Towards the end of the week I make a run through the bar areas to see what's happening, hunt for changes, look for trends, chat with bar bosses and catch all the bar industry news and gossip. This week I didn't spend any time in the bars during their hour of business, but I did enjoy a behind the scenes look at one of the most popular bars in Nana Plaza.
Walking past Spanky's early evening, I heard the owner's voice booming out so I stuck my head in the door for a nosey. I was met by the curious sight of the owner up on stage boogeying like it was the ‘70s with the girls in hysterics at his antics. It took me time to realise he was modeling a new dance routine that he wanted the girls to perform.
He saw me sticking my head through the curtain and waved me inside. Inside the bar I spotted another pal who I joined and for the next hour and a half we sat through a gogo bar staff meeting and watched a training session.
Like an act out of a comical pantomime, the fun-loving American owner encouraged girls up on stage to dance disco-style as he had. The idea, he impressed upon them, was to enjoy themselves. This was far from classic choreography. Dated dance moves were modeled with the finesse of a Bangkok taxi driver in a Ferrari.
Three girls on stage collide in to one another like a multiple vehicle accident. The girls watching roar with laughter. They're nervous at the same time, worried that they will be chosen next, like students not confident of speaking in front of class.
Spanky's once had a professional choreographer, quite the hottie she was, but I haven't seen her around for some time and the boss and a mamasan appear to have taken over the duties.
It shouldn't work, it really shouldn't, for what does an ageing mamasan and a party guy know about teaching gogo girls how to dance? But slick moves have never been what Spanky's is about. It's a party bar, a fun place.
Spanky's once had a show where pretty girls were dollied up in bright bikinis and sunglasses, and up on stage threw a large beach ball to one another to songs about the beach and surfing. It sounds kind of lame, but the girls did it with big smiles and it worked. Keeping things simple and fun is always a winning formula.
"I Touch Myself" by The Divinyls needed no translation and squeals went all around the bar when one girl was called up to be the model for a song where they all knew just what would they would be asked to do!
I'd love to hear my favourite Divinyls song, "Pleasure And Pain", in the gogo bars – and I'd love to see the routine the Spanky's crew would come up with for it.
There's something real about hanging around a gogo bar before it opens. The girls haven't started drinking and while I didn't see any evidence of it in Spanky's, many girls in the industry front-load, throwing back a few before they even get up on stage, their way of dealing with whatever the night will throw at them. So instead of the front so many girls put on, before the bar opens you're interacting with real people. It makes a pleasant change.
The girls are themselves and there's less of the BS so inherent in the bar industry. You see the girls in a better light, mingling with their friends, catching up on what they got up to after the bar closed the previous night and chatting about holiday plans. And when they're ready for work but the bar is not yet ready for them, they can even get a bit flirty.
The latest in a long line of beauties to roll off the Spanky's production line, she would be a contender for girl of the week if she wasn't so skinny. Too much som tam and not enough McDonald's for this girl. With only 3 days in the bar industry when this photo was taken, she had all of the sweetness and playful nature of a girl new to the industry.
The meeting is over but the bar is yet to open. The sound system is having a few issues, farting instead of purring. The girls are in their bikinis, all ready to go, but it's not happening.
Seeing the new girl get all the attention, another jumps on stage and poses, eager to have her photo taken.
The sound system comes to life, the lights dim and she and I jump off the stage as every girl glides up on stage for the opening song.
The whole troop has not made it on stage as the door staff pull the curtains back and customers pile in. Within a minute of opening a dozen customers are scattered around the bar.
There is something real about watching rehearsals in a bar; the girls aren't acting and it's all very refreshing.
As bars look at ways of increasing revenue, I wonder if there's a market for customers to attend meetings and rehearsals in the some way top sports teams charge fans to watch public practice sessions. Allow guys to take photos, slap a 500 baht entrance fee on it and voila, there's a new income stream.
