Even with Soi Cowboy almost on my doorstep, I don't spend night after night in the neon-lit soi of sin. As almost any expat will tell you, it gets old. But I don't have any choice. I have to go to the bar areas each week to gather news and gossip for the column.
I try to give myself some other reason to go, and the news and gossip gathering, while important, is not the only focus of my visit. This week I set off to spend an evening at Cowboy and capture the comings and goings in black and white….and gather some news and gossip, of course. Here's some of the highlights of my night on the soi.
It's early evening as an office girl, as the Thais call them, makes her way along soi 23, heading towards Sukhumvit. As she crosses the eastern end of Soi Cowboy, her face is buried in her mobile, refusing to look up into the soi, wary of making eye contact with any of the foreign descending on the soi, concerned that they might get the wrong idea.
I enter Cowboy and make my way past the soi's glamour venue, Baccara. The doors are open but the beer isn't flowing and the music isn't playing. It's still a bit early. Girls file inside the double-floored palace of pleasure fully-dressed, and soon exit the changing rooms wearing somewhat less.
A pretty girl looks for her time card amongst almost 200 others outside Tilac Bar. Bars with a time card system place harsh penalties on girls who clock in late, 1 baht a minute which can increase to as much as 3 baht a minute later in the evening, maxing out in some venues at a whopping 1,000 baht. Cat fights have been known to occur when one girl is perceived to be taking too long finding her card, causing delay to others and costing them financially.
The DJ has arrived, the lights are on and the show is about to begin. There's precious little time to grab a quick feed at one of vendors who operate early evening in the soi. The vendors hail from the same part of the country as the girls. What do they make of their cousins, their friends and their sisters engaging with farang?
It's 7:15 PM in Tilac. Show time! Their makeup has been applied, their hair is done and some start throwing back the hard stuff to help them to deal with what will follow. Nothing is done to conceal the rolls of blubber on her belly. In many bars in 2012 this is the new slim.
Pretty girls linger outside one the Arab's neon hot spots, beckoning customers inside with the enthusiasm of a pig heading to the abattoir.
The Arab's misadventures have taken a back seat recently, as if the man is attempting to avoid the scandal and limelight that used to plague him. Perhaps he's taking a back seat and not getting too involved in the operation of his laund…ooops, I mean his bars.
The taxi boys at the soi 21 end will take you anywhere – for 2 or 3 times what the standard metered fare would be.
Drivers passing the Asoke end of Cowboy may be reluctant to stop if you hail them, knowing they might get abused, or worse, by this lot.
A cabby taking 4 passengers to a notorious late night venue nearby with a 300 baht cover charge – 1,200 baht in total – gets the entire amount as a kick back. That's way you see packs of drivers parked up at various spots around the city, outside hotels and around sights popular with visitors. A carload delivered to a late night venue makes them more than they could earn driving around the city with passenger after passenger all night long.
Two waitresses were keen to pose and very keen to see the results. Genuine smiles can still be found in Cowboy.
"Cock a doodle doo, any cock will do!", is the cat call from Soi Cowboy's newest bar, Cockatoo, as she uses all the tricks she knows to entice customers into her bar.
The clichéd image of the contemporary Thai girl, totally engrossed in and consumed by her mobile, oblivious to everything and everyone around her.
Sitting on her boyfriend's(?) motorcycle, a girl at the Siamese Twins Bar in Sukhumvit soi 23 holds court. What was she talking about? I'd wager it was either money or farangs, the girls' two favourite subjects.
It's too early for customers at the Fantasy Bar, one of the many late night booze booths on Sukhumvit. This fellow can be found operating around the corner from Soi Cowboy, out front of Citibank, every night and usually a few maidens hang around who are available.
It is not until I am well away from the soi of sin that I see any real desperation. But the real despair is on the face of tourists walking by at the sight of a mother sleeping while her little one sits next to a cup, begging for loose change. Able to sit up, he has been trained to press his hands together in a cute, but sloppy wai as the late night crowd pass by.
It's getting late, approaching midnight – way past my usual bed time. It's time to head home. The soi is going strong. More punters arrive, no doubt some had set their alarm clock to head out late, down a few and then negotiate with a girl after the bars close, bypassing the barfine. Some will still be partying when I am getting up in the morning…
*Where* was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at the northern end of Pattaya Beach and showed the statue and fountain outside the Thai Airways office. Only one person got it right and he was in the UK…so I will enjoy the prizes myself. Maybe I should make the photos super difficult each week so I can go and have a scoff at Dukes and Oh My Cod?! Hehe, better not… So where was this week's mystery photo taken?! All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There are 2 prizes – a 500 baht credit at the Oh My Cod fish and chips restaurant, and a 500 baht voucher from one of the best farang food venues and home of Bangkok's best burger, Duke's Express.
Terms and conditions: 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. 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!
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 – Soi 4, a reflection on you and me.
If Sukhumvit soi 4 is the boil on the ass of Bangkok then the surrounding streets must be the actual ass! I drive to the office through the area around 8 AM every morning. As I sit in traffic on the main Sukhumvit Road between Soi 3 and 5, I am privy to the embarrassing show of remnants left from the night before. From what I can tell, the hair salons are running streetside bars and at 8 AM there are still ‘people’ sat drinking outside on the footpath with any number of hookers, ladyboys and Africans…drunk, often fighting, but sure as hell an eyesore. Every Mercedes-driving Thai I know drives past there at the same time and guess what? They are tarring us with the same brush.
Disappointed by Bangkok's nightlife.
I was interested in your comments about Nana being a shit-hole these days. I've been coming to Thailand for more than 20 years and have always bypassed Bangkok and headed to Pattaya and then up to Isaan. This last visit I finally decided to spend a few nights in Bangkok. Long story short, I was disgusted by Nana. It's tiny, it's falling apart and it's filthy. My thoughts were best summed up by a group of Yanks I was following, when one turned to the other and said, "How can this shit-hole possibly be a world class destination?" Later I headed for Cowboy, and again was disappointed. Cowboy is much smaller than I imagined, and frankly is rather tame and boring. I do have to say that I had gained my (faulty) impressions of both places from your column. I wonder if using your camera to highlight the colour and glamour while hiding the reality is doing readers a favour? Perhaps it would be better if you visited in the daylight, and showed us the truth behind all that fake glitter?
You and your mate's description of Soi 4 hit the nail on the head. I call the place Soi Hell. What a change from when I first went there 7 years ago.
Not keen on Nana or Cowboy.
You are right about the state of Sukhumvit between Nana and Soi Cowboy. It has gone downhill. There are more dogs than beauty queens for sale in the bars or on the street and the place is looking dirty and tired. I went through the freelancer bars in Soi 5 and 7; nothing you would take home, even drunk. A 5-minute walk around Nana Plaza was enough. Down to Soi Cowboy and what a mess the soi is with all the vendors. In the full walk down I think I was asked "Hello, welcome" twice. I know I am getting on in years, but that never used to bother them. Too interested in what's going on around them and the other girls to bother looking for a customer.
Killing the goose?
I was sitting in a bar in Nana this week when I saw a lady that I've known for a few years. To my surprise and disappointment she had put on a disturbing amount of weight. Being an old friend I bought her a drink all the same. I asked her what her drink of choice was and she replied "Cola". Later in the evening she told me that she had had 6 colas that evening already. Never minding the math on how much this rather rotund lady had apparently earned in drinks for the evening, it struck me as incredibly short-sighted that bar owners don't provide Diet Coke as a drink option for lady drinks. No woman on earth could consume 6 sugar-filled Cokes in an evening and stay slim. What on earth are these bar owners thinking? If I owned a bar, the *only* non-alcoholic drink I'd allow the ladies to drink would be one without sugar. The business of selling sweet lady-drinks is making the girls fat and ironically destroying the business in the process. Not smart! If bar owners want their bars filled with slender, beautiful ladies, they'd better wise up and get rid of the sweet drinks.
Western women in the bars.
All of us are curious about how the other side lives. That goes for western women also, who are curious about what goes on in the bars we frequent, and what it's like to drink there. Judgmental women never go; curious ones do. They can be a lot of fun. Here's what to do. Next time you see a western woman in your favourite bar, go up to her and offer to buy her a drink. Ask her which of the girls she finds the most attractive. Then tell her you're thinking of taking a girl that night, and ask her which one she would recommend for you. More than likely she will get into it, and start analysing the girls. If she is really into it, ask her which girl she would like for herself. I guarantee you'll have a great time.
How a bargirl gets her kicks!
The story about your friend and the bargirl's love affair with her phone reminded me of a weird experience I had years ago. I'd befriended an unbelievably pretty girl from Pink Panther bar in Patpong. She was one the prettiest Thai girls I've ever seen, and she knew it. I often used to try and befriend bargirls when I first arrived; I was a confused, naive young man I guess and I certainly wouldn't recommend it as it gets messy. She would often come and stay with me on her two days off a month, which strangely seemed to come around every week. Looking back I think she just liked having a nice room and bed to sleep in and she probably just liked that I never asked any questions. Anyway, the story is that one night we're in my apartment on the bed getting down to it when her phone rings. To my complete surprise she grabbed the phone and answered it! There I am on top of this girl thrusting away and she answers the phone! It put me off my stride a bit, to say the least! What was worse however was that I could hear the guy talking on the other end of the line. "Hi Air, how are you? It's my last day in Bangkok, do you want to come with me to the airport? I'd really like it if you could, I'm really gonna miss you, darling"…that sort of talk. I mean what the hell do you do in that situation? I thought for a second and then, well, I just carried on! The problem was she was having a bit of trouble, biting her lip shall we say. I'm certain she did it on purpose actually. After about 30 seconds the poor chap on the other end of the phone worked out what was happening and hung up. She then threw the phone across the room and started passionately kissing me. The kinky bitch was actually getting off on what she'd just done to this poor guy! I have to admit the sex was weirdly kinky and pretty amazing, but afterwards I felt really sorry for the poor guy. Sad end to his "girlfriend experience", eh? I guess he wasn't a good tipper and these bargirls can be pretty cold when they want to be.
I don't know whether it's part of a wider crackdown or just a few vigilant coppers, but I am seeing more and more people stopped on Sukhumvit by police and asked to show their passport. This is happening during the day and those stopped are Westerners who look respectable, including young female visitors and families with kids. Passport checks in downtown Bangkok by the police have traditionally seen men of colour or rough looking foreigners targeted. Not this time. Even the most wholesome looking folks are being stopped and asked to show evidence that they are in the country legally.
The Dubliner failed to complete the deal with Robb, owner of the recently closed Los Cabos in Sukhumvit soi 14, so a team of experienced local businessmen assembled and purchased the assets. Amongst the four partners is Billy, formerly of Bulls Head and proprietor of The Barbican in Soi Thaniya. The group plans to bring the building back to its original heritage and develop a 1920's / 30's motif with a wide range of food in what they are describing as one of the most desirable venues on Sukhumvit – which I guess it is now with the nearby Terminal 21 positively booming.
Might Soi Cowboy become known as or Walking Street II or even Khan San Road II? There has been the much talked about influx of Western females, an increase in mainstream tourists visiting and now Cowboy is attracting more street performers. We had the farang violinist and now we have a gang of breakdancers who appear to be the same bunch who perform at Khao San some nights. They hit Soi Cowboy about once a week. They're a bunch of young Thai guys trying to make a bit of money doing something they enjoy. It does, however, change the atmosphere in the soi and take it just a teensy weensy bit further away from being what was exclusively a nightlife area, to more of an "entertainment zone".
A former long-standing customer of the closed soi 7/1 venue Boosa Bar, is opening his first bar in Sukhumvit Soi 20. Located about 30 metres into the soi, and down a sub-soi on the right hand side – that location won't do the venue any favours – its name is The Electric Pussycat Lounge. The official grand opening is planned for this coming Friday, 30 March, from 7 PM, although like many bars the venue has already opened its doors. Standard beers will set you back 59 – 69 baht at happy hour which runs until 10 PM, and just 10 baht more later in the night. Another former Boosa Bar regular is helping to manage the bar and there's also a couple of ex-Boosa Bar girls working there, although I remain unconvinced that's anything to get excited about.
Tilac Bar is offering fans of Carlsberg a special deal on Sunday nights when the fine drop is available at 80 baht a bottle, all night long.
Perhaps second only to #7 in the looks department in Tilac Bar is #99, a cutey that many girls in the bar wish they had her looks. But the question has to be asked, is #99 a bloke? She wears knickers every night which makes me think she has something to hide.
Fans of Formula 1 weighing best venue to watch the races might want to consider the Big Mango Bar. Every week the Mango has a different offer to those watching the race. This week, all F1 fans watching the race at the Mango will get 500 baht off their bill if Shumi wins. If he doesn't win, and Kimi Raikkonen finished on the podium, there's a free drink for everyone! The Mango has offers for each race – so check the website for more details.
Hustlers pool bar, in the basement of the Times Square building, near Asoke, has taken over the neighbouring restaurant so the owners can expand the bar. Expect to see a larger Hustlers come the end of next month.
A long-time Stickman reader was relieved of his wallet somewhere between Sukhumvit sois 3 and 7 around 9:30 PM this past Wednesday. He wasn't drunk and did not feel anything which suggests the light-fingered thieves might be pros. Be careful out there.
ET of Bully's fame – or is that infamy – now calls Hua Hin home. The rumour mill has it that he has signed a lease on a place near the Hilton called The Cave. Here's hoping it doesn't turn out like his last position.
The Strip in Patpong will host a Moulin Rouge themed party over 3 nights, March 29th – 31st. Parties at The Strip are always fun with the girls all dollied up. The girls in The Strip really get into these special events.
Thailand faces a challenge, one that could become a major problem, especially in the tourism industry. It seems to me that across the board, irrespective of industry, getting staff is a huge problem and getting good staff is, well, in some industries, almost impossible. Restaurants I used to like I now avoid because the new staff have no idea what they are doing, and to make matters worse, in some venues are rude and condescending! It's the same in hotels where there are staff working front desk / reception with dreadful English. I note some hotels and restaurants are trying to get around this problem by recruiting staff from the Philippines. In some cases this works, but other venues are just hiring the first Filipino they can find. Bangkok's middle class is growing so fast, and the number of Westerners moving here and visiting is increasing at such a rate that many business in the service industry can't keep up.
Most bars are struggling to attract new girls. I almost fell off the stool in a soi 33 bar this week when I recognised a lady from a previous visit. She used to be the cleaner. Now she may be a lovely person and always has a ready smile, but with the edges of each nostril almost touching her ears, to say nothing of the 20 kg or so excess that I estimate she's carrying, she's not what many guys would call pretty. But what would I know, she went from cleaner to bargirl to 3 barfines in her first week!
I was looking at some old photos I took in Pattaya's infamous soi 6, back in 2006. One thing that really struck me was that few of the girls had tats. Walk down that soi these days and most girls have not one, but a bunch of tramp stamps. In this collage of images I can only see two girls with tattoos – and none are of the huge, whorey variety so common these days. And am I right in thinking that the girls you see in soi 6 these days are somewhat more well-rounded than this lot?
The sign at the western end of Soi Cowboy seems has been repaired and is much brighter, making the soi of sin easily seen by those leaving Terminal 21 for the skytrain or underground. In a country where image and reputation are so important, I'm kind of surprised that something has not been done to obscure it from view. But then with Cowboy slowly edging its way towards becoming a more mainstream area, does the area need to be concealed?
What has happened to my daily health tonic, pomegranate juice? It used to be available on Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke but has become awfully hard to find. End of pomegranate season, perhaps?!
You have to laugh at the interaction between some Western Johns and Thai hookers where neither knows what the other is really thinking. A funny scene played out this week where a girl who had been barfined from one Cowboy bar was taken around other bars by her customer. She clearly wanted to do the deed ASAP, perhaps so she could get back to the bar and get barfined again or perhaps her Thai boyfriend was calling asking where his pocket money was. Anyway, when the customer wasn't looking she poured most of his beer on to the floor to empty his bottle quickly. I think he finally caught on after 2 or 3 mouthfuls and found the bottle empty!
The way Subway is expanding, at least in the downtown area, their branches are becoming as common as Starbucks. Another Subway branch opened recently, this time in the Time Square Building. I can't count the number of Subway branches in prime Sukhumvit, between Nana and Emporium.
We've had really odd weather in Bangkok this week. It has been as hot as you expect in March, but the humidity hasn't been there, so you can, amazingly, take long walks and even exercise outdoors without breaking into a great sweat…unless you're seriously out of shape.
There's a lot of confusion and misinformation out there about overstaying one's visa, and what happens if you are caught in country after your permission to stay has expired / what happens if you leave voluntarily after overstaying. Frequent comment on discussion forums concerns so-called "new" rules regarding overstay. All I can do is comment on what is happening at the moment and I have the opportunity to do so after a friend left the country this week on a long overstay – in excess of a year. At the airport he was fined 20,000 baht, the standard fine for any overstay exceeding 40 days. He said that the Immigration officials were polite and friendly, wished him a safe trip and said they hoped to see him back in Thailand soon! I would never recommend that anyone overstay their visa – but this suggests there has not been any change to the overstay rules and long overstays are not handled any differently now to how they have been.
You have to admire the entrepreneurial skills and willingness of some Thais to make a buck. A mate was keen to take the train to Hua Hun and had been to Hualumpong station the day before to buy a ticket, 380 baht for a seat in an air-conditioned carriage. It was due to depart at 8:05 AM but due to packed carriages on the skytrain, he arrived at Hualumpong just as the train was pulling out. A Thai noticed that he had missed the train and told him there was no need for him to buy a new ticket as he could get him on the train for which he had a ticket already. For 200 baht, he would take him by motorbike to the Bang Sue station, one of the suburban stations the train stops at before leaving Bangkok. This would save 180 baht. My mate went for it. What followed was a hair-raising journey that saw his large farang frame straddled on the back of a motorbike with a 20 kg pack on his back barreling along streets parallel to the train tracks at break neck speed! The motorbike rider did his bit and pulled into Bang Sue station just 2 minutes before the train arrived and my mate got his original booked seat on the train to Hua Hin after all!
One of the characters of soi 4, the fake watch salesman with the growth on his face who has been a fixture on and around Soi Nana for many years is still going strong.
Quote of the week, "Having spent several weeks in Isaan recently, I have to say there are lots of pretty women up there but they are well and truly eclipsed by the masses of pug-ugly ones!"
Reader's story of the week, "From The Provinces", is a must-read about a relationship going seriously bad in Thailand!
CNNGo highlighted 7 myths about travelling in Thailand this week.
It all goes wrong for a Brit who was teaching English in Thailand.
From Malaysia's Star, the do-gooders will be all over a Malaysian girl kidnapped and sent to Bangkok to be a prostitute.
A Westerner refusing to follow rules and being aggressive at a skytrain station is smashed with a baton by a security guard.
From The Nation, Google releases street view for Thailand.
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 live in Thailand on a multiple-entry O visa, and am married to a Thai national. After I finish my 90 day border runs and leave Thailand for another multiple entry O visa (I plan to go to Malaysia or Laos), can I keep doing this indefinitely, until I decide to have 400,000 baht in my Thai bank account?
Sunbelt responds: It is possible to continue to obtain multi-entry non-O visas until you have the 400,000 baht in a Thai bank. However, issuance depends on the office and the officer, and while we have not heard of any neighbouring consulates or embassies refusing back to back multi-entry non-o's, we can't guarantee it won't ever happen.
Question 2: I am potentially faced with a debt issue back in my home country, Holland, where it is quite normal for the bailiffs to block any bank account that the debtor may have to freeze the funds (in debt) prior to the court of law making a final verdict. As I hold bank accounts in Thailand I question if it is possible for foreign banks to impose a blockage / freeze on any given Thai bank accounts and if so, how is, or can the Thai bank account be sourced and in brief terms how does that process to block a Thai bank account work?
Sunbelt responds: Only the Thai authorities have the right to freeze a Thai bank account. No foreign bank or government can do so.
I made a conscious decision recently to shift the focus of the column. Just a little, nothing major. I know that if this column is to continue – and I certainly want it to – that I have to cover stuff that really interests me. I was once fascinated by the phenomenon of successful Western men falling for local women, prostitutes, and going on to lose everything. That has been done to death on this site. These days I am intrigued by men flocking here hoping for a better life, hoping to heal, only to find that once the initial euphoria has passed that often their lives end up in a similar state to how they were before they arrived – or maybe even worse. I figure covering stuff that interests me and writing the sort of column I personally would like to read will, with a bit of luck, keep things fresh. I hope you like the current direction of the column.
Your Bangkok commentator,