Thailand's bar industry is full of characters and colour, and no amount of writing captures the atmosphere like photos can. Unless perhaps you're Steve Leather or Chris G. Moore, and I'm not! So rather than write about what's going
on around town, I present a dozen photos taken around the nightlife areas in the last month which I feel represent the bar industry as it is today, as well as show some of the recent trends.
The farang sector of the industry is more public than ever. In a move which I think is taking the industry in a wrong direction which could become problematic one day, it's much more obvious to the uninitiated where the bars are and what they are about. Not only is there more neon and more girls outside, some of whom wear very little and who are much more persuasive than they once were, today there are more and more venues which are "open", or which have a glass front, allowing those outside to see exactly what is happening within. It was never like this in the past. Locals not involved in the industry weren't entirely sure what was going on behind closed doors. That's no longer the case. Little is left to the imagination today.
As the bar industry increases in size and spreads out into new sois and neighbourhoods, so the demand for other services increases and the entrepreneurial Thais are ever keen to fill a niche. The bar industry, both as an employer and economic engine, is bigger than ever. And the bigger it gets, the more difficult it becomes to crack down on it, or, as I one day predict the authorities will try, to eliminate it.
Just as the bar industry has become more diverse, so has the shape of the women employed in it. It's not that long ago that almost every women working in the industry was the same archetype – slim with long black hair. These days there are many well-rounded women although few are as pretty as this lass.
And it's not just diversity of the girls. There are more and more unusual venues, including a few fetish bars which offer something of a rather different flavour. The old days where the format in the bars was much the same is, fortunately, a thing of the past.
If like me you are somewhat old-fashioned and associate tattoos with the likes of sailors, soldiers, labourers and umm, err, prostitutes, then the increased number of tramp stamps won't do anything for you. But then not everyone is the same because one of my mates pretty much insists that the only girls who interest him are marked.
While some bars and bar areas struggle – not to survive, but to make the sort of silly money they made in the past – one sector of the industry is positively booming. Ladyboys! Anything to do with ladyboys is a goldmine with businesses from ladyboy bars to ladyboys websites to the new trend in meeting ladyboys, ladyboy escort services all doing extremely well. With that said, while there are more ladyboy venues around these days, where once many gogo bard would have a token ladyboy dancing amongst the regular girls, that's seldom the case today.
Despite protestations in some quarters otherwise, there are still plenty of pretty girls in the bars. For guys keen to meet them, you should note that the prettiest girls are snapped up quickly. Genuinely attractive girls don't last long and may have multiple choices, offers from guys across different continents keen to set them up with a new life away from the industry.
Within the bars themselves not a lot has changed. Venues might be bigger and a little glitzier these days, but the girls' fascination with themselves lives on. Look out any bar owner who goes against the trend and sets up a new bar without wall to wall mirrors!
Mirroring what's happening in the economic world, the Caucasian dominance of Pattaya and Bangkok's Patpong, Nana and Cowboy is diminishing. Diversification of the customer base continues with more Middle Easterners, along with a boom in Indians. Girls who once insisted they would never go with these men have begun to realise that that's where the money is, especially in the low season, and boundaries have been crossed!
Where once Western women scoffed at the industry and those men from their homeland who involved themselves with Thai women, today these very same Western women are flocking to check the industry out for themselves and see what all the fuss is about. Western women are a much more common sight in the bars as the industry becomes more mainstream.
As the prettiest girls in the industry get picked off quickly by guys keen to secure a Thai wife, customers are increasingly hitting on girls on the fringe of the industry. Service staff and cashiers are targeted and many are married off. And the pretties, as they are called in Thai, the girls who promote various products are hit on all the time. Many of the pretties in the farang areas are subject to such lecherous advances from customers who fail to realise (or don't care?) that they are not there to be groped, that they can become disenchanted with foreigners very quickly indeed.
The prices of most everything has moved up, quite a lot in some cases. It's hardly a Thailand thing, but for anyone who has been away from Thailand for a few years, you might be shocked at just how much prices in the bars have shot up. Doubly so if you come from a country whose currency has taken a hit. Extra trips to the ATM machine may be in order!
