Stickman Readers' Submissions June 5th, 2024

Around The Traps in Southeast Asia: Part 29


Phuket – Singapore – Hanoi – Saigon

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Stifling temperatures and less people on the beaches of Phuket.


The low season: After a fairly demanding six-week work stint in Saudi Arabia, I arrived back in Phuket in the last week of April. It’s the time of year when the weather is transitioning from the northeast monsoon (high season) to the southwest monsoon (low season) and the rains haven’t quite kicked in yet. It’s a three-to-four-week period when the temperatures and humidity are the highest/hottest. It’s almost intolerable. When you open your door at 7:00 AM, it’s like being hit with a wet blanket. Spending an extended period outside, particularly in the afternoon, isn’t a good idea. Noticeably, there’s not too many beachgoers to be seen after midday. The air-conditioned relief of the island’s shopping malls seem to be a far better idea.

The next trip: As with my previous excursions around the region, I have a routine which I normally follow before jetting off. After arriving back from a work stint, I give myself two weeks in Phuket to get the body clock back to a normal state. My intended destinations for this next trip would include a brief stop in Singapore (to pick up some new camera gear) followed by a two-week trip to Vietnam. For the Vietnam trip I would be spending a few days in the north (doing a private, guided tour of Halong Bay) for a bit of adventure, then finishing things off with some time in Ho Chi Minh City. Until my departure I had a few days to fill in Phuket, which is always an adventure.

Thai Friendly: This is a dating app which I’m sure many readers here are familiar with. If you’re looking for a long-term relationship with a Thai woman, give this site a miss. 90% of the Thai females advertising themselves on this app are freelance hookers. If you want some paid short-time action, this is a good option if you want to avoid the bar fines and lady drinks nonsense. Most ladies on the site in Phuket are quoting 2,000 – 3,000 THB for a short time and many will come to your room/condo. However, there’s a caveat. Many of them are transsexuals (katoeys) so you need to look closely at the photos before initiating contact. Noticeable tells are hand and feet size, jaw line, silicone enhancement, and hip to shoulder differential. If you’re not sure, simply ask them. If you initiate contact with a lady, get straight to the point. That’s what they want. Most will tell you they are “freelance” (polite term for prostitute) after which you establish “her price.” If that’s agreeable to you, get their Line or WhatsApp contact, and away you go.

Soi Bangla: For anyone unfamiliar with Phuket, Soi Bangla, at Patong Beach, is the number one nightlife venue on the island. It’s a 400-meter-long strip, which runs back from the beach, packed with wall-to-wall beer bars, go-go bars, and night clubs. With the noticeable drop in tourist numbers on the island, I was keen to check out the strip for any corresponding drop in numbers. By 9:00 PM on a Saturday night, Walking Street was packed with revellers. With the heat being the way it was, I wasn’t interested in sitting down at one of the outdoor beer bars and made a beeline for the air-conditioned comfort of SUZY WONG A Go-go.


Soi Bangla, from the Beach Road end.


Suzy Wong’s: Even though it’s located at the bottom end of the go-go bar strip, it continues to be the most popular pole dancing venue on Bangla. A combination of reasons probably makes it so, not the least being the attractive line-up of dancers. Although not as big as some of the other go-go bars, the seating layout puts everyone close to the stage, creating a fun vibe. Another important thing of note is that all the dancers are physically attractive, and in good shape. Unlike many of the other venues, there’s no porkers taking up space on the dance platform. Additionally, when the girls are doing their shift on the poles, they’re often butt naked. This is probably the primary reason for the popularity of the place.

Drinking companion: When you enter, the routine is much the same as with any other go-go bar in the kingdom. You’re directed towards a seat and before you’ve had time to consider what beverage you want, one of the girls that’s free will plonk herself down next to you. In this regard, you don’t get to select. Whoever is available gets their turn with you and you may end up with one of the less attractive ladies. With a job to do, they’re always keen to make an impression. However, their eagerness has nothing to do with who you are, and everything to do with the drinks hustle.

Lady drinks: The lady that sat with me spoke reasonably good English and over the half dozen drinks I bought, told me quite a bit about her life as a bargirl. Note: The price of a lady drink at Suzie Wong’s is 250 THB, and it’s almost always Tequila. According to Lek, she makes a very nice income from lady drinks (sometimes 50 in a night) and doesn’t need to do a bar fine too often. If she does, it’s generally with a whale (a cashed-up business type) from Singapore or Dubai who’s going to give her 10,000 THB. I kid you not. It’s apparent that go-go bar gals aren’t much interested in bar fines and shagging these days. Which, to be honest, is hardly surprising. From what I’ve experienced recently they’re mostly alcoholic whores who prefer getting wasted, rather than providing sexual services to prospective customers.

