What happened to the days when every Bangkok gogo bar was full of slim girls in their early 20s with long jet-black hair, sweet smiles and a friendliness towards every customer that made them feel like a movie star? Why are some Bangkok gogo bars full of women who are so much less attractive than the everyday Thai women you see out and about? In Bangkok gogo bars today you see dancers who appear to live on a diet of fast food, dancers who were around when the Beatles were top of the pops, and dancers who can only have been employed by a blind man. And then there are some who hit the trifecta and are just plain old, fat and ugly.
Recently I was given a tour of a brand new gogo bar by a bar manager. He was proud of the bar's design, the quality of the build, the comfortable seating and the size of the bar. He went on about how much money had been put in to it and how the brand name would guarantee its popularity. Everything he said was true, but there was a problem. A big problem. Every dancer in the bar was a dog.
The drums of discontent at the state of Bangkok gogo girls have been beating for a while and the girl of the week feature has backfired. Polite readers have asked me what criteria I use to choose the girl; others have been rather more direct:
The hottest bird's a bloke.
Just read your column and the one thing that sticks out to me is that there was not one girl in your bar feature that I would call attractive. Downright ugly I would say. Do bar owners really think mingers will draw a crowd? I walked down Sukhumvit soi 4 last weekend and the nicest looking woman I saw was a man! Too many fat guts (on the women) to really attract anyone. You should change your girl of the week to ugly pig of the week or nominate a bar for its ugly to cute girl ratio.
Thick makeup isn't enough.
Is it just me or are most of the girls in bars and gogos rather average and below these days? Most of them do not look good even with two foot deep make-up. Perhaps it is just a grumpy old man talking or maybe I am too choosy!
A bunch of mingers!
I am totally perplexed about the number of farang that are infatuated with Thai girls. And I think your website has confirmed my state of confusion. I have to be honest and say that I have not seen a photo of one girl in any of your weekly columns who I react to with the thought, "Oh yeah, she is smokin' hot". In fact, I struggle to identify one who is not a minger.
How have things changed so dramatically? How have we gone from every bar being full of slim, attractive dancers to the riffraff we see on stage today?
Things didn't change overnight. The decline has been slow and steady until this year things have taken a nosedive. Many bars, even some big name bars, are full of women who should be paid to keep their clothes on, prohibited from taking them off.
Much of the change can be explained by improved economic conditions. Where once it was difficult for women in rural Thailand to get a job – any job, when she did secure employment it often paid miserably. Today there is work for anyone who wants it and with a 9,000 baht minimum monthly salary nationwide, it's a liveable wage. It's not that long ago that girls turned to the bar industry because it was the only (semi-) legal thing they could do to make enough money to support their family. Of course dancing in a bar will always pay more than work in a factory or other non-skilled labour, but the fact remains that most girls don't want to enter the bar industry in the first place, they really don't.
Next there's the Internet and the many Thailand-centric dating sites – some with millions of members – where Thai women can meet a guy. But even the huge dating sites cannot compete with the big one. Facebook. Thais are addicted to Facebook. And for bored young females in rural areas with little else to do, they spend every hour of the day online. What often happens is that a handsome guy around their age in Germany or Australia or Norway or wherever contacts them. They correspond for a while, they meet, and soon they're planning a life together. That's a girl who may have entered the bar industry who now doesn't have to.
The idea that settling down with a bargirl is fraught with problems has never really sunk in with many Western men, and when a genuinely hot-looking or merely sweet girl enters the industry, she is often taken away by a customer who sets her up as his mistress, or maybe even marries her. Her time on the game is over. The best girls often don't last a month.
Bar bosses have to fill the bar with girls. No girls in a gogo bar is the only thing worse than a gogo bar full of ugly girls. And so bar owners have had to lower their standards and take whoever they can get. Some will take on almost anyone who walks in the door. It used to be that so long as a girl was in shape, she was hired. Today owners and managers are so desperate that they take on fat girls, ugly girls, old girls, underage girls and non-Thais. Things got so out of hand with underage girls and non-Thai nationals that recent crackdowns have rightly put an end to that.
