Late one afternoon, three years ago, I found myself wandering along the long sandy paradise stretch that they call Karon Beach, down in Phuket. I'd been in Thailand for three weeks, most of that time spent on Phuket, and I was ready to head up to Bangkok, to pursue employment and more importantly, start a new life as an expat in Thailand. Walking along that beach I didn't know what the future would hold, but I was excited.
This past week, I found myself walking along the same stretch of beach, at around the same time of day, almost three years to the day. And I wondered to myself, what the hell am I doing with my life? In the last three years, I have crammed in more excitement than I had managed in the previous 28 years, yet I look back over the past three years and wonder what the hell I have achieved. A website, the ability to speak Thai to a decent level and a couple of years experience teaching English is in my opinion, not enough to show from three years in one's prime. Having said that, I don't regret it for a minute.
The moral of this story is very simple. Thailand is a fantastic place to live for a variety of reasons but it is also a first class place to wile away a lot of time, perhaps money too, and never really achieve anything. If you are comfortable with that, then the decision to move to Thailand will be made that much easier. But, if you are not that comfortable with such an existence, perhaps you should think a little harder before making the big move. Remember, time is perishable – once you have used it, you can't take it back.
So, what about the bar scene in Phuket? Well, in some ways it is very good and in others it is a bit of a letdown… But the big question: Is it worth flying (you're crazy to even contemplate going any other way) all the way down to Phuket if all you are interested in is boozing and whoring? First, let me say that since I was last there three years ago, a lot of bars have sprung up all over the show and while in the past the bar scene was largely confined to Soi Bangla with a few other bars here and there, now you find clusters of bars popping up all over the show, though Phuket still has a long way to go to reach anywhere near the numbers of Pattaya.
For fans of gogo bars, Phuket is a huge disappointment. Rock Hard A Go Go still dominates and DJ Mad Big Bill still screams and rants over the sound system and plays all of the old classic rock songs, but you just know that any gogo bar operating with its front doors wide open so that the interior and dancing girls can be seen from the street is not going to hit the highs that the better Bangkok bars do. Some real rough looking girls in there, a few that were ok, but nothing to challenge the BKK gogos. Cheapest drink was 100 baht and at 140 baht for a Jack Daniels + Coke, someone is getting rich. Pink Panther, no relation to the Bangkok bar of the same name, was ok and Lipsticks had some real slappers. Stuck my head in one other gogo but it too was mediocre. The bottom line being that Phuket gogo bars are nothing special and they wouldn't cut it on Cowboy, let alone Nana or Patpong.
The beer bars in Phuket are another story altogether and many put the beer bars of Pattaya to shame. The bars are decorated far more nicely and the girls are girl for girl, a whole lot prettier. You just don't get the tired old grandmothers that you get in Pattaya and unlike the Pattaya wrinklies who just laze about, the Phuket girls are a lot more lively. However, the drink prices in the beer bars are also on the steep side. A Coke for 40 baht, Singha for 60 and Heineken for 70 all represent value for money, but 120 baht for my favourite Jack Daniels + Coke in a beer bar is way too much. Soi Easy, Soi Eric and Soi Thai boxing are all well worthwhile. For those looking for a piece of the action, most girls were quoting 1000 baht for a night of fun.
One nice aspect to the Phuket bar scene is that a lot of the girls working there are from the south of Thailand. To the uninitiated, they may all look the same, sharing a similar shade of dark brown skin with their Isaan cousins. But where the southern girls come into their own is the lovely shape of their face with few having the gorilla like features accentuated by the masculine jaw line and distinctive cheek bones that are so common to the Isaan girls.
Phuket may be an island paradise, but prices have reached a point
that is unrealistic for Thailand and people are looking elsewhere.
The tuk tuk drivers are the bane of Phuket. Never have I met so many rude and greedy Thais in one place. Quite frankly, one gets the impression that the tuktuk drivers are doing their best to drive people away. A ride from Kata Beach to Patpong Beach was quoted at a non-negotiable 200 baht, yet it is a mere 8 km. Compare this with Bangkok where an 8 km cab ride will cost less than 70 baht – and that is in an air-conditioned car! The tuktuk rates posted in the free Phuket tourism magazine are rubbish. For folks who speak Thai, fair deals can be had on the motorcycle taxis.
But where Phuket is really expensive is when one goes dining. Phuket may be famous for arguably the best seafood in Thailand, but so it should be at some of the prices they charge. I have never seen such blatant overpricing in all of my life. But worse than the serious price gouging, is that unless you walk way, way back from the beach, it is difficult to find small Thai style restaurants where you can get a decent meal for 30 baht or so. It seems that this style of restaurant is almost discouraged from being located anywhere near the area where most tourists go, forcing the tourists to dine in top dollar establishments. Peculiarly, 7 Elevens which are so prevalent all over Thailand, are almost conspicuous by their scarcity on Phuket. Minimarts on the other hand are common and prices for many popular items such as a can of Coke are around 50% dearer than at 7 Eleven!
