Stickman's Weekly Column October 25th, 2009

10 Major Changes In The Bar Industry In Bangkok Over The Last Decade


I used to love the bar industry and I used to very much look forward to Saturday and my weekly night out. Sadly those days have passed and the prospect of a night out in the bars doesn't fill me with the same excitement these days.

Being a creature of habit I had a Saturday night routine. I would take the bus to Sukhumvit and make my way up soi 5 to Foodland. I'd grab a bite and at around 8 PM or so I'd head to Nana Plaza. After a few drinks in Nana I would make the 15 minute or so stroll down to Cowboy where I would often meet up with friends or colleagues. Back in those days Cowboy was much quieter than it was today, drinks were much cheaper and the bars were home to less girls who in turn were generally regarded as the least attractive in the city's bar areas. They were however the friendliest and the least pushy. Long Gun was the exception and was full of beautiful girls. The soi was rather dark and it had a unique atmosphere, being both relaxed and seedy at the same time.

I still fondly remember often being one of the last remaining customers in a bar at the end of the night, when the DJ would go into the small box of CDs off to the side and put on Thai music. The girls would come alive and even those who didn't have to dance would leap on to the stage and dance with real feeling and enthusiasm.

The lights would go out on Cowboy with the reliability of a Swiss watch, at 2 AM sharp. After grabbing a snack, usually a chicken leg on a stick – the variety of street food back then was nothing like it is today – I would join the crowds making their way up to the Thermae which at that time on a Saturday night was always jam packed.

Down the staircase, the first thing that hit you was the cloud of smoke lingering. It'd be a mission just to make it to the small counter bar to get a drink. If you found yourself stuck in the middle of the bar, it could take a full five minutes to work your way to the front. The Thermae was great. Everyone always seemed to be in a good mood, lots of alcohol had been consumed by that time I guess, and you'd bump into friends and people you knew, the girls very much becoming a backdrop. Around 3:00 or 3:30 AM I would head home.

Those were the halcyon days of the bar industry for me personally, my early days in Bangkok. The bar scene may not have been better then, but I found it more enjoyable. I guess I've been around long enough that I've suffered overexposure and it just doesn't excite me today like it used to. That shouldn't be surprising really. The girls' attitudes have changed. No, that is being polite. They have positively deteriorated and for someone who merely wants to chat and won't be doing anything more than that, the naughty bars are hardly the place to go for a fun night out.

These days the main reason I head out to the naughty bars is to meet and hang out with friends, or to cover what is going on for the column.

The best night out in the bars I had in a long time was two weeks ago to the day when myself and 3 mates sat outside Tilac on a wet Sunday night. We lingered for hours, shooting the breeze while just a few metres away, inside the bar, lots of sexy Thai bargirls were swaying on stage. We could have been inside watching the show but it was more fun outside, enjoying good conversation and watching the world go by.

Bangkok's farang-oriented nightlife industry has changed markedly over the last 10 years, to the point where in many ways it really is quite different today to how it was when I first encountered it, in the late '90s. What follows are my thoughts on some of the major changes that have shaped the industry in Bangkok into what it is today.


10. The Japanese

The Japanese are pilloried by many western customers with the rule of 4 (4 inches, 4 minutes, 4,000 baht) often raised whenever Japanese enter any conversation about the bar scene. The Japanese dominate certain bars and many women show a clear preference for them. Often these are arguably the most attractive women in popular bars like Rainbow 1 and Rainbow 4 in Nana Plaza and Baccarra in Soi Cowboy. But to be honest, interest in the Japanese is hardly new.

The trend with the Japanese is that there are more and more of them in the bars these days. Whereas in the old days they would just be found in a handful of Nana bars, mainly Rainbow 1 and 2, now you find them everywhere – although the Rainbows remain their favourites. They have discovered and embraced what many feel is Soi Cowboy's best bar with the most attractive women, Baccarra. The upstairs area in Baccarra where the most attractive women are found is predominantly the domain of the Japanese. Once they discover something they like, they go there en masse.

This has also happened at the Thermae where the Japanese have essentially taken over what used to be a farang stronghold. Where once the Japanese were glared at by Western customers in the underground house of horrors, now the girls – a much more beautiful collection than ever before – glare at Western men! They cringe when a Westerner approaches, failing to notice the not so subtle body language that she REALLY is not interested in him!

The Japanese are now very much a pillar of the farang-dominated (note, NOT farang-oriented) sector of the bar scene. Bars welcome the Japanese with open arms and in some venues they make up half of the customers. If the Japanese suddenly stopped arriving, chunks of Bangkok's nightlife would die. What those who get on the Japanese's case don't realise is that there aren’t enough Westerners coming to Bangkok and going to the bars to keep the industry going!


9. The Proliferation Of Tattoos

One of my first observations of the differences between the women working in Bangkok and their sisters in Pattaya was the prevalence of tattoos. In Pattaya tattoos were everywhere, not so in Bangkok. That has changed.