Last week's photo
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken on the Chao Praya River, near the Ta Dien Pier, looking north towards Siriraj Hospital. The first person to email me with the correct location of the photo wins a 500 baht credit at Oh My Cod, the British fish and chips restaurant. The second person to get it correct wins a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues in Bangkok, and the home of Bangkok's best burger, in my humble opinion, Duke's Express. Duke's is conveniently located in the Emporium shopping centre in central Bangkok.
Terms and conditions: The Duke's Express voucher MUST be redeemed by June 2012. The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. Prizes are only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and are not transferable. Prize winners cannot claim more than one prize per calendar month. You only have one guess per week! If you wish to claim a prize, you must state a preference for the prize you prefer, or list the prizes you would like in order of preference – failure to do so results in the prize going to the next person to get the photo right.
Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.
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 – Another victim.
The picture of the Nana Hotel sign in a column published earlier this month immediately caught my eye, not for the sign but for the young lady pictured in it. A regular sight at the entrance to Nana recently, she's a former gogo girl from Rainbow 4, I think. She's lost her marbles sadly and is going downhill fast. Just 6 weeks ago she'd be there, but looking cute enough for some unknowing passing stranger to take home. But not now. Her eyes get more haunted every time I see her and to watch her talking to the Bangkok Bank ATM the other night was pretty sad. She's getting rougher and dirtier by the day. Friday night we remarked how much she'd changed in a week.
You need to respect us…but don't expect us to respect you!
I would like to share few thoughts about the column, The Lovely Jeab. The woman who runs the introduction agency mentioned a few differences among Thai and Western culture, things that a foreign guy should be aware of, such as the importance of family. She says the guy should learn as much as possible about the cultural difference and the girl's expectations from the relationship. Sure, she is right and I agree with her 100%. But what about the girl? Shouldn't she also try to understand "our" culture, background and values? I am a 30-something expat from Czech living in Bangkok, have a decent job, am into sports so I don't have problem to meet, let's say "decent" girls, most of them from Bangkok. Not one of these girls, and also the girls of my friends, ever cared much about my background or my family. My last girlfriend asked about my parents about 3 times during our 8-month long relationship, but we used to have discussions about her mother 3 times a week. And about taking care of her family, well yes, in case we get married, but she should understand that I also have parents who might need help one day and it can be very difficult to take care of 4 people at the same time across two different continents! I understand that the majority of women in Thailand must help their parents financially, simply because the state doesn't help them, or if there is any it's very basic. But they should know that all the security we have, the benefits such as health insurance, retirement income etc. is because since we started work we paid for it left and right, so one day we'll get something back. With all the economic problems in Europe and America today, it won't be easy. All I want to say to the girls who want to date and even marry a foreigner is that they should consider the culture difference with its pluses and its minuses too!
It must be a 2-way street!
After reading your interview with Jeab I came to the conclusion that she is making the same mistake many people make and is the main reason why so many of these mixed marriages end in disaster. Her emphasis through the interview is what the man must do; how he must understand Thai culture. If a European guy meets a Thai lady, whether from a bar or not, why should it be that the guy solely has to make the effort to make the lady happy? For a successful marriage both sides must be happy and if the lady wants the union to last, which I doubt is the case in so many instances; she must try as hard as the man. Otherwise, no matter how happy the man has made the lady, it will fail. I have seen so many marriages between European guys and Thai ladies fail and I believe in many cases this is totally down to the fact that the lady expects the man to change his outlook totally whilst refusing to do so herself! Marriage is a 2-way street and why should a man stay married to someone who is so intransigent? I consider myself to be very fortunate as I am still married to the same Thai lady for over 20 years. And just like any marriage, the early years were quite difficult at times but we worked at it together and she tried just as hard as me. I am not the easiest person to get on with but neither is she but I suppose we did something right somewhere along the line.
Is it a one-way street?
There is much talk about how a farang must accept responsibility to help look after a Thai wife's family. However, I have not read much about how a Thai wife would accept her farang husband spending money to help support his own family back home, be they elderly parents or children of a failed marriage who are starting their adult life and may need a loan or tuition money. Any comment?
"Good" doesn't guarantee anything!