One of the most unusual things about Phuket is what people actually seem to do there. I always thought that people went to Phuket to enjoy the beaches and the other natural attractions in that area such as Phanga Bay and Phi Phi Island, but it seems that so many of the folks making it down that way are content to just wander around all of the vendors in Patpong Beach selling all the usual knock off junk. Hardly my idea of the perfect holiday, but people should do what makes them happy.
Overall, Phuket is well worth it for a break away from Bangkok, but the prices are getting way out of hand, and it is no surprise that year on year flight arrivals into Phuket for February fell for the first time in history. Take note you Thai tourism operators, half the reason we come to your country is because it's cheap. Continue to jack up the prices and we'll go over to Indonesia, Cambodia or one of the other cheaper countries in the region.
Quite a few people have emailed me saying that my friend who's email was published in last week's column can't have caught Reiter's Disease from having Chlamydia – all citing information from the internet as proof. Hmmm, may or may not be true – I don't know – but this is the story his doctor has given him!
What do you do when you see a bargirl that you know on the skytrain or elsewhere around the city? I guess it all depends on whether she is alone, with friends or maybe a customer. Also coming into consideration is whether or not you and her have shared intimate moments. Call me a snob, but if I see a bargirl I know or even a girl that I recognise as being a bargirl, I make a point of looking the other way and averting eye contact. I still haven't quite figured out why but think that maybe it is because I don't want respectable Thais to see me in the company of a girl of dubious virtue.
The gold shop at the entrance to Nana Plaza that has been there for years and years, indeed back when it was all called Nana Plaza Shopping Centre has been gutted and it looks like Big Dogs bar is expanding and will take over that space. I guess this means that the bargirls will have to take their teeruks a little bit further for that new gold chain. Incidentally, buying gold for a bargirl as a token of your love (stupidity?) for her is not the wisest thing to do as gold in Thailand is as liquid as greenbacks and can be easily, and indeed is often, exchanged for cash.
Gaysorn Plaza, the chic shopping centre opposite the World Trade Centre that houses the Thailand branches of flash European brands like Pal Zileri and Hugo Boss is closed for renovation until September, according to the signs placed around the entrances. Strong rumours prevail that the site will re-open as Stickman Entertainment Plaza….not! For the cigar aficionados, the cigar shop that used to be located on the first floor has moved into the Meridien President Hotel, which is located right next door.
Walking through Pratunam market, many of the street vendors sell knock off ties at around 100 baht each, but they may go as low as 80 – if you speak Thai well, buy a few, or they are having a slow day. But, keep walking until you are almost opposite Panthip Plaza, and there is one vendor selling much nicer ties at 35 baht each or 3 for 100 baht. At this price, you wonder how they can make money on them and I even wonder if they fell of the back of a truck? Amazingly, some of them are actually quite nice. This is just one of many items in Thailand that you wonder how anyone makes any money selling it.
Soi Kasemsan 1 is home to a bunch of street vendors, including one fellow who I rate as absolutely the best street vendor in the country – or at least of the ones that I have eaten at. The other day I headed on over there for one of his budget priced treats, only to be greeted by the site of the "garbage police", fellows in police like uniforms with green badges – rubbish police – removing all of the street vendors' carts out of the soi. What was happening? Well, apparently these vendors were parking their carts too far away from the wall thus protruding out into the soi and potentially blocking traffic. The council didn't approve and thus impounded them… As it was a long holiday weekend, I bet that someone wanted a little tea money for the release of the carts.
This cat will end up in hot water after eating the food that was about
to be offered to Buddha on the Buddhist holiday earlier in the week.
Anyone for Khao Pat Maew? (Fried rice with cat)
Some of the bars in Nana Plaza have just jacked up the prices of drinks to ridiculous levels. The Crown Group* of Bars has put up the price of all beers and all imported spirits to 110 baht and has laminated price lists with the new prices clearly displayed on the walls in all of their bars. When you consider that these drinks used to be 90 baht, this price increase is outrageous. Even a glass of coke, which more often than not is half ice, costs 95 baht and a Thai whisky (does anyone really drink that muck?) costs 100 baht. The justification for the price increases seem to be the recent NEGLIGIBLE tax increase on alcohol. This increase in tax resulted in a price increase in supermarkets of no more than one baht per bottle of beer. How then can the bars justify this 20 baht price increase per drink? Put simply, they can't. What I now fear is that some of the other bars may follow suit and that this pricing may even fall over from Nana into other bar areas. Whatever the case, prices are getting out of hand and my visits to Nana will be far, far less frequent than before. How long until the price for a bar fine is increased? 600 must be just around the corner. If the prices of beer and other alcohol had gone up by a similar percentage in the supermarkets and other stores, then no-one would complain, but prices haven't gone up and we ARE complaining. Maybe David Walls, owner of the Crown Group of Bars, has added another mia noi to his stables, a damned expensive mia noi?
* The Crowns Group of Nana Plaza is in no way related to the Kings Group of Patpong. Perhaps what is most surprising is that the group of bars that has lead the price increase is farang owned, and NOT Thai owned.
