Nana Plaza is home to some of Bangkok's best gogo bars. Ask anyone who knows the industry to name the best bar in Nana and odds are you'll get one of 3 answers – Angelwitch, Rainbow 4 or Billboard. Each bar has its own flavour and each offers something a little different. Angelwitch is a show bar featuring a variety of choreographed shows, some with all manner of props including one show performed with a live python. Rainbow 4 has more girls than any other bar in the plaza, and probably more real beauties. And Billboard has not just a dance floor, but a Jacuzzi with theatrics where an empty seat is as easy to find as snow in Bangkok.
Wouldn't it be nice if you could find the best features of these 3 bars in a single Nana Plaza venue? That's not possible, right? Think again.
Spanky's sits next door to Angelwitch and also features shows, although they are lighter, less polished and sometimes a little zany – like the beach ball show where the girls throw a giant beach ball around the bar. The venue has its share of pretties, not as many as Rainbow 4 mind you, but where does? And finally, it mightn't have a Jacuzzi to compete with Billboard, but it has the next best thing, a shower cubicle!
I spent a couple of hours in Spanky's recently where I was given unrestricted access to capture what goes on in a bar before the show gets under way.
Early evening in Nana Plaza and girls make offerings at the spirit houses. I was always under the impression that in Buddhism you never ask for or even expect anything specific in return, but these girls most definitely wish for something. A hansum man perhaps?
Inside Spanky's the bar looks like a giant dressing room as the girls gear up for the night ahead. Just like elite athletes preparing for a big match, each has their own pre-show routine. Some sit alone, quiet, in their own world with a vacant look, their mind a world away. Some sit in their social cliques and natter with friends. Others play on their mobile, the most basic video games bringing them much delight.
There might be more than 50 dancers on the bar's books, but never does the full complement come to work on any given night. For girls who can be so shy in a room, it's a surprise to see many sitting around topless, oblivious to what's going on around them with DJs and security from others bars popping in and out, and the odd foreigner sticking their head in the door to see if the party has kicked off. Some sit topless for 10, 15 even 20 minutes, without the slightest concern.
As a photographer, topless girls are a problem. You don't want to be snapping anyone without a top on. Such shots are good for nothing more than one's personal collection. But when the lens points in the direction of topless girls it generates about the same degree of concern as a light flickering overhead.
Space is at a premium as the girls get ready, and there aren't nearly enough mirrors in the bathroom, forcing some to be resourceful. The application of war paint is serious business and some take an inordinate amount of time prettying themselves up although most seem to overdo it. When it comes to makeup, less is more seems lost on these girls. Professional makeup artists set up early evening around the plaza, operating on the balcony of the top floor and dolly up those willing to hand over 100 baht.
Almost ready, girls might sneak out for a quick bite. Throughout the night different vendors come and go, most specialise in the girls' favourite treats. Some frontload with a few shots of hard stuff, especially those who struggle to get their head around what follows later in the evening.
The only thing that reveals more about a Thai lady than her Facebook account is her mobile phone – and many ladies of the night haven't graduated to Facebook. Yet. So important is their phone that most gogo girls dance with it stuffed in their boots. Some jam it in their bra which can result in novel scenes as I reported from Tilac a month or so back when #95's phone which was stored in her bra started ringing.
The DJ waltzes in having filled his belly. Gogo bar DJs are a unique breed, causing headaches for bar owners and managers by refusing to follow the instructions of those who pay their salary. The moment the boss is out of earshot, they play what they want to hear, not what the boss ordered. Many have affairs with the girls and some go through a number of the girls, often taking new girls under their wing and directing them in the industry for favours. They know better than most what is going on in the bar. Build a rapport with them, buy them a couple of drinks down and they'll tell you everything, awfully useful if you're sticking your nose into someone else's business.
Curious about the camera, some girls pose, keen to see how they look. They took photos themselves in a similar pose and become curious why images shot with their mobile phone don't look as good as those taken with a camera. No amount of explanation will get the point across that it's not all about megapixels.
