Halloween in Bangkok
Thais love an excuse to party. A special occasion on the Thai calendar or a date or festival important to Westerners, it doesn't matter. Give the Thais a reason to have a good time and they'll embrace it. Halloween comes just as the rainy season is coming to an end, marking the end of the long slow season and the first of many parties and celebrations running through until the end of the year. Venues in the foreign entertainment areas go to town at Halloween and it has become one of the biggest party nights of the year. Despite announcements from officialdom that parties should be cancelled as a mark of respect for the Supreme Patriarch who passed away recently, no-one listened. This year was no different to any other with Halloween parties taking place all over the city.
I arrive at Patpong early, and walk along the second Patpong soi from Silom Road. Outside The Strip a makeup artist is going about her work. Girls I know make evil faces at me and ghost-like gestures before giggling amongst themselves.
Bars are decorated, costumes hired and makeup artists have been brought in. For the girls of Bangkok, it's a chance to get dressed up, a chance to have a break from the same old routine.
With their makeup applied, the girls pose and try to find expressions fit for the occasion. Try as they might, none can scowl or grimace or snarl for more than a few seconds without bursting in to laughter!
It's a party, a time to have fun and some can't help but smile. Like women the world over they love to get dressed up and be the centre of attention. Nothing makes them happier.
And it's not just the girls who get in to it. Some customers are dressed in character too. I joke with the devil that it's good we're in sensibly policed Thailand and not the politically correct West we're he'd be dragged off to the monkey house for holding a knife in a public place.
Inside The Strip some of the girls go for a more subtle look, preferring a couple of very small temporary face tattoos or a set of horns. As a bar manager would tell me later on, that way they don't destroy the chance of being barfined.
Coming from a country where Halloween isn't that big a deal, I don't know too much about its history and traditions and wonder if lollipops are a Halloween thing.
Bright-eyed Boom of the fetish house Bar Bar cuddles up to two ghosts from The Strip. Miss Boom was featured in this column last year when she allowed me to photograph her getting the fetish house's logo tattooed on her derrière.
Why plaster your face with makeup when all you have to do is glare to scare folks away!
Patpong was fun but with Elvira giving me positively evil looks I took that as a cue to head over to Nana and check out what was happening on Sukhumvit.
Angelwitch2's grand opening was scheduled for Halloween night and the management had a few special shows planned. Promises of special shows and promotions on party nights in the naughty bar industry are often a letdown and I didn't have high hopes. I was to be pleasantly surprised…
One of my complaints about the bar industry is the lack of innovation and how things are so predictable. Night after night, it's the same routine and in some bars that means the same songs played in the same order. Many bars feel stale. Customers crave something new, something different. Have the bars lost any sense of spontaneity or originality?
I was keen to check out the new Angelwitch, but the manager insisted I stay outside. The lights of the beer bars on the ground floor dimmed and the bars' sound systems erupted with the long version of Michael Jackson's Thriller.
Everyone was wondering what was going on and where the music was coming from. It was only then that we noticed that all around the plaza were girls done up as zombies slowly coming to life, like they had awoken from years of slumber. As Vincent Price talked of the evil of the thriller, the zombie troop merged from all corners of Nana's ground floor, moving slowly towards the open area by the beer bars, in front of Lollipop where they converged and leapt to life just as the lyrics started.
People were cheering and it was a real spectacle with girls coming out of bars all over the plaza to see what was happening, customers following and quickly the railings around the plaza were packed as people fought for the best vantage point.
These girls aren't trained dancers but they performed the dance from the music video Thriller like old pros to rapturous applause.
It was fresh, it was a surprise and it was wonderfully executed. I would later learn the girls had been training for weeks to get it right and it showed – they were just fabulous. This sort of thing, totally unexpected and so well-executed is what Nana needs more of, what every bar area needs more of. Bar owners and managers showing a little imagination is all too rare but oh so welcome.
The star of Thriller danced at the front of the group and led them through the routine.
