As I approach 5 years in the city of madness, I find myself looking back over the past few years, looking at how I have changed, and how this crazy place that I call home has changed too.
Many people would argue that the biggest change in the last 5 years has been the introduction of the skytrain, and the way that it has opened up the city. Sure, it has done wonders, but until the new lines are finished – and that could be some time yet – I just wonder what percentage of the Bangkok population actually benefits from it. The skytrain is great, but really, it only services a relatively small area – and an even smaller percentage of the population.
And speaking of getting around, traffic really does seem to be getting worse in a lot of areas recently, with some longer term residents of the opinion that it is almost as bad as it was pre-crash.
There are more and more chains of stores and restaurants, both local and from abroad. Local chains such as the Japanese restaurants Fuji have opened up branches left, right and centre, and can even be found now in areas that aren't typically home to the wealthy.
The city has become more modern, and has been dressed up, at least in the downtown area. Many of the footpaths have been re-paved (although they still fall hopelessly short of Western standards), there are zillions of new shops and some of the older shopping centres, such as Mahboonkrong, have been spruced up with a new, more modern look.
Five years ago it wasn't easy to find a good coffee and in many areas, cafes weren't easy to find. There has been something of a cafe explosion since then and with so many cafes only hosting a few customers, one has to wonder if the cafe market, which really doesn't seem to have matured that much, has become saturated. There are Starbucks branches all over the city but finding a good coffee still remains difficult.
Shopping is better than ever with more and more shopping malls opening. This in itself should not excite, for it is often just the same old chains opening up new branches in new areas. However many items that used to be hard to get are becoming easier to find in Bangkok. Whereas in the past you would have to wait for the annual trip home, or for friends to visit from your little corner of the world, now you can find so many more Western goods available here in Bangkok.
Thai people are still typically Thai. Some of the younger generation may be adopting Western fashion, ideas and concepts faster than their parents are comfortable with, but they still remain very typically Thai. Bangkok has become more modern but whether the city is actually growing up, I really don't know. So much of what is changing is on the surface…yet beneath the surface, Thai people remain largely unchanged.
As far as meeting Thais for, ahem, cough, splutter, a round of the the bedroom Olympics, there really does seem to be more and more Thai women who are ACTIVELY seeking out Westerners as boyfriends.
But perhaps the biggest change of all, the thing that I truly believe has had a major effect on Bangkok and the lifestyles lead by those resident in Bangkok over the last few years is….the mobile phone. When I first arrived in Bangkok, you could not get a mobile phone for under 30,000 baht, and if you had a pocket full of cash, you could buy one for much more than that. What were the once the domain of the hi so and genuinely rich are now available to all.
Personally, I have a love hate relationship with my mobile, but the truth is that I would be lost without it. In a city where travelling times are almost impossible to predict and where the attitude of the locals towards timeliness is very relaxed, one's mobile quickly becomes a tool that allows you to save time, arguable the most precious thing we have,
Today's column was brought to you by Nokia….just kidding!
My comparison of the changes that I have seen in Bangkok is based on observations made over a relatively short period of time. A friend who spent two years in the Kingdom from 1988 to 1990 and who just returned a couple of weeks ago made the following observations. Bangkok is much cleaner than it used to be. The prices have soared, and while you expect this over a 12 – 14 year period, he says that Bangkok is way more expensive than it was in the past. Wow, it must have been incredibly cheap. He says that Thai people are a lot bigger than they used to be and there are far more fatties than ever before.
There are more than a few of the old timers who glare at any Westerner who has lived in Bangkok for less than 10 years, often seeing these folks as scapegoats for the way that Bangkok has changed. "Its nothing like it was in the old days" they cry. They can have their old Bangkok for all I care. Give me the 2002 Bangkok over the old version any day. The skytrain, the adoption of technology in so many aspects of life, the greater availability of Western goods and the rapid progress that you would expect from a country striving for newly industrialised status all make me feel that Bangkok is, at least in terms of the physical environment, a better place to live now than five years ago.
Where is this pic?