A girl pokes her head through the curtains, checking out what's going on outside. I hear clucking like a chicken but cannot make out what it is so I go to investigate.
Outside the bar near the railing a couple of girls have grabbed a quick snack before they get down to the serious business of entertaining. They return to the bar with….deep-fried insects!
The makeup has been applied, every strand of hair is in place and the bikinis are on. The girls are starting to get restless and it's almost time to get the show under way when one girls sees a certain someone walk in the door, says something aloud causing all the girls look to across and groan in unison!
The choreographer has decided to pay an impromptu visit! Plenty of bars just tell new girls to buy a bikini and a set of boots and they're ready to get up on stage and dance. Not the better bars. The likes of Angelwitch and Spanky's employ a choreographer, often at considerable expense, whose job is it so train the girls to dance and to perform special shows. Here the sexy choreographer (who definitely is NOT available) announces that she is going to check out the girls' moves before the bar opens. Each girl has to get up on stage and do a shuffle and she will be appraised.
The girls get up on stage, 1, 2 or 3 at a time and strut their stuff. "Swing your hips!" "Put some passion into it!" "Smile, girl, smile, this isn't an undertaker's office!" She's a joker. The rest of the girls are sitting, watching their colleagues from one side of the bar, laughing nervously, knowing that shortly they too will be scrutinised and get the same treatment. After a while they start to get into it and yell out their own ideas, except they have more to do with how to be more sexy than dancing. "Thrust your pelvis" and "Shake your tits", that sort of thing!
Incidentally, in the background and slightly out of focus is a smiley face with some Thai words below it which translates literally as "for money". A more accurate translation would be "We do it for the money". This reinforces what I have always said – by all means enjoy it for what it is, just don't try to make it something that it isn't.
The choreographer's impromptu work is done and as she quietly slips out the door, the DJ dims the lights and a feeling of anticipation fills the bar. An announcement over the microphone sees the girls madly dart for the stage with an urgency rarely seen.
Many gogo bars start the night with a signature song, and the best bars do so with every girl on stage. Spanky's is one such bar. The DJ cranks the volume to the max, the thud from the JBLs causing everything to vibrate as the distinctive guitar solo at the start of America's "You Can Do Magic" fills the air.
The venue's signature song signals the start of a new night, another day at the office, another night in an industry where almost anything can happen. Dancing side by side, all in this together, the girls beam thousand watt smiles and enjoy a unique camaraderie that only comes from working with people of the same sex, of the same age and from the same background.
I'm the odd one out in the bar and feel alone, almost like I'm the only guy in a huge sports stadium. I'm invisible.
Up on stage, all together as a group, it's about support, being there for one another. I watch the girls dance with freedom, almost a reckless abandon as they shake any nerves from their system. I can't help but feel admiration for them, their beaming smiles showing hope and joy, defying the personal turmoil they face doing a job that no-one ever dreams of doing.
The words of the song aren't lost on the girls. You can do magic, you can have anything that you desire….
For a few minutes it's like the '90s all over again, sitting in a Nana Plaza gogo bar jammed with smiling, pretty girls. The girls are beaming with a glow that will only last until the final prophetic words of the song… You're the one who can put out the fire….
*Where* was this photo taken?
Last week's photo showed one side of Siam Paragon and the exit from the large car park. All you have to do is tell me where the photo was taken. There are two prizes this week, a voucher for Sunrise Tacos and a voucher for Firehouse in Sukhumvit soi 11, known for its excellent hamburgers.
Terms and conditions: The 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! You MUST specify which prize you would like and failure to do so will result in the prize going to the next person to get the photo correct.
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 – Bargirls vs. regular girls, the looks department.
