With a new bar opening on Soi LK Metro every month and the soi something of a bar construction site, one venue stands out and feels like it has been there forever. It has been pulling in punters for years and has developed quite a following, yet it doesn't have any dancers nor a single chrome pole! There are only a few seats at the bar, drinkers aren't really encouraged and music isn't played, yet it is consistently popular through high season and low. In a city where every nightlife entertainment option can be found, it has a niche all to itself. This week I checked out Devil's Den. Welcome to hell!
Devil's Den was not just based on Bangkok's famous Eden Club, it was the Eden Club in Pattaya…for all of one day. The then Eden Club of Pattaya was founded by popular Frenchman Marc who was behind the original Eden Club's great success. The day after the Pattaya Eden Club opened tragedy struck and a good friend of Marc's who was to manage the establishment was found dead. Marc had put his heart in to Eden Club and the venue would reopen with a new name, Hell Club, the name by which it would be known for 2½ years.
After 2½ years Hell Club was forced to close for 3 months and when it reopened it had again been rebranded, this time as Devil's Den, the name by which, 4 years on, it is still known today.
For the first 6 months of its life half a dozen girls from Bangkok's Eden Club worked in the venue while the proprietor built it up. With guaranteed service standards and a requirement that all ladies are bisexual, Devil's Den is not the sort of place anyone walking in off the street can be hired.
Outside the entrance are tables and chairs which form the girls' makeshift office. It's where the girls relax, where they chat and where they share stories of their lives in the bar, and their lives out of it.
Just like the bars of soi 6, girls sit around outside but that is where the comparisons end. Unlike soi 6, the Devil's Den girls don't call out to passersby. They don't need to. The punters keep coming back. The venue has developed an almost cult-like following, much like Eden Club when Marc was in charge.
If you ever wonder why it's taking so long to download the latest episode of Breaking Bad, blame the girls at Devil's Den who must be using half of Thailand's international bandwidth. Laptops, tablets and mobile phones are strewn around, each girl using at least 2 Internet-connected devices. They are all over Facebook, just like their sisters working in office jobs, wiling away time between customers online.
Over the years Devil's Den has seen Soi LK Metro develop from something of a backwater far away from the action to the lane some expats say has the best nightlife entertainment in Pattaya. Soi LK Metro may not have the crowds and the stampedes of Walking Street, but then many feel it's the huge numbers that changed Pattaya's ground zero for the worse.
An oldie in a wheelchair has the girls diving in to their purses and all donate to one less well off than them.
With hours spent waiting for customers to walk through the door or bookings to come through, surfing the net can get old and some girls revert to playing games…or many Thais' favourite method of passing the time, eating!
Kayla loves to pose and whenever she sees a camera she cannot help but jump in front of it. With her love of the camera and her willingness to smile, the girl should be a model!
The Devil's Den girls are available for outcall and are sent out to condos or hotels by motorbike, wearing a black coat with the Devil's Den logo emblazoned across the back. I just hope the black coat alone is enough to keep them warm…
The girls' safety and well-being is taken seriously by the proprietor and that includes all travel between base and a customer's room. He insists that girls going to or returning from outcalls must wear a helmet. He wishes they would wear a
helmet every time they get on a bike but they won't listen.
Night has fallen and the girls are still perched outside, some engrossed in their electronic devices, another getting a pedicure.
The girls aren't like taxis and when one customer gets out another can't leap straight in. After taking care of a customer they go to the relaxation room and take a break, and often grab something to eat. They return downstairs and become available again when they are ready.
A buzzer sounds and the girls leap to their feet. Flip flops are kicked off and heels quickly put on as all available girls dart inside for the line-up.
Inside, the single shophouse that is The Devil's Den is clean and tidy, if rather basic. Drinks can be ordered but it's is not really a place for drinking.
The line-up takes place when a customer is ready to make a selection. The available girls form a line-up either side of a yellow line which distinguishes which girls are up for what.