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The wash up: Something which I’ve been assessing for some time is the future of Phuket. A couple of recent rides around the island have led me to conclude it is, for the most part, one giant tourist trap. Save for parts of Phuket Town, and the area north of the airport, pretty much everything on the island is to do with tourism. For the locals, wanting to earn a living, it’s not a bad thing. However, most activities which are tourist related tend to have a degree of hustle about them. And with the tourism industry as big as it is in Phuket, the hustle is everywhere. For any foreigner living on Phuket, the hustle becomes tiresome. The beachside areas are obviously the worst. If you live further inland, as I do, it’s less intrusive. The beachside areas, and not just Patong, are just one giant hustle. After two weeks of dealing with the hustle, it was time to get off the island for a while.




Fort Canning Park, in Singapore.


First world city: My first stop out of Phuket was the Lion City. Singapore is, in all probability, the only first world city in Southeast Asia. Note: Kuala Lumpur is probably up there as well. The little “Red Dot” is a booming, economic metropolis. For shopping it can’t be beaten. In terms of electronics, cameras, laptops, phones, and watches, it’s so far ahead of Thailand it’s not even worth talking about. For any Thailand lovers who’d like to dispute this, here’s an example: If you want to buy camera gear, head to the Cathay Photography Store in the Peninsular Plaza Shopping Mall. Aside from the fact the store has all the latest models in stock (and more than just one unit), they also have dedicated professionals who speak excellent English, and who’ll spend time helping you to set up your equipment. Why? Because they think long term (unlike the Thais) and want your repeat business. Contrast this with a place such as Photo File in Bangkok, where you’re told you’ll need to “go in a queue” to get the latest piece of equipment you want. This is another way of telling you that Thai customers come first, for the small amount of stock they buy in. The staff are friendly but it’s obvious they prefer dealing with Thais, rather than foreigners. Having to deal with this “Thai way” just gets old. I gave up buying electronic stuff in Thailand a long time ago.

More expensive: Being a first world country, it goes without saying that everything works. Efficiency is a priority. However, the cost of providing such a high level of efficiency is substantial. Singapore is regularly listed as one of the world’s most expensive countries to reside in. A short vacation is enough to see as much. Hotel prices, compared to Thailand, are normally three times more expensive for an equivalent standard. Eating and drinking are comparable if you’re doing it in the food courts. However, head to a place such as HARRY’S BAR or MUDDY MURPHY’S, and you’ll soon note that a beer is much cheaper in Thailand. A standard pint of Tiger or Heineken, in either of these two places, is 18 SGD (approx. 470 THB).

Pay for play: Considering the observations of what’s happening in Thai go-go bars these days, the pay for play scene in Singapore isn’t that much more expensive. The current short time rate for an attractive Vietnamese lass, freelancing at the IPANEMA BAR, is anywhere between 300 – 500 SGD (7,800 – 13,000 THB). The variation in prices depends on a combination of factors: age of the lady, attractiveness, the time of night, the day of the week, and your ability to negotiate. Note: Expats residing in the Lion City will tell you it’s cheaper. However, the short time rates normally only come down well after mid-night, when most punters are already legless. Prices are generally higher than Thailand but when you consider what you’re not paying for, and the fact you’re not having to put up with an entitled alcoholic whore, and a scheming mamasan in the background, the price for some short time action may work out to be better value. Most Vietnamese ladies on the game aren’t hard core drinkers. They may cost you a drink or two at the most. Unlike the Thai alcoholic whore, the Vietnamese freelancer’s primary concern is providing a reasonable service in the bedroom (repeat clientele) and many will often give you a massage after the horizontal folk dancing is concluded. However, I would say Singapore is probably not a place you’d head to exclusively for some mongering action. It’s an option if you’re passing through or happen to be in town for other reasons.

Sightseeing: There are the usual bucket list sightseeing attractions in Singapore, such as the Zoo and Sentosa Island. However, if you want something which is a bit off the beaten track, then FORT CANNING and the MACRITCHIE TREE TOP TRAIL are worth checking out.


The MacRitchie Tree Top Trail in Singapore.


Click HERE for a more in-depth look at both locations.




Back on the café filled streets of the Old Quarter in Hanoi.


Hanoi: After four enjoyable and busy days in Singapore, it was time to hit the road to Hanoi. I’d pre-booked a four-day tour to Halong Bay and wanted to get up there before spending any time in Saigon. Getting to Hanoi was a bit of a slog. I took a Singapore Airlines flight to Saigon, and then caught a Vietnam Airlines domestic flight to Hanoi. I had two nights booked at the EMERALD WATERS HOTEL, in the Old Quarter of Hanoi.

The Old Quarter: Although seriously congested with motorbikes and foot traffic, the narrow streets and laneways of the Old Quarter are an interesting potpourri of street side restaurants, cafés, massage shops, travel agents, and adventure merchandise retailers. It’s a great place to hang out at a café and enjoy one of Hanoi’s favourite brews, an egg coffee.


The impressive scenery of Halong Bay.