Tattoos are often worn with pride by the girls. They're not something new, but in the bar industry in Bangkok today there are more and more women getting tattoos, often placed on a part of their body where it's always visible, like their hand or at the top of their breast, where it cannot easily be hidden in everyday life.

As someone who neither has a tat nor ever will, it's hard to get my head around them. It took me many years to realise that for a lot of the girls, especially those who have been in the industry for some time – that a large, exotic tattoo is in fact a source of pride and something which brings them face amongst their peers. It's not just the design or the size, but simply the fact that she COULD and DID get one done. Large tattoos take much time and aren't cheap. While the pain of getting one is generally described as bearable, there remains more than a degree of discomfort, I am told. A woman whose entre back is covered in a tattoo earned the money to get it done – which would be in excess of 10,000 baht – and had the wherewithal to stand the pain of many hours in the tattooist's chair. This gives her much face amongst her peers.

Tattoos of the non-traditional variety are scorned upon in common Thai society and considered vulgar and the domain of the uncivilsed and uncouth. Non-traditional tattoos are absolutely not accepted in decent Thai society.

Getting a tattoo doesn't just make a woman look hard, it pigeon holes her and announces to all what she is. She sees herself not just as a working girl, but as a whore. It can make her feel tough and is just another step in the not so slow process of turning a once sweet village girl into a hardened hooker.

Where once the girls working in the farang-dominated areas of Thailand tried to blend into society, many now just don't make that same effort and you don't have to be an expert to work out what they do for a living.


8. Bars Going Public

One of the most surprising changes to me is that where once the naughty bars were somewhat hidden, tucked away well off the main road, today things are much more in the public eye which is a real surprise in a country where face and reputation is taken very, very seriously. Remember, to the Thai authorities and particularly to older, traditional Thais, many of whom are extremely conservative, the naughty nightlife industry, especially that which targets foreigners, is very much considered a blight on the country's reputation.

There have always been bars on Sukhumvit soi 4 but in the past they were smaller venues, more about food, a quiet place to grab some pub grub and meet friends. Jool's and Chequers spring to mind. Today soi 4, or as it is more commonly referred to, Soi Nana, is lined with bars with girls falling out on the street, girls who are obviously not there to serve you food or cut your hair.

The action used to be inside the Nana Hotel but now the area outside is full of hard-looking opportunistic women day and night. Again, the action is going out on to the street. It was never like that 10 years ago. Back then the girls were in the disco or in the passage way leading to the disco.

But none of this can compare to the strip of pavement between Sukhumvit sois 3/1 and 5 which has become an open air freelancer bar 24 hours a day, where some of the hardest looking women openly proposition passers by at all hours. To make matters worse, this is one of the busiest areas in the city with the highest foot traffic on Sukhumvit, a main thoroughfare and a heavily touristed area. I simply cannot fathom how these skanky looking girls are allowed to loiter there as they do. You would think that the authorities would do something about it, but they don't.

There are more and more street-front bars in other parts of Sukhumvit, bars where scantily clad women sit outside calling out to passers by. Every Thai who sees it knows what's going on. This sort of thing was much less visible 10 years ago and there's no way photos like the one below could have been taken from out on the street, as this photo was (note: photo here was taken in Pattaya but the point remains the same), in the past.

The bar scene is becoming more visible and going more mainstream and more people are aware of its existence.


7. Less Young Guys

In my early forays into Bangkok's bar scene, many of those fooling around were younger than I was, in their early to mid 20s. These days when I look around the bars I often feel – and in many cases certainly am – the youngest guy in the bar! Where once young guys were a common sight in Bangkok bars, now they just aren't visiting in the same numbers.

The mystery surrounding the disappearance of young guys from Bangkok's naughty bars is an issue that intrigues me and I have not figured it out. My feeling is that it probably has more to do with life and opportunity in the West than anything specific to Thailand. Young guys can still be found in large numbers in Pattaya, possibly due to the lower prices. It might be that less young guys are moving to Bangkok. It could also be that the bar scene simply does not interest young Western guys like it used to or that the younger generation is changing and with political correctness sweeping across the globe it may be that some even find the idea of the industry to be distasteful.

The absence of young men makes some bars feel like a retirement home's day trip out. I really do believe that the massive decline in young foreigners visiting the bars is part of the reason that the nightlife is the bore that it is today. Young guys bring energy and enthusiasm, both of which are largely missing in many venues.


6. The Invasion of Less Attractive Women

You never forget your first visit to a naughty bar in Thailand. For me it was Rock Hard A Gogo in Phuket, but that pales in comparison with the first time I entered Nana Plaza and ended up in Pretty Lady Bar at its peak, back in early 1998. There must have been 150 women in there and I was blown away by how attractive, yet how friendly they were. Even thinking back about it now after all of these years brings a smile to my face.

It is said that the women are uglier these days which I do not believe to be true. If anything there are probably more attractive women around these days than in the past but with more and more guys using the likes of Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy as a marriage agency, the most pleasing eye candy is whisked away and married off, exiting the industry not long after joining. Truly attractive women, especially those with a good attitude who have managed to remain sweet despite what the industry does to them, are lucky to get out quick. The most attractive women usually do not stick around for long.