I knew a guy who brought over a "good girl". Not a sleazy bargirl, a good girl. He subscribed to one of those agencies and lo and behold brought a good girl over to Houston. My wife told me the chick was always complaining to her, in Thai, about what a jerk her husband was and how she wanted to split to Las Vegas and become a chef. She hated his two teenage kids from marriage number one. They moved away but last I heard she had cleaned his financial clock and was on her way to Vegas…alone.
Providing help to the family.
If you do get involved with a Thai, you will help support her parents. Make no mistake about that. And it won't ever end until they die; don't think that, with marriage, it will stop. What I've found out is that you can set limits on "other" family help. One of the best "investments" I ever made was when my wife's ne'er-do-well younger brother asked for a $700 "loan" to fix the dump truck he'd wrecked while drunk. Now I knew the loan would never be paid back, but I viewed it more as a "tax shelter", so said OK. With that success, obviously he came back. But I just said how can I loan more money when the first loan hasn't been paid back yet? But when my wife's sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer, I had no problem paying for her private hospital room up-country. What a class lady. She spoke no English, but when we visited, there she was, thin, with an IV morphine drip attached to her arm, but she was up, asking if I wanted anything to drink, if I was hungry, comfortable, bringing me a pillow. If the situation were reversed, sorry to say, I would not be so concerned with people visiting me. Eventually, on her own, she decided to check out and return home to die. Class. I don't necessarily disagree with supporting the parents. If you're considered family, there's hope that your wife won't shuffle you off to the old folks home when you get old, as is all too common here in the US (given that the Thai wife is usually younger). I know for certain my wife screens all the demands for help – I'm sure she says she's asked me, but she doesn't, unless it's something serious for her mom, or it was for her sister.
Mayhem erupted at the beer bar outside Playskool on the ground floor of Nana Plaza on Tuesday night when a 50-something farang set upon one of the girls at the bar. The crazed Westerner with decent spoken Thai – indicating he has been here for a while – locked his hands around the girl's throat and tried to strangle the poor maiden to death before bystanders saw what was going on and stepped in to save the highly distressed girl from an early exit. She was rushed to hospital while the crazed foreigner was restrained until the police came. He was arrested, handcuffed, and marched out of the plaza, all the while screaming obscenities and abuse at all who were watching. Frankly, he was lucky at that outcome. A big foreigner strangling a small Thai woman could easily have resulted in a very different conclusion in other parts of the city. Death. Not for her, but him!
Soi Cowboy's Dollhouse might be better known for the action upstairs but there are plenty of pretty lasses downstairs too. If you don't know which Cowboy bar to check out, swing by for at least one drink.
The middle of the low season is hardly the ideal time to open a new venue but some investors with existing bar interests opened the doors to Rhino A Gogo on Pattaya's Walking Street this week, which pushes the number of gogo bars in Pattaya that little bit closer to 100.
Yes, Carnival in Nana Plaza is still open. It looks like it's closed, but if you get close enough you will see that yes, it really is still open for business. Kinda sad to see what has happened to that bar really. 10 or 11 years ago, like many venues in Nana, Carnival was amazing. Now it's just awful, one bar that no-one, absolutely no-one, could dispute is not a patch on what it once was.
Bully's has been one of Bangkok's hot spots come American Independence Day and this year will be no exception. As July 3rd is a non-drinking day due to the election, Bully's kitchen will go into overdrive on this year's birthday of America. To celebrate, they will have a BBQ of ribs, chicken, Bully's burgers and hot dogs along with a buffet of side dishes and salads on Monday July 4th, from 3 PM – 8 PM. All the meat, salads and sides you can eat will set you back just 399 baht, and they will also throw in a strawberry short cake. The coldest beer and hottest chili will be waiting for you at Bully's, which can be found on the main Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4.
Not everywhere is closed for elections. Big Thomas, the friendly proprietor of the popular Aussie hang out, Bradman's Bistro, on Sukhumvit soi 23, advises that his venue was open right through this weekend and it will be the same next weekend. Under election rules, venues are ordered not to sell alcohol after 6:00 PM Saturday night through until midnight Sunday. So it will be the same again next weekend when no alcohol can be served until midnight Sunday or until the police advise venues that they can resume sales some time on Sunday night, after polling booths have shut. Quite a few of the English and Irish pubs seemed to be open too, with the kitchen open for business as per usual.