Last week's pic
It was Hollywood IT Centre
This week's pic
First to get last weeks pic right won $25 worth of goodies from the good guys at ClubHombre.com. The picture from last week was of Hollywood IT Centre, taken from Phyathai Road, near the Asia Hotel. Remember, there are TWO prizes offered for the where is this pic. First person to get the pic right, irrespective of location, wins the prize of $25 worth of goodies from ClubHombre. In addition to this, the first Bangkok based person to answer the pic correctly wins a tube of MyCreme sexsational cream. You MUST be in Bangkok to claim this particular prize which will be delivered to you. So, to all Bangkok based folks, make it clear in your email that you are Bangkok based so that you qualify for the cream that will send your teeruk to heaven!
Oh so true!
I was with a friend from the UK so I decided we might as well stay for the shows, which were okay. Chopsticks, ping pong balls, opening bottles, the normal stuff. The drinks arrived, one coke and a whisky and soda. No bill. I asked for the bill and was told ‘later’. That is always a bad sign!
There were no girls dancing, and no pretty waitresses flirting with customers, just four girls on the stage doing the various shows with little or no enthusiasm. Eventually a waitress walked over and asked for 600 baht. 600 baht for two drinks!
I laughed and said I wasn’t going to pay 600 baht for two drinks. It was all light-hearted, the trick to emerging from these situations in one piece is too keep laughing and joking and not to try to leave! And if the worst comes to the worst you pay the extortionate bill and return with the tourist police who will get most of your money back. I told my UK friend not to worry and to just sit back and enjoy the show!
Eventually I had three waitresses trying to get me to pay, though there were a couple of heavy Thai men watching from across the bar. By this time I was speaking Thai and telling them that I had no money, a sick water buffalo and a broken motorcycle and with much sighing and head shaking the bill was cut to 400 baht. Still a rip-off, but considering my friend and I had an hour's entertainment, on and off the stage, I paid with a smile. The waitress went off complaining of headaches and my friend and I moved on.
The strange thing was that the bar was actually very busy, lots of Japanese and British tourists by the look of it. And no one seemed to be complaining. I guess that they figured that 300 baht a head isn't expensive, which in foreign terms of course it isn't.
The sad thing about the whole business is that if the drinks had been a fair price my friend and I would have ended up spending a hell of a lot more than 300 baht each.
The sun sets behind MBK and Siam Square.
The Classics Cinema Lounge is having an "Only Fools and Horses" event this Sunday afternoon. They have the popular English TV series on video tape in its entirety and will be showing it all day this coming Sunday at the Movie Lounge, Raja Hotel, 250 metres down soi 4 from Sukhumvit.
Free Heineken on Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve! Paradise Nightclub is having free Heineken beer until midnight on Christmas Eve and it will be open legally until 6 AM. Except for this special Christmas Eve Party (and another one on New Year's rumoured to have free Koparberg Cider and Sidekick shooters until midnight then open "legally" till 6 AM again) Paradise nightclub is no longer a night club. After running several karaoke nights that turned out to be very successful and with the recent upgrade in new lounge seating, projection system and a theatre surround sound for the recently opened movie lounge, they have decided to switch theme to karaoke. This is definitely the largest (if not the only popular) karaoke bar in the Nana area.
Christmas Day and Christmas Eve, prior to the free Heineken, the Classics Movie Lounge will be showing Christmas movie classics. On the schedule for viewing are "Home Alone" and the Christmas action flick "Die Hard 2" along with anything else they can find (or you can bring in) that is related to Christmas.
Many of Bangkok's expats have returned home for Christmas. There has been an 'Xmas Exodus' on a large scale, of Bangkok's farang population. According to one popular bar manager, this has left the bars looking a bit quieter and considering it is high season it leaves the night scene looking a little odd. But rest assured as soon as the Xmas two day festivities are over they will return again. Christmas time is never particularly buzzing in Bangkok but New Years Eve is a very, very different matter. Remember, on both Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, the bars can stay open very late. If the bars still wish to, they can stay open until as late as 6 AM. It is up to the bar owners of course and will depend upon whether they have any staff and customers still left at the early hours of the morning. Gotta feel sorry for the girls but!