Thailand might be the land of beautiful women, but not every lady is a supermodel. The bars need to replace those who have left and at times, especially when the economy is good, recruitment is difficult. Bars may go through periods where there simply don't seem to be many girls looking for work and as such are forced to be less choosy.

The bar scene is much bigger than it used to be in terms of the number of venues so there are more women working. It is inevitable that not every lady in the bars is as hot as #211 in Tilac. The bars need to keep their stock levels up.

But at the end of the day, bars with less than attractive women won't win customers' hearts. Even in the ever popular Tilac, there are a couple of dozen girls who could do with some dietary advice and an exercise program.


5. More Farang Bar Owners

" If you want to make a small fortune in Thailand, go with a large fortune and buy a bar."
– a common mantra heard in expat circles in Thailand

There are far more Western bar owners today, both in number and as a ratio compared to Thai owners, than there were a decade ago. Where once Western bar owners made up a small minority, now they make up perhaps half of the owners of the big bars in the busiest areas.

It's much easier to get into the bar industry now with big name business brokerages listing bars and taking the headache out of buying a business. Of course they can also assist with the regulations and paperwork if you wish to start a new bar. Difficulty with bureaucracy and officialdom was the biggest barrier to entering the industry. That has been removed.

More Western bar owners is generally a good thing. Westerners understand what the customers want much better than any Thai bar owner ever could and those who actually make an effort to satisfy customers can do very well. Customer service in Western owned bars is generally better, at least when the owner is around.

Western bar owners have put more controls in place, with computerised billing making it much more difficult for staff to scam a customer.

Western bar owners have sunk serious money into the industry and almost all of the big new bars in the farang-dominated areas have been financed by Westerners. It's Westerners who turned Soi Cowboy around leaving the Thai bar owners to play catch up.

Of course not all of the practices of Western bar owners are to be admired. They know what a night of passion costs in the West and what drinks cost in similar establishments back home and it is the Western-owned bars who have been behind every major round of price increases in my time in Thailand. Thai owned bars – as in much of Patpong – set prices at much more reasonable levels.

4. Nicer Venues

A decade ago most bars were dirty and dingy. Patpong bars were rough and most Soi Cowboy bars were a dive. In Bangkok it was Nana Plaza that was the exception, although some bars in the plaza, especially the oldest spots on the middle floor on the left hand side, were a little grim. The Crown Group bars have always been both good to look at and comfortable to relax in.

Things have changed. Where once a bad smell within a bar was no surprise, uncomfortable seating was not unexpected and second rate lighting and sound systems were the norm, these days your average punter expects more – and bar owners have responded.

The quality of the fittings, the comfort of the seating, the decoration and general appearance of bars is much better than it ever was. Many venues feature professionally designed and tuned sound systems, expensive lighting and laser systems and some, like Tilac in Soi Cowboy, are maintained and cleaned as well as any hospital room. Bar designs are slick and better thought out with few bars featuring blind spots like many did in the past.

And it is not just the interiors that have been spruced up but the exterior with much spent on neon, obvious in Cowboy but also in Nana. A direct result of more Western bar owners willing to invest real money into the industry, many bars in Bangkok are much, much nicer than they were a decade ago.

This has had the effect of making the bar industry go more mainstream. Cowboy was hardly inviting in the past and had the appearance and feel of a seedy bar area. Think Soho in London; Cowboy wasn't that much different.

Today passers by are drawn to the beautiful neon and you sometimes see tour groups wandering the length of Cowboy, the tour bus dropping them off at one end and collecting them at the other. A good thing or not, I do not know, but it has made the whole naughty bar industry have a much wider appeal. "Regular tourists" used to always go to Patpong but they can be found at Nana and Cowboy these days.


3. The Internet

The internet has had a profound effect on the bar industry, both for guys and the girls, which is no surprise given that the last decade has been a period of phenomenal growth in the cyber world.

There are many, many websites which cover or promote the bar industry – some of which are directly responsible for thousands and thousands of first-time visitors choosing to venture to Thailand after reading about the nightlife. Since the early days of Thai nightlife online resources when there was only ASFO, the World Sex Guide and Sanuk Fun In Thailand (all of which are now defunct), there are now many Thailand nightlife websites and blogs. The internet has probably been the single largest reason for the increase in the number of guys coming to Thailand specifically to check out and partake in the naughty nightlife.

The internet has also provided the girls with an easy, fast and affordable means of staying in contact with their customers as well as creating an opportunity to work those guys for whom they have an email address. Give your email address to a lady of the night and there is a god chance that a cry for help will soon follow.

These days bar promotion and bar reputation is all about being online and having an online presence. Where once it was word of mouth, a bar can reach spectacular success if marketed well online. While not in Bangkok and outside the scope of this article, part of Secrets Bar in Pattaya's success is due to the launching of their website when the venue opened.