Halong Bay Tour: Hanoi has become the start point for tours to northern Vietnam and as such there are tour agents dotted everywhere in the old Quarter, offering trips to most of the bucket list locations: Sapa, Ha Giang, Lake Ba Be, and Halong Bay. Because of its popularity, and the inevitable crowding, Halong Bay was a place I’d tended to avoid. With late May being the off season, I decided to bite the bullet and booked a 4 day/3-night tour to Halong Bay and the nearby Cat Ba Island. The tour company I booked with was VIT TRAVEL. After two enjoyable days in Hanoi, the tour company transport picked me up at 9:00 AM and I was on my way. Click HERE for an extended report on touring Halong Bay.


The rugged terrain of Cat Ba Island.


Cat Ba Island Tour: For the final day of my Halong Bay Tour I was going to CAT BA ISLAND. This beautiful island isn’t part of Halong Bay (which lies directly to the north of the island) and has its own island archipelago to the south: LAN HA BAY. In hindsight, you need to spend a few days on Cat Ba for a full sightseeing experience (which would also include touring Lan Ha Bay). A one-day tour, although very interesting, doesn’t do it justice. Click HERE for an extended report on touring Cat Ba Island.




The bright lights of Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon).


Heading South: After an enjoyable week in the north of Vietnam I was back on another Vietnam Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City. Unfortunately, as with Bangkok, Than Son Nhat Airport is now operating above peak capacity. My disembarkation was on a bus, rather than through a gate. Notably, a new terminal is currently under construction at Than Son Nhat. Unlike arriving at Suvarnabhumi, there’s never any issues with the taxi fare. If you get a Mai Linh, or Vinasun taxi in the queue it’s always on the meter. The average cost of a ride into District one is about 10 USD. I had five nights booked at the INTERCONTINENTAL HOTEL on Hai Ba Trung and after the usual thirty-minute horn honking ride from the airport, I was checked in.

Observations: Ho Chi Minh City is an interesting place. It has a vibe which is quite different to Bangkok. It has the feel of a place on an upward trajectory. The people are all hustle and bustle, getting on with business, and looking to the future. It’s a place I enjoy spending a few days in but I’m not sure I could reside there. The traffic chaos (motorbikes) would eventually do my head in. The locals, although courteous and polite, drive like maniacs. No one gives an inch. When you cross a street, even at a zebra crossing, there’s no giving way. They just weave around you in constant flow. After numerous trips to Vietnam, I’ve come to understand the people are a serious lot. Life is all about work, doing business, and making money. To be sure, they’re more hard-nosed than the Thai. Possibly to do with the country’s past hardships. They are quite friendly but don’t smile as often as the Thai. They seem ever willing to help without expecting anything (a tip) in return. It’s like the good name of Vietnam is at stake, and they’ll do whatever they can to promote it. 

The night life: There are lots of bars and pubs in Saigon, but the scene isn’t the same as Thailand. A lot of the bars around District One will have a bevy of attractive ladies sitting outside to entice you into their establishment. However, the interaction is more in line with the Asian way of doing things. Girls will sit with you and talk but the expectation is you’ll buy drinks, or a bottle, for a set period. This period is normally calculated by the hour, and the prices can be substantial. The other thing which is different to Thailand is the girls are normally not barfineable. Most are strictly there for friendly chat and as a drinking companion.


Bui Vien, the party street in District One.


Freelancer venues: There are some venues where you can meet freelancers – APOCALYPSE NOW and CHILL SKY BAR – but prices can be a bit over the top. Currently, short time prices are being quoted at 200 – 300 USD at the above-mentioned locations. A cheaper location is the Bui Vien Walking Street. This area is packed with bars and clubs, blasting out music into the wee small hours. Normally, after midnight, freelancers can be picked up for 100 USD. Note: The spec for ladies in Vietnam is the Asian expectation. Meaning white skin, no tattoos, and demure. There’s no dark-skinned, tattoo-covered, go-go types in the bars in District One. For the monger who prefers this type of spec, you’re better off in Thailand.

A comparison: The difference between Thai ladies and Vietnamese, for me, comes down to one crucial aspect. Thai ladies tend to be warmer or have more passion. Vietnamese ladies seem to lack passion. I wouldn’t say they’re a cold lot but what’s quite noticeable is that everything they do, even having sex, is seen as doing a job. And doing a job is all about making money. In this regard they’re well organised and very efficient. Planning and multi-tasking are things they’re very capable in. Additionally, I’ve heard from guys who are married to them, that a Viet woman tends to have more loyalty, but they are super schemers. From what I’ve experienced, they always seem in a hurry to get what they want.


On the grounds of the War Remnants Museum in Saigon.


Sightseeing: For anyone interested in the war history of Saigon, there are several sites worth checking out. The two best within the city centre (District one) are the WAR REMNANTS MUSEUM and INDEPENDENCE PALACE. Further afield (outside the city limits) are the CU CHI TUNNELS and the VC CAMP at MONKEY ISLAND. Click HERE for an extended report on the above-mentioned locations.


Until the next report,

Safe travels,





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