One laments that the authorities don't have the powers to expel old, fat and ugly girls.
Bars are so desperate for girls that some have lowered their standards to the point they have become known as bars full of fat women, causing major damage to their brand.
My favourite bar in Pattaya once had a strict no tattoo policy. If a girl had a tattoo, they wouldn't take her on. If she was already employed and turned up for work with a tattoo, she was out. A splendid policy for those of us who feel such markings mar female beauty, that policy was cast aside long ago as it became more and more difficult to find girls.
There are, however, bars which refuse to lower their standards, venues where genuinely attractive dancers can be found. In Nana Plaza, Rainbow 1 and 4 are jammed with genuinely attractive, slim dancers. It's the same at Bacarra in Soi Cowboy. In Patpong, Club Electric Blue has plenty of attractive girls who are fun and Pink Panther has a good lineup too.
The coyote concept has been spurned by many customers, but coyote dancers have become a necessary evil, the only way some bar owners can get eye candy in the bar.
Several weeks ago the owner of Spanky's in Pattaya revealed that he would be taking on coyote dancers, AKA agency girls, swear words in Pattaya. "If you want customers, you need pretty girls, and if you want pretty girls, it's getting so hard to find them that the only option is to get coyotes", the owner told me. They're fast becoming prophetic words as bar owners scurry to hire coyote dancers. Now attractive coyotes are getting harder to find and one wonders how long it will be before they look like the regular dancers?
Is this a bar thing, or is it a Thai women thing? Are Thai women getting bigger, and becoming less attractive? Not at all. If anything, the opposite is true. More Thai women are taking up gym memberships, there's a growing wave of interest in nutrition and good eating, and more beauty products than ever are available and sell like hot cakes. You see more beautiful women in 15 minutes riding the skytrain or strolling through downtown shopping malls, both of which are overflowing with some of the most attractive women on the planet, than you will in an entire night in Bangkok's gogo bars.
Even the hardcore, the long-termers who return time and time again to Bangkok, come rain or shine, red shirt protest or airport closure, chicken flu or coup d'état, those who make multiple trips every year are complaining. These guys remember the glory days.
Some bar customers are turning to escort sites where the prices may be higher, but the quality is usually better. Many are now using ThaiLoveLinks where any guy, irrespective of age, can meet attractive Thai women online who don't require to be paid for their time, who actually show a genuine interest in you and who, yes, will likely spend the night with you.
Some are even saying bye-bye to Thailand, with Cambodia and the Philippines the main beneficiaries.
The bars face a challenge as regulars are increasingly unwilling to pay for mediocrity.
How Bangkok bar owners tackle this issue will shape the future of the industry. Is it a nail in the coffin of Bangkok's once thriving foreigner nightlife entertainment industry or will bar owners be able to turn things around?
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at The Old Siam shopping centre just beyond Chinatown. Only 3 people got it right. This week's shot was taken right in the heart of downtown Bangkok…but exactly where?
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 – Poor countries and local women.
I've been to a lot of countries – rich and poor – and done extensive whoring and dating. Your comment about how true happiness only comes from being brutally honest with yourself has triggered a chain reaction of thoughts in my head that ended with this phrase, well, actually, two phrases: 1) The poorer the country, the less time it takes to bed a girl. 2) The poorer the country, the wider the age gap between older westerners and their local "girlfriends" (quotation marks very much intended!) I know, I know, it's obvious but it's concise and it's amazing how many seemingly smart and educated Western men don't realise this. It's simple to engrave in one's mind and thus save oneself from many a heartache.
You said that some of the girls in the bar are so lackadaisical that they wouldn't show up if they weren't fined and that many of them hate their jobs so much they have to get drunk before they can go on stage. What a difference from the appearances punters see: beautiful, happy, fun-loving girls having the time of their lives, dancing and being bought drinks and making more money than they could ever have dreamed of. Is it no wonder that so many foreigner / Thai bargirl relationships end badly? There is often a complete disconnect between appearances and reality, between what the punters see and what the girls really think.
Thermae penis patrol failure.
I saw a ladyboy standing near the jukebox inside the Thermae. He was with group of Thai girls, and both he and they were hoping for punters to approach them. I noticed immediately that she was a he, and was shocked to see a young Japanese man hit on him. I then witnessed the ladyboy do something I've rarely seen real girls at the Thermae do: ask a punter to buy him a drink. The customer obliged, and the two of them moved to two stools at the bar where they could talk more comfortably. I asked a Thai woman sitting near me if my suspicions were correct, and she confirmed that it was a ladyboy. For further confirmation, I asked the girls near the juke box if she was a he, and they said yes. But they added that the ladyboy in question was cut – that is, without a penis. According to these girls, cut ladyboys are allowed in the Thermae. News of that policy surprised me, especially because a waiter at the Thermae told me 10 minutes earlier that ladyboys are prohibited from entering. Instead, he claimed, they loiter outside. In any case, this was the first ladyboy I've ever seen inside. It is worth noting that the ladyboy in question was one of the ugliest I've ever seen.
Craving real ale.
The one thing which I really miss in Thailand (Bangkok and Pattaya) is real ale. I accept that I will never get that in Thailand but are there any bars / hotels / restaurants which keep widget cans in? Alternatively, has anyone listed those bars in Pattaya / Bangkok etc which keep a nice malty English / Irish beer on draught? I cannot tolerate fizzy bottled beer and some of the draught (which is never draught but keg) is rather gassy as well.
The Premier League in the boonies.
CTH came and installed my satellite on Friday. Of course, there were problems. The job took well over 6 hours as they struggled to find the signal and also had to make a return trip to Kalasin – 100 km – to pick up some equipment they'd left behind. Then they were going to just lay the cable across the roof for about 15 metres – I caught them just in time and got them to pin it properly under the roof instead of laying it on top. Cowboys. Then on Saturday, despite having set the audio to English, we got Thai commentary on the football. We called the contact number that is given on the box and in their booklet and on their website, and were told to call a different number. Which didn't answer the first 5 or 6 times we tried it. Then I pressed 9 for English, and still got the Thai menu so spouse talked to them. A conversation of several minutes resulted in them telling her that Kalasin doesn't have English yet. Granddad was with me and said Bollocks, as his friend in Korat had English ok, so he called him. The friend told us to hit the green button, which displayed a choice of English or Thai audio. It worked. Nice to know we can rely on CTH technical support to not have a clue what they are talking about, even in Thai.
Sick of smokers.
I am getting tired of the seemingly increasing numbers of smokers in bars and restaurants. Even though a large proportion of the (modern) world, and I include Thailand in this, has broken the stranglehold that smokers once had on the non-smoking population, I seem to spend a lot of time dodging from one seat to the next trying to get away from smoke that they seem oblivious to. I am very sensitive to second-hand smoke now that I am no longer exposed to it in my home country. It is the one thing that we cannot control and someone needs to take a stand. I know Thai businesses are reluctant to turn away any potential source of income, especially if the customer can simply go next door and do as he wishes. Certainly in enclosed bars and restaurants a stand needs to be taken, and at the very least smokers should be segregated from non-smokers. Does the sheer number of smoking tourists and expats in Thailand point towards many non-smokers shunning Thailand? I find this hard to accept but it would appear that a disproportionate number of visitors to Thailand smoke, compared to the percentage of the indigenous population and to the percentage in the countries of origin of said smokers. I am from the UK and while smokers from there still smoke inside bars, at least they appear to be more aware of the effect their smoking has on others and they will often place their cigarette in a less offensive position. Unfortunately I can't say this of many from the emerging countries who take no notice of the effect they are having on others, even when I make it very clear from my body language that I am not pleased. When I wake up in the morning with a sore throat and clothes that need boil washing, it takes me back some years to how things were before the smoking ban in my own country.
Pot, kettle, black.
This article on Chinese tourists in the New York Times notes that Thais object to the Chinese habit of talking loudly indoors. But I have on countless occasions heard gaggles of Thai office workers, hi-so women, and Thai men of means talking loudly indoors. Maybe they are horsing around, but their voices are just as annoying as those of Chinese tourists. And of course many Thais shout into their mobile phones. Thais have a lot of nerve accusing anyone of being too noisy. Thank God they rarely honk their horns.
Girl of the week
Due, coyote dancer, Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2, Bangkok.
Due is a Bangkok native and new to the industry, having just started this past week.
October 1st is the day that drinks prices will go up in Soi Cowboy with a bunch of bars agreeing to put up the price by 10 baht per drink at the same time. With the wholesale price of bottled beer up by 7 baht, on average, expect to see similar price increases in all the bar areas.
Things are slowly getting back to normal in Nana Plaza with customers who'd stayed away for a few weeks returning. With that said, bar managers are still paranoid that the authorities will be back and it remains non-smoking throughout the plaza. Fallout from the recent crackdown has seen notices placed around the plaza in Thai outlining various regulations, including no-one under the age of 18 being allowed in the plaza, that everyone employed in the plaza must be a Thai national, to no drug users being allowed in the plaza and a prohibition on weapons.
Solid ground-mounted barriers have been installed at the mouth of Nana Plaza to prevent vehicles from entering. Efforts have been made over the years to keep vehicles out but the barriers were often a flimsy joke, about as effective as the security guards checking passengers getting on the underground. The latest version looks the real deal, like it really would prevent a vehicle from entering. There's long been something of a concern that of all the foreigner nightlife entertainment areas, the plaza could be a target for terrorists seeking to damage the tourism industry. Personally, I have never really thought that the plaza would be a suitable target, something I believe even more strongly than ever today. Sex tourism today is only a small part of Thailand's tourism industry and as much as anything, I think many around the world would not feel a great deal of sympathy if a known sex tourist area was targeted and the casualties were mostly prostitutes and Johns. It would probably be the start of a round of jokes that many sex tourists would find rather distasteful. This aside, that an effort has been made to do things properly is consistent with everything the new landlord has done in Nana Plaza, and for that they should be commended.
The old Nana Plaza sign was in quite a state when it was taken down and now the new sign has issues with the first "a" in Nana Plaza out and a couple of other letters flickering intermittently.
Why was there an about turn on the raincoat for the large spirit house on Nana's ground floor, near Monster Ink? A see-through plastic housing was built around the spirit house a couple of weeks ago that some jokingly referred to as Buddha's raincoat. But it was only there for a few days and has since been dismantled and taken away. What was that all about?
Sitting in the Golden Bar this week watching the world go by, five tables were taken by Western women, yet more proof – as if it was needed – of how the industry is popular with mainstream tourists and how watching the comings and goings of the nightlife entertainment industry has become entertainment itself.
Contrary to what I say in this week's opening piece, there are bars full of pretty women with not a fatty to be seen. One such bar is Lollipop in Nana Plaza. Just be aware that Lollipop has a mix of ladies and ladyboys. There are 7 ladyboys in Lollipop and the rest are the genuine article. Also, keep a look out for #59, who may just have the best body in the whole plaza, but who sadly declined my invitation to appear as girl of the week.
I think it's fair to say that coyote dancers are generally more attractive than gogo dancers. I also notice that more coyote dancers are Bangkok-born whereas gogo dancers tend to come from the provinces. Correlation or coincidence?
It's only last year that Pretty Lady underwent a major expansion and renovation, increasing in size from 2 shophouses to 3. It is about to undergo another renovation and redesign which strengthens the rumour that a certain former highly successful and widely respected bar owner is making a comeback to the plaza. The 2 dance stages will be replaced by an X-shaped dance area, and one of the two entrances will be blocked up.
In terms of the long history of Soi Cowboy – which dates back to the 1970s – ATMs on the soi are only a recent thing, first appearing just a couple of years back. And this week another banking service on the soi appeared with Kassikornbank opening an exchange booth between Dundee and Toy Bar. It's open for 4 short hours, from 5 PM through to 9 PM so don't go stumbling out of a bar with a lovely in tow after midnight and expect to change money. That said, most girls would probably be quite happy with dollars or Euros.
A replacement has been found at Patpong's Club Electric Blue for former manager Captain Hornbag where Mr. Mojo has been appointed as his replacement. And to carry on celebrating the bar's 10 years in Patpong, Electric Blue is keeping its 50 baht draft beer special which runs all night, every night, right through until the end of the year. This makes Club Electric Blue the cheapest gogo bar for a beer in Bangkok, a good deal given that it has some of the cutest girls. Club Electric Blue is booming and had its best night of the year so far this past Friday night, impressive for a rainy night in the low season.
Opposite Foodland in Patpong soi 2, the Sri Lankan-owned gogo bar, Glamour, is closed for 2 weeks. No-one is saying why and with no construction taking place the question is being asked about whether it was ordered closed due to an infraction?
We are yet to see the effects of the recent alcohol tax increase in bars, but some suppliers have put their prices up. Wine that is sold by the glass in many bars is going up by the equivalent of 20 – 30 baht per glass – that's the wholesale price increase which normally would mean a 70 baht or so increase per glass. Wine has long been hit by a luxury goods tax which is why wine drinkers pay way more than they would for the same tipple at home.
Following on from the question asked by a reader 2 weeks ago about where to watch NFL in Bangkok, at Sunrise Tacos branch at Silom Road are 6 TVs showing NFL and college football games. And at the flagship branch at Sukhumvit soi 12 one large screen and 4 smaller TVs show NFL and college football games.
Next Saturday, between 4 and 8 PM, Checkinn99 hosts The Vibe, its monthly feast of words, art & music. Hosted by performance poet and writer John Gartland, The Vibe features local authors combining their readings with local art and improvised music. Guest readers include Collin Piprell, James Newman, Jon Samson, Charles Chester and others. It's open mic after 6 PM so if you are looking for something completely different from the normal spread of Saturday football or HBO re-runs, this could be for you. If nothing else head down for a few Stickman draft jugs at just 199 baht. For those who haven’t discovered it yet, Checkinn99 also hosts a popular jazz jam session every Sunday afternoon between 2 and 6 PM when international artists and locals mix it up in a relaxed lounge atmosphere.
Boy oh boy, the problem of Bangkok taxis refusing to take customers to their destination and / or refusing to turn on the meter seems to be getting worse. Out for a bit to eat last Saturday night, I could not get a cab to take me 1.7 km distance home. Some refused outright, others asked for 100 baht, one even asked for 200 baht! Getting pissed off, I made out to one driver that I was going to take a photo of the cab's number plate (as if I was going to make a complaint, which I wouldn't) and he just laughed and said in Thai, go ahead, nothing will come of it!
Displays of affection in public between Thais are almost commonplace these days. You never used to see it – and whenever foreigners did something more than hold hands older Thais would cringe. Amongst the under 35 crowd Thailand is much less conservative sexually, while older Thais remain ultra conservative and anything more than holding hands in public is frowned upon. Many older Thais would be somewhere between embarrassed and shocked at some of what happens in public in downtown Bangkok today.
There is no doubt in my mind that rather than improve – as I mistakenly and naively thought it would – corruption in Thailand has got worse. But it doesn't affect foreigners, right? Wrong. For the most part, it doesn't affect visitors, but for Westerners resident in Thailand it can be a different story. There was a time that when foreigners did something wrong they had an avenue to work things out. The best example was when behind the wheel any errors could be settled immediately. That was about the only time foreign residents would be directly involved with corruption. Now at times it seems almost omnipresent. Westerners resident in Thailand sometimes find they need to persuade certain people just to get routine things done, when persuasion was never required in the past. There have been numerous instances mentioned to me but alas, prudence dictates it best not to say any more.