You have recently mentioned how girls in the bar areas have become fatter, more tattooed and generally less attractive. But you have not mentioned what I believe to be the case, that their counterparts in the rest of Bangkok are going the other way and becoming more attractive. For a start, I am convinced that Thai women are becoming taller over the years. This is probably to do with better childhood diet. They are more health-conscious generally and keep in shape more than they used to. Of course there is also the simple fact of being wealthier and able to spend more on beauty products and in some cases, cosmetic enhancements! Another factor is mainstream fashions have become sexier, with plenty of leg on view being the norm, although the middle-class girls still manage to avoid looking like bargirls by their elegance even though just as much flesh is often on display. Tattoos are non-existent. So where does one need to go to observe well-off middle class Thai ladies in order to confirm my theories? Siam Square or MBK? No, too full of schoolgirls. Emporium? Hi-so fakery. No, the best place is definitely Central Plaza, Lad Prao. Just go to the Pahonyothin MRT late afternoon and in Central Plaza sit in Mezzo or any of the other coffee places in the middle of the upstairs floor and your eyes will pop out! There are hundreds of stunners lurking! I have been visiting this mall over the past 20 years and it just gets better. I suffered withdrawal when it recently closed for a rebuild. Compared to the girls in the naughty areas these might as well be from a different race. If it were somehow possible to capture some of these lovelies on camera the results would look like a model agency catalogue. Now there's a challenge, Stick! My excuse for not being able to attempt this is that I only ever sit in the mall while waiting for my wife to shop. Needless to say I always look forward to such trips!
Bangkok vs. Bali.
I went on holiday for 5 days in Bali and Thailand was left far behind in all respects. The Balinese were polite, friendly, interesting and spoke great English – even car park security guards would smile and say hi. The island is beautiful. All tastes and budgets are catered for. I'd have to say the only area Thailand wins is the attractiveness of its females. One incident stays with me. I was walking down a street late at night. A bunch of young guys were lounging around. One of them was sitting down with his legs stretched out across the pavement. I can't bring myself to step over people now (funny how Thai traditions stick). So I stepped into the road and walked around him. One of his friends punched him and pointed at me. The guy stood up and shouted 'Sorry!' I doubt any of them will even remember the incident. But for me it was a huge difference between young Thai guys and Balinese.
Surprised by the surprise.
I noticed a consistent theme in the emails from readers this week – that being the 'surprise' of getting ripped off after being completely dumb and then being surprised by the results. The person who ventured into a bar full of whores was surprised that a 1,500 baht tab suddenly turned in to 8,000 baht. What surprises me is that he was surprised! When one has low-self esteem and they think people like them for being stupid with money, overtipping, overpaying and trying to buy friends, the results are predictable. You hear grumbling from the naughty boys that everything is more expensive now, however they are the first to argue that they are on vacation and if they were in New York, London or Paris it would cost much more. Eventually the higher expectations become the norm. Bargirls for the most part are not educated, however they are not stupid either and their street smarts really do make up for a lot of what they missed in a formal education.
A misogynist speaks.
To the individual who apparently has distaste for misogyny, I would like first to point out the Oxford English definition as one who hates or has a mistrust of women. What's wrong with that? I'm that way and clearly should have been more so on several occasions, especially with Thais). The female equivalent is a misandrist. Your misogynist hater might like to know the dictionary has 1,200 examples of a misogynist and 1592 uses of the word. A misandrist has 23 examples and 27 uses – a trifle un-balanced. I am proud of the company I keep. Michelangelo being a fellow myso, the Sistine chapel main painting of the descent into hell has no women in it for example. Why? Because he felt they were already there! How can you trust someone who can legally claim marriage status after living in your house for six months? But that's what happens when you let western women make the rules. What's wrong with hating that? That is my mistrust of the species I am proud of. What I hate is women are actually being taught the rules and procedures that form the basis of their duplicity in schools and universities women's studies classes. Who pays for that, not to mention the ministry of women's rights? Does the equivalent exist for men? Misogynists rule! And bar hop on!
Men and women.
Why is it that men who complain about Western women are misogynists, but Western women who complain about men are 'liberated' and 'empowered'? Men who find happiness in the LOS aren't special? Do you realise how many men are roaming the streets alone back in their home country because they don't want to put out the effort and money to romance a behemoth? That some men in later life have the sense of adventure to fly half way around the world, when most never leave their neighbourhood pub, to seek satisfaction is to be recognized if not applauded. Women find happiness through the purchase of shoes and chocolate. Just because they had one chocolate doesn't mean they won't be hungry for a different chocolate a few days later. And they don't have just one pair of shoes in their closet. Men have different priorities and also pay for their choices. The United States guarantees an individual's right to 'the pursuit of happiness.' I like that idea and carry it with me wherever I might be. Life goes on. It's all no big deal.