Why doesn't someone come out and say it? NANA PLAZA HAS TAKEN A HUGE NOSE DIVE!! The percentage of genuinely attractive girls is far less than in the past, yet those girls plying their trade at Nana are asking more and more – 3500 long time roles off their lips! The service staff are getting pushier and pushier. Is Stickman becoming jaded? Possibly, but I just know that things there are not quite what they used to be.
Nana Plaza has been the premier location for enjoying the gogo bars with a mix of attractive girls, reasonable prices and ok service – for quite a while, but I really think that it's tenure is now over. The decline is rapidly approaching a point where it will be very difficult to turn around. Too many ugly, overweight girls. Too many pushy, unfriendly and at times downright rude staff. High prices for drinks and crazy prices to enjoy the girls company. That's more than a few major issues.
To make all of this worse is the fact that many (not all) of the bar owners really do treat the dancing girls very, very badly. There are penalties for all sorts of silly things and even the fact that that the girls are virtually compelled to go with some customers that they may find unpleasant, is bad enough. And for those of us with a conscience, this is most definitely an issue and can make one reluctant to support such bars.
A beer at Patpong used to always cost 10-15 baht more than at Cowboy or Nana but a few recent visits to Patpong show that a beer there is now the same price as the other areas – and cheaper than the Crown Group Of Bars. In the last three years, the prices of drinks in most Patpong bars (including the Kings Group), have remained static, but in other bar areas they have gone up twice or in some cases, three times! Isn't it interesting also that many Patpong bars STILL only charge 400 baht for a barfine whereas at Nana, in most bars it's 500… A night out for a few drinks will cost no more at Patpong than anywhere else.
Why is it that novels penned locally along with the Bangkok daily newspapers have so many errors in them? As good as it (and it's well worth picking up a copy), Christopher Moore's latest book "Chairs" has SO MANY typos that it makes me wonder if anyone proofed or edited it. Reading through the two major English language dailies, there are stacks of errors in there too. Why is this? Is it because Bangkok is home to some of the world's worst English teachers? In Christopher Moore's case, this is probably not relevant, but in the case of the newspapers, maybe!
Chiming in with their contribution to the "what the hell does this mean competition", the Patong Hospital in Phuket has a sign right out the front saying Reach the international standard with the morality of service. What could this possibly mean? I guess it's just as well that morality was not spelt as mortality…
Mangoes and Durian are still in season so if you haven't had you fair share, go out and buy some before the prices soar as they go out of season before they eventually disappear. If mango and sticky rice is not the most divine of desserts, then what is? Just watch your intake of that sticky rice because it goes straight to your gut.
A lot of people want to relocate to Thailand, but don't want to teach English (very wise!), and don't really know what to do. One thing that I am sure would do well is an "Ultimate Bangkok Apartment" website. It would have to be thorough, encompassing a good percentage of the city's apartments including a full range of apartments from the cheap and nasty roach infested dives to the most expensive executive palaces. It would be a huge amount of work for a team of people including web designers, photographers, writers and sales people and if done properly, would probably need an investment of one to two million baht. But I'm sure the financial return could be very good. Apartment finders make a lot of money – and the potential with a site like this would be huge.
Some people are easily shocked, others less so. If you have friends coming into town and want to shock them, one of the city's blowjob bars is probably the best place to start. Walking into a bar to be greeted by the site of someone sitting back on a couch, jeans around their ankles and a girl between his legs, attending to his stiffy is a sight that raises the eyebrows of even the most battle hardened of folks.
Contrasts at Nana
||At night, Nana Plaza is bursting with life and colour, lots of smiling staff fighting to welcome you inside THEIR bar. Everywhere you look, there are beautiful neon lights advertising the many bars, and lots of people milling around outside, customers and service staff alike with grins seemingly painted on their faces.|
||During the daylight hours, Nana Plaza is an ugly monstrosity of poorly put together bars with haphazard wiring and lots of stray cats crying out for food. The few girls who are milling around look like their sleep was rudely interrupted and they were brought to work, totally against their will. The smiles that greet you during the day time are absent, and you suddenly see all of the girls flaws, realising that they are not the princesses you thought them to be.|
Does it bother you that as a whoremonger who has slept with a large number of girls, you might have slept with an HIV+ girl? If you have reached the magic number of 100 girls, or more – and plenty have, odds are you have slept with such a lady, given that somewhere between 1% and 1.5% of the Thai population is either HIV+ or has full blown AIDS! It changed my whole attitude when I found out a girl I knew was HIV+ but luckily, I had never been near her. My misbehaving days took a huge hiccup when this girl that I knew was tested as HIV+. Sometimes it needs something close to home to make you rethink your lifestyle.
The weather is cooling down a little and is a lot more pleasant than it was a few weeks back. It's amazing what a difference there is between the relatively pleasant 33 and the almost torturous 36.
A reminder that the Nanapong dance contest #4 will be help in Rififi Bar on Patpong soi 2 on this coming Friday the 18th and will kick off around 8:00 PM ish. This will be the last contest for a while because organising such contests has proven to be a lot of effort for little or no profit, which is a shame as the Pong guys do a fantastic job.
Your Bangkok commentator,