The interior of the bar goes quiet and every set of eyes focuses on the guy whose turn it is to choose. The girls are smiling, but silent. Some have a twinkle in their eyes, hoping to be chosen. There must be times when the odd girl looks at the odd guy and thinks, please don't choose me!
Devil's Den is the only establishment I know that enforces rigorous testing of its staff for STDs. An ambulance comes to the venue on the 1st of every month with two nurses and an administrator. Right there in the venue blood is drawn by nurses and taken to the hospital for testing. Twice a month, every month, the girls go to the hospital for a swab test, an invasive procedure which requires a doctor to complete and as such cannot be completed by nurses on site. The results of all of the tests are displayed on the establishment's website, the original copies made available for inspection at the venue.
Many bars tell customers that their girls are tested (and as such insinuate that they are clean), giving customers a false confidence. This is based on a flawed system where girls merely have to provide the bar with a health certificate every month. As any expat who has a driver's licence or work permit knows, there are clinics which will issue a health certificate in less than 60 seconds for no more than 50 baht without doing anything more than casting their eyes on you and asking your name. Those bars which state or even merely insinuate that their girls are clean are every bit as guilty as punters who commit the ultimate disrespect to the girls and party without a party hat.
Just like back at school when we dreaded being called out of class to go to the dental clinic, the girls dread that day of the month when the nurses visit. They sit next to each other, squeezing each other's hands and relying on each other for support with the most terrified look when their name is called. There's little the girls like less than having blood drawn and for many it's the part of working at Devil's Den they dislike.
The secret to Devil's Den's success is that unlike almost all other nightlife establishments, there are clear service standards. The prices are the same for everyone and not up for negotiation. That means no ambiguity and no (unwelcome) surprises. There won't be a mysterious phone call received by the girl you're with 15 minutes after you arrived in your hotel room supposedly from her roommate who has lost her room key and can't get in to their shared room.
In-house customers must choose a minimum of two girls. The standard service runs 90 minutes and will set you back 3,600 baht, an all-in fee which covers everything, including all prophylactics – the use of which is strictly compulsory – as well as lubes and mouthwash. If you have a fantasy checklist and 90 minutes isn't enough, you can have a 2-hour session for an extra 800 baht.
The girls are available for outcall at rates less than half of what most escort agencies charge, and with outcalls there is no requirement to take two.
Devil's Den opens at 1 PM sharp and closes at midnight. Girls who have an overnight booking disappear at 9:30 PM.
I arrive at 12:50 PM and find 4 customers keenly waiting for the first line-up of the day. Two are there to make a booking for later in the day, the other two are primed and ready to go. It's a case of first in, first served and there's no queue jumping.
I've always thought establishments offering the best experience are not necessarily those with the prettiest girls, but where the staff are genuinely happy. The best roll in the hay isn't necessarily that with the best view.
The sun had dropped below the horizon and the soi was ablaze in neon. Gogo dancers from Crystal Club, Bachelor, Sugar Sugar and other chrome pole palaces ambled through the soi, another night ahead of them. Some of the Devil's Den girls had already done a couple of rounds. They'd been at the office since lunch time, yet the smiles remained easy, the laughter frequent. There was a feeling of perhaps not joy, but of contentedness. There was none of the desperation I thought I'd find in a venue where more than one customer a day is the norm. But then is that any different to the gogo bars these days?
Red and black may be the colours of hell, but many attest that the steps at the end of the passageway are the stairway to heaven.
Devil's Den has a small niche all to itself and its service standards have seen it develop quite a following. In what at times is a dirty industry, Devil's Den is a clean and honest business with friendly girls and service standards that few bars can compete with.
If this is hell, how good must heaven be?!
Where was this photo taken?
(yes, prizes make a return!)
Last week's photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 23, up beyond Clubhouse looking back down towards the main Sukhumvit Road. The first person to get this week's photo correct wins a 500 baht voucher to use at Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4. Special thanks to Boss Hogg who stepped up and offered Bully's 500 baht vouchers as prizes for the next 20 weeks!