Quite simply, the internet has brought the Bangkok bar scene to the masses. Where it was once known mainly to those who knew Asia, those in the travel industry, Vietnam vets and hardcore sex tourists, the internet has taken the Bangkok bar scene mainstream – and created an awful lot of modern day sex tourists. It is the internet, more than anything else, that has resulted in more single guys coming to Thailand and with that, the development of new bars and new bar areas to service the increased demand.

2. Higher Prices

Prices in the nightlife industry have soared in the last decade. 10 years ago a drink would typically set you back 75 – 80 baht. The same drinks runs 140 – 150 baht today. The rates for the company of a lady of the night have gone up too. 2,000 baht back then for an all night experience is probably more like 3,000 baht today. I am talking the prices which more attractive women in Bangkok gogo bars command.

With inflation price increases are inevitable but no sector of the industry has seen such massive price increases as the Bangkok farang-dominated gogo bars. The Eden Club's prices are just a few hundred baht higher than they were 10 years ago and the venue is still profitable, proving that massive price increases are not necessary to remain a viable business. Massage parlours which predominantly target Thai men may still charge the same prices today as they did 10 years ago. Not the farang-dominated bar scene in Bangkok though! Prices have got out of control, what you pay for in the bar, and what you pay outside!

And for many tourists, prices have in effect doubled. Take an American who was getting 43 baht to the dollar at the turn of the millennium, paying a lady 2,000 baht for her company for the evening, or in his money, about $46. Today, a lady would probably request 3,000 baht which is $91. A bit of a difference!

Where things were once cheap and one may not have even thought about how much they were spending, prices are now at levels where you may think first, particularly if you're on a budget or have limited funds.

My feeling is that the price hikes are a big part of the reason why some who used to enjoy Bangkok's nightlife are looking elsewhere. In terms of value for money, it's not what it used to be and that combined with the 2009 Thai girl's attitude means you might be paying a fair chunk of change for a miserable experience.

Part of the reason this has happened is the Thais' refusal to acknowledge that for many foreign visitors, Thailand is their chosen destination for its perceived low prices and value for money.

With prices now much higher than they were, those who were used to paying less are looking at other options. Pattaya and Philippines bar owners are thrilled at what they see happening in Bangkok!

Of course for first time visitors, the prices probably still seem reasonable.

1. Mobile Phones

I lived in Thailand for more than 3 years before I bought a mobile phone, the high prices charged for the most basic models back then put me right off. You were hard pressed to find even a basic Nokia for less than 20,000 baht, about 3 times what the same model would cost in the West.

Women who had been around a while had a mobile but those new to the industry just couldn't afford one. Besides, back then mobiles were as much about face as practical use. It could take a few months to save up for one – and bargirls are not known for their ability to save. No sooner does cash hit their pocket than out it goes, to a boyfriend, on a game of cards, on new clothes or to support the family up country. Some convinced their long-term customer to buy one. But for sure, in the late '90s, many girls did not have a mobile.

The mobile market opened up in Thailand in 2001 and prices dropped heavily almost overnight. Nothing has had such a dramatic effect on the bar industry as the mobile phone. Fast forward to today and everyone has a mobile phone, even before they start work in the bars.

Where once a girl would be reliant on the postal service or simply waiting in the bar for her customer to arrive, now she can be in regular contact with him (or them) anywhere in the world. This has freed up many ladies and taken them away from working in a bar. They have become their own agent. The cost of international calls has also tumbled and many girls text or call their sponsor(s) abroad frequently. It's a small expense and simply part of their business. Ironically, Bangkok's freelancer market is not burgeoning as one might think. Quite the opposite is happening.

For guys, the convenience is similar. Many expats keep a list of working girls' numbers in their phone and don't even bother going to the bar but just call her, tell her to pay the barfine for which she will be reimbursed once she reaches his place. Alternatively he can reach her at any time and tell her to swing around and see him in the afternoon before going to work. Mobiles have given both the girls and the customers all sorts of options, a win : win situation.

The mobile has created all sorts of possibilities to work smarter and ultimately for the girls to earn more.


Summary

There are many reasons why the bar industry in Bangkok has changed and, for me at least, become less enjoyable. These are just some of the major factors in the way the industry has changed. There are of course many more.

Despite me saying that a night out in the bars might not be that enjoyable and that it might be more about catching up with friends and hanging out, one can't deny that in some ways, things are better now than they used to be. The bars look better, are generally better run and I believe there are less rip offs or scams than in the past.

Maybe I am just reminiscing too much about the good old days, when I was the new boy on the block, and didn't really see it for what it is. Perhaps the bottom line is that once you really get to know how things work, it's much more difficult to enjoy yourself?

Last week's photo

Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the escalators at Sukhumvit Plaza, also known as Little Korea or Korea Town, which is located just 20 metres or so from Sukhumvit soi 12. I was walking to Sunrise Tacos one day and when I saw the distinctive shelter above the escalators I thought it would make a good photo for this section of the column. When I studied Thai many moons ago, I had a Korean friend in the class who told me that this was the place to go in Bangkok to eat dog – but they would only serve it, or even acknowledge that it was available, to Koreans. True or not, I don't know, but I don't think he would have lied about it. Quite a few clever readers got the photo right. The first person to email with the correct location of the picture wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to correctly guess the photo wins a signed copy of Stephen Leather's superb Private Dancer, which many refer to as "the bible". It's regarded by many as the best novel set in Thailand's bar scene!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the Stephen Leather book you must provide a postal address within Thailand now. Prizes are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week!

FROM STICK'S INBOX (These are emails from readers and what is written here was not written by Stick.) Preference may be given to emails which refer to the previous week's column.

EMAIL OF THE WEEK – 7 Eleven preferable to the Biergarten!

When I first read the rumour about the Biergarten's demise, I thought that it couldn't be right. But the more I thought about it, the more I thought it made sense. Sad, though, because it used to be a good place to meet young girls, especially on Fridays around 6 PM. Now it's worthless. Competing with the former proprietor of the now-defunct Nana Disco for worst bar owner ever, the owners of the Biergarten first made girls buy drinks and then forbid them from sitting by the door! I guess that's all it took. Now there are no girls. There are women, but they're all over 35 and none of them are thin (or childless, I think). And when you walk by the front door all you see are farang derrieres. Enough to make me keep walking. Yeah, close it. We need a 7 Eleven over that way anyway. I will miss the free bathrooms, though.

Sin sot for the second time?

I agree with you 1,000,000% on the issue of sin sot for a previously married woman. If she is used goods she has NO value regarding sin sot. My wife is of that category and when we were in the marriage process I asked her about this. Her reply was (and I quote) "Up to you. I am used people, not fresh. You can have me free. If you give for my family, you give from heart."

Who dares check up on Farangdom?

A good business opportunity would be to offer an investigation service to the wives of expats. I know, not something you could advertise on your website for there would be an outcry! But I'm sure that just about every wife of an expat in Thailand must have her suspicions of what hubby is getting up to. Just about every married guy I knew in Bangkok was playing around at some time or another and to be fair, given the horrors that some of them were married to, I can't blame them! It would be quite easy too. Simply ask for his office address and tag him from work. Unlikely he would frequent Thai only areas so the farang investigator could blend in quite easily. However, such a service could really play with your conscience. Imagine reporting to a mother of two kids that her husband had been up to no good in Soi Cowboy knowing full well of the catastrophic consequences for all involved; wife and kids leave, divorce, battle over kids / house / money.

Asking questions in Thai = You're a farang investigator!

I don't know if it's directly because of you or not, but these days in all farang-oriented bars in Bangkok I get asked a lot if I am working as a PI! Literally, as soon as I ask anything about anyone, however innocent, I am immediately asked. For example like when the "gun toting bargirl" incident came up. Obviously, speaking Thai makes them suspicious anyway. But although it's been a common theme of my experience with the seedier parts of Bangkok, in recent times it strikes me a lot more girls are a lot more worried about farang investigators!

Should one ever ask "why" in Thailand?

Why, when all you want to do is use the underpass at Asoke junction rather than risk being run down by about eight lanes of traffic in your frantic efforts to reach the salacious delights of Soi Cowboy, do you have to go through the MRT security check? There is plenty of space at the entrance to the escalators that lead down to the ticket hall. Why not put the guards and scanners there? They'd only need half the personnel too, instead of having staff at each entrance. Too sensible I suppose.

The challenge to make it work with a working girl.

I still can't understand this desire on the part of guys to spend huge sums and wrangle with embassies to bring *their* girl back to their country with them, like she is some sort of trophy. I've seen it work out well, but never ever with a working girl. I think the mentality expressed in that email from the gal in the beauty parlour really needs to be broadcast: the gals know their looks won't last and they are determined to leverage for more cash / sponsors – there is no limit. Sure they're miserable because there's ALWAYS another "upgrade" out there. This seems like bingeing but ya know, I once had a gal who I knew quite well tell me "I'm 22, I'm getting old"…if you add "in this biz" to that sentence, it makes sense. By the time they're 25 the competition has already pushed past many of them.

The industry is not there purely because of poverty.

A rather unlikely contribution to the debate on morals came from a (working) girl I know from the Philippines, who stays mostly in Kuala Lumpur. She did a visa run to Hat Yai and upon her return remarked on the fact that girly bars seem to be present in every Thai city she visits whereas in the Philippines one finds them in Angeles but not in too many others (certainly not her hometown). She comes from the same province as Angeles but no other city has the sex industry prominent at all. Now if you take a look at the national income stats one would expect to see more evidence of the sex industry in the Philippines if it were purely a result of poverty since Thailand has a much higher income per capita.

Questionable actions behind the handle bars.

Has anybody else noticed the habit a lot of Thais (especially women) of using their mobiles left handed (I am left handed so may be more aware of it). Could this be related to the position of the throttle on the bikes? Even more worrying when they text that way. Also what about the shopping basket often mounted below the headlight, when this is actually used after dark it blocks the light to oncoming vehicles and presumably reflects it all back into the rider's eyes, rendering it worse than useless.

On Friday night myself and a friend turned up at Bangkok Beat at 2 AM. Security told us that it was closed and added that all night spots in Bangkok were closed at 2 AM. He went on to say that this was due to strict police orders but I just took that as an excuse and thought nothing of it at the time. I have since realised that he was right and a crackdown is currently in place at all late night venues i.e. those that remain open beyond the accepted opening hours which end at 2 AM (the law actually states venues are supposed to close at 1 AM). How long it will last is anyone's guess but these crackdowns seldom run more than a couple of weeks.

The Dollhouse Group is one of the big names in the naughty nightlife industry in the Philippines' equivalent of Pattaya, Angeles City, and encompasses 5 of the biggest bars (Dollhouse, Crystal Palace, Tropics, Atlantis and Pony Tails). Representatives from the group have been in Pattaya attempting to recruit some of the most attractive Thai women dancing in gogo bars to work in their bars in Angeles. Apparently they have signed up half a dozen girls who will only be required to dance – and will be rewarded 4,000 baht a night for the efforts and have all other expenses covered. Needless to say, this is not going down well with Pattaya bar owners at all.

Bully's, which can be found just around the corner from Soi Nana on Sukhumvit Road is running a special on Mondays with all you can eat spaghetti, meatballs, house salad and garlic bread for just 169 baht. It's available at both lunch and dinner time and will run through until at least the end of the year.

The Cathouse in Nana has an interesting price promotion with all you can drink Chang beer from 7 – 9 PM nightly for $250. Yes, two hundred and fifty dollars! Check out the banner hanging below the bar, pictured right. I wonder how many punters will take that offer up? Of course it's a mistake and should read 250 baht! Whoever was responsible for that banner should run and hide. The not uncommon use of the $ sign for baht will confuse many tourists, I bet.

Numerous Halloween parties are planned in bars next week. Whether you find yourself in Bangkok or Pattaya, Angelwitch would be my pick of where to go. They have a history of really going to town on Halloween and go out of their way to decorate the bar and have the girls dress up to look scary. The Bangkok branch has been decorated already and looks fabulous. Of course there are some girls who look plenty ghoulish and needn't dress up to looks scary. The Halloween party will continue in Angelwitch from October 31 until at least November 2.

But not to be left in Angelwitch's shadow, soi 33's Music Station will hold what they promise to be a big, exciting Halloween party next Saturday. 100$ BILL, the best band on Sukhumvit soi 33, will pound out the hits featuring pop rock and rock songs from many bands including Coldplay, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Nirvana and Oasis. But what is Halloween without a scary theme, something that really scares you. Music Station are turning up the heat on Halloween night and there will be special fetish shows performed by the mistresses of Demonia, the fetish house also located on Sukhumvit soi 33. The friendly Music Station manager asked me to explain what will be in the shows, but really, I just don't know what to say – they leave me speechless! Music Station will be one of the spiciest spots in Bangkok to enjoy Halloween.

Please also note that Music Station is offering a special promotion for all Stickman readers. You can print out the final page of this column and show it to the manager and will get one free shooter. Now you have a really good reason to check the venue out.

Down in Pattaya, Secrets in soi 14 promises free food and fun for Halloween. Some girls will be dressed up in scary costumes – but not too many. Last year's Halloween party in Secrets saw many girls dressed up in scary outfits – and the barfine number for that night, despite the bar doing a roaring trade, was low. Obviously guys don't go for the witch look and the special effort made to dress the girls up backfired somewhat.

And with Loy Kratong just two days later, the bars really are going to be busy next week. Whereas some bars go all out at Halloween, others, like the Rainbow Group, make a big effort on Loy Kratong with many staff dressed up in traditional Thai costumes – and they look absolutely gorgeous! Let's hope the weather holds because Loy Kratong is kind of early this year. (The date depends on the moon, in case you're wondering.)

Business seems to have turned around in Pattaya. Walking Street was busier this week than it was a couple of weeks back and trade in some bars has picked up.

In the Convent Garden area, a little beyond the heart of Walking Street, a long time favourite bar of mine, Catz, has a really good line up at the moment and is worth checking out. #40 in Catz is up there with the hottest birds in all of Pattaya – and I don't doubt that it won't be long before she ends up on someone's payroll.

One of the bigger bars on Walking Street, at least in terms of size, Polo, has closed. If you're not familiar with Polo, pictured right, it was the gogo / show bar located next to Galaxy which is the joint with white girls and astronomical prices. Polo was very much about tourists and a lot of Asian tourists found themselves there, escorted by local guides on a handsome commission. I only ever made it there a couple of times and can't say I liked it so as far as I'm concerned its closure is no real loss. Apparently the owners plan to expand the venue next door into the space where Polo was and fill it with white meat, reflecting the changing visitor demographics to Pattaya.

Mirage in Soi Diamond should re-open in a week or two with two Frenchmen at the helm.

It's all happening in Pattaya with Western bar owners and managers being brought to the attention of the boys in brown. The manager of Sin City is probably regretting ever stepping foot in Pattaya after he was busted for having underage girls on the premises. We know what happened to the last foreign bar manager in Pattaya arrested for that! Now the way this whole situation came about is kind of humorous and is proof that there is karma in the bar industry. This particular manager poached a mamasan and a bunch of girls from a neighbouring bar, a bar which is located just a few metres away. The owner of that bar was rightfully pissed off. Amongst the girls who went to the new venue were some women not of legal age. The owner of the bar where they used to work knew this for a fact. Put one and one together and you can see why the boys in brown came knocking!

And the ever diligent boys in brown did not stop there. They swept into Hot Girls this week where the manager was busted for the absence of a little blue book, that would be a work permit. That is not such a serious charge and unlike the manager of Sin City, he should be able to work it out. It seems that bar takes are so low that some bars are not making their usual donations to the policemen's Christmas ball fund.

Veteran bar manager, Tricky Ricky, will host his 61st birthday bash tonight in Baby Dolls, soi 15 off Walking Street. Baby Dolls is wild most nights but the girls have promised to take things to a new level for this special occasion. Please girls, just don't get Ricky up on stage starkers.

The Arab confirms that his bars in Cowboy have NOT been sold and that they are in fact not for sale – at any price! The way he talks you'd think that his bars must be making a mint. The strange thing is that they are about the quietest bars in Cowboy. I just can't work it out!

There may have been a misunderstanding with the name Marc and its association with Spanky's in Nana Plaza. The American fellow who runs the bar is NOT the famous Marc of Eden Club. They are two different people! Eden Club Marc is one of the grandfathers of the industry and Spanky's Marc is a new and upcoming kid on the block doing a great job.

The headlights on #21 in Bangkok's Angelwitch are the most ridiculous I have ever seen on a Thai woman. And not only has she had her chest done, she has also had silicone implants in her butt too, all of which were financed by an American sponsor. They are completely oversized and look quite ridiculous. There really is no other word you can use. They would be oversized on a big white woman, let alone a small-framed Thai woman. In fact I would go as far to say that she now looks so silly, almost like a freak, that the guy who convinced her to get them done was being cruel – or had the changes made so no-one would barfine her.

With businesses really hurting, many Pattaya massage parlours have dropped the price of a one hour massage to just 99 baht – which represents extremely good value for money. It tends to be less well-located places like those around Soi Buakhao and up towards third road. What is sad is that I doubt this will stimulate more business – the previous price of 199 was cheap enough for most people already. And it means that the poor masseuse must be getting precious little from each massage. Does that mean that extras will be more aggressively marketed?

I don't know if it is something new or not, but I notice that around various less central neighbourhoods in Pattaya away from Walking Street i.e. particularly in the Soi Buakhao area, that bar after bar is offering free pool to entice customers inside. And with drinks at ridiculously low prices, often 50 baht until early evening, I wonder how much money the bar owners are making? Walking along Soi Buakhao during the day, many bars had no customers at all. Times really are rough away from Walking Street.

Bradman's Bistro have revised their menu – but that does not mean prices have gone up. They have simply expanded the menu and added a bunch of new dishes. They now have great deals on New Zealand and Australian steaks, quite possibly the best deal in downtown Bangkok on a reasonably priced imported steak. Many long-term expats know it's not easy finding a decent steak in Bangkok and are reluctant to order one unless you're in a better steakhouse. Too often you're just disappointed with the local beef which just does not have the flavour of imported beef and which doesn't like to be cooked anything more than medium rare before turning to leather. Have no fear because at Bradman's if you're not satisfied with the steak you can return it and there will be no charge! And the portions of many dishes are very much to the boss's appetite i.e. big! Ah, the benefits of a customer focused Aussie manager. Bradman's is fast gaining a reputation for very good food at reasonable prices. I do wonder however when they will sort out the anomaly with their menus. With the food menu, the prices are all inclusive but in the drinks menu – which are listed in a separate book – the prices are plus 7%, which is all very confusing. No big deal though, the prices are very reasonable for what you get and I personally prefer the food at Bradman's to any of the British pubs in Bangkok.

I get some odd emails and in the past week two readers accused me of telling fibs about the 65 baht beers being offered at the streetside bars on Sukhumvit soi 22, suggesting that suds that cheap would never be priced at 65 baht all night long in downtown Bangkok. For those of you thought it wasn't real, here's the proof! Geez, why on earth would I write that if it weren't true? Do you think I am some sort of a sadistic sod, sending you all down to the most boring bar area in the city for the promise of cheap beer that doesn't exist?! What's the bet that I am accused next of pulling a fast one in Photoshop?

