet south of South Pattaya Road, it feels like a cross between Lebanon and Delhi.

 

GOGO ALTERNATIVES

While Bangkok’s naughty nightlife is still centred on the gogos of Nana, Cowboy and Patpong, Pattaya’s attractions and therefore its punters are much more scattered. You could have a very fulfilling time in Pattaya without ever setting foot in a gogo. In fact I’d recommend it. The chief difference between Bangkok and Pattaya is the proliferation of ‘Gentlemen’s Clubs’ which follow the Eden model. Soi Pothole is lined with them, and many kick on until the approach of dawn. There are also the late-night nightclubs. I went into Juju at 3 AM and it was heaving. Even in my inebriated state I was able to discern probably half the freelancers were ladyboys and for those who are into the third gender, they’ll get everything they’re looking for there. Then there’s the massage shops of Soi Honey which are really thinly disguised brothels, where much more than a happy ending can be had for as little as 500 baht. No wonder many of the gogos remain shut, there’s just far too many cheap alternatives, unlike in Bangkok. And with fresh bar areas under construction on Soi Diana (the Las Vegas bars) and Soi Made in Thailand (filling in the area between its existing bars and the back of the Myth Night complex), the options are only increasing. Frankly, for those whose holidays are only about drinking and rooting on a budget, they’d be better off heading straight to Pattaya and avoiding Bangkok entirely. And I say that as someone who has always been ambivalent at best about Sodom-on-Sea.

 

RANDOM TIPS

Readers might benefit from my experience in trying to change some US dollars. My notes, though pretty crisp and tidy, were rejected at every exchange booth I went to because they were of an older series. Finally, expressing my exasperation to about the 10th booth worker I encountered, she steered my to the Soi Arab alleyway that connects Soi 3 to Soi 5 (entrance opposite Gulliver’s). In there you find a small cluster of booths (some of which are not even labelled as exchange shops but mobile phone retailers / repairers) which will change your foreign notes even if they’re old and not in the best condition. They won’t give you the best rate (they changed mine for 30 baht to the dollar rather than 35) but they will change them.

Beer Garden on the pier near the entrance to Walking Street may have dropped off the radar of punters, but I’d highly recommend a visit. The beer starts at just 45 baht for a small draft; the Thai food I had there was really good; and if you have picked up a new companion, it’s a pretty good romantic dinner option to be sitting by the water under soft lights. Certainly a hell of a lot cheaper than the hi-so clifftop places in Pratumnak that the Bangkok residents descend upon on weekends.

For those who can’t stomach a full English for breakfast every morning, I have a good Nana area alternative. The Majestic Suites just adjacent to the police box is open to non-hotel guests for breakfast, and their khao tom moo at 100 baht is delicious and top value.

The new Las Vegas gogo on Soi LK Metro is decently turned out, but there’s one glaring design flaw. The dancing stage is about three feet off the ground, yet there are only three vertical poles and no railing around the outside. With any fall from that height likely to result in a painful injury, and nothing to hold onto, many of the girls in their 6-inch heels keep their feet glued to the stage which makes the dancing styles very limited.

The author of this article cannot be contacted.

nana plaza