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!
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– Have the gogos had their day?
The problem with bars struggling for customers is that you sense desperation among the staff. In one new bar a waitress kept approaching me to say that a certain dancer liked me and wanted to join me. I looked up at the dance floor to see what could only be described as a middle-aged woman with a beer gut and crooked teeth. Check bin, khap. I really do wonder if the gogos have had their day and may suffer a slow decline before extinction. The Arab is doing his best to kill Cowboy with his model of high prices, bill padding and coyotes. Many Nana bars are full of nanas. It's a pretty bleak scenario.
Expat's wife doesn't see a bargirl threat.
It's about time someone blew the whistle on this ugger bullshit. My wife just laughs at what's on offer, so much that she is perfectly content NOT to squawk when I go out. Not only are these heifers fat and unappealing, they are stoopid and utterly hypnotised by village auntie tales of glory back in the day.
State of the industry.
I must admit I rarely go to the gogos these days: the cacophony of sh*t music, the overpriced, watered-down or substitute drinks and the munters of which you speak make it a less than pleasurable experience. Quite dull is how I would describe it. I am taking a group to golf in Pattaya next month and apart from hanging around our local, TQ2, as usual, I doubt we'll make many forays to Walking Street; probably Soi Buakhao and LK Metro will get some business. I still look forward to Thailand, you can meet plenty of pretty girls in the beer bars and smaller places, I just don't bother with the gogos anymore. They've lost whatever it is they used to have, bar a few where you get the odd shower show, etc. Bars died on me years ago when they kept foisting girls on you whether you wanted them or not. I think the gogos offer excitement for the newbie, but old hands soon tire of them. Having said that, I did have a few cracking nights in Billboard with a nice group of girls spoiling me rotten but who can't get that when they splash a few quid?
The bars 30 years ago.
I first visited Bangkok gogo bars in 1981 and what an experience for a young lad that was. Mehkong & Coke was 8 baht, and there was a huge roar of disapproval when that rose to 12 baht – a staggering 50% increase! Bargirls were not barfined; we waited until they finished their shift at midnight and then usually gave them 300 baht / day. They would stay the day, acting as tour guides, taking care of laundry, making sure we remembered to eat, the full girlfriend experience, before heading back to 'work' around 5 PM. And, even to an in-experienced 21-year old, they were all smoking little hotties!
Economic improvement = more options.
Your Woof Woof essay is on the money IMO. Quality of appearance in gogo bars has deteriorated drastically since my first visit in 2002. I chalk it up to the fact that Thailand has improved economically in comparison to the West and there are consequently more opportunities for ladies outside the industry. Only the bottom of the barrel-types decide to sell their bodies. I predict a continuation of this. Along with that, the inflation rate for barfines and girls' fees continues to go through the roof. Nowadays, if I ever wanted to "misbehave" at all, I'd get the hell out of Thailand altogether and head for Phnom Penh, as judging from my last visit about 8 months ago, even Pattaya is just not what it used to be. I was actually looking to pay a barfine in a beer bar, but after scanning hundreds of women (and even with a few beers in me), I could not find a single one that met my physical qualifications.
Pattaya still an option.
I hate to think how much money I have spent in Thai gogo bars over the last 16 years – I have been a huge fan. I find myself agreeing with your latest headline article. Sadly, over the years, the attitude has gone downhill even faster than the prices have gone up! And as you say, many bars are now almost full of fat 'dogs'. I would however slightly disagree with you about the overall numbers of slim pretty girls entering the industry. This may well be true in Bangkok but I think in the case of Pattaya there are still probably the same number of genuinely attractive girls, but due to the huge increase in the number of gogo bars in Fun City they are spread far more thinly or concentrated in a few top bars with bar owners having to fill the numbers out with much mediocrity and some genuine horrors.
Mainstream visitors are the solution.