The Thriller show brought the plaza to life just as a wonder goal does in a football match. It was still early but the plaza was pumping. It wasn't even 9:30 and already the plaza was packed. Everyone was really getting in to it. Dressed up punters found themselves a magnet for the fun-loving girls on a night when it seemed almost every girl from every bar showed up for work.
One of the staff at Angelwitch jokes with a pig's ear. We wonder what sort of scary Halloween costume could be devised by adding pig parts to one's body. He tried to attach it to his ear but it wouldn't stick.
The newest Angelwitch bar, Angelwitch 2, on the ground floor of the plaza next to Playskool, was packed.
As is the tradition at Angelwitch at Halloween, the bar was decorated and featured spiders' webs up the walls and across the ceiling, pumpkins and Halloween decorations throughout.
Thriller wasn't the only new show of the night and Angelwitch2' showgirls had prepared some shows especially for the occasion.
The Angelwitch2 team performed 4 new shows, but it was the exorcist show which had people talking. Unlike any gogo bar show you've ever seen, it was based on scenes from the movie The Exorcist. A dancer lays on a mattress in the middle of the stage while a crew tries to exorcise spirits in a procedure which looks like I imagine a back alley abortion would with the girl pinned down and trying to resist.
The main dancer was really in to it, wearing contact lenses that made her eyes cloudy like the most extreme cataracts. At one point she leaps up and shakes in spasms, screaming hysterically like she's possessed. It was frantic, frenetic and really quite disturbing.
Kudos to whoever came up with the concept and those who made it happen. This is exactly what the bars need more of. It has not been decided if this was a Halloween night only special or whether the exorcist show will feature in Angelwtich2 going forward.
So it's a good night for the bar, I say to a bar owner.
Nah mate, he replies, it's not a great night at all.
I look at him surprised.
There's hardly any barfining, he explains.
What do you mean? The bar is packed!
Just look at the girls, mate, he says. No-one wants to pay barfine when they have all that crap on their face!
I have to admit that he has a point.
The Thais love a good party and in Patpong and Nana Plaza the bar staff really got in to Halloween. My only complaint is that there were so many parties going on and so many venues celebrating that I only had time to visit a few.
Halloween in Bangkok is always a good night out but this year it was at another level. If Halloween night was anything to go by, we're going to be in for a fabulous high season.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken in Soi Cowboy and showed part of the sign for Midnite Bar, with the Los Colinas condominium building and Terminal 21 in the background. There are two prizes each week, a 500 baht voucher to use at Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4 and a 300 baht voucher to use at Sunrise Tacos, Bangkok's original Mexican grill with several branches in Bangkok.
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 and ONLY the first answer emailed counts! You MUST specify which prize you would prefer and failure to specify a prize will disqualify you from being eligible to claim one.
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 – Charming Chiang Mai.
I had an encounter with one of the boys in brown yesterday as I was riding my motorcycle on a main street in Chiang Mai and the rear tyre on my motorcycle went flat. In less than a minute a pickup truck pulled up in front of me. It was a policeman in uniform but not driving a police pickup. He indicated to me for us to lift the motorcycle on to the back of the pickup. A few minutes later we were at a motorcycle repair shop where we unloaded the motorcycle. I offered him some money for his help but he refused to accept it. He was very friendly and was happy to help me out. Five minutes and 140 baht later (the tyre needed a new tube) I was on my way. I can't quite imagine anything like this happening back home.
The tourist entry fee.
I can't see how a 500 baht fee is supposed to result in better tourists. But that is just one of hundreds of inane comments made by Thai politicians each year, and serves to disguise the real problem. The reason Thailand attracts "trash" (the politician's word) is that the country provides what they want. Unlimited sex opportunities, an anything goes attitude and the disposition of many Thais to tolerate boorish behaviour. Up to a limit, as foreigners are certainly not as popular or welcome as we once were.
Charge and they will pay.Now a 500 baht cover-charge to enter Thailand? Why not? It's too low though. Just charge 5K – 10K baht. Maybe a lucky 9,999 baht and the change is a special lucky one-baht coin. Why? People will pay it! They sit around Farangland watching videos of Walking Street and marking off calendar days with big Xs. Do you think a few thousand baht cover charge will put them off? They should also sell residency. Some dumb farang wants to live there so just charge him. He falls off a balcony – plenty more where he came from. You know I'm playing the cynic, but there is truth in it.
