Nana Plaza in Focus
In less than 6 weeks Nana Plaza will change ownership when the Nana Group takes over the master lease from the existing leaseholder, Nana Castle. All indications are that the plaza will undergo major changes and the plaza will see some much needed improvements. Maintenance has been neglected for years and the plaza will be given more than a mere facelift, it promises to be brought in to the 21st century. The new leaseholders hope the new renovated Nana Plaza will set it apart from the city's other foreigner-oriented bar areas.
Keen to record a small piece of Bangkok's bar history, I wandered down to the plaza this week with camera in hand to capture it before the handover.
The closer you get to Nana Plaza, the more evidence you see of Bangkok's famed nightlife. Sex toys are openly sold on the street, venues have signs with names with a distinct nightlife flavour but perhaps the biggest clue of all is on the streets where there are as many Thai + Farang couples as there are Thai + Thai walking hand in hand. The fun part, even after all these years, is guessing whether she is on the game or not. You look at the way she dresses, the way she carries herself, the way she walks and the way she hangs on to him. And if she is clinging on to him like she is sending a message that he is her property, you just know where they met.
First impressions count for so much, but at Nana Plaza they aren't great and I still haven't decided if the plaza looks worse by day or by night. By day you can see the bird's nest of wires, McDonalds burger wrappers in one corner and the remnants of crumbs that were once a Big Mac stinking out another. The amount of rubbish and general shit that has been discarded in the plaza and left to rot along with the general state of disrepair the plaza has fallen into is clearly seen when strolling through in daylight. After nightfall the rubbish may be hidden in the shadows, but Nana's sorry state doesn't improve much. Much of the neon is dying and the main sign out front is on its last legs, the few letters still illuminated hanging on for dear life. It really is a great thing the lease has been sold to a group with plans, money and a genuine determination to turn it all around.
The sun hasn't dropped below the horizon and the day shift, some of whom can be a little scary, are still on duty. Much is mentioned about the changing face of customers in the naughty bar areas these days. Two young white guys and their girlfriends enjoy a drink at the appropriately named Big Dogs. To the dude on the right, can't you afford a shirt? To the dude on the left, I thought skinheads covered in tattoos were supposed to look scary?
Arguably the best seat in the house, right at the front corner of Big Dogs, looking out over the soi 4 and the only entranceway into the plaza. It's where you can watch the ladyboys who are, for the time being at least, loitering a little further down the road. It's the best spot to watch the show, as girls are dropped off in the soi on the back of their boyfriend's motorbike and excited punters descend on the plaza, all wondering who they will go home with tonight.
With 5 ladyboy venues in the plaza today, no photo essay would be complete without at least one ladyboy featured. Casanova was the plaza's first ladyboy bar and many of the girls who sit outside trying to convince customers to venture inside the bar, or go upstairs to their room are familiar faces. The 6 foot plus bird featured here has been a fixture outside Casanova for as long as I can remember. Early each night she sits with her face to the mirror, intently making herself up for the best part of 2 hours.
The sun drops below the horizon and the last vestiges of light bounce around. Girls grab a bite to eat and catch up with friends at the railing. It's getting late Down Under, lunch time in Europe, early morning in the US, and it's the last chance to chat with sponsors before the phone mysteriously develops a problem as girls become unavailable for the next several hours.
The beer bars on Nana's ground floor have never struck me as fun spots, as say the outside bars at Cowboy do. Just why this is I don't know, but it might have something to do with the view. Sitting there in the middle of the plaza with two levels of bars above you, it feels like you're in a fish bowl with everyone looking at you. No thanks.
I spy a girl in a changing room hurriedly getting ready before the music comes on. Some bars impose fines by the minute on girls who are not on stage when the first song starts so there can be a stampede in the minutes before the DJ jumps into his booth.
It's almost time for the bars to open and those who have already changed linger on the balcony, strutting around, joking with the doormen and generally showing off. It might not be a job to be proud of, but there's still face to be made. The biggest and most expensive tats, the flashest phone, the best looking and the most generous customers, anything will do. With the sound system about to leap into life, it's excitement for some, nerves for others. Veterans bounce around laughing while girls fresh off the farm sit in a dark corner and slug down a few shots, their way of dealing with what will follow.