Does Thailand shorten, or prolong your life?
The question of whether living in Thailand shortens or prolongs one's last years is one I have no answer to. When I visited old cemeteries for foreigners in Macao and Singapore, I was surprised how young their permanent residents were. Many had died in their early 20s. That was of course before the development of antibiotics. Still the locals didn't die so young so it might have to do with the adjustment or non-adjustment of the immune system. Mentally I feel extremely well when on the Thai Golf Coast, much better than in rain-darkened Europe. But my body does not always cooperate so twice I was a guest of Bangkok Pattaya Hospital. I would love to go back to Thailand but I cannot get health insurance, because last year I caused the insurance companies to pay out more than a million baht, something they do not want to repeat.
Popular Canadian bar manager Walter who had been in charge of Big Dogs for years was given his marching orders by Johnny the frog, or is it Johnny the clock? The reason given was that the rent has gone up so much and savings had to be made somewhere and the farang manager – who really didn't earn that much – was the easiest expense to slash.
The darkness at the top of Sukhumvit soi 4 will soon lift with news that the owner of popular beer bar Stumble Inn which closed 2 weeks ago has signed a new deal to open a large beer bar in the same spot as well as the shophouses either side, making it a 3-shophouse venue. Out of view behind the sheets of steel that conceal the site, construction is already underway and it is hoped the doors of the new venue will open in early August.
The 3rd annual Patpong Warrior Party will take place this coming Friday, July 27, starting at Bar Bar and then heading over to Black Pagoda. These events are like no other with lots of free shit, lots of action and the last two were unstoppable fun, and absolutely crazy!
Popular Pattaya gogo bar, Heaven Above, will host a 2012 Olympics opening party on Saturday, 28 July. Watch the opening ceremony and enjoy a BBQ, drinks specials and free door prizes. The angels of Heaven Above might even invite you to join them in the bedroom Olympics. The doors open at 7:30. Heaven Above is located on Soi Diamond, just off Walking Street.
Happy hour prices in Sukhumvit soi 4's Hillary bars increased this past week from 65 baht to 80 baht. And the price of a standard drink outside of happy hour leapt to 140 baht. That's probably about as much as they can expect to charge in a beer bar, especially as the gogo bars within the plaza have resisted the temptation to increase prices. A price increase may have been necessary, but consumers expect fair value – and 140 baht for a drink in an open air bar may be a bit of an ask. For a better deal, the price of a drink is much more competitive in the Golden Beer Bar, and the excellent Bar4, the competing beer bars opposite.
The new Strikers Spots Bar in the Rajah Hotel Complex is unofficially open although renovations will continue after what is a soft opening. The section first to open is as large as the original Nana Plaza location (which is currently a construction site and will soon be Hillary 4) and customers will see the same staff and same Brunswick pool tables along with what the owner is calling fun and interesting improvements. The vision for Strikers when completed is a venue which will be twice the size as the original and more fun with plenty of promotions and events. The effort to complete the roofing on the back half and see the installation of 2 more Brunswick pool tables will continue without disruption to customers and should take 1 – 2 weeks. Expect the official opening party in early August.
The message from Sin City is consistent – this is the worst slow season some owners have seen for years, and one without any clear reason. We can hardly blame the bad economy in Europe, less favourable exchange rates or deteriorating service standards, all of which have been the case for some time now. So why is it that business really does appear to be worse this low season than previous years?
It's no different in Bangers where things have picked up just a little in the bars and restaurants along Sukhumvit. You'd have to say it's still pretty quiet out there.