The overstayer problem.
One of the reasons claimed for the new tourist tax is that it will prevent the "significant problem" of visa overstayers. The Daily Mail article linked from your column used this description and I have seen it several times. And every time I think "what exactly is the problem?" Every single day someone stays on in Thailand they are spending money on accommodation, food, entertainment and whatever else, all of which boosts the Thai economy. You would think they would positively encourage overstaying. If the tax works as claimed and brings in 12.5 billion baht a year and simultaneously drives out 100,000 overstayers then that works out at 125,000 baht per overstayer. I don't have a detailed knowledge of living costs but I would imagine it costs several times that amount to live in the country for a year so the Thai economy will be losing several times the amount of money that the tax brings in. And that's without the loss of tourists who rightly think that a country that charges you to get in and charges you to get out again is not exactly welcoming.
Angelwitch pile driver!
Adult toys on Sukhumvit.
I've only just arrived back in Thailand after a year away and I've noticed quite a few differences. One thing I've noticed is how disgusting the street market on Sukhumvit Road is now. Porno on open display (gay and straight), dildos of all shapes and sizes all just laid out for all to see. I'm really surprised the Thais tolerate this. I'm no prude, quite the opposite in fact, but even I think this is out of order. This isn't a side street were you could say "if you don't like it don't go down there" or a small area completely dedicated to sex tourism. It's a large area of a busy public street were many people with "normal" jobs live and work. Not to mention the tourists that may be on a family holiday and wander through this market. It just seems wrong to me.
Bargirls, living outside the mainstream.I have read your and other writers' analysis about the character of bargirls: that they tend to be lazy and slovenly, that they are alcoholics and have a very poor work ethic; that they wake up at noon, go to work, do their job and then go home, with their life essentially gambling, television, some food and waiting around a bar to be picked by some gentleman to be fondled and groped for free. While I fully agree that the bar lifestyle has a corrosive effect on morals and character, particularly when you look at how short a window they have to make any money; I would suggest that one thing you are discounting is how isolated these girls are down in Bangkok and Pattaya, both due to their identifying accent of being from the poorest provinces in Thailand and because of their line of work. Normal Thais know what they do and they want nothing to do with them socially. There is no 'cachet' in knowing a stripper as there might be in the West, where knowing someone with a risqué background adds a worldly wise air to a person. So who are they going to talk to? Who will they socialise with? Farang? They don't speak the language. Their reputations are ruined for 'normal' society and they aren't educated enough to understand the joys of 'Prost'. Television, substance abuse, and iPhones are all they have left, the last a lifeline to friends left up in Isaan. At least with their iPhones, they can pretend to be normal for a while.
G-clubsI wanted to add some insight to the problem of the so-called decline in quality of bargirls in Bangkok. I think the problem is the places you report on. If you look at low-end places, you will find low quality. I have always gone to high-end G-clubs like Sherbet, Piano, Pegasus, The Pimp, The Pent and others. I never have the desire to go to Cowboy, Nana, Patpong or Walking Street. I have been to these places, but have always thought it was a little dirty and the girls a lot less appealing. I have been fortunate that my Thai friends have introduced me to these higher end G-clubs and informed me that I would prefer these types of places from what they know about me. These high-end G-clubs always have drop-dead gorgeous girls who don't look like they live on McDonald's. G-clubs are usually loaded with rich Thais, Chinese, Japanese and other rich Asians who like the finer things in life. I think this statement also solidifies some of your earlier comments about Thai girls preferring Japanese (or wealthy Asian) customers. We don't mind spending more for quality. Come to think about it, I hardly see farang at the G-clubs. You get what you pay for.
Girl of the week
Yam, coyote dancer, Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2.
There was a classic Thailand-only moment this week when a mate went to the men's room in a Sukhumvit Road British pub. On the wall was a notice stating there would be no live music until November 9th in accordance with a request from the authorities that entertainment venues show respect during the mourning period for the Supreme Patriarch. It wasn't until he left the loo and returned to the pub proper that he realised that a live band was in full flow!