Some bars have opened and I time it just right. Shooting from one side of the plaza to the other is not lost on security, some of whom would like nothing more than the chance to have a go at a customer.
Sitting inside a bar the girls are curious about the camera and start posing. There I am, inside a gogo bar, and the girls are posing. What am I to do? I start firing and no-one bats an eyelid. I'm surrounded by girls keen to see the shots and see how they look. Email addresses are written down for copies of the photos to be sent – and most scraps of paper have a phone number too…
It's all about rapport and if you can make the girls feel comfortable with you, make them smile and make them laugh, they are happy for you to take their photo. With most girls now having multiple online presences – Facebook, MSN, and Skype, they will usually ask for copies to post on Facebook which it was reported this week has more users in Bangkok than any other city.
It's getting late and the last skytrain will be pulling out soon. I scurry off towards the Ploenchit BTS station but not before I take in the scene out front of the plaza. The ladyboys are still absent, and the crackdown appears to have been more effective than those behind it could have hoped for. There's a small army of smiling girls milling around and a no shortage of guys hitting on them. Guys linger, keen to learn about her life story and you can see her thinking, Do you want me or not?!
I had intended to shoot the plaza before it was taken over and before it undergoes major change, but things didn't work out that way. Whether you're standing outside, walking up the stairways or leaning on the rails, Nana Plaza really isn't that aesthetically pleasing and I ended up capturing the people of Nana instead.
*Where* was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Miami Hotel on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 13 and very few people got it right. So where was this week's mystery photo taken?! All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There is 1 prize this week – a 500 baht credit at the Oh My Cod fish and chips restaurant.
Terms and conditions: The Oh My Cod prize MUST be claimed within 14 days. The prize is only available to readers in Thailand at the time of entering and is 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 – Mama Noi knows!
There's a quote I want to excerpt from the Mama Noi interview as it seems innocuous. I certainly wasn't in Thailand in '68, didn't get there until '89 but I know EXACTLY what she means here: "Everything is different now. I cannot explain how, but it's just different. It was real sanuk in the past, but it's different today. Fun sometimes, but a different kind of fun. Not genuine fun for fun's sake like it was in the past." The changes from '89 – '93…something was going on. I don't know if I could have predicted the changes of, say, the last 5 years, but back then, and certainly previous, there was no "hi-so" or the relentless focus on money. Farangs were targets of course, but that phrase "fun for fun's sake" rings like a bell. Mama Noi knows. It was different. I have no regrets as if I'd gone to Bangkok when I was drinking I'd be dead now. That's just the way it is. But within a couple of years of sobriety, I was on a Patpong bar stool and it was PURE SOLID SCREAMING SANUK. Dance routines. Angelwitch-type shows at many bars. Topless women wearing giant butterfly wings. I'm not making this up. And sometimes it still is fun, but I can't imagine the '60s / '70s Mama Noi knows.
Thanks for the interview with Mama Noi. I was an American serviceman stationed in Thailand 1972 – 1974. The Thai girls we knew and loved were special because we were a long way from home and they made living in Thailand a wonderful, joyous experience. I have so many great memories and I often wonder what ever happened to them. I never returned to Thailand but the memories will never be forgotten. To you, Mama Noi, and all your Thai sisters, you are all angels.
Another old angel.
After reading last week's column I thought I would mention another woman from the old days I still see around Nana at times. I met this woman in the old Thermae years ago and we got to be friends. She had been a working girl since she was young. She put one son through university coming to the Thermae every night. Her son doesn't even contact her now that he is a doctor and is succeeding. She told me how when she first started she went with customers for 40 baht. This was when she was young. She told me the only reason girls chose the Thermae to work at was because the coffee was cheaper than the Grace Hotel! Goes to show the guys will go where they are – they pick the spot and the guys show up. You can still see her at times working the street or the parking lot of the Nana. She sometimes gets jobs working as a hello girl at pubs. She is pushing 60 or more now but keeps herself looking good. Her biggest asset is her personality. She quickly makes anyone she chats with feel good. It's that polite feminine charm that is part of the old Thailand I think many of us miss. So if you are ever down there and see an older woman that looks good for her age, chat her up. She may be the one and can tell many stories about the past.