I notice that they are on to 07 numbers already for mobiles. First we had the 01s. then the 09s, followed by the 06s, and now the 07s. With prepaid numbers being so cheap, I bet they will go through the 07s in a real hurry and then we might be at a point where mobile numbers go from 7 to 8 digits. If this happens, expect 7 digit numbers to jump a little in value and become a little bit more desirable.
Further to my opening piece about how I believe mobile phones have changed the way we go about our lives, I would HIGHLY recommend that anyone coming to Thailand for a holiday and who plans to have some interaction with locals, be best advised to pick up a SIM card (assuming you have a mobile in Farangland). You can get pre-paid cards with number awfully cheap, and they really will add to your holiday. A card with a number and 500 baht credit will cost just 600 baht. And remember, as with many things, mobile call rates are a lot cheaper in Thailand than they are in other parts of the world. The popular One2Call plan does not have peak and off peak charges and you simply pay 5 baht per minute. Convenient.
I made yet another stuff up in last week's column. I wrongly stated that Pink Panther in Patpong had closed when in fact it was Pink Panther in Patong i.e. Phuket. Oooops! Apologies to Pink Panther in Patong for the muck up.
From down in Pattaya where it is absolutely thronging with sex tourists, many of whom positively want to avoid Bangkok, the news is that the barfines in MANY bars shot up on Saturday night to 1000 baht. It seems that many bars colluded together to put the price up. The basic economic principles of demand and supply apply here and with so many punters about, who is going to complain about an extra 500 baht if you just paid $500 – $1000 for an air ticket to get there.
Even more word coming through from Living Dolls in Pattaya, suggesting that it is the best gogo bar in Thailand. I haven't been, but many friends say that it is the place to go.
Crazy times down at Soi Cowboy.
Havoc in Soi Cowboy where FIVE bars have been closed for 15 days. In the biggest crackdown that I can remember on Bangkok gogo bars, Long Gun, Raw Hide, Toy Bar, Five Star 1 and at least one other bar have been closed down for 15 days – and right at the height of the high season! As with most bar closures, the girls simply get shuffled off to another bar, but some of the bars closed are sizeable, and shifting girls into other bars has been a logistical nightmare. The Five Star girls have gone to the other Five Star bar. The Long Gun girls and the Raw Hide girls have been thrown into the tiny Cactus Bar though just how they managed that, I have no idea!
There are further problems in Cowboy with some of the bars having major problems with the boys in brown for irregular documentation. It seems that some of the bars are registered under a different name to what they trade as and to appease the law enforcement officials, the bars are erecting signs with the name that appears on their registration documents. So, Long Gun is now home to a large sign that says Lucky Star. After Skool has erected a sign outside that says Sunshine. Its all very confusing, I'll tell you!
And the news coming out of Soi Cowboy just gets worse and worse. On Monday night, Joy Bar caught on fire. Some time around 8:30 in the evening, the second floor of the bar went up in flames. Girls came running out as flames leapt through the building. Fortunately, no-one was hurt but many of the girls working there lost clothes, handbags, money, gold and one girl even claims to have lost her passport. All of these items were upstairs and they were simply unable to return upstairs to retrieve them. The building has now been condemned and there is speculation that it cannot be entered for a year (apparently some archaic law that says that any building that burned for more than an hour cannot be entered for 12 months – seems bizarre?!) It won't be a happy Christmas at Cowboy this year and there won't be any joy this Christmas.
Suzy Wong's in Cowboy is advertising Beer Chang for 30 baht a bottle – a hell of a deal. Anyone want to better this be offering Heineken for a few baht more?
Many younger Bangkok Thais have curiously adopted certain English words and use them frequently in their every day vocabulary. Some of the most commonly used words include "cancel", "confirm", and "clear". There is no reason for these words to be used, for these words exist in Thai – direct translations! So, why do some Thais say these words in English? I can't be sure but it sure does sound funny when you hear blah blah blah cancel blah blah blah confirm blah blah blah clear. Even people who don't pick up a word of Thai can tell when an English word is used in the conversation. But when it becomes funniest of all is when a younger Thai uses these words with an older Thai who doesn't have any command of English. The older Thai gets confused and is not exactly sure of what is being said!