It may not be Thailand, but I heard a cracking story this week from Angeles City, the gogo bar capital of the Philippines. A Kiwi mate was over that way a couple of weeks back. We caught up this week and he gave me a run down of what he had been up to. One night he made his way into Camelot, which he describes as a decent-sized gogo bar, and as he walked inside, he saw that all of the girls weren't in their customary bikini at all, but in street wear. It wasn't late and he couldn't work out what was going on so he asked one of the service girls why the girls weren't in bikinis and why there was no dancing. The service girl's response was that a guy had just bought the bar. What do you mean bought the bar, my pal asked. She explained that a guy had come into the bar and paid the barfine for every single girl in the bar, which apparently numbered more than 80! The service girl put the total cost of that charade at in excess of 200,000 pesos, or 150,000 baht, or about $US5,000! Now just what you would do with 80 girls, I can only imagine – and remember that in the Philippines the barfine includes EVERYTHING so it sounds like some guy had one hell of a party that night!
The strangest sight of the week had to be that of the aged, disheveled foreigner cutting a lonely figure, hunched down on the pavement out front of the gas station at the top of Soi Nana late on Wednesday night, selling contraband DVDs from a duffel bag. He was there when I walked past around 8 PM, but had disappeared when I walked back around 10 PM. I cannot imagine that the Thai coppers would have allowed him to peddle his wares there and with a heavy police presence in the immediate area, his choice of location was questionable.
Canada Day will be celebrated this coming week at the Canadian-owned Oh My Cod fish and chips shop and bar in the Khao San Road area. Canada Day falls on July 1st and at Oh My Cod there will be beer specials with Corona for 120 baht, great prices on most everything, giveaways, a draw for a mobile phone, a tablet computer and even fireworks!
There are a number of inexpensive lunch buffet deals in Bangkok, including a few at farang-centric hotels on Sukhumvit. For little more than 200 baht you can fill yourself up but to be honest, the quality of the food is not always great. However, spring for another 100 baht and you can avail yourself of a really high quality buffet. If you've got a healthy appetite at lunch time, shirk the temptations on offer in Sukhumvit at the likes of the Nana, the Taipan and the Ibis, and go straight the Nailert Park Hotel on Wittayu Road which is walking distance from the Ploenchit BTS station, where the lunch buffet is on special at the moment for a ridiculous 299++ baht. It's everything you would expect of a buffet at a 5-star hotel and is available Monday – Saturday.
A friend is looking for a live-in home assistant / maid to help his wife in their home in rural Khon Kaen, about 35 km from the centre of Khon Kaen city. They are looking for a younger person they can train to undertake household chores, feed the hens, water the garden etc. A starting salary of 5,000 baht a month is offered, rising to 5,700 baht after a 3-month probation period. This is for a 6-day week. He is offering 3 weeks annual paid holiday, an annual bonus and of course free board. They are willing to consider a solo mother with a young child, and hope to find someone who will become a trusted family insider who can be left in charge of the home when the owners are away in Bangkok. This could be a good opportunity for a young lady in Isaan with limited prospects to have a chance for a better life. If you know anyone who may be interested, drop me an email and I will forward it to him.
Speaking of Isaan, emails from friends in the region tell how most election billboards of the Democrat Party have been defaced region-wide. The Democrats' leader, Apisit, is considered to be the devil by many in rural Isaan who align themselves with Thaksin Shinawatra, the red shirt movement and of course the Peua Thai Party which is leading the polls.
Don't you just hate the way some Thais like to show off and abuse their authority – or perceived authority? A mate read my piece on Pattaya's Soi LK Metro a few weeks back and thought he would check it out. He rode his bike to the soi and went to park outside a bar. He had pulled up and was getting off the bike when some wench from inside the bar came running out and started screaming at him, saying that he couldn't park there and it was a big problem blah blah blah. He was looking forward to a good night out, doing the rounds, checking out the bars in the soi and spending lots of money. If there is one word I could use to describe him, it is generous. After that wench's outburst, Soi LK Metro just lost a customer for life. I wonder if bars and other businesses have the right to prohibit people parking outside their business? With that said, this being Thailand, you're best to comply because if you don't, there's a good chance your vehicle might have come in for some special attention in your absence.