I went for a run through the small Thai gogo bar area in Saphan Kwai this week with a friend who was keen to check it out. The first bar we swung by was Harlem Music – which should be renamed Tramp Stamps, Body Art or perhaps Ink Is Us. The lineup was far from impressive unless heavily tattooed girls are your thing. (Note to Mad Stockbroker: you'd be in heaven!) While Harlem Music was a letdown, T-Ded 99 directly opposite was much better. With 4 dance floors in a venue which spans a 13-shophouse block – yes, you read that right, T-Ded 99 is THIRTEEN SHOPHOUSES in size (by way of comparison, Tilac is 3 and Angelwitch a measly 2), and is possibly the biggest gogo bar in Bangkok. The girls of T-Ded are for the most part as attractive as you find in the better gogos of Sukhumvit. Prices have crept up since I last visited and a large / 630 ml bottle of Heineken will set you back a still reasonable 150 baht. For naughty boys, full service will set you back 1,800 baht, an all-in price which includes barfine, the use of a room in the hotel opposite, the girl's fee – basically everything and effectively making the venue half the price of similar bars in the farang areas. It is VERY Thai-oriented – and frankly, some of the Thai customers are rough. The Saphan Kwai gogo bars do NOT to tend to attract well-to-do Thai guys and the area is seen as down-market by Thais. There's a good argument for visiting Saphan Kwai over the farang ghetto but with that said, we did not see another foreigner in the bars. The venues are not geared up for outsiders with menus in Thai and while foreigners are welcome, there's no expectation on staff to speak English. It pays to be able to speak Thai, or go with someone who can.
That little strumpet #47 in Tilac really ought to password protect her mobile phone. She has some amazing photos of herself and gives potential customers a quick glimpse in the hope they will relent and pay her barfine.
A customer at the V8 Diner tried to do a runner but was prevented from leaving by other customers who knew that had he got away it would have been the staff who would have to pay the bill out of their own pocket. Punches were thrown, the bill was paid and regular service resumed.
One of the big differences in the bar industry these days is the way that in many bars – in Bangkok at least – the girls make little or no effort to work a guy. Whereas in the past girls would use all their female cunning and tricks to get a guy interested, these days it seems so often a case of sit down, request a Cola and sulk if one is not forthcoming. If this is supposed to be fun, I'd hate to think what an insult was!
A new, high-quality, glossy, printed sex tourist magazine is being sold in Japan for those visiting South-East Asia on naughty boy tours. You may see it being carried around Bangkok by some Japanese visitors. It highlights Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines in a where to go / how to style with very specific instructions. Local bar owners have been keen to advertise in it. The yield from Japanese customers is typically higher than that of white guys – and as one bar owner said to me, Japanese customers don't just spend more, they almost never cause any problems in the bar, which is why they are as sought after as customers by bar owners as they are by the girls.
Shark of Pattaya who I interviewed recently had a very colourful Facebook which he took down and does not have plans to resurrect, at least not yet. He has set up a Twitter account and for those who wish to follow his exploits in Sin City, @timsharky is the address to add.
The only way to really know which is Bangkok's best burger would be to have chefs from select venues prepare and cook their hamburgers and do a blind taste test. That's not likely to happen. I'm not prepared to stick my neck out and proclaim the burger at Oskar in Sukhumvit soi 11 as Bangkok's best, but it is fantastic. It's not cheap at 320+ baht, and it's not as big as the offerings at some venues, but the quality is top notch.
The nationwide TV pay per view provider, True Visions, put in place measures to stop the use of splitting the signal via a single box on Monday this past week and a number of bars showing live sports were affected – and not pleased as they have been forced to upgrade and buy more boxes.
If you need to visit the Pattaya Immigration office, which is actually technically over the hill in Jomtien, note that there will be little or no parking anywhere near the office for a few months. The local authorities are tearing up the road to install a new drainage system so it's going to be organised chaos along Soi 5 for at least 3, and some are fearing as long as 6 months. Pity the bars and restaurants that are going to be doing very little business whilst this work takes place.