Apart from Friday before last when Nana and Cowboy closed, it has very much been business as usual in the entertainment areas. Live music is being played. Bars that open late are still opening late despite orders they must close by 2 AM. And I am not aware of the cancellation of any parties or events. It is very much business as usual.
A Patpong soi 2 gogo bar which I have mentioned as being one of the best bars of its type in recent columns had a record-breaking night on Friday. It was so busy that customers had to be turned away because the bar was beyond full. I can only think of two other bars where this happens, Bacarra in Soi Cowboy and Happy A Gogo in Pattaya.
Tokyo Player on Nana Plaza's top floor, next door to Billboard, saw the arrival of 15 coyote dancers this week, some of whom are real wild things. Most are available but expect to pay barfine rates of 1,800 baht, 3 times that charged for standard gogo dancers. Rumour has it that Tokyo Player may undergo a name change and image makeover more fitting with all the wild things dancing in the bar.
Last week I mentioned that the only bar in Nana Plaza with coyotes at that time was PlaySkool. One could have misinterpreted my comments about the coyote dancers at PlaySkool and I wish to clarify. PlaySkool has a handful of coyote dancers employed directly by the bar who are all barfineable at 1,000 baht, higher than what you pay for gogo dancers but not outrageously so. Lady drinks are 150 baht for all the girls in PlaySkool, be they gogo dancers, coyotes or service staff. So you know who is who, the regular gogo dancers wear a bikini and the coyote dancers wear typical coyotewear – which usually means ultra-short, tight shorts and a skimpy top.
Coyote dancers currently dancing at PlaySkool, ground floor, Nana Plaza.
Coyote dancers currently dancing at Tokyo Player, top floor, Nana Plaza.
The end of the ground floor mess is near as Nana Plaza's newest gogo bar, Spellbound, opens tonight. It seems like it has taken forever but actually it hasn't been long at all – only 34 days from when construction started until opening night. There are still bits and pieces to be done but the bar will be fully operational tonight. Many of the staff from Pretty Lady have been retained and the girls are ready to dance – in fact they have been nagging the bosses about when the bar will open! More than a month without a customer, eager doesn't even start to describe how the girls feel! The owners expect around 40 dancers tonight. There are 50 odd on the books with a mix of existing and new staff. The phone lines between Bangkok and Isaan have been running hot with girls upcountry packing their bags right now, about to head to the bus station. So I guess we can say there are many more girls to cum!
The days when most gogo dancers shuffled and swayed in their birthday suit are the distant past, or are they? If a full view is a must, then Suzy Wong in Soi Cowboy might be the place for you. Every girl on every shift dances au naturel. With that said, if it is pretty faces which do it for you, hunt further afield.
In Crazy House on Sukhumvit soi 23, just around the corner from Soi Cowboy, watch out for crazy checkbins. Whether it's a pattern or simply the actions of one errant girl, who knows, but a friend was enjoying the company of a crazy girl this past week and for whom he bought 4 lady drinks. When it was time to pay he saw that he had been charged for 8 lady drinks – all for the girl whose company he had been enjoying. The mamasan was called over and it was dealt with promptly, the girl forced to pay for the 4 drinks that weren't ordered with money out of her own pocket, a cool 640 baht.
With more new gogo bars to open in Pattaya's Soi LK Metro in the coming months, how will the guesthouses and low-end hotels which have been in business in the soi for years survive? I don't mean survive as in not be bought out, I mean survive in terms of being able to offer a decent product. More bars in Soi LK Metro draws more customers and more customers and more bars means more noise – and noise is not what you want near the place you are sleeping. A few establishments on Soi LK Metro used to be known as comfortable and inexpensive places to stay, but you have to wonder how long that will last. I mean, you wouldn't want your hotel to be in the middle of Soi Cowboy, would you?!