She ain't there for the chit chat.
You nailed it about Thai bargirls preferring short time. After the deed is done they are usually bored out of their skull and miss the familiarity of the bar. My Thai language skills were so so and I know from personal experience that speaking a second language for an extended time is hard work. At the end of the day all women love and need to talk. Not that many bargirls are fluent in English and even fewer foreigners are even functional in Thai. That's why most bargirls have Thai boyfriends – it's all about communication.
Another fan of Vietnam.
The Vietnam War was a defining moment for my generation. I turned 18 shortly after the war ended, so I didn't go, but older brothers of friends did. I was always afraid of how an American would be treated. My fears, like yours, were unfounded. It was best summed up by the owner of a small restaurant in Nha Trang where I stopped and had a bite one afternoon. We chatted a bit and I told him as much. He said not to worry. He said with a laugh that there used to be lots of people there who felt that way (i.e. dislike of Americans and others) but that they were all dead now. The war was a long time ago and nobody cares anymore so have a good time and enjoy the country. I too found the people very friendly and curious about the west and your observations about customer service were spot on. The only time in my life that I wished I could have spoken French was when I was approached in a park by an elderly gent pushing a bicycle. He asked in French if I could speak French. When I said no, he just nodded and moved on. Man, the stories he could have told! I've always said that if it weren't for communism, the Vietnamese would probably rule the world. They're very aggressive and shrewd business people. I found that often items would be priced 3 to 5 times their “normal” value, and one had to bargain hard, very hard, to get anywhere near the correct price. However, once the negotiations were over all was good. No farang keeneow nonsense. It seems business is business. And after the business is finished, we can go back to having fun.
You've never seen it all.
There are times we can get a little jaded and think we've seen everything there is to see in the fleshpots of Bangkok, but I saw a new one this week while having a quiet whisky at the bar right outside Hollywood Rock. A young guy had paid a barfine but upon getting outside he began to have justifiable suspicions about the original gender of his new paramour. He was assured 'she' was a lady, but neither he nor I, from a distance, was convinced. Thinking quickly he demanded to see 'her' passport. Fat chance I thought, but 'she' dashed upstairs somewhere to get it, or more likely that of one of her genuinely female friends. Quite how this played out I'm not sure as I wandered off while the lengthy to-and-fro continued.
The good and the bad.
Having a puncture in a car tyre I took it to a new service outlet in Patong. The female greeter immediately tried to sell me two new tyres, pointing to the tread on the spare which had travelled all of 13 km and the nail in the other tyre (10,000 km). After some considerable discussion she stormed off over the road for noodles. A young guy then removed the nail and plugged the hole, changed the wheels just hand tightening the nuts and disappeared. He re-appeared shortly after, twirling a long handled torque wrench like a baton and checked all wheel nuts on all wheels, tyre pressures and wiped the rims. The total cost was 100 baht ($3.30). This experience encapsulates a lot of what is wrong and can be right about Thailand.
Well-known bar owner and manager, Frenchman Louis of Paris A Gogo in Pattaya fame, passed away last week in France. Louis returned to his homeland a year or so back and had been residing in an old people's home when the Grim Reaper came calling. May he rest in peace.
Dono, who was a partner in Flaming Moes Bar in the Queens Park bar area across the road from Washington Square, jumped from the 7th floor of a building on soi 22 this past Thursday. Game over. Rumour has it that he'd had a run of bad luck with his girlfriend leaving him and money problems.
It needs to be reiterated to the gentlemen of colour in the readership that you guys are being targeted by police on Sukhumvit Road, particularly the strip between the Nana and Asoke intersections. From what I have observed it appears you're asked to show that you're in the country legally i.e. by producing a passport with a valid visa, and the contents of your pockets and wallet may be examined. Just make sure that you have your passport on you and nothing on your person that you shouldn't and all should be fine.