Is it just me or do the various beer gardens around the city seem a lot quieter than usual? I remember visiting them in previous years and if you didn't arrive early, it could be quite a wait for a table to become available. And if you were at the granddaddy of them all, the World Trade Centre beer garden, you would often have to settle for the Singha area (yuk!) instead of the Heineken or Carlsberg domains. This year the beer gardens are much quieter and I really can't figure out why. Are there a lot of alternative places to go? Not really, at least not compared with last year. Are Thais drinking less beer? Not that I am aware of. Have the prices gone up? No, the beer gardens are very reasonably priced. For whatever reason, the city's beer gardens are, or at least seem, a lot quieter than last year. Still, don't let this put you off visiting as they are still a great place to go and chill over a few beers.
Wandering around World Trade Centre and Mahboonkrong doing my Christmas shopping last night, I was amazed at the number of shops playing Christmas music. Foreigners seemed to be enjoy it and the Thais obviously like any excuse to party. I just hope it is not the same as last year when many shops and department stores were still playing Christmas music into February…
I used one of the streetside shoe repairer's services for the first time this week. 3 or 4 years ago I was quoted 350 baht by a repairman near Pratunam to fix a dodgy pair of shoes that hadn't cost a lot more than that. I kindly declined his offer. This week, one of my shoes sprung a hole at work and off I trotted to the local repair lady. I asked her for a quote before she started the job but before I could stop her, she had ripped the shoe to bits and I could see myself as the victim of a scam. A shoe in 100 pieces and me about to be quoted a price almost equal to the cost of a replacement pair of shoes. It took her 20 minutes to fix the problem and when she returned the shoes to me, they really were like new. I expected some ridiculously high charge and was already to argue with her that she had tried to scam me by commencing the work even before I had agreed on the price. When I was quoted 20 baht for the work which took over 20 minutes and included various materials included glue, thread and a couple of pieces of rubber, I was incredulous. I suddenly realised that I have become a bit of a cynic, and realised that not all Thai people are out to rip us off.
What the fxxx? Is the Long Gun name
going to become part of Bangkok's naughty nightlife history?
There is something about going to the movies in Thailand that is not just the same as going to the cinema in the West. Sure, the price of tickets is cheap and the cinemas are modern and very comfortable with great seats, good air-con and great – albeit too loud – sound systems. But there are a few things that continue to annoy me. The way Thais use mobile phones in the cinema drives even the most patient farangs up the wall, but it is something else that makes me feel like I am not in a cinema at all, but rather watching the movie alone. All too often, the Thais don't know when to laugh. Catching the new James Bond flick – which I thought was pretty damned disappointing – all of the little puns and plays on words are lost on the Thais, and you find yourself as the only patron laughing. It is at this point that the Thais look at you as if you are some sort of weirdo – what is so funny, they think? Oh well, I guess it just confirms to them that we really are a strange bunch.
Next week's column will feature a round-up of what has happened in the big city this year. I'll look back at the predictions that I made for the year and I'll bore you with what I think will happen in Bangers over the next 12 months.
I do have a few resolutions related to this column to make for the new year. First, I'd like to try and get the column out in a more timely fashion. Unfortunately this has not always been possible over the past few months but I am committed to trying to get it out on time. Secondly, I want to try and write more about issues that are NOT related to the nightlife, that is, the naughty nightlife. The truth is that I, like many expats who have spent time in this city, have become very bored of the naughty nightlife. In fact this happened quite a while ago and has been reflected in my writing for some time. I barely go out to such places these days and the news about such establishments is gathered through phone calls to bar owners, managers and a few trusted friends who still hit the bars. So, there I will continue to provide nightlife news as I know that that is what a lot of people tune in for, but expect to see less commentary and opinion from me on that subject.
Next week's column will definitely be published early! Yes, wonder upon wonder, Stickman might just get it right for a change… Truth is that I will be away for a few days and if I don't get it out on Saturday, it will be really late. Next week's column may be a little lighter than usual.
Finally, a Merry Xmas to everyone who reads the column. I hope that you and yours have fun over the festive season and I'm sure that if you are not already here, Thailand will not be far from your mind.
Your Bangkok commentator,