Maybe the increasing numbers of mainstream tourists is the solution. Let Soi Cowboy / Nana be more upmarket and produce real shows. Raise prices – it's still cheap in an international perspective. Better-looking girls will consider the job if they resemble and are looked upon as showgirls are in Las Vegas with higher status. And they can still occasionally go with customers if they want to, but at a higher cost for the guy. Men who want easy sex at a low cost can always hit the massage parlours.
The effect of changes in demographics.
Another reason for the decline in gogo girls is the demographic changes in Thailand. There are fewer young women in Thailand today than there were 10 and 20 years ago. The gogo girls in the late 1990's were likely born in the late 60's to late 70's. From 1965 to 1975, 2,041,000 Thais were born. The girls in the gogos in the late 2000's were born 2 decades earlier. From 1975 to 1985, 1,860,000 Thais were born. There was about a 10% drop in the number of women born. From 1985 to 1995 the number of births dropped to fewer than 1.6 million. The pickings will be even poorer in 2019!
Mamasan mars the moment.
Lately I have been going to Crazy House quite often, not a bad line-up of girls given the current drop in quality discussed in your column. Last night I was sitting with a girl, having a quiet drink, enjoying myself and glad that the girl was not hassling me for tequila. The mamasan comes over – the big one with a bad perm and a face like a dragon – and asks if I want to pay bar. She has done this to me before, and like before, I just ignore her. Ten minutes later she comes and asks again. I soon realise that a guy on the next table wants to take the girl sitting with me. So the mamasan is forcing me to choose – either I pay bar now or the girl gets passed on to the other guy. It's bad enough trying to find a reasonable place to have a drink these days, but when mamasans treat you like this it makes you wonder if it's worth going out at all.
Girl of the week
Kayla, Devil's Den, Soi LK Metro, Pattaya.
Kayla is described on the Devil's Den website as a nasty little vixen!
The changing demographic in Pattaya has seen a massive increase in Indians, and they are buying! It's not long ago that Indian visitors to Pattaya were scorned, with word that Sin City was attracting hordes of low-budget Indians unwilling to part with their hard-earned and who would bargain hard to the very last baht. The change is in the increase in Indians of means. Indian doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers – those with a good job and the money that comes with it are flocking to Pattaya en masse. They're hitting the bars and have also developed a fondness for massage houses where massage isn't the only thing on the menu. PP Massage, one of the many massage houses on Soi Honey, attracts many Indians. PP Massage 2 is also a hit with the Indians. The boss of one Pattaya venue long been popular with Westerners told me that 30% of his customers are now Indian.
On a flying visit to Sin City this week I stuck my head in just 3 gogo bars, and have to say that the issue of older, fatter and generally unattractive dancers is not the issue in Pattaya that it is in Bangkok. In Spanky's on Soi Diamond the selection was tremendous and the venue which hadn't been able to replicate the success of the Bangkok branch has really turned around. Showgirls on Soi LK Metro also featured a lovely line-up of ladies, as good as almost any bar in Bangkok. And Sugar Sugar had plenty of lovely ladies who not only looked great, but were smiling and making eye contact with customers, something you don't get much of in Bangkok (unless you're young and Japanese or Korean!).
How much of the turnaround at Spanky's in Pattaya can be put down to Captain Hornbag, the new manager who was enticed to join the Spanky's team from Club Electric Blue in a deal that is to Thailand's gogo bar industry what the Gareth Bale deal was to European football. Captain Hornbag proved himself in Bangkok where he built up Club Electric Blue to the point where it's regarded as one of the best bars of its type in Bangkok. Now Captain Hornbag is delivering the goods at Spanky's. (Photos and a mini report from Spanky's can be found in the new Stickman reviews section.)
Crazy House on Sukhumvit soi 23 has developed a reputation as a venue with fun ladies where almost anything goes. It really has managed to recapture the atmosphere of the bars of old. If you like a gogo bar which is that little bit spicier, Crazy House might be for you.
Last week's column included an email from a reader who misses real ales. From Brian, landlord of Crossbar, the popular British pub on Sukhumvit soi 23 and himself a fan of real ales comes the word about real ales in Thailand. The reason that there is no real ale in Thailand is that it's not possible to get it to Thailand from the northern hemisphere in time. Real ale has a 3-week shelf life – and only about 3 days after it has been tapped. All the draught beers in Thailand are keg – so they have to be gassy. Cans with widgets in them are, according to Brian, not real ales. The widget is put in the can to give it a gassy effect. Real ale cans like Marston's Pedigree which used to be available over here never have widgets in them. The English and Irish draught kegs have a very short shelf-life in Thailand and if it isn't sold in 4 days it should be thrown out….which begs the questions of just many bar owners would do that in these difficult times! Brian says there are a number of English ales available in bottles which are not fizzy, and are consistent in taste and texture. Anyone who wants to know more about real ales, or just enjoy conversation with a real British publican, should wander up soi 23, past Soi Cowboy, past Clubhouse and check out Crossbar.
While many gogo bars in Bangkok are going through a rough patch with less attractive ladies, it's business as usual at Soi Thaniya, the Japanese soi a stone's throw from Patpong. Early evening it is packed and outside the bars there are pretty ladies everywhere.
Will the negative press generated from reports in the mainstream press where Rihanna was scathing of the ping pong ball shows she had the misfortune to see in Phuket last week have any effect on these lurid shows? They really are quite horrid and not something highlighted in this column. I won't even provide instructions on where to find them, not that that is needed although finding places where you won't be ripped off is quite another story. If you haven't seen them, you haven't missed anything. They're awful and dreadfully degrading to the women involved. Prostitution is one thing, but those shows are quite another.
Ever wondered what a bar in Pattaya's infamous soi 6 is worth? A soi 6 establishment was offered for sale on Craigslist this week at what seems rather a lot, but when you consider that it comes with several rooms, maybe it's not such a bad deal.
Is Kassikornbank targeting the foreign nightlife areas as part of a growth strategy? An exchange booth opened a couple of weeks ago in Soi Cowboy and now a Kassikornbank ATM has been installed in the Nana Hotel car park, an area notorious for freelancing hookers.
When Khun Shady said he had been stopped by two coppers in Sukhumvit soi 6, I groaned. Soi 6 is a different police district from Asoke, where coppers stop and search Westerners and it sounded like the profiling of Westerners by police had transcended police district. The 2 coppers pointed at Shady's pocket and he thought he was due for another search; it was not the first time he has been stopped by police. But they didn't want to search him at all, rather explain that he shouldn't walk while using his fancy smartphone on a quiet and dark soi. It would be, they suggested, much safer to keep said phone out of sight and in his pocket until he makes it to the brighter main road!
Photograph supplied by Firehouse.
Firehouse at the top of Sukhumvit soi 11 does some of the best burgers in Bangkok and they have introduced some interesting new items on the menu. First is the Go Sloppy which features a Beef Sloppy Joe mix and is topped with shredded cheddar cheese and a beer-battered onion ring. Then there is Meatball Mayhem, a homemade meatball sandwich made with a savoury combination of ground beef & pork and spices and topped with their signature tomato sauce and cheese. The last item, PickleO's, is a curiosity and described as their original and soon-to-be famous beer-battered fried pickles, served with a side of ranch. If you crave a good burger, Firehouse is great.
Be careful when dealing with locals who make promises of future actions and consider carefully whether you should do a deal predicated on future things that have been promised. Promises regarding future actions often never happen. If someone promises to do something, get them to do it now before you sign on the dotted line.
Chefs in many Italian restaurants in Bangkok really piss me off with the piddly little portions of pasta they serve. You can easily pay up to 400 baht in not particularly flash surroundings and receive a pasta dish that will be gone in a few mouthfuls. I love good Italian but these small portions are an insult. Funnily enough, on the odd occasion you find a cucina with an Italian in the kitchen the portion size is decent.