Popular British pub The Robin Hood, on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 33/1, has undergone minor renovations. A smokers' area with a railing to perch on has been built beside the entrance so those coming and going don't need to walk through a cloud of smoke. Live music has been discontinued and the corner of the bar where the band used to perform will be redeveloped, creating space for more seating. I note that the quality of the food has improved. Both the fish and chips and the chicken royale are excellent.
Rumours abound of goings on at The Londoner. A visit from the local constabulary saw the manager taken away in bracelets. Underage drinkers were found on the premises, a difficult situation for any publican when many of the young Westerners out drinking in Bangkok having dodgy ID. And there are question marks about the lease and talk of an impasse in negotiations.
Am Bar, the open air lounge bar atop Four Points by Sheraton in Sukhumvit soi 15 – a spot I really do like – has reintroduced cocktail specials. Right through the last high season Am Bar had a fantastic promotion – 2 cocktails for 250 baht with free nibbles fancier than you find elsewhere like roast duck and Parma ham salad. Come low season the venue reverted to standard hotel pricing with most cocktails priced around 320 baht ++. Now with high season just around the corner, Am Bar has reintroduced cocktail promotions with many just 160 baht without the ++ nonsense. Why would they drop the price in high season and charge lofty prices in the low / rainy season? It goes against all logic, but hey, I'm not complaining!
There are various spots around town known for good pizza. Limoncello on Sukhumvit soi 11 has long been a favourite and Madrid in the main Patpong soi does tasty thin crust pizzas. Until recently I was a big fan of the pizza at Oskar, but it has gone the way of the service in Oskar – although the atmosphere, music, drinks and other menu items remain fine. My new favourite spot for pizza is Pizzazzo in Sukhumvit soi 16, a mid-range Italian restaurant set in an old house with a lovely outdoor seating area which should be nice when the weather cools off a little. It's located about 500 metres down Sukhumvit soi 16, perhaps 300 metres beyond Foodland. If you're craving good pizza, give it a go!
I was in Terminal 21 earlier this week with a little time to kill. Perched watching the crowds, there were plenty of Western guy / Thai girl couples. Over the course of 40 odd minutes, I'd say that between a quarter and third of the farang / Thai couples featured a working girl and her customer. It's impossible to say at distance, of course, but there are often a few tell-tale signs. My mind drifted back to the time when the space where Terminal 21 shopping centre is used to be a Volvo dealership. In those days it was probably more like 90% of the Westerner / Thai couples on Sukhumvit were a holidaymaker and holiday girlfriend. Back then probably more expat residents involved with a local woman were involved with a bargirl than otherwise. That is neither here nor there, it's just how it was. Some expats mixed in society circles and some simply wanted to separate themselves from the rest so you'd hear a disclaimer from some expats that their girlfriend had never worked in a bar. And this disclaimer used to really bother some who felt the person saying it was looking down on those with a bargirl girlfriend. These days you hardly ever hear those words. That's because these days the vast majority of Westerners involved with a Thai lady are with someone who has never stepped foot in a red light area. Where once it was common for Westerners resident in Bangkok to date and go on to marry a bargirl, these days it isn't. It used to be more difficult to meet regular girls. These days it's so easy! Today bargirl marriages are very much the minority and you can put that almost entirely down to the internet. When was the last time you heard someone say, "My girlfriend didn't work in a bar!" I can't remember the last time someone said it!
Thai TV reported last weekend how some Facebook users have been tricked by other Facebook users and how those using Facebook should be careful of strangers online. The report was about a young woman in rural Thailand who was contacted on Facebook by a fellow who claimed to be educated and urban. He charmed her, they met and he killed her. The family did not know about him and said had they known they would have insisted on a chaperone. The girl's family were AMAZED that a man from the city with an education and a *very high* monthly salary (their words) of 40,000 baht would show any interest in a girl from the countryside with a modest education and no job. That just isn't normal, they said. Those comments are relevant to foreigners in Thailand as they provide an insight in to how Thais view relationships. Thais who are neutral observers are often dumbfounded at the choice of local woman made by some Western men. They simply cannot understand why an educated man from a developed country would entertain the idea of a serious relationship with a country girl who they don't see as bringing much to the table. They understand a woman marrying up but they often don't understand the guy's thinking.
On the subject of Facebook, I notice it is being referred to more and more as Fuckbook by young expats who appear to have much success using it as a dating site. Decent Thai women are quickly put off the major dating sites by guys hitting on them with vulgar chat and sexual suggestions and invitations from the outset. Apparently what some clever young expats do is go through their friends' Facebook friend lists and add attractive looking Thai ladies to their own friends' list and try to chat them up – and with glorious success it would seem.
Still on the subject of Facebook, it was reported a few months back that Bangkok has more Facebook users than any other city and most young Thais i.e. aged under 40 are addicted to Facebook. In recent months I have noticed less reluctance from girls working in the industry to being photographed. My feeling is that they have got so used to being photographed by friends and posting photos to Facebook – yes, many bargirls are on Facebook – that they have become more comfortable with being photographed.
Quote of the week is what first-time visitors say when they enter a ladyboy bar, "Boy oh boy!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Mr. Anonymous, "The 'Boys in Brown', Back in the Day".
Racism in Thailand has come to attention after an advertisement by Unilever ad for skin-whitening
The Bangkok Post published a scathing editorial about the proposed tourist entry fee / medical insurance fee.
Bloomberg looks at the rapid growth taking place in the impoverished regions of in Thailand.
A Scottish security guard is jailed for 20 years after murdering a Thai woman by smashing a fire extinguisher on her head.
Thailand's emergency services, sometimes referred to as body snatchers, were profiled in a 10-minute video.
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 was wondering what kind of import tax / duty would apply to my Thai wife and I importing a camping / mobile home? It is the type PULLED by a truck, and it is not driven. The title is in my wife's name. It would be coming from USA. We bought it for $US7,000. Is there any way to know what the costs would be and prepay it? Or is it up to the official on the day to name his price?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Importing a used personal trailer is categorised by Tariff number 87.16. The value of the trailer will be determined by the market price of a brand new trailer less depreciation (determined by the number of years used as stipulated by the Custom Department). The import duty is 10% and subjected to an additional 7% VAT.
As the trailer is in your wife's name then if she owned it overseas for more than a year and a half and she has lived overseas for more than a year and a half overseas then she is able to import it.
Sunbelt Asia has experience working with Customs and can assist you when the trailer arrives.
Question 2: I am retired here in Pattaya and enjoy my life immensely. My retirement is financed by a mix of retirement funds from home and 2 units I own and rent out here in the same building I reside. I have become concerned after one of my friends mentioned that what I am doing may be illegal and I may be breaking a number of laws. He intimated that as a foreigner retired here I am not allowed to rent out a property. To do so he thinks I would need to set up a business. I make less than 40,000 baht in total rent from these two units and it just wouldn't be worthwhile to set up a business framework and besides, I retired to enjoy life and not have the worry of operating a business. My question is this: Is what I am doing illegal? If it is, what would the best plan of action be? Does this mean that I have to sell the units and reinvest the money elsewhere?
However, if you were to do maintenance or other kinds of work on the units then you would be considered as working.
Also, please be aware that if you are in Thailand more than 180 days you do need to declare the income.
The sky is blue, the temps are lower and a cooling breeze blows through the city. Two tuktuks race along Sukhumvit Road, each with a young Westerner on board screaming at the driver to go faster and be the first to reach their destination. A packed Patpong gogo bar is forced to turn customers away. The Saphan Taksin Pier on a Sunday morning resembles central city skytrain stations at peak hour – there's not enough room for those waiting to get on board and they have to wait for the next boat. The rainy season is over and the high season should soon be upon us, yet it feels like it has already started. Bangkok is already overflowing with tourists. Just when the tourism high season officially starts is a moot point. Many hotel room rates have already gone up and like I say, there are tourists everywhere! In the bar areas there are expectations that this will be the best high season in years – and if this last week was anything to go by, such optimism is warranted. Bangkok is booming and it's still only the start of November. Come Christmas / New Year and it's going to be crazy. Oh what a high season it's going to be!
Your Bangkok commentator,