Black Pagoda will host the Patpong Warrior Party on July 1st, trying to get a little fire under the low season and party hard before bars are closed again for the election.
Are you shy? Are you a single male? Do you visit Bangkok? If you answered yes to these 3 questions then Bangkok for Shy Guys was written for you!
A few columns back I mentioned how a mate had gone to a big name Bangkok hospital to get the medical certificate required for his work permit application. What he thought would be a 5-minute trip took a couple of hours after the doctor insisted that an HIV test had to be carried out for a medical certificate used to support a work permit. I speculated whether this really was a requirement or not. Clarity came this week with word out the Department Of Labour here in Bangkok that all work permit applications, be they new work permit applications or renewals, must be accompanied by a blood test showing that the applicant is not infected with syphilis. There is currently no requirement for an HIV test. Apparently the blood test for syphilis is NOT a new requirement but the enforcement of an existing regulation. This is what is being asked for in Bangkok and whether it's the same at other Department Of Labour offices around the country, who knows.
If you have a visa issued by the Thai consulate in Glasgow, Scotland, please note that Immigration at the Aranyaprathet border crossing may not accept it. Apparently there is a dodgy visa run company in Bangkok either producing fake visas from this consulate or acquiring legitimate visas through illegitimate means. As such Immigration at Aranyaprathet is giving anyone holding such a visa just 15 days permission to stay in Thailand. So if you have a visa issued by the Thai consulate in Glasgow, you might be better off entering via another border crossing or flying into the country where you will receive 60 or 90 days permission to stay, depending on the type of visa you have.
Quote of the week comes from a friend, "Bed Supper Club has turned into a sausage fest. It's like you're in America and there are no women anywhere!"
Reader's story of the week isn't Thailand-centric but is still a great read. " Faces of Iran – Meet Reza in Kashan, and Mohammad and the Uranium" from Akulka.
Time magazine looked at Hangover II and its portrayal of Bangkok.
From the Washington Times, will the military play a part in the upcoming general election?
Thai food was featured in the Huffington Post this week.
CNNGo takes a closer look at traditional tattoos in Thailand.
A Brit has complained that Thai police will not investigate a ladyboy masseur he accuses of being light-fingered.
The Thai prime minister does not mince his words about the former Thai PM.
From the Sydney Morning Herald, Thailand's reaction to Hangover II has not been what some were expecting.
Ask Sunbelt Legal
Sunbelt Asia's legal department is here to answer your questions relating to legal issues and the law in Thailand. Send any legal questions you may have to me and I will pass them on to Sunbelt Legal and their response will run in a future column. You can contact Sunbelt's legal department directly for all of your legal needs.
Question 1: I set up a Thai company about eight years ago so that I could purchase a home here in Thailand (and with it I was able to get some financing from a bank). However, I would now like to transfer the home into my wife's name (one of the shareholders), add on a 30 year lease (in my name) and kill off the company. Aside from the accounting issues, I have heard that dissolving a Thai company is very difficult. Is it?
Sunbelt Legal responds: You will need to hold numerous shareholders meetings and any and all tax responsibility must be up-to-date both monthly and yearly. There can be no outstanding liabilities. The liquidation process may take approximately four to six months to complete, depending on the number of years the company had been in operation, the amount of assets that need to be liquidated, the amount of liability that needs to be settled and whether the books were properly maintained and tax returns filed as required by law. During this time the company will be required to submit VAT monthly, even though the entity has ceased trading. In all, about 13 steps are involved and Sunbelt Asia does this every month for a number of clients. You simply cannot "walk away" from a company.
Question 2: My Thai stepson and his Thai wife are now permanent residents of a western country. Childhood sweethearts, they went through a long separation when he emigrated as a dependant, waited 2 years until he acquired permanent residency, then married and brought his wife over to join him. The two are understandably inseparable. Now nearly everyone is really happy that they are expecting. The Thai side of the family wants the resulting child to have the eventual option to hold dual citizenship, past the age of 20, when the Thai government requires a person to make a choice of nationality. The issue is seen as so important that the couple is now considering returning to Thailand for some months, for the birth, so that the child would be Thai by birth (and acquire citizenship of the other country more indirectly). However my stepson is at a critical stage of acquiring a career, difficult enough for a Thai in a Western country, and any interruption to this will probably further jeopardize his career prospects there. Under current government processes, does the country of birth of a child affect ongoing dual nationality for a Thai, or are there any other ways dual nationality prospects may be enhanced?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Unless the parents do not wish for their child to obtain citizenship in the country they reside, and prefer to give birth in Thailand and then have to go through the application for residence for their baby so that they can return to the country of their residence, there is no need for them to return to Thailand to give birth.
A child born of Thai parents is Thai regardless of what country the baby is born in. If the child is born in a country other than Thailand then they simply register the birth with the Thai embassy and apply for a Thai passport from the embassy.
To register the birth, simply go to the Thai embassy website for that country where all requirements are listed. Both parents will need to go to the embassy with the baby to register the birth, a photocopy of the birth certificate is needed, a photocopy of the parents' marriage certificate, a photocopy of parents’ valid passports, a photocopy of parents’ Thai identity cards or Thai house registration.
Registration is free and if they want to apply for a passport on the same day they will need to make sure they have the correct applications.
While the Thai government, in theory, requires a relinquishment of nationality at the age of 20, it is simply declared that they retain their Thai citizenship and do not declare the other to any Thai authorities (also because it’s no longer Thailand’s jurisdiction to enforce cancellation of other citizenship).
Question 3: My Thai wife and me, Swiss, have been living in Switzerland for about 15 years. My wife has got the Swiss passport. We moved meanwhile to Thailand, a year ago, have 2 little children now and plan to travel soon. So my wife of 40 years has a Thai passport and a Swiss passport. Our family lawyer tells us no problem, if you travel, just always when you enter or leave Suwarnabhumi show your Thai passport, and then, say when you enter Switzerland, or Holland, show your Swiss passport. Now the Swiss embassy sent us a mail that we should NOT do this, that the Thai wife of a Swiss holding both passports should always come to Swiss embassy where they easily get a visa. They say she could run into big trouble in Suwarnabhumi. Now, travelling to Switzerland that seems ok, but say we travel to Japan where Swiss can enter visa-free, it all gets complicated. Is it really still a problem for a Thai to have two passports and shouldn't we say that in Suwarnabhumi to avoid problems? Is it true as the embassy says that for the kids we can do the way our lawyer suggests, as this causes no problem?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Thailand does not recognize dual citizenship. At the age of majority (20), the citizen must choose which citizenship to retain. However, since other countries mostly in Europe (including Switzerland), America and Australia recognizes multiple citizenships, it is simply declared that they retain their Thai citizenship and do not declare the other to any Thai authorities (also because it’s no longer Thailand’s jurisdiction to enforce cancellation of other citizenship).
It is probable that the Swiss authorities are aware of this rule and therefore they advised the wife (since she’s over 20) to use her Thai citizenship by applying for the visa despite having a Swiss passport, and their law allowing multiple citizenships. The children are free to use either passports since they are legally allowed by Thai law until the age of 20. As for Japan, it is a completely different matter because they have different immigration laws. It might be possible for the wife to use the Swiss passport when entering Japan. I recommend inquiring at the Japanese embassy to confirm.
Am I the only one who finds the demonizing of Western women which is so prevalent on a number of Thailand discussion forums and Thailand-centric sites to be nauseating? I really do think that in many ways it is as much a reflection on the person making the comments as anything else. I bumped into a charming 30-ish Swedish lady one morning this week at the orange juice stand. We got chatting and what a charming, to say nothing of attractive, lady she was. As if one needs to be reminded that there are some really attractive Western ladies out there, there are now more and more young Western women floating around Bangkok, not just visiting, but living and working here. And some of them are hot! Many are quite friendly too. Every day I read on various Thailand expat forums as well as in my email inbox about how terrible Western women are and how all of the evils of the world can be attributed to Western women. These comments become grating. I wonder what Western women living in Bangkok say about the male Western expat populace. Now that would be funny!
Your Bangkok commentator,