Many foreign guys resident in Thailand abhor the idea of having Thai male friends, something I think says more about them than anything, and something I think is an insult to the host country. Even if you do not want Thai male friends, don't you think it could be useful to have a few Thai male acquaintances? I don't mean the security guard or the guy who sells fruit in your soi, but someone from a similar social strata as yourself. At the very least, it would be someone to bounce ideas off and get a local perspective from, something which over the years many foreigners resident in Thailand who have found themselves in difficulty could have done with.
For a good number of years it was the most popular high-end shopping centre in Bangkok, but these days business is grim at Emporium. Foot traffic is way down, retail outlets are quiet and many of the eateries on the top floor are down 30% year on year – which is really bad because I'd suggest some did crap last year too! There's just so much competition with new shopping malls popping up all over the place. Sukhumvit through Ploenchit and Rama 1 feels almost like Singapore's Orchard Road.
Quote of the week comes from Pattaya Gary, "The main reason to be happy one does not speak Thai is the fortunate blessing of not understanding the Thai soap operas the ladies love so much."
Reader's story of the week comes from Korski, "The Black Heart of Foreign Men in Asia".
The Thai police crack a trafficking ring that was sourcing Thai women to go and work in Japan.
Creative fundraising is taking place to get a hospitalised New Zealander under armed guard in Thailand back to Kiwiland.
Top British thriller writer Steve Leather, perhaps best known in Thailand for "Private Dancer", was interviewed this week.
Bloomberg reports than an anti-AIDS pill is out of reach of Bangkok sex workers.
From the BBC, Thailand's Customs Department seizes $700,000 in ivory from Kenya.
Troubled rocker Pete Doherty is thrown out of a rehabilitation centre in northern Thailand.
The UK's Daily Mail penned a scathing report about the use of elephants in Thai tourism.
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: If I have a house registered in my name on land owned by my Thai partner (not wife), and a land lease for life / 30 years from her, what happens legally if she dies before me?
Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: The lease does not end if she dies and your rights are valid until the 30-year term ends or if you die before the lease term expires. You can also do superficies, usufruct or right of habitation to protect you even more, as we hope, you live longer than 30 more years.
Question 2: I am buying a small house with my Thai wife and I understand an usufruct document is better than a 30-year lease to give me some security. I don't know how to go about getting one and two well-known lawyers I have sent emails to never replied. Can you give me some advice on how to go about getting an usufruct on the house and how much it would be. I don't want anything too complicated involving other parties.
Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience registering usufructs on land as well as registering the house in the foreign investor's name. Please feel free to contact us – we answer our emails every hour, up to 18 hours a day. Please check your spam filter if you don't get an email from us. [email protected]
Question 3: I have a friend who has a non-immigrant B visa, a work permit, and works full-time as a teacher for a university. He is considering teaching part-time at a different university. The university offering the part-time job might be implementing a 5-month government program wherein schools are allowed to hire retired, unemployed foreigners to teach half a day per week. My friend is a foreigner, but he is neither retired nor unemployed. If this university is involved in this program, then they might be breaching the conditions of their grant. My friend might be able to "cover himself" if he gets a letter of permission from (1) The university where he teaches full-time, and (2) From the teachers council in Bangkok. Last, apparently, the Immigration Department would be the primary organisation who would get involved in this situation. Are there any legal issues that need to be considered?
Sunbelt Asia Legal responds: In order to get a work permit from the second university, the first university must give permission to allow it. If the second university allows it, then any legal issues would be on them as your friend disclosed he was employed. However, it is important to note that the Labor Department does not issue work permits for those on retirement visas.
Over the past few weeks I've commented on how quiet it is out there and how some bars are really hurting. No-one likes to see incomes drop, but there has been one noticeable and very positive side effect from this – there's been a definite and very noticeable improvement in the attitudes of girls around the traps. The improvement which I put down to the current lull in business has made it rather more enjoyable than usual. Instead of scurrying around as I make my rounds, I have found myself lingering and rather enjoying myself. If you're like me and tend to seek your fun elsewhere, you might just be surprised. And if you're coming to town any time soon, you're going to be in for a great time!
Your Bangkok commentator,