I receive more than a few emails from readers disagreeing with my not infrequent comments about how prices are going up in Thailand. Said readers rightly point out that prices are moving all around the world and this is not a Thailand thing. I accept that, however, it's not just that prices are going up. While prices are going up, service standards have been going down and in many establishments they have reached a point where they no longer represent fair value. Take for example paying 140 – 160 baht for a drink in a gogo bar. When you paid half that every bar was jammed with pretty girls who were generally pleasant, perhaps even sweet. Nowadays in so many bars there are few attractive ladies and little or no attempt at illusion. It's not just prices going up, it's that in so many cases the product is not as good as it used to be either.
Quote of the week comes from Tommy G, "Thailand has become a perfect landing spot for misogynistic losers to find somewhere to fit in."
Reader's story of the week comes from Tommy G, In response to A Man with Options.
"Mama", the lady accused of being a mastermind behind the recent stolen Thai visa scams is arrested by police.
The Transport Ministry is discussing the idea of installing CCTV cameras in all Bangkok taxis.
A Greek claims his Thai girlfriend swindled him out of property in Phuket and stole 2 million baht from his bank account.
A Thai mobile phone advert is a real tear-jerker that has gone viral and has many reaching for their hanky.
A British man is rescued after spending 3 days in the forest in Si Saket province.
An Aussie diplomat says Australians are being drugged, raped and robbed at Thai beach parties.
A reminder that sex toys are illegal in Thailand after a raid at a Bangkok market this week.
The UK's Independent newspaper asks why there are so many homeless foreigners in Thailand.
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: Are there any vehicles – besides bicycles – that can be driven without a driver's license and a license plate by people who are not handicapped? Someone told me that motorbikes with engines not bigger than 45cm3 are such vehicles. Is this true? I'd like to get to a market 10 km from my house in Lom Sak and I want to avoid the hassle of vehicle registration and driver's license application if possible. What do you suggest?
Question 2: I am interested in starting up an NGO in Thailand. It will be an education campaign about history that may include TV commercials. My concern is that while I am not going to be earning money, it may be considered work, and my campaign by its nature is supposed to be public. I am working on this on my own and using my own funds, but I probably need to register this with the government. How long does this process generally take and what is an estimate of the fees involved? Will I need a work permit for this and how does that process work with the rest of these issues?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Essentially you will need to set up what is called a "Foundation" in Thailand. The Royal Institute Dictionary B.E 2525 (Sixth Edition, B.E. 2539) defines the word “foundation” as “Assets specifically allocated with the objectives to support the public charity, religion, science, literature, education, or any other public interests. Foundation shall not seek for any interest to allocate for its members and the foundation must be a registered juristic person in accordance with the Commercial and Civil Code of Thailand”.
The Commercial and Civil Code, the revision edition B.E.2535, article 110 defines the meaning of foundation as below:
“Article 110 Foundation is assets which are prepared only for the objectives of public charities, religion, arts, science, literature, education, or any other public interest and the foundation must be registered under the regulation of this Law.
Management of assets of any foundation must not seek for benefit or interest for any person, except the activities which are operating under the objectives of that foundation”.
Please note that the initial registered fund of the foundation must be in cash not less than 500,000 baht, or not less than 250,000 baht if there are other assets included with the initial registered fund. However, foundations that are established with the objective to operate social work, or support education, sport, religion, public hazard, or operate medical treatment, research, and prevent patients from drugs or AIDS must have the initial registered fund in cash not less than 200,000 baht. You will need work permits, and once the Foundation is legally recognised it will be possible to apply for a work permit.
The process to set up a foundation can take 3 – 4 months. Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience in setting up Foundations and can assist you once you are ready to get the process started.
It's hard to put a positive spin on the nightlife entertainment industry as things currently stand. Being negative about the industry doesn't endear me to readers, doesn't make for an upbeat column, and some may tune out if my commentary doesn't make them feel good about it, even if it is accurate. I could try and talk things up, but that's just not my style. A good salesman I'm not and I call it as I see it. I go to the bars when friends from out of town are visiting, to catch up with the odd friend working in the industry and to gather news and gossip. That's it. Higher prices, fewer attractive ladies, bad attitudes in many bars, it's hard to be excited by that which isn't exciting. So forgive me if I don't put a positive spin on things I don't think warrant it.
Your Bangkok commentator,