I'm guilty of sometimes wolfing my food down fast. But there is one dish that I am particularly careful with – put puk boong fai daeng, or morning glory in English. There's something about the stringy vegetable where it can become stuck in your throat if you don't chew it really thoroughly which is unpleasant at best, potentially fatal at worst. I mentioned this to a friend and he said he'd found the same and has since stopped eating it for fear of choking on it, a shame because it's really, really good for you. We can't be the only ones.
Quote of the week comes from Lecherous Lee, "The real joy of being in Pattaya is enjoying the freak show!"
An incentive programme for first-time car buyers in Thailand has backfired with more than 100,000 indebted consumers defaulting!
Rihanna's Phuket visit is featured by CNN with scathing comments of the state of tourism in Phuket.
A Ukrainian man is kidnapped in Pattaya and a 1 million baht ransom is asked for his release.
An American drug kingpin and other Americans accused of being part of a drug gang are arrested in a major operation in Phuket.
400 taxis in Phuket will soon have meters (although one wonders if the drivers will actually agree to use it!)
End excessive tourist commissions in Phuket before it's too late, says a local businessman.
A search is taking place on Phuket for a missing Australian sportsman.
The Bangkok Post takes a closer look at street-walking sex workers in the city.
Ask Sunbelt Asia 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've been told that I must specify which Thai wat is to be used for cremation upon my death. However, as I often travel throughout Thailand and other South-East Asia countries, I may die in a location in Thailand, or possibly in another country distant from the specified Thai wat. As transporting a body can be unnecessarily expensive, can a Thai will specify cremation is to occur at the wat which is closest to the site of my demise, regardless of whether it occurs in Thailand or another country?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The police would be informed of your death initially, either by the hospital or the people at the location where you pass. They are required to investigate the cause of death and perform an autopsy. The police will inform the embassy as well as your contact person (usually contact numbers on you – it's always good to have an "in case of emergency card" on you. That person will then notify the embassy and the family. Should your family wish to have the body sent home then they would be liable for the costs.
The executor of your will is the only person that would have jurisdiction over the handling of your body and he or she would proceed according to the requirements set out in your will. If you have specific requirements for how you wish your funeral to proceed you would need to detail these in your will such as where you prefer your cremation to be held.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drafting wills for people living in Thailand. Please feel free to get in touch with us if you would like more information on wills in Thailand.
Question 2: I have a platonic lady friend in Chaiyaphum who has a small child (less than a year old and not biologically my child). I send her a few dollars occasionally just to help her out because she truly is a sweetheart. My question to Sunbelt is about the Thai healthcare system. Would it be beneficial for her to have health insurance and for her child, or does Thailand have a healthcare system for the low-income or unemployed? I would not want her or her child to be ill someday and require a large sum of money for good medical care.
The government offers a health care scheme for the unemployed and the retired. They must enrol in the program and will receive either free health care or care at a nominal price at designated hospitals.
Those who wish to receive premium health care often prefer to go to private hospitals. If that is the case then they are responsible for the expenses as these hospitals are not covered by the government's universal health care program. Those who wish to go to private hospitals should purchase private health insurance and costs vary depending to the type of package purchased. The higher the coverage, the more expensive the cost.
The opening piece of last week's column about the nosedive in the general attractiveness of ladies working in Bangkok's foreigner nightlife entertainment areas generated a massive response with emails flooding in for days. Almost everyone was in agreement that things have deteriorated markedly. The article was specifically about Bangkok. After a flying visit to Sin City this week, I have to say that if you enjoy partying in gogo bars then Pattaya might be a better option, at least at this point in time. Attitudes are better and dancers actually make eye contact and flirt. And in the 3 bars I checked out – Showgirls, Sugar Sugar and Spanky's – I didn't see a single fatty. What a shame it was such a flying visit – I wish I'd had another night in town!
Your Bangkok commentator,