When the girls got up on stage, the lights weren't the only switch flicked. The girls flicked a switch too, and went from their real self to their bar persona.
It was 8 PM on Friday night, the busiest and best night out of the week in the nightlife areas of one of the world's great party cities.
Do you fancy going over to Patpong, my pal asks me. We've got our cameras so we could get a few shots.
Nah, I say. Honestly, I just want to go home and veg in front of the TV.
For 50 weeks of the year single guys all around the world dream of their holiday in Thailand. For those of us living here it's nice to know that it's there if we fancy going out, but when we do the bars are often but a backdrop.
A little after 8 PM on a Friday night at the height of the high season in Bangkok we call it a night and head back to our respective condos.
Where was this photo taken?
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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 – If only the school system encouraged discussion and debate.
The current political situation originates in the school system where discussion and the opportunity to hear and appreciate an alternative point of view is discouraged. Therefore everything is black or white here. Neither side has any interest at all in an opposing point of view. And that is not going to change. I have to put up with my wife watching the red TV channel half the time, and if she tunes in to the opposition channel it is only to mock them.
Khao San fakery.
I never really enjoyed Khao San much, although I go there for a visit every time I'm in Bangkok. Some of the youngsters are just a bit much to take, getting plastered by 2 PM and then making fools of themselves. And some of the white girls who are just too self-absorbed for their own good, acting like they are really interested in roughing it when I don't think most of them know what true backpacking is all about.
Women are women everywhere.
What is any different in women from Asia and the rest of the world? At the end of the day they all want the same thing. The difference to me seems to be that here women are still treated as 'owned objects' with little backing of the legal community. Take them home to your own country and just watch how fast the metamorphosis takes place. I have a younger brother who came here and refused to listen to any advice. The short of it is he married quickly (bad move), took her back to the States (bad move #2) and after less than 2 years she divorced him and got a good chunk of his money. I love my brother but I have to laugh at his stupidity.
Seeking smoke-free zones.
Have you ever thought of listing the bars and clubs in Bangkok that are smoke-free? I find my intolerance to smoke ever increasing. I was a long time smoker but gave up due to health reasons years ago. In the west, as you probably are aware, it is illegal to smoke in public places. Now I just cannot tolerate the obnoxious lethal poisonous stench from smokers. I find it incomprehensible that there are no smoking signs all over bars stating a fine of 2,000 baht for smoking yet a customer lights up and staff rush to give them an ash tray! When I complain, which I do every time, I am met with the same argument, "What can I do? Customer wants." And if I challenge a smoker, "It's my right to smoke – if you don't like it, leave." Well, yes, it is your right to smoke but is it not illegal and subject to fines? Do non-smokers not have the right to a smoke-free environment? Can't bars just make an effort to have smoking and no smoking zones and ventilate them accordingly? Better still, smoke outside which is better for everyone for it's a fact if you smoke, you smell. Have you seen the many signs that state no smoking in public parks in Bangkok? So you cannot smoke in the great outdoors but in a small and stuffy bar it's ok! Here are the bars that I know are smoke free in Bangkok: Robin Hood, The Dubliner, The Londoner, Bully's and Hanrahan's. It would be good but harder to find non-smoking bars in Pattaya. It would be great to build a list of bars and smoke-free clubs and very useful to me and I am sure many other readers.
Why Aussie wines cost less.
Under the free trade agreement between Australia and Thailand, duty on wine is progressively reducing over the years. The Thai government increased excise on wine a few years ago when it kicked in, basically nullifying any advantage. I believe the duty will eventually fall to about 15%. You should see the price of wine reduce a bit every year. Somehow I don't think you'll see retailers doing the right thing and even if they do, my guess is that you'll see excise creep up as governments just cannot countenance any reduction in tax collected.
CTH channel change.
Perhaps someone at CTH reads Stickman. Two weeks ago you published my email revealing that the company has a 'secret' Stadium 7 channel which broadcasts the English pre, mid and post match analysis of the Premier League football, rather than Thai coverage. It was secret as Stadium 7 did not logically follow Stadiums 1 to 6 on channels 131 to 136, but was on Channel 83. No longer. Someone has now woken up and Stadium 7 has been moved to where it should be – channel 137.
Unknown Pattaya danger.
I had a narrow shave in Pattaya yesterday. I went for a wander around Royal Garden Plaza in the afternoon. I decided to go up to the food hall on the top floor, have a beer out on the terrace and enjoy the view. I was going to walk along the terrace a bit to get a table but for some reason decided to sit at table just outside the door. It was nice and sunny but windy as well. As I sat down I noticed a large piece of metal sheeting had become dislodged from its support and was flapping in the wind. I thought to myself this does not look good. There was a guy sitting at the table next to me (facing in my direction) who seemed not to notice what was happening above him but when he saw me looking up he became aware of it as well. Suddenly there was a massive crash as the sheeting fell en masse on to the slanted canopy and then shot across the two tables in front of me. Luckily the guy was already moving but still he barely managed to get out of the way in time. It happened so fast. I had thought to sit at the table beyond him and if I had I would have taken the full force of it. I prefer not to consider what damage it would have done to me. The whole structure looks old and unstable and I think it may be no harm to warn people (if that is possible) of the risk of going out there, even more so when it is windy.
Less value = less visitors?
I was surprised at your comment about Bangkok bar owners blaming the protests for their less than stellar business in the farang ghetto. My last visit to Bangkok was in 2009 and I haven't been back since although I have been to other locations in Thailand that were new to me. On my last visit I was really surprised at the prices in gogo bars and beer bars. There were enough willing pretty girls at the time dancing but prices were way up and these same bar owners have continued to raise prices to ridiculous levels. The main reason Bangkok appealed to me in 1998 was just the availability of affordable entertainment. It was like when I was a kid in a toy store. That liberating, exciting feeling that has been missing for years now. I wonder how high they thought they could raise prices before their customer base would be on the decline. If they want to generate the business that existed in the past they need to lower their prices. A lot. All of these drink specials and happy hours aren't going to do it for me and probably for a lot of others. Since they seem to be so oblivious to this simple idea, perhaps you could pass on my tip to them.
Girl of the week
Hom, coyote dancer, Fantasia, Nana Plaza
25 years old from Amnart Charoen, she loves to smile!
The opening party of G Terminal, a new Soi Nana bar, was held last week. It's located in what was the old Ball In Hand pool hall in the Rajah Hotel car park. Standard drinks run 200 baht so it seems the venue is aiming for a different segment of the market to the chrome pole bars up the road. Spread around the bar were attractive coyote dancers. The decor is nice enough. Most of the crowd including the owner were African.
In Spellbound on Nana Plaza's ground floor, some dancers have really got in to the lingerie thing, while admittedly there are some struggling with it and who need a bit more time. The number of dancers is now in the 40s – not their age, the number(!) – and there are a few lookers making Spellbound worth checking out.
Fantasia in Nana Plaza has a great lineup of girls and good deals on bottles of Leo and Chang – just 99 baht all night, every night. The bar doesn't gouge customers on lady drinks with standard lady drinks 120 baht, beer lady drinks 125 baht and top shelf and shooter lady drinks 150 baht.
Zen bar on Soi Nana, just to the right of the entrance to Nana Plaza, has buckets of beers (4 local beers in a bucket of ice) at just 280 baht from 10 AM – 6 PM. The bar also has live music every night from 8 PM until closing. And you can see in the New Year with all cocktails at 150 baht, free food from 6 – 8 PM and live music. Check out the board outside the bar for more offers and specials.
If you were in any doubt about how disruptive the protests could be to parts of town popular with foreigners, Sunday night last saw Soi Cowboy hit. Some errantly reported that the soi closed – it didn't – but certainly business was affected with protests taking place right next to the soi. The temporary stage set up by the protesters had sound booming through the soi. That, along with protesters using Soi Cowboy as a means of exiting the general area put a real dampener on things.
The Strip in Patpong soi 2 is getting both innovative and aggressive in their attempts to persuade those staying on Sukhumvit to make the trek over to Silom and visit Patpong. Knowing that Sukhumvit is where the highest concentration of hotels is, and that those staying in the area are more likely to hit Nana or Cowboy, The Strip has an offer for guests of hotels on Sukhumvit who make it to The Strip – buy 1 drink and get 2 drinks free! Full details on the main page of The Strip website.
The newest bar in Patpong, the beautifully decorated Lust, in Patpong soi 1, is finding business in Bangkok's oldest bar area tough going. They have already given up on the after-hours disco idea and are re-tooling the venue as a gogo bar. It's going to be tough, because they must have invested plenty on the build, there are fewer customers about, they don't have dancers yet or even much of a stage. And with prices that will scare off many – think 200 baht up for standard drinks – it seems they may need a major rethink to make it work. Given how nicely designed the venue is, here's hoping they can make a go of it.
Just as was predicted in last week's column, the crackdown on ED visas is official. In Bangkok, at least, those applying for an extension of stay based on an ED visa need to show proof of funds to support themselves in Thailand while they are studying. They also need to show a record of their visa history in Thailand for the last 2 years. If the applicant has been residing in Thailand for the past 2 years and has been doing back to back visa runs and considered by the Immigration Department to be a visa runner, the visa extension may not be approved.
And it's not just foreigners residing in Thailand who will be hit by this crackdown, but the visa providers language schools with many students only signing up to get a visa and never attending class. Language schools might have many students on their books but they only need a handful of teachers because many students don't actually take advantage of the chance to learn the language. Expect further crackdowns on visas and as was mentioned in last week's column, keep an eye on the requirements for a retirement visa which may be changed.
Up until recently, if you had overstayed your visa by a period of up to 1 year, you could exit the country at any land border and would only incur a 20,000 baht fine and a naughty boy stamp in your passport stating that you had overstayed. Officers were instructed to arrest anyone who had overstayed by more than a year and attempted to exit the country at a land border point. They would then be sent to Bangkok for processing where they would be charged, presumably found guilty, fined and deported. The policy at land borders has now changed and anyone who has overstayed by more than 6 months who attempts to exit at a land border will be arrested and sent to Bangkok. Perhaps the authorities might consider adopting the policy of some Western countries whereby any visitor who overstays their visa without a valid reason i.e. being incapacitated in hospital is barred from re-entering the country for 5 years. I imagine that would have quite an effect on the overstay problem!
I got lucky with my first job in Bangkok, securing a position at a great language school working with a bunch of professionals. It was the best possible way to start out as a recently qualified teacher and in retrospect, I could not have hoped for a better place to work. The Director Of Studies was careful to explain to me that while he was keen to take me on, he was going against his personal rule of only hiring teachers with at least 2 years experience in Thailand. He said that Thailand and the Thais are so complex that those new to the country can make faux pas that might seem innocuous enough to themselves but which can really upset the Thais – and upsetting the Thais would mean losing students i.e. customers. As I started to rack up a few years in country, I saw that he had a point, and noticed that newbies tend to make the same mistakes. While there is something to be said for time in country, the other side of this is that many Western expats in Thailand go native. They may adopt habits such as tardiness, a lack of urgency or saving face over meeting objectives, none of which would cut it in the West. To some it happens almost overnight, others it takes years, but eventually it happens to most of us.
With this in mind, Boss Hogg has gone against the conventional wisdom of hiring someone with experience in country and the new manager at Bully's is a Thailand newbie, although she has much experience in the hospitality industry in the States. It seems the Hogg had had enough of people who had adapted to local ways and wanted someone who would maintain American standards. And yeah, I said she – and she is doing a good job. Say hello to Abigail, the new American manager at Bully's next time you're there.
Commuters passing through the Sukhumvit underground station regularly may remember the ginger cat which was a fixture by the escalators leading up to the Asoke skytrain for some months. Nicknamed maew Asoke – "the Asoke cat" in English – it disappeared a couple of months ago. Social media picked up on this with the question asked, what happened to maew Asoke? It turns out that a cat lover couldn't bear the sight of the young feline living there so she adopted it, taking it back to her apartment where it joined her existing family of 3 cats. Maew Asoke has been featured on national TV and photos of him are all over social media – and he seems most content at his new home with his new family.
A week after I mentioned the great deal on steak at The Londoner when you factor in the 40% discount on food on Mondays and Tuesdays, the discount promotion was cancelled! Suddenly the 270 baht steak was 450 baht and didn't look like such a bargain after all. So where to find a great imported steak in Bangkok at a fair price? Sunrise Tacos flagship branch at Sukhumvit soi 12 and Silom branch have a new deal on US Black Angus. It's served with fries or a baked potato and grilled vegetables for just 395 baht. This cut is known as the flat iron steak in America, the butler's steak in the UK, and in New Zealand and Australia, the oyster blade steak. It is tender and particularly flavourful. I tried it last night – photo above – and it was lovely. At 395 baht, this has got to be the best deal on an imported American steak in Bangkok at this time.
The other half said she wanted to stop by a pharmacy to pick up something. No, dear readers, it was not a pregnancy test – no own goals this week! When she asked the pharmacist for "Amoxy", as she called it, I thought I was mishearing things. But just as I expected, and feared, the pharmacist pulls out a strip of the antibiotic Amoxicillin from under the counter and handed it over. I asked her why she had bought antibiotics and she said because she thought she could feel an infection coming on. What followed was a stern Stickman lecture about antibiotics and their effects. She responded by explaining that virtually all of her friends – all educated, urban Thai women with good jobs – use antibiotics regularly. One who has an acne issue has been taking Amoxicillin everyday for 5 years! Others buy it regularly and she insists that some take it most months for some (perceived) problem. Educated they may be, but they have no idea of the dangers misuse and overuse of antibiotics has, nor any idea about the looming danger of antibiotic-resistant bacteria – due to this very abuse of antibiotics! I've always known that such abuse and misuse was prevalent in Thailand, I just didn't realise how bad it is. And shame on pharmacists for selling drugs over the counter without so much as asking a single question or giving a word of advice.
The ongoing political conflict is affecting more and more Thais and some have some very strong opinions about what's going on. Some Thais are VERY sensitive about outsiders expressing their opinions if they are of an opposing view, and can become very upset very fast. As such, foreigners in Thailand should be very careful what they say about the protests and who they say it to. Respected news organisations as the BBC and even the New York Times have been criticised for their coverage. Sometimes it is just one small point made that is picked up on and heavily criticised. In some cases you can see that what has been said has been misinterpreted, but there have been occasions when news organisations get things plain wrong. What follows can be mass outrage and the organisation vilified. With all of that in mind, I am VERY conservative when I cover the protests and stick to a basic format of this is where I was and this is what I saw with comments about how safe I feel the areas popular with those who read this column are. With this approach I am comfortable I won't upset the locals who are, as I say, very sensitive. Making predictions about what might happen in the future or expressing opinion publicly is asking for trouble.
In a country where many crazy things happen, this photo is one of the most bizarre things I have seen in all my time in Thailand. It was taken this week at the Japan-Thailand stadium where political protests took place and features riot police herded inside portable fences and barriers and who appear to have done so compliantly, without resisting. Quite amazing.
Bangkok evokes and oozes sensuality where crime, sex and greed walk hand in hand with mystery, exotica and seduction. Master crime and fiction writers will come together for a special occasion on the literary calendar, “Bangkok Fiction Night of Noir”, at the iconic Checkinn99 next Sunday, January 5th, from 7:30 PM until late. Readings, signings, riveting prose, evocative art & imagery and live music representing the Bangkok noir. Joined by international crime writer Cara Black, the heavyweight line-up includes Christopher G. Moore, Dean Barrett, James A. Newman, John Marango, Chris Coles, John Burdett and Tom Vater, all of whom have a following in Bangkok and beyond. Their writing, likable characters, personal experience and knowledge of the city creates the perfect atmosphere for mystery and thrills. See and feel the rawness and gritty spirit of the city and atmosphere as they read favourite excerpts from their works or explain their art. I have also been invited by the authors to exhibit a range of my own published and unpublished Stickman photos in a gallery style presentation. For many years that black smoked glass steel-framed front door at the end of Sukhumvit's most foreboding alley entrance ensured that Checkinn remained strictly a word of mouth bar – allowing time to pass whilst its character and decor remained unchanged for more than 5 decades. The literary event will follow-on from Checkinn's popular jazz afternoon. For fans of crime, mystery and thriller novels set in this amazing city with its many characters and oh so seedy underbelly, this is a night not to be missed. More details can be found at Checkinn99bkk.com. Bookings can be made online and are recommended. As a reminder, Checkinn99 is located on Sukhumvit between sois 5 & 7, and is opposite the Landmark Hotel.
Quote of the week, "Many expats find living in Bangkok and high moral standards don't go well together."
Reader's story of the week comes from Pretender, "Why I Became a Pattaya Sex Tourist at Age 33".
Bangkok's tallest condominium building is profiled by CNN.
The Guardian looks at Chinese visitors to Pattaya and how Chinese tourists are changing world travel.
The Sydney Morning Herald spreads the word on the Aussie editor in Phuket facing criminal defamation charges.
A video appeared on YouTube explaining the political issues in Thailand, a message to the world from Thailand.
A New Zealander gives his ATM PIN code to a ladyboy in Pattaya….and you can guess the rest!
The BBC reports that a protester is shot dead in Bangkok.
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: As a requirement of my work, I need to get a police certificate from all the countries I have lived and worked in, in the past 7 years. One of those countries was Thailand. Is it possible to get this police certificate from Thailand using the postal service (based on my experiences with the postal system in Thailand I foresee this as something of a nightmare) or perhaps online, and if it is, what are the requirements? If it is not possible to do this via post, is this a service that Sunbelt Asia offers and if you do, what do you need from me and what is the total cost?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: It is not possible to do this via post. It must be done in person. Since you are overseas you will need to assign power of attorney to someone to represent you at Police Headquarters. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can do this for you, and have experience in this process. First you will need to go to a Thai consulate and sign the Power of Attorney in front of the Consular officer. An Honorary Consulate can also do this.
Then you will need to go to your local police station where you will be fingerprinted and usually the police will send the prints to Bangkok. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can then represent you at the Police Headquarters to file the application for the clearance certificate on your behalf. It can take some time to process depending whether they get your prints quickly and also on how back-logged they may be.
Please feel free to contact us at [email protected] if you have more questions or want to get the process started. It can be a lengthy process.
Another year has passed by, another year on the roller coaster that is expat life in Bangkok. It was a year that looked like it would end on a high, but the ongoing political turmoil put an end to that. I've refrained from the customary end of year column speculating about what 2014 will bring. Much depends on the political crisis and how things are settled. The Thai economy and tourism industry have each proven to be robust and have a remarkable knack of bouncing back quickly. As far as this column goes, I expect 2014 will be more of the same. I'd like to move a little away from the bar industry and put together more articles about travel, but that isn't really possible because I know that bar industry news and gossip is what many tune in for. Some are keen to keep up to date so they know what's going on and plenty who once enjoyed the industry now like to experience it vicariously. That means I won't be giving up covering it any time soon. Thank you for all your support this past year. I hope you continue to find the column informative and entertaining, and feel it's worthwhile tuning in each week.
Your Bangkok commentator,