Big Dogs, the open air bar at the entrance to Nana Plaza, is undergoing a makeover. The wooden railings are being plastered over to look like the interior of a cave and artificial plants and vines have been added. To my eyes it just looks plain weird and I don't see that it adds anything. Add a bigger TV or more satellite channels so more sports can be viewed. Add some new drinks options. Offer customers the option of ordering food from one of the nearby eateries. But adding plastic vines? Who's idea was that?!
I've heard, although have not had a chance to verify it myself, that the happy hour at Sheba's and Suzy Wong's has been reinstated, with the happy hour price now 85 baht, up 10 baht from what it was.
Tonight, May 27th, Baby Dolls in Soi 15 off Walking Street will celebrate its 4th anniversary with a party true to the wild reputation of the bar. Doors open at 8 PM and there will be plenty of free food including steak and kidney pie, Shepherd's pie, bangers with fried onions, chile con carne all supplied as usual by Palmers. Trays of free shooters to get you in the mood will be flying around all night and later in the evening there will be the infamous party games with girls and customers competing. Baby Dolls parties are a lot of fun and can get wild. If you're in Pattaya tonight, stick your head in the door. You won't be disappointed!
Toyz, a long-time favourite venue of mine in Pattaya now has over 30 girls, a real happy hour with all drinks including Breezers, Johnnie Walker Black or Jack Daniels at just 75 baht until 9:30 PM, and 300 baht barfines after 2 AM. Check it out.
Since Carousel A Gogo in Soi Diamond abruptly closed a couple of weeks ago, some of the girls have moved to Toyz, which also seems to have adopted some girls from Casanova as well as a couple from Beach Club.
At Iron Club in Pattaya are two pole acrobats from Bangkok asking 10,000 baht for a night of their company – and that is on top of the already steep barfine.
Pattaya's Soi LK Metro really has taken off and the atmosphere reminds me of bar areas 10 years ago. It's a breath of fresh air in Sin City where Walking Street has become just too much of an assault on the senses to say nothing of being way too cosmopolitan. There are a number of bars with good lineups like Sugar Sugar, Champagne and Club Blu. And of course there are plenty of venues where you can be looked after like Devil's Den and Lolita's. Soi LK Metro and the Soi Buakhao area seems to be popular with local residents, particularly the Brits and some refer to it as Little England.
Rumour has it that big name Walking Street gogo bars Iron Club and Airport have acquired two shophouses in Soi LK Metro and plan to develop new bars there. Rumour also has it that Red5, a beer bar with a guesthouse upstairs – as is the format of a number of properties on Soi LK Metro, will also be converted into a gogo bar. A big name and highly successful English-owned gogo bar in one of the side sois off Walking Street was ready to drop 10 million baht into a new gogo bar in Soi LK Metro but pulled out at the last minute due to complaints from guesthouses and budget hotels in the soi which have been making noises about all the noise the gogos are making. I would have thought it would be good for business but no, a number have complained and this caused at least one big investor to pull out of a potential deal.
If it's been a while since you stuck your head in Tim's Bar on Pattaya's Second Road, make a point of having a nosey next time you pass by. There's good music, pretty girls and a great vibe. Keep an eye out for the bird with the Brian May hairdo and the vine style tattoos that run from her shoulders to her ankles. What an incredible body for a 50-year old although don't look at her for too long as you might get her attention, something you really don't want. She is absolutely bonkers!
"Private Dancer" author Steve Leather has released "The Alphabet Game" which is described as an erotic short story. It's available online now at Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk and is so cheap Steve's almost giving it away.
Outdoing Steve is Christopher G. Moore who is allowing FREE downloads of "Waiting For the Lady" from May 29th – 31st to celebrate Aung San Suu Kyi's expected visit to Bangkok on May 30th before she heads to Europe to collect her Nobel Peace Prize.
A noticeable trend in Pattaya – and Sin City most definitely is ahead of the capital on this one – is that of foreigners with head tattoos. Not on their neck. Not on their face. On their head. Guys are shaving their head and getting tattoos on their nut. One guy had shaved his head and his entire head with the exception of his face had been tattooed green. No pictures or words, it was like his entire head had been coloured in. Another had the word "Madness" tattooed on one side of his head and a word I didn't recognise on the other – it was not English. But the worst I saw was the guy who had "Fxxx the pigs" tattooed in large letters across the back of his head. It makes Pattaya seem, at times, like one big prison break.
Down in Pattaya, one bar has done extremely well from an Australian customer who I was initially led to believe was a high-flying successful businessman but who actually seems to be an unhinged, unstable, deluded individual who is totally out of control. Some weeks back I mentioned in this column the largest checkbin I had ever heard of in a bar – 464,000 baht. This was very real and I saw it with my own eyes. The total included 56 rings of the bell i.e. buying everyone in the venue at that time a drink. I should have realised then that few truly successful businessman would throw money around with such wild abandon. That was not a one off and there were other bills well into 6 figures. What I have since learned is that this guy is throwing money around – quite literally – day after day. He walks around Pattaya with a backpack in which he has, get this, a couple of hundred thousand baht in 20-baht notes. When he enters a bar he grabs wads of banknotes from his bag and throws them up in the air for the staff to grab – but the customers grab it too! He has done the same out on the main Walking Street, throwing the equivalent in local currency of up to a thousand DOLLARS in 20-baht notes up in the bar at one time, causing an absolute frenzy. In one bar he threw all this money up in the air but amongst them was a one-baht unit gold ring (value 23,000 baht) wrapped in 3 x 1,000 baht notes. I am surprised throwing money around like this has not caused him problems already as it is considered very disrespectful in Thailand. Said fellow is seeing a lady who he has bought a car for and has bought himself not one, but two superbikes. The first bike cost the best part of a million baht but he complained it wasn't fast enough so he bought another at almost twice that amount. He then preceded to tell people that he had been zooming up and down Sukhumvit Road at 200 km/h. What a total idiot! The generosity extends a long way in one bar he favours where he bought many of the girls both an Iphone 4S and an IPad! Now generosity is a trait to be admired and you might wonder why I am writing about this guy in a negative light. Well, it seems, this early 40s Aussie is not a high-flying businessman at all, but a shelf stacker in a supermarket. Nothing wrong with that and while not the most illustrious position, it's an honest job. So where did the money come from? This is where it gets ugly. He is not shy to tell anyone who cares to listen that he crashed his car and killed his wife and either killed or very seriously injured his child. He has photos of the aftermath of the accident in his mobile phone which he proudly shows strangers, gloating how the accident resulted in a $AUD 2 million insurance payout! That's 60 million baht in real money and he seems to be hell-bent on burning through it as fast as he can. In just 3 months he has already burned through millions and millions of baht. His Thai girlfriend has gold on every part of her body and he is not shy to let the world know he has made it, walking around Sin City in Beach Road-tailored suits, a backpack on his back and a huge gold chain draped over the outside of his clothes. I can't ever remember hearing about someone who wants to be liked so much. The worrying part is that he takes his backpack with him wherever he goes and he has added something to it. A gun. Yep, along with all the cash he carries everywhere with him is a gun. There are aspects of his domestic situation of which he is not yet aware, things he won't be too happy about when he finds out. Given that he has a gun and given that he is a propensity for outrageous behaviour, one fears the worst. I don't think it's unreasonable to think that we're going to read about this guy on one of the Pattaya news websites – and it's not going to be pretty.
Duke's Express in Emporium won't just be moving, it will be transforming. A new super-sized Duke's will open on Sukhumvit soi 31 on August 1st. Some time between now and then the current, smaller Duke's Express will say goodbye to Emporium – but for now it is business as usual. The new venue will feature a full menu including all the current favourites but also giant American pizzas and quality steaks. More details to follow in the column over the next few weeks.
An investment opportunity has become available with a new boutique hotel due to open in downtown Bangkok at the end of June. A 20% share is available for 3 million baht. The minimum investment is 600,000 baht for a 4% share. It's a brand new limited liability Thai company and shares will be in investors' names. They expect a return on investment in 2 years and have expansion plans for Samui, Phuket and Pattaya. Interested parties can email : firstname.lastname@example.org. More details of the Hotel California can be seen here.
Shock, horror, the Ekamai to Pattaya bus trip jumped 10% in price this week from 113 to 124 baht!
The girls in the shot below might be strolling along Beach Road but they are NOT bargirls. They're known in Thailand as "pretties" and can be seen everywhere from bars to restaurants to beer gardens to exhibitions. Often dressed up in sexy wear featuring the logo of the product they're paid to promote, these young, pretty Thai women flirt with male customers to promote drinks and other products. Typically they are paid around 700 baht per day although the supermodel like girls you see at the likes of the Bangkok Motor Show who don't just look good, but have the confidence to engage customers and talk about the product and even make professional presentations can earn a day rate that runs to tens of thousands of baht. These women are NOT prostitutes and while the odd foreigner may convince a pretty to spend time with them.
Quote of the week, "Thailand is like a giant Disneyland, only the food is cheaper and the rides are better."
Reader's story of the week is not about Bangkok, but interesting nonetheless, "One Of Hong Kong's Best Kept Secrets".
An Aussie newspaper claims sex tourism to Thailand is seeing a rise in HIV cases in Australia in a sensationalised article with dud "facts" and claims that don't add up.
The New York Times travel section takes a positive look at Bangkok.
From the Wall Street Journal, there are more Facebook users in Bangkok than any other city on the planet.
Despite human trafficking being targeted worldwide, Thai women are still being sold to work as sex slaves in Denmark.
A collection of old and more recent Bangkok photos ran in this excellent Daily Mail article this week.
The Telegraph reports that the British teenagers who died in a gap year bus crash did so due to driver error.
Thin-skinned Thais got upset when Lady Gaga said she wanted to buy a fake Rolex in Bangkok!
The head English teacher at Regents International school was brutally attacked in Pattaya and is in a coma.
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 am a teacher at a Thai school, officially employed by a university to teach in their demonstration school. But a company is sub-contracted to deal with our contracts / paperwork and liaise with the university on all admin matters. I am about to leave the school but there seems to be a problem with my holiday entitlement. During the floods in October / November 2011, the school was closed. I have now found that the company has taken my holiday leave to cover this period without my consent. They did not inform me and I did not agree that these days could be taken from my leave entitlement. This has put me over my holiday entitlement for the year. Can the school / university legally take these flood days from our holiday entitlement? Also, what can I do about this?
Sunbelt responds: If they had not notified you to take your vacation at that time, you can inform the company that you plan on contesting this issue with the Labour Board. They may choose to back down, but if not file a formal complaint with the Labour Board. They are employee friendly.
Question 2: If I were to retire in Thailand on the basis of a retirement visa and my partner was from another Asian country and younger, what kind of visa could she obtain? Something permanent, or would visa runs become necessary for her?
Sunbelt responds: Your partner can obtain a dependent visa on your retirement visa if she is younger than 50 years old. You will still need 800,000 baht in the bank or 65,000 baht per month for your retirement extension but your wife would be covered as a dependent. Sunbelt Asia legal can assist on this extension of stay which is permanent.
Question 3: What is the cost of a contested divorce in Thailand? My wife is a Thai citizen and has grounds for this type of divorce. I reside in the USA. We have no children or property to divide. I know that the uncontested divorce is fairly simple but I am afraid to be anywhere around her due to her volatile nature. Yes, I will be providing her with the funds to pay for the divorce.
Sunbelt responds: In your case, approximate professional fees for a contested divorce would be in the 20,000 baht range with Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors. We would need a power of attorney to act on your behalf, and while it helps if you know how to get in touch with her, it's not entirely necessary.
I went through a period wondering whether I should stay in Thailand, return home, or move on to somewhere new. I made a few small life changes – cut a few people off, started eating better, exercising more and stopped doing things I didn't like along with a few other tweaks and I found myself happy in Bangkok again. Just as I went through a period of not really being sure if I wanted to be here, I also went off Pattaya for a while. I found it a bit much but down there this week I had a really good time. Again, I changed my routine and found that avoiding Walking Street and spending time in other parts of town worked for me. If you suffer any sort of malaise about Thailand, or are having second thoughts about the place, assuming you once really liked it here, making a few small tweaks might be all that is needed to get the smile back on your face.
Your Bangkok commentator,