Can you remember when girls really danced in the bar? Some don't even do the Bangkok shuffle these days, but merely a lazy sway backwards and forwards. Well, that has changed recently and in Tilac – the bar I go to most often hence the bar I talk about most often – there are a number of girls who REALLY get into it. This past week the dirty doctor and I were amazed at how many were dancing in what can only be described as wild manner. When I chatted with one bird about it, who herself had no shortage of bounce on the dance floor, she was quite open about it. She said that one of the benefits of ya ba is that you feel like you have more energy and dance with vigour.

There's a new Spanish restaurant in town, Spanish on 4, located in Silom Soi 4, you know the soi where Balcony and Telephone are. This is the real deal with two Spanish nationals in the kitchen. They're open from 11 AM until 1 AM daily and until 2 AM on Friday and Saturday. The venue features a happy hour every day before 8 PM with 3 tapas dishes for the price of 2 and 2 sangria jugs for the price of 1. They hope to put in place a late night happy hour and some cheaper, smaller tapas soon. There's an introductory tasting menu of 10 (small) portions of tapas for 275 baht ++. They are always very busy at the original restaurant – Tapas Cafe, in Sukhumvit Soi 11 – so expect the new spot to be popular too. As far as customers go, 90% are local expats of all ages and nationalities. Silom soi 4 is a great place to drink if you like to people watch. Don't ask me why, but drinks in that little camp lane are MUCH cheaper than your typical farang drinking spot, be it a British pub or a naughty bar. It should be noted that Silom soi 4 is predominantly gay but straight guys are welcome. That said, if you're homophobic, it's probably best not to venture there.

I guess the rains have almost stopped up north and now bar owners are praying for the rains here in Bangkok to come to an end too. When it rains heavily early evening bar owners know that their take will be 10% – 50% less than what it would have been had it stayed clear. No-one wants to battle the rain, especially at the height of the rainy season when it's bucketing down and a few seconds in the rain is enough to be drenched. Reaching the confines of an air-conditioned bar is no fun at all when you're dripping wet, to say nothing of the hassle it can be when you're trying to get out of the bar but are trapped inside by the heavy rain. The rain may bring the temperature down and clear the air for a day or so, but most bar owners hate the way the rainy season affects trade.

Stickman reader's story of the week is part 2 of John Daysh's wonderful travelogue, "Koh Lanta Revisited".

Quote of the week goes to a reader, "With all these foreigners getting tattoos in Thai, I just wonder how many tattooists have carved "farang kee-nok" into some yob's head and told him it means "fearless warrior" or something similar.

The Times reports that an undiplomatic British diplomat called the people of Thailand sex-crazed philistines!

For those wondering what the Nigerians in Thailand are up to, now we know!

Not for the first time, in fact the third time in 5 weeks (!), Walking Street's Insomnia was raided.

Phuket has an interesting approach to promoting swine flu awareness.

From YouTube, Walking Street is nice at night, but what's it like during the day?

Australia's Age reports that the Thais are not happy that Cambodia has offered to shelter Taksin!

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick is happy to answer any questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you.

Question 1: I have been chatting with a lady in Thailand I meet on ThaiLoveLinks. She has always seemed to be honest and truthful and had not asked me for any money until this week when she asked if I could help her to the tune of 2000 baht to get a passport so she could go to Laos with her friend for a trip. But this is where it gets interesting. She told me it would only take her three days to get the passport. Knowing already the Thais' love of paperwork for anything to do with any documents, I found this a bit hard to believe as even a rushed passport application here costs double that and takes at least five working days so I wondered if you could tell me if this was a fairy tale or not. I did not send her the money by the way. Otherwise she seems really nice and I plan to spend so time with her next time I come to Thailand.

Mrs. Stick says: When I got my passport I think it was ready the next day. But it's a long time ago! Maybe three days is normal. Sorry, I am not sure.

Question 2: I have heard the women of Thailand classified into 5 different regions (north, central, northeast, Bangkok and south) with women from each region having very different characteristics. Can you tell me which part of the country you think is best for a middle-aged, friendly and honest foreign guy to find a Thai lady for marriage?

Mrs. Stick says: I hear this sometimes and someone might talk bad about people from other parts of our country. I know some people talk bad about Isaan and also about the south. I think other regions you do not hear bad things about them. It is not right to say one part of the country has better women better than another. I think you should look at her as an individual and her family and education and job. Please take your time to know her and her friends and her family and even her work friends then you will know more about her.

In recent weeks I have been a little concerned that the column has ballooned in size and simply become too long. I worry that you might get half way through and become bored. It peaked last week when the whole column hit 9,950 words, which I will admit was a quite ridiculous length. Many years ago, a friend who was then producing a bi-monthly column told me that around 1,500 words was fine for a weekly column when I was in fact producing 4,000 – 5,000. Nowadays, 5,000 words would be a very short column and most are 6,000+. The last thing I want to do is monopolise your Sunday. I would be interested to hear if you feel the column is too long. If you do, what parts should be cut down? Less readers' emails? Less news and views? Shorter opening pieces? Mrs. Stick and the where is this photo sections are short already so I don't see any reason to attempt to reduce their size. I am always interested in your feedback so do let me know.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick