Stickman's Weekly Column February 7th, 2010

Marc of Nanapong Fame



I first met him in Woodstock, about a decade or so ago. "Are you Stickman", he asked, the question I always dread, forcing me to quickly work out whether the person asking is friend or foe. We quickly established that as a Welshman, we had sheep and rugby in common, plenty to form a bond!

He was one of the guys behind a possessed group of party animals known as Nanapong, a break away clique from the Nanaplaza.com discussion forum, who started their own Thailand nightlife forum, Nanapong.com.

Nanapong became famous not for its web presence, but for the dozen or so wild dance contests it organised back in 2001 as well as a few very private, and even wilder parties held in the old upstairs lounge area of Midnite Bar.

Marc has done the rounds, from expat to unemployed to his current reincarnation as a bar owner and part time manager. He's an interesting character and this week we caught up for a chat, a chance to relive the past and to find out what he's up to these days.

So what was it that brought you to Thailand in the first place?

Work really. I was one of the lucky guys that got sent here by my company back in the UK. The first time I came to Thailand was in 1993 on my honeymoon with my first wife. Ironic, I know! The place fascinated me for all numbers of reasons like the strange smells, the chaotic organisation, the traffic jams pre skytrain days, the people and of course the girls! Sensory overload is probably the best way of describing it. Everyone who comes here experiences it the first time they get out of the airport.

Anyway, my first marriage had already come to an end, and I was just carrying on at work as normal when my company asked if I would be interested to move to the Bangkok office to head a certain project we had going. It took me all of two seconds to say yes and the rest is history as they say. That was back in late 1999. I started to read up everything about Thailand on the internet and I stumbled across your site which must have only just started going, as at that time there were very few Thailand or nightlife websites or message boards about. About 4 weeks later I was on a plane with two suitcases worth of possessions to start a new chapter in my life. Looking back I was so unprepared, naïve and green it was pitiful! Some people would say not much has changed!

You've done a few different things in your life in Thailand. Want to tell me a bit about your time here?

You know I split my life into 3 very different compartments and I try not to let them overlap as much as is humanly possible. This is easier said than done and especially early on in my time in Thailand the lines became extremely blurred. The three areas would be work, family and nightlife. In the beginning I would prioritize these 1) nightlife 2) work and 3) family. Today it would rank 1) family 2) work and a distant 3) nightlife.

My "real" work is in advertising. I have been working in advertising agencies for 20 years or so and I have worked for many of the top global agencies. When I first came to Thailand I remember someone telling me that if you survive the first two and a half years living here, you will have passed the critical point where it becomes more difficult to leave. Of course everyone is different, but I think there's a lot of truth in that. Anyway, advertising is what I love to do and I have sort of drifted into other things along the way. I got married to a Thai girl who is a part owner of a small bar on Sukhumvit and paid off the amount she still owed on the bar so I became by default a bar owner as a sideline to my real work. This was my introduction to the nightlife scene from the other perspective, the other side of the bar. By this time my daughter had arrived and I had bought a house on the outskirts of Bangkok. My life was pretty settled, commuting to work each day and occasional visits to check on the bar. Then of course as many people have experienced, the global recession hit last year and I was made redundant from my job so I was left with a lot of time on my hands. Since then I have been in the process of setting up my own branding / advertising consultancy and slowly but surely things are starting to pick up. In the meantime, my friends who own the Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy knew that I was out of work and they offered me a part-time role managing the Dollhouse so that they could have a break for a few nights a week. It was a sort of a "win win" situation so I accepted and I do nights with them and my own consultancy during the day. My wife takes care of our bar along with our partners so I have little day to day input there now.

My life in Thailand has given me so many more opportunities than I would have got back in the UK. I've met and made friends with people from around the world, some quite famous in their fields. I've had meetings with Prime Ministers, cabinet members and prominent members of the public. Somehow I don't think I would have ever met Tony Blair or Gordon Brown in the UK.

Well, that's no loss, at least in the case of Brown.

The most important thing about my life in Thailand now though, is my daughter who is obviously half Thai, so this has become my home now and given me so many more reasons to stay here.

You were quite the party animal in your day I seem to recall! When you think back to nights out in those first few years as a resident in our fair city, what comes to mind?

The first thing that comes to mind is that I cannot remember many of those nights! Many people fall into the trap when they first come here – and I was certainly one of them – of treating life as though you are on holiday. For some people it lasts a month or so, for others longer. I think mine lasted for about 3 years or so! I was earning good money and I spent as much of it as I could on the nightlife! I would be out in the bars 5 or 6 nights a week partying hard pretty much every night.

Yeah, I seem to remember that! There was some overlap with the time in my life when I was learning good Thai by day and bad Thai, sometimes very bad Thai, by night, in late 2000 and early 2001.

My life revolved around the triangle of Patpong, Nana and Soi Cowboy and I pretty much went off the rails. I was with a bunch of like-minded people who enjoyed life to the full and we had a motto of sorts of "if it's worth doing, it's worth over-doing"! Looking back, it couldn't have lasted for ever. We would either all be dead or lying in a gutter somewhere. We were living a crazy lifestyle drinking bottles of Jack Daniels each night, partying with the girls and crawling into work late the next day. We would do stuff that would make a rock star blush with private parties in the bars, pure hedonistic craziness. I remember one night having an elephant race on Soi Cowboy, refereeing Muay Thai fights at Pink Panther, or doing other things like playing Nanapong roulette where we each used to pick a number before entering a bar and we had to barfine that girl no matter who it was! We were generally being assholes! But we had fun and that's what it was all about. Today the scene has become sanitized to a certain extent.

Back then things were very different. Patpong was still going strong and in general had the best looking girls, Nana Plaza was at its height, albeit with fewer bars there than there are today, and Soi Cowboy was the sleepy preserve of mainly expats. There was also the young upstart Clinton Plaza which had a short but profound impact, Soi 33 only had about 6 or 7 bars, Buckskin Joe's was still going and Thermae was a lot more eclectic than it is today.

In the beginning Patpong was my favourite area followed by Cowboy and Clinton Plaza. For some reason I was never into Nana that much. The scene as a whole was a lot more laid back in the early 2000s. The neon was not as abundant as it is today and maybe because I was new to Bangkok, I felt the girls were more genuine and less business like. Now this was probably down to my greenness but it seemed that way anyway. Of course things were cheaper back then but I was never one to worry too much about prices.

Don't get me wrong, I do not regret one moment of my time back then, but it was a very wasteful period of my life I would curb a little if I had my time over again. I have however met some great people from around the world who have remained good friends even today.

Tell me about how Nanapong got going.

Back in about 2000, there was about a dozen or so guys that had recently arrived to live in Thailand. We all met through the Thai360 message board, then known as Nanaplaza.com , run by Khun Sanuk and we would meet up on the weekends and visit the bars. Obviously when we got back on the message boards we would post about what we got up to the week before and start arranging our next meet. Quite rightly Khun Sanuk didn't like this, as we guys who knew each other in real life alienated a lot of visitors with our idle chit chat. So basically we set up our own message board to continue our chit chat without bothering others.

Nanapong was cliquey and we made no apologies for that, because that is exactly why we set up the board in the first place. It was just intended to be a place where we could do our own thing. At the time we also set up a totally free website giving tips and tricks, reviews, discounts etc to visitors. After that Nanapong sort of mushroomed and at its height we had something like 15,000 registered members who used to plan their holidays to meet up with this bunch of deviants who posted their debauchery on the message boards.

I have to thank Khun Sanuk for giving us the platform to meet up in the first place. Or I could blame him, because without his board I am certain I would have had a quieter life!

The Nanapong dance contests have a much-deserved place in Bangkok bar history. What was involved in organising them?

Well I suppose the first thing to say is that like most other things we did, they started by accident. One of the guys, QMan, was having a stag party and was due to marry in a couple of weeks' time.

We decided we wanted to have a night to remember so we decided to have a dance contest with different girls from different bars competing against each other. We held it in Rififi bar (now Electric Blue) in Patpong as this was our sort of home bar. The first bars that entered were Tilac bar, Rififi, Pink Panther and Superstar. To cut a long story short QMan's impending marriage was called off but we decided to go ahead anyway and invite anyone and everyone to come and see it. It was a huge success and the bar was packed out and we realized we had stumbled across something that had potential. I remember guys who had been living here 20 or so years saying they hadn't seen anything like it for years.



Yeah, for sure, these events became a legend overnight, something that really shouldn't be possible – but that is exactly what happened!

So we decided to do them monthly, going around different bars and getting different teams to enter. We actually did 30 Dance Contests by the end – something I was proud of because it was DC XXX!

In the beginning, the organisation was a nightmare. We paid for everything ourselves. It used to cost about 60,000 baht to put a dance contest on. We barfined 20 girls, paid them each 1,000 baht to enter, then there was the prize money (10,000 baht for first, 5,000 baht for second and 3,000 baht for third place) and incidentals like a bottle of Tequila for the dancers, flowers for the winner and so on. We used to pass around a bucket during the show to get contributions from the audience but you wouldn't believe how cheap many of the punters were either giving us just 20 baht or nothing at all. Jeez, Bangkok hadn't seen anything like this for years and they looked at us like shit when we tried to recoup some of our outlay. As our reputation grew, different bars would fight to host our dance contests and we eventually turned them into a profitable venture.

I remember the contest in Dollhouse in Clinton Plaza, the one Loo Doot and I videoed, where the ladyboys stole off with the bucket with all the money. Now that was funny – but I bet you didn't think so at the time!

We had our regular bars that competed frequently and the girls from these places became quite expert in doing what was required to win the money, so over time they would each try and out-do each other and the contests became less and less about dancing and more about depravity. We didn't care – as long as the girls were having fun and the customers were having fun watching them. That was all that mattered. Heineken bottles, whipped cream, milk and many other items became standard props.

Whenever new girls danced, the first set they would sort of be bemused but by the end of the night they were at the front of degeneracy. I remember one dance contest where a girl from a Patpong blow job bar pleaded with us for weeks to enter so we eventually relented. Her whole routine ended up as miming a blow job to the audience! Needless to say she didn't win!

It's true what they say – never work with children, animals and Thai bar girls – we certainly found that out!

What has happened to all of the Pongers? How many of the main guys are still in Thailand and how many have moved on elsewhere or perhaps gone home?

There are not many of us left living here now from the original crew as most have drifted off to other parts of the world but we still keep in touch with other. Father T who was our clergy MC (he was ordained via the internet) is still here doing his own business. Stefs987 is still around living quietly in the suburbs and Paraes is still living up in Chiang Mai. But people like Noozy, Loo Doot, Crash999, NY Saint and Soi Angel have all moved on to different parts of the world earning a living. There were many others like Roota, Chaching, Old Kwai, Viking and JJ who are all doing their own thing.

There are others who came in at a later stage like Twin and BraddockVC who are still living here in Thailand, but now we have all grown old and can't party like we used to!

I was looking back at the photos from the Midnite parties the other day and it brought back some great memories. We were all friends, all having arrived around the same time and there was a real sense of not just camaraderie amongst that group but a feeling of "fair play". Do you agree with me and if you do, what do you put it down to?

I totally agree with this. I don't think the whole Nanapong thing can ever be recreated as it was just fate that brought a group of guys together at the same time, all with similar mindsets and a willingness to have fun. It sounds nostalgic I know, but there was a true sense of camaraderie there, as we were all new to this big Asian city that had a reputation of chewing people up and spitting them out. We genuinely did look after each other then.

Also the scene has changed. It has become much more of a big business and more of a conveyor belt type industry. Nowadays you get whole hosts of tourist families wandering up and down Soi Cowboy for example and you see so many more farang females who can come on holiday and say they have seen the sleazy side of Bangkok. If only they knew what it was like 10 years ago.

Back then it was more like the wild west, or east. Today, a holiday to Bangkok is not that big a deal. Ten years ago not so many people came here then, so you would get to know more people and it was a less transient population. Closer friendships were made and there was a sense of all being stuck in this together. Nowadays you meet many more people who are here for a short time and then they disappear.

How was it that we were able to "contain" the photos and video footage from the Nanapong dance contests and the Midnite parties? At the Midnite parties I can remember me, Crash999, Nick N, Angel and Loo Doot all furiously photographing some of the carry on yet nothing ever leaked. Not a single image ended up on any of the forums and no-one tried to cash in on what was some really crazy stuff, mind boggling even by today's comparatively vanilla flavour. Why do you think that was?

The Midnite parties and dance contests were fun. We held them in the upstairs bar area of the old Midnite bar, locked the doors and just went crazy. Only people who we knew and trusted were allowed in and we were very strict about that. Cameras were allowed but we knew that nothing would get out because we all had the same outlook. No one would betray anyone else. I must have about 2 or 3,000 photos of the dance contests and about ten hours worth of video which we could make a fortune out of if we sold them on the internet, but that is just never going to happen. It's remarkable that we knew Nick N was a photojournalist but just let him get on with it as we knew he would never use any of his photos.

It's not just about having respect for each other as a bunch of mates, we also had a healthy respect for the girls we knew and we were actually quite protective of them. I know it's an oxymoron when it comes to the nightlife scene but as a group, we had some morals no matter how warped they were at times!

Everyone's got their opinion on how the bars have changed over the years. Are you with me that <sigh> it's just not the same these days?

I do agree with you but I'm afraid to say it to a lot of people because they automatically assume I look back with rose tinted glasses. But in my mind things have definitely changed for the worse.

Back in the early 2000s there were only 2 major groups of bars. You had King's Group in Patpong and you had Crown Group in Nana Plaza. All the other bars were independents. There has now been a growth in the number of groups of bars. In Cowboy alone you have seen the rise of the No Name Group and the Arab's group. Now there is nothing wrong with a group of bars if they are run right like the No Name Group, but the disadvantage of it is that there is a danger when a group of bars emerges, all the venues become what I call McDonald's-type venues where everything looks the same, there is no character to the bars and they are much of a muchness. This is particularly what the Arab is doing now on Cowboy and what Crown did in Nana. Basically the bar owners have become lazy resorting to formulas rather than individuality.

I used to love the smaller independent bars. I know at the beginning you used to like bars like Pam's Bar on Cowboy.

Yep, I have some great memories in there when Pam used to be sitting at the front, performing the dual role of mamasan and cashier. I loved that bar and the atmosphere in there and Pam was a real nice woman. It's crazy that some of my best memories from the bars are in a tiny bar with maybe 4 or 5 girls and I was the only customer. Late nights in Pam's Bar in the rainy season of 1998 was a special time for me.

A bar like that wouldn't last 5 minutes today. I used to like bars like JB Bar, Pinocchio's and the old Spider's Web, but sadly they've either disappeared or are now a shadow of their former selves.

The girls also have become far more mercenary than they used to be. Actually I don't mind this so much as I think the girls should get as much money as they can out of the industry while they can.

Hallelujah brother, we're on the same page.

Unfortunately they mostly spend what they earn on their Thai boyfriends or by going to the local boy bar and barfining a night of lust for themselves. Back in the good old days, they still had their Thai boyfriends, but they were better at creating the illusion of the girlfriend experience. We should know better as not many Thai bargirls have posters of fat middle-aged men on their bedroom walls!

Another difference is down to the smallness of the place ten years ago. I was speaking with a friend recently, and he told me how he used to walk down Cowboy and get a shout from one of the girls telling him how drunk he was the night before and that he forgot to pay his checkbin. So he would go in and pay the previous night's checkbin, walk further down the street and the same thing would happen again. Similar things have happened to me. Could you imagine that happening today? No chance.

OK, let's put a positive spin on it. What is better about the bar industry today?

Well obviously things are a lot more glitzy. There's more neon and things are generally run a lot more professionally than they used to be. You are less likely to get ripped off as many bars have computerized tabs so you will not be susceptible to bin stuffing. The bars in general have cleaned their act up because a lot of visitors are far more clued up than they used to be as they have done their research on the internet.

Also, one of the reasons for Soi Cowboy's success over the past couple of years is the emergence of the foldaway decking outside most bars where people can sit and drink and just people watch. I have numerous friends who are regulars on Cowboy but very rarely go inside the bars. They just prefer to sit outside and watch the world go by. Obviously if you are a 2-week tourist you'll want to go inside, but when you live here there's plenty of time to do that!

To be honest I cannot think of many more positives. Definitely today the scene has lost a lot of its character. But if you are an occasional visitor with one thing on your mind you will still love the place nonetheless.

That's a good point. I often argue with people about the whole industry, trying to make my point that it is not what you want. You're right though, if you're here for nothing more than getting laid, it's probably still first class.

Tell me what it's like to be a bar manager and a bar owner – and I differentiate between the two roles here.

There is a difference between the two. As an owner, for me personally, it is very much a hands off role in that I don't get involved in the day to day stuff that I do as a manager. Basically my wife and her partners look after the day to day running of our bar. I don't think people realise the costs involved in running a bar so having the right systems in place is vital if you want to make it profitable. Touch wood, because we invested in the right systems in the first place, the bar has always made a profit. Things are definitely quieter this past twelve months than they were in previous years but we still make a living out of it. At our bar we only have about 10 girls working there so keeping control of that side is quite easy compared to larger bars like Dollhouse. Any more than that number and you have to control it very strictly as most of these girls work when they feel like it or when they don't have any money in their pockets. You can be over-run with girls one day and have a minimum the next. It's very frustrating! Your bar is only as good as the girls you have working for you so recruiting the right ones is important.

My role as a manager at Dollhouse is to act mainly as a host to customers and to ensure that things run smoothly. We have two mamasans who take care of the girls making sure that they dance when they're supposed to dance and that they don't hide away upstairs in the changing rooms when it's not their set. They're harder to herd up than a gaggle of geese at times! I suppose my role is to be the face of the bar when the owners aren't around, to make people feel welcome and to ensure that they receive good service and don't feel ripped off in any manner. It's like being a host of a party because at the end of the day we want people to feel as though they are at a party every time they come into Dollhouse. One of the harder aspects of running a large bar is recruiting enough girls. Bars like Baccarra, Shark and Tilac are for some reason awash with girls but most other bars are constantly looking to hire more. Believe it or not, it is very hard to recruit dancers to any bar. At Dollhouse we've been quite lucky and recently hired quite a few new pretty girls so we're not suffering as badly as some.

You spend quite a bit of time in Soi Cowboy these days. Do you think it can stay the most popular bar area for the foreseeable future?

Soi Cowboy has been top of the heap now for probably the past 3 years or so. Before that Nana was the top dog and before that Patpong. There has been a hell of a lot of investment in Cowboy with millions and millions of baht spent. Just going back 5 or 6 years ago, you could buy a double-fronted bar for about 3 million baht. Today it would cost anything between 20 and 50 million.

Hell, looks like I missed out on another investment opportunity.

It really is big business these days.

Nana and Patpong haven't had any real investment for years and it's showing. Both places look dirty and not well maintained and they have suffered as a consequence. So if either of them really wants to knock Cowboy off its perch they have to get their act together.

I don't think it will be Nana with no guarantee the master lease will go beyond the end of 2012.

It's the same old story. They have sat back and waited for the punters to roll in and have become lazy. You have to work hard to build a place up and it's because all the different owners on Cowboy have bought into this idea of improving the soi as a whole, the place has become a huge success. Cowboy is lucky in that it has a soi committee that takes a large role in strategizing its future. As far as I'm aware, Nana and Patpong don't have such a committee.

So in short, yes, for the foreseeable future, I think Cowboy is going to remain the number one area.

You and I have walked a similar path, as I guess most residents of more than a few years do, going from participants to sitting on the sideline. Why don't you play around like the old days?

A lot of it has to do with the arrival of my daughter. Simply put she is more important than anything else to me and I would rather spend my money on her future than wasting it on partying.

However I think her birth was just the catalyst for me. Even before her arrival, I had become extremely bored with the scene. Let's face it, I, like many others who have been here a while, have probably done everything there is to do with the nightlife scene. I suppose it's been an overdose and familiarity breeds contempt to use a couple of clichés! Nowadays I far prefer to sit outside the bars with friends than go inside to look at the girls. Even when I go inside, more often than not I am sat with my back to the stage!

I have nothing against the scene, but I just think I've outgrown it. I get far more pleasure watching guys who aren't jaded like myself, go off and have a riotous night and party with the girls. Jeez, I sound like I'm ready for the grave! I guess it's just been there done that and now I've moved on. However, it is reassuring to know that the bars are here on my doorstep should I ever change my mind.

If you could change any one thing about your time in Bangkok, what would it be?

I wouldn't change anything. The highs have been high and the lows have been low, but I wouldn't swap it for the world. I've done lots of things I wouldn't have done had I stayed in the UK, and I have made loads of great friends from all corners of the world. I'm a very different person from the one I was when I lived in the UK. I don't know whether I'm better or worse, but I am different. Life is all about experiences and I sure have had a lot of experiences. Maybe I should write a book about my time here – every other farang who has lived here a while seems to have done so, so why not?

There's been a debate raging across the site recently about the morality of the industry although I don't like that word, preferring to look at its effects on the girls. What do you make of the whole issue? What do you think the girls make of it long-term?

I don't make any judgments on people and what they do, but I don't think there can be any doubt that the scene affects the girls in a negative manner. Yes the girls can earn a lot of money compared to their sisters who stay up country but they pay a heavy price in other areas. For a start, 90% or more of the girls who work in the bars have a Thai boyfriend and most of their money gets spent on them. Yes, they send some money up-country, but the majority of it goes to their boyfriends.

I've seen girls come to Bangkok who are sweet and relatively innocent and you can see the change in them the longer they stay in the industry. It's almost a weekly change. I can't blame them really with some of the crap they have to put up with. I'm not talking about crap from their Thai boyfriends, but that from their farang boyfriends and customers. Many farangs, when they get into a relationship with a Thai girl, try and control them and that can be far worse than any other pressures they have in life.

Very few girls come into the scene with an objective of making a lot of money and then getting out. There are some but not many. More often than not, it is a slow downward spiral for the girl, until one day she wakes up and realises she is no longer a good looking young girl; she has become old and cannot get enough customers like before.

The drug issue is a big one as well. Without quoting numbers, many would be surprised how many of the girls get sucked into that side of things. Maybe they start to take ya ba to try and lose some weight but it quickly grabs hold of them. If they had stayed at home up country, they wouldn't have been exposed to drugs as openly as they are within the bar scene.

I am the last person to moralize about anything, but take away the first few layers and you can see the damaging affect it has on the girls and punters as well. I very nearly went down that road myself with my hard partying, but thankfully for me, I have now calmed down.

What does the future hold for you? Are you going to be a long-term manager and investor in the industry or is this just "a recession job"?

My main objective is to get my advertising business built up. It's a long hard slog, but the signs are looking healthier. I'm getting more and more projects – not as big as I would like, but more and more nonetheless. My attitude is that if I can come through this recession relatively unscathed, then I will come through the other side in a far stronger position.

I don't think I could ever be a long term bar manager. It is a lot harder and more boring than you think. I am surrounded by beautiful women night after night and I get bored. I need my head read! The owners of Dollhouse are friends of mine so my working situation is a very fluid one. Basically it suits both of us at the moment, but it is not a long term project. If you still see me working at Dollhouse in a year's time, give me a kick up the arse!


Last week's photo


Where was this photo taken?


Last week's photo was taken of the wall near the main road end of Sukhumvit soi 4. The photo was taken while standing outside Morning Night Bar and looking across the soi. 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 widely regarded as the best novel set in Thailand's bar scene! The third person to get the photo right wins a copy of Jake Needham's excellent "The Big Mango" which is the only book other than Leather's Dancer that I have read twice. PLEASE SPECIFY WHICH PRIZE YOU WOULD PREFER!

Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. To claim the book prizes 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 – Are hookers the centre of your world?

I'm a frequent visitor to Thailand and recently relocated here to stay for 3 – 6 months. I am reasonably experienced with the country, however I am definitely not a long term resident or anything like that. Even so, there is no way I could glamorize the bar scene. I partook in my early visits in the country, but for the last 3 – 4 years (and especially now since I am residing here for a while) the scene doesn't interest me anymore. I'll go to some of the clubs to look, maybe engage in some brainless banter, and that's it. I am not sure if the scene is more coarse than it is depressing, but it has lost any semblance of the appeal it once had. What surprises me is how guys who have been living here for years are still enamored with it. I mean, I meet normal Thais every day, normal people with normal jobs, and after meeting them on their terms and getting to know them personally I just can't see myself making whores the centre of my world. Some of the farangs I meet here seem stuck in this scene and unable to move on, despite having been here a long time and having been exposed to all that is Thailand. They're in Soi Cowboy every day and seem to possess an encyclopaedic knowledge of barfines, happy hours, service levels and so on. I find myself changing friends and social circles.

It's not worth the risk.

Having been an eager participant in my younger days but now totally bored with the scene, I totally agree with your statement that it feels like having dodged a bullet. Yes, it is reassuring that the scene and hence the availability of sex is always there, but I am now of the view that the risk of having sex with a bargirl is simply too great. Probably every one of us has experienced a broken condom once or twice. It just isn't worth it, especially when there are so many gorgeous regular girls out there.

More fun to watch than play.

Loved reading all the morale debate posts and recent weeklies and tend to agree with your thoughts very much both on the debate and also about how the buzz of the bars fades a bit from what it was like the first few visits. I prefer the chat with my mates now when in the gogos, or watching some of the horrendous characters entering the plaza when sat in Pharaohs rather than the girls' sweet talk, or Connect 4. I've heard it so many times before and spent so much time in the bars over the last 16 years. I would also say that some of the most amazing times and memories have been when visiting bargirls' homes up country and that although married now, to a non bargirl for a few years, that you can sometimes have more fun with bargirls than non bargirls. The problem I found when dating a bargirl was that although they could be the sweetest things there was always something in the back of my mind like an element of doubt after hearing the horror stories. Maybe that was my fault for thinking too much, and I often wonder to myself if I made the right choice between my bargirl and non bargirl.

Newsweek is timeless.

From a back issue of Newsweek on their article on Thailand 11 years ago, what has changed? "In Thailand, four social evils, namely cronyism, collusion, corruption and complacency, have spread to all levels of the society. Cronyism led to the unchecked growth of ill-con conceived and highly speculative projects. Corruption allowed non-competitive players to thrive. Collusion between business and government officials has allowed these debilitating practices to prosper
Complacency by decades of uneconomic growth." Businesses reneging on their loans turned round to the banks and stated that "We don't pay, we don't close and we don't run." Knowing full well the banks wouldn't take them to court as the judiciary is so weak.


Looking for Thai girls? Look no more – you just found ThaiFriendly.com

The decline of Nana.

After a round of golf last Friday, I decided to take in a massage, eat a nice dinner at a fabulous Italian restaurant on Soi 11, Contrazi, then I sauntered down to Nana Plaza. Boy, are you right. The place has become a dump! I was so surprised, as over the last 15 years I hadn't noticed the decline as much as I did this year. For some reason I just hated the place. The girls weren't that attractive and the bars were mostly empty. I remember years ago when the bars were packed with 70 girls, each one more beautiful than the other. Now the place just looked run down. The Thai surgeons must be hording their Swiss bank accounts because I saw 10 times more ladyboys than I've seen before. And boy are they aggressive, or what?

Check your land transfer fees.

When we purchased our house a year and a half ago, the Land Office tried to charge us 28,000 baht fees when the actual fee should have been 8,000 baht. We just sold the same house and they said the taxes and fees were over 40,000 baht. When my wife questioned them they said we had owned the house for over 5 years when the papers submitted showed we had owned it for only 1.5 years. My Thai wife called a friend who runs another Land Office who called a lawyer in the main Bangkok Land Office who in turn called the person handling our transaction. Our taxes and fees dropped to 16,000 baht. If you don't know what the fees should be you just take what they say and pay it. About 6 months ago I read that the manager of the local Land Office was removed because of corruption. Nothing has changed under the new manager. The magnitude of this corruption appears to be huge.

Are jet skis to be avoided?

I witnessed a jet ski incident on Pattaya beach this week, near the soi 4 junction. It involved a group of Arabs and the tattooed operator. The police were called and one important looking officer made a couple of half-arsed efforts to take a pic of the jet ski, which looked fine. He seemed to be feigning annoyance more than anything and not a word made to the operator. Not sure how it all ended but the umbrella lady said the usual amount asked for was 50,000 baht and / or involved some boxing. This is in addition to another incident on the same beach a few weeks back where the jet ski thug kick-boxed a farang and dropped him on the footpath. Probably a similar demand for money not due.

Why be a bargirl when you could be a shoeshine girl?!

I visit Bangkok about once a year, sometimes with my wife. We are both elderly, me being 81 years old. We both drink beer at the beer bars, watch the traffic, and chat with the girls. Because of my age, I never barfine. There are usually about five shoeshine girls that hang around Nana Plaza. They now (November 2009) get 100 baht per shine. One aggressive girl is there from noon to about 11 PM, 7 days a week, and does at least 10 shines a day. That's 30,000 baht per month. Once in a short period, she shined for 100 baht, cut my fingernails for 100, and then toe nails for another 100 while I was chatting with a bargirl.

Spanky's is gearing up for February 11, the day Marc took over the bar last year, marking his first anniversary at the helm. To celebrate Spanky's will have all new shows and they will be giving away their Spanky's sticks as prizes. With special thoughts of the previous owner, a pig will be spit roasted and free food will be served from 7:30 PM. The all new signature Spanky's show features a girl bent over the exercise ball in PVC who gets spanked to the song "Smack my bitch up". It should be a good night.

Pretty Lady Bar in Nana Plaza celebrates Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year next Sunday, February 14. The wheel of fortune will spin with many prizes to be won.

It's hard to believe the Dollhouse is 8 years old. I guess I am old because I can remember when it was getting built. One of the best named bars in Soi Cowboy, Dollhouse will celebrate and all are welcome to what was the first bar to start the new era in Soi Cowboy. The party starts early this coming Tuesday, February 9, and will feature free food, shooters and lots of fun!

For Superbowl fans, Thomas will open the doors at Bradman's Bistro on Sukhumvit soi 23 at 5:50 AM for the Superbowl final. This is the third year that the Antipodean sports bar has hosted a Superbowl party and they will have burgers, hot dogs, Bloody Mary cocktails, a full breakfast menu, coffee, beer – basically the works. Maybe Bully's and Bourbon Street and some of the other hot spots of American culture will have Superbowl parties too but I don't know for sure because they didn't let me know.

Erotica in Nana may be quiet but it's packed with a bunch of very pretty girls. Time it right and you might see more than 30 on stage. Where have they all come from? Some stunners and few mothers – a good mix.

Coyote Apache in Cowboy is closed for a refit. No, not a change of ownership, just a refit by the current owners. Rest assured that another property has not been picked up by The Arab! Expect Coyote Apache to re-open around the start of March. More akin to the smaller, old-fashioned bars that used to be so common in Cowboy, it was popular a year or two back when it managed to bridge the gap between old Cowboy charm, and a more modern, comfortable bar. The mamasan and most of the girls are now at Sheba's.

If you're in Pattaya this week be prepared to share your teeruk with every whoremonger's nightmare – young, fit, handsome, guys with plenty of money to throw around! Yep, it's that time of year when the US Navy comes to town and this is the year of severals – several ships with several thousand military men. That's a lot of semen. If this isn't your idea of fun, note that they tend to hang out near the beach meaning Walking Street and other bars in sois adjacent to Beach Road. To escape them you could head up to the bars on Second Road near sois 2 and 3, opposite Big C, and up to Soi Buakhao and beyond where you're much less likely to see them. Personally, I have found them to be extremely friendly, polite and a real credit to their country.

Don't bother going into Twins Bar on Soi 23, around the corner from Cowboy to play pool even though they have two pool tables. A pal went in with two girls and they had no chalk for the pool cues and no one wanted to set up the balls. He inquired what the story was and the Thai guy running the place said, "This not bar for pool, this bar for girls." The staff are only interested in taking you upstairs to the "VIP room" for the quickest of quick bonks. Dunno if this is a farang-run bar but if it is the farang needs to get in there and have a clear out. The girls and the bar staff are best described as surly.

Will Pleasure Dome, which promises to be Thailand's biggest gogo bar, open as planned next Sunday? I have to admit I'm really looking forward to seeing it and I think it'll be a fabulous addition to Walking Street.

Many bar fights in the West are over women. Throw in a bit of alcohol, have someone think they're not going to get their end away and they might just lash out. Such violence should never happen in Thailand because if you want to get your end away, you can. But someone seemed to forget that early this morning when it all exploded in Pattaya's Diamond A Gogo. At 3:45 AM one foreigner glassed another. Apparently the two had been arguing over a girl. No sooner had the fellow been bottled then the girl who the two had been arguing over walked over to the fellow who was down and smashed a bottle in the victim's face too! The lights came on and the two assailants were in deep conversation. The victim was messed up and bleeding badly. Someone ought to have told these two that you don't lose the girl in Thailand, you just lose your place in the queue.

Phuket's taxi drivers seem to be doing their best to reiterate the message that you shouldn't come anywhere near Phuket unless you are loaded and happy to part with lots of your hard-earned for what can be a mediocre service. With some American ships in port in Phuket earlier this week, those who wanted to get from their boat moored on the island's east coast over to entertainment central on the west coast, were quoted a fare of 2,600 baht, making it around 80 dollars at current rates. Would it even cost that much to cover a similar distance back home?!

Patpong soi 2's The Strip will host a party next Sunday, that would be Valentine's Day. The private dance booths will be available at 400 baht and San Miguel promo buckets will be on offer – buy 3 bottles and get a 4th bottle free.

Ann, #27, who I mentioned in last week's column as having disappeared, showed up at Tilac on Monday night, danced one set and was promptly barfined. She did not seem to have her full energetic power on the dance floor. With that said, the early energy at Tilac seems to have faded, a result of girls arriving to work later, I reckon. Hopefully things will revert back to all hands on deck at 7:00 PM or just after, as it was. For now kick off comes about half an hour later. Girls in early has been part of the magic formula that makes Tilac so popular.

Crossbar, the authentic British pub run by popular Brit, Brian, has a bunch of new happy hours. From the 1st – 10th of each month, that awful local piss, Chang, will set you back 80 baht a pint. From the 11th – 20th the somewhat better Tiger runs 100 baht a pint. From 21st – 30th the quite acceptable – but certainly not great – Heineken will set you back a very reasonable 100 baht a pint and on the 31st spirits are buy one and get one free. They also have a permanent happy hour on 100 Pipers Whisky with all double measures for just 100 baht. Aw, Brian, what about those of us who want some of your good Gin at buy 1 and get 1 free this month…but there's no 31st this month. I guess we'll have to wait until March.

Next week is Valentine's Day which is widely celebrated in Thailand, especially amongst youngsters and is a real favourite at schools nationwide. If you're thinking of sending flowers to your teeruk, you can try this online Thailand Florist run by a Brit which has been operating in Thailand for many years.

I thought something major had happened earlier this week. The traffic was much worse than I have seen it for some time, even worse than the last Friday of the month. Many of us are, while perhaps not on edge, a little nervy about just what may happen. The city is awash with rumours of all sorts of strife as the political situation remains spicy.

What is the quickest way to get from Pattaya Beach to Bangkok? Plane? Motorbike? Sports car? Actually, it might just be none of the above but rather, speedboat. I can't say for sure that it's the fastest but at 45,000 baht, according to the boat service schedule erected at the beach at the Royal Cliff Hotel, it's probably the most expensive.

High season still seems to be in effect and my best guess would be that at least half of the punters at Cowboy aren't locals. Walking along Soi Cowboy some nights can involve the same maneuvering as a hike up Sukhumvit past the vendors. Earlier this week most bars were full, some with standing room only at 10 PM. Even the small bars like Fannies had few empty spots to sit. Not that I looked in all of them, but The Arab bars were mostly empty. No doubt a result of bad experiences or punters simply knowing better. I see there was another major argument this week at Déjà Vu, one of his bars, with complaints made over a grossly inflated bill.

Bars on Sukhumvit Soi 11 report decent trade. That area, which attracts a rather different crowd to the bar areas commonly covered in this column, seems to be holding its own. On that note, there are lots of small, independent bars all over Sukhumvit and exploring some of the smaller sois may provide new watering holes and new adventures.

It had been mooted that the fee for single entry tourist visas would be waived beyond March 4. But there has been a change in policy and from March 5 tourist visas won't be free any longer. The fee varies from country to country but is something like $US 25 or the local equivalent.

It's easy to think that a lot of what goes on in Thailand is specific to the country when in fact much of what we talk about – and complain about – takes place Asia-wide. Chatting up a Korean beauty this past week, Jung Si Park, the Korean footballer who plays for glamour club Manchester United came up. She said that he was always known in his homeland as a great footballer but the women didn't take a great deal of notice of him as, to use her words, he was ugly. Physically ugly. He then got a contract with the world's most popular football team and no doubt a very handsome contract. His celebrity status, and particularly the money he earned, changed the way he was viewed and she said that many of her Korean sisters suddenly found him handsome, despite the fact that she insists that physically, he most definitely is not. The love of money is not a Thai female thing at all. It's universal. You could just say that Thai women are more open and honest about it. I personally think that's not a bad thing. You know where you stand.

Speaking of Korea, there was an interesting piece in the LA Times this week about native speaker English teachers in South Korea who are being stalked by locals increasingly fed up with their presence. The teachers are being blamed for all sorts of things from sleeping with students to drug use. It's just as well that similar groups don't exist in Thailand because their hands would be full.

There's a dwarf bargirl working in Spice Girls in Soi Cowboy. Curious minds wonder if everything is in proportion.

There are two things that the odd Westerner says that makes me cringe. The first is when someone says that they will get another Westerner deported. You hear this from time to time, usually from longer term expats who claim to have high ranking friends. I would guess that this is much more difficult than those mouthing off suggest. It is tacky, a power trip and whenever I hear this I scratch my head and wonder about the person saying it. The other thing that really bothers me is when a foreigner, usually having been put under some sort of pressure in a public place, maybe a shop or venue, starts ranting about how they are going to call the tourist police. The first time I ever heard someone say it was a huge embarrassment. I was with out with someone who at that time was a friend – not to be for much longer. We were in the Thermae and he was told by the staff to buy a drink. Up until that point he had just been wandering around, looking at what was available. Worst of all, he was a teetotaler and this was back when a soft drink would set you back the grand total of 40 baht. But no, he would not buy a drink but started screaming and yelling. Most embarrassing it was.

On Thursday, February 11, Pat Pong 24 Fine Food will hold its first wine tasting together with supplier Siam Gourmet Paradox. You can taste Chilean Wines of the Winery Pengwines from the Maipo Valley. The owner of the winery, Mr. Chris Milliken will give a presentation about his wines. It will start at 7 PM and the fee is 300 baht per person. In exchange you can expect excellent wines, small snacks and a great time with a bunch of nice people in Pat Pong 24 Fine Food. In order to plan the event and also to make sure that they have enough of everything, please reserve your seat(s) by phone (Chris, 087-794 0693) or email ([email protected]).

Has anyone used the 3G mobile network by True? I have heard reports from two people and they are both very positive. From what I can work out, it is only available in central Bangkok – but that seems to be a fairly wide area – and it is said to be fast and reliable. What I like is that you can surf the internet AND still use your mobile phone to make calls too, something you cannot do with GPRS / Edge mobile phone internet connections. It sounds to me that the transition to 3G from GPRS / Edge will be a bit like going from dial up to broadband. Here's hoping that the coverage area extends beyond central Bangers quickly. I have heard – although not verified this myself yet – that there is a special promotion currently offered where you get unlimited internet use, unlimited True wi-fi use, 200 minutes free calls and a truckload of SMS messages for just 599 baht a month. This is a very attractive deal.

Tony Patch is looking for an old friend, Ian Lambert, who lives in Chiang Mai with his Thai wife. Ian is an Aussie, approximately 50, has a daughter who is about 21 and attended an international school in Chiang Mai. His wife's name is Sunan and his daughter's name is Diane. If you know Ian, drop Tony an email at : [email protected]

Sukhumvit soi 18, which is home to Town Lodge, a very good value Swiss owned and operated hotel, is currently a dead end soi. It will soon be open at both ends, hopefully as soon as March. On that note some are looking at the soi as a viable spot for a new business. If you are looking at setting something up in the Sukhumvit area, soi 18 may be a place to check out. Remember that the numbering system on Sukhumvit is not totally consistent and soi 18 is opposite soi 23.

I was asked about inexpensive buffets in central Bangkok this week. For reasonable buffets at low prices, Pattaya has more on offer – and at lower prices – although with that said I would not recommend the cheapest buffets in Sin City, meaning the likes of the Apex, the Lek and the Diana Inn. In these long-running buffets there is a large selection of dishes in the morning for a bit over 100 baht and the dinner buffet, with even more items, goes for under 200 baht. At those prices you never get great quality. It's fuel. Nothing more. But then again, many like it so if it rocks your boat, so be it. Anyway, the question was about Bangkok and where you can find decent, inexpensive buffets. Probably the best of the bunch is Tuesday night at Bourbon Street where their Mexican buffet runs from 6 – 10 PM and is priced at 295 baht ++. They've been doing this for at least 10 years and I think it's great. The Nana Hotel does a decent lunch buffet everyday for around 220 baht. I last had it the week before Christmas when they had a "shrimp festival" and it was fantastic. Generally I'd say it was good, the odd day it's great. Not a huge selection of dishes, mind you. It is popular with office workers in the area, especially those from the large Krung Thai Bank nearby – so if it is ok for the Thais it should be ok for you. It's pretty much exclusively Thai food with a little, pretty average it has to be said, sushi. The Taipan in Sukhumvit soi 23 does a better lunch buffet at around 250 baht that features both Thai and Western food. O'Reilly's, next to the Sala Daeng BTS station does a wonderful Sunday roast buffet at around 400 baht.

This week's quote of the week is simple but struck a chord with me. "When I was in Pattaya there were tons of girls but hard to find a desirable one."

Reader's story of the week comes from Christoph and is the latest episode of schadenfreude, " Moving to Thailand Is Not Easy!"

The long running Phuket tuktuk rip off makes the mainstream press in Australia.

A drunk American trashes a Pattaya beer bar!

Khun Voranai Vanijaka always writes insightful, heartfelt articles in the Bangkok Post and his latest, The Unbearable Lightness of Being Thai, is a must read.

Jean-Claude Van Damme will take on a Thai Muay Thai fighter in a real fight.

Thailand has the third highest number of Brits incarcerated abroad on drugs charges.

From the Bangkok Post, the drug problem in Thailand seems to be getting worse.

The Wall Street Journal gives you their take on that wonderful dish pad Thai.

Richard at Connecting The Dots took on the morality issue this week.

Ask Mrs. Stick

Mrs. Stick would be happy to answer your questions regarding inter-racial relationships as well as cultural peculiarities that may be confusing or baffling you….if you sent them to her! No questions for her have been received for more than a couple of weeks.

Question 1: Bit of an unusual question but I thought with your familiarity with Thailand you may have some thoughts. Any suggestions on jobs for a Thai girl? There must be something in between working in a factory and working in a bar for the non-educated? For instance in England a lot of people in the middle ground find themselves in call centres, which though not overly desirable career pays well enough for reasonable standard of living. My Thai girlfriend has finally been persuaded that she should indeed work for a living. However I know that she'll not be able to stick to shit a job. So I'm looking for ideas on what would be good for her. Do they have job agencies in Thailand? She had a high enough standard of English to do translation work for bargirls. Is there a company she could join to do this? Any help would be most appreciated.

Mr. Stick says: What on the surface seems like a simple question is in fact rather difficult to answer. Pretty much anyone can get work in a factory in Thailand. It can be tedious and boring and the pay is low with the minimum wage, which varies from province to province, what is usually paid – about 170 odd baht a day. The next step up would probably be something like working in a 7 Eleven where the work is almost as tedious and the money not much better. Call centres are usually staffed by those with a bachelor's degree. In fact many jobs that are considered basic entry level white collar positions in the West usually require a bachelor's degree in Thailand. I think an uneducated Thai will always have difficulty finding a fulfilling job that pays reasonably well. If she is disciplined and has some entrepreneurial flair then you might consider setting her up in something small. The barriers to starting your own business that are so common in the West simply do not exist in Thailand, for Thais at least. (For Westerners it's another story.) Starting small, perhaps with a grilled chicken stand or something similar would be one way of seeing whether she has the necessary discipline and skills to get her own venture off the ground.



I enjoy reading all of the emails I receive, the feedback to the column and general thoughts about life in Thailand. I pride myself on my ability to reply to these emails in a timely manner. If for any reason you have not received a reply to an email you sent me within 24 hours then something is up. Perhaps the email found its way into my junk folder or my response got lost in cyberspace. If you sent an email and did not get a reply, feel free to resend it. That said, if you've been abusive I may well have blocked you and if your email is particularly long, I might not respond to it immediately. The email part of running the site is a lot fun and I enjoy discussing whatever Thailand-related issues you may have on your mind.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick