When I grew up tattoos were the domain of sailors, soldiers, gang members and working girls. When I arrived in Bangkok in the late '90s the same attitudes towards tattoos were prevalent. Even amongst bargirls, tattoos weren't that common and as best I can remember, not that many Bangkok bargirls had tattoos. As tattoos have become accepted in the West and appeal to a more mainstream audience, the attitudes towards them in Thai society has hardly changed. But the bar industry doesn't follow the mores of mainstream society. A tattoo craze has swept through many Bangkok bars in recent years and today many girls sport tramp stamps.
Club Electric Blue has many girls with tattoos much more imaginative than the clichéd rose above their boob or butterfly on their shoulder. For many their entire back is an artist's canvas. Club Electric Blue is a tattoo lover's paradise and that is where I headed to find out more about Thai bargirls and tattoos. What possesses these girls to not just get tattooed, but in some cases to cover themselves in ink?
I'm tattoo-free and the thought of ever getting inked has never crossed my mind. What others choose to do with their body is their choice. I don't usually comment on tattoos unless the tattoo itself is particularly dramatic. At the same time, I can't help but wonder what goes through someone's mind when choosing to brand themselves in a way which is basically permanent.
Many of the girls in Patpong bars are just that, girls. They are young and like so many Thais, they live in the now. They want it today with no regard for tomorrow.
That the tattoo fad is so widespread amongst bargirls is surprising when you consider that being tattooed typically costs money and takes time.
Many working girls gain respect from their peers from their tattoos, not face per se, but a level of respect. And what their peers think of them is important to them. Mainstream Thai society looks down on the behaviour of working girls so the respect they get from their peers has added value.
Many of the tattoos featured here are not the work of a tattoo artist, but of a friend or, in many cases, a brother. Only a couple were created in tattoo studios. With an inherent distrust of people unfamiliar to them, these girls prefer a friend to draw their tattoo.
This octopus is one of the few professionally drawn tattoos featured. I ask about the inspiration for it and it goes straight over her head. I simplify the question and ask why she chose to have what appears to me to be an octopus with short tentacles and an enlarged head. She responds that it was not her idea, but the tattooist's. She just wanted a tattoo on her back. That's it.
Her skin, her choice.
Miss Thanyarak has her named inked on her lower back in a gothic font. Above it is a work in progress that will cover most of her back.
According to the young lady these characters says "sajo", which she believes translates as boss, when in fact I am reliably informed that it reads 'Omori Shin', which is a man's name, I assume the one who convinced her to get the tattoo. It was chosen and paid for by a Japanese fellow who is a Patpong regular. He has taken many girls to the tattoo studio in Patpong soi 2 between The Strip and Club Electric Blue to get the very same tattoo. When I asked if she had any regrets about it, she looked at me like I was asking a daft question. Why would she regret it?!
Plenty of bargirls have a Western man's name permanently branded on their skin. It's not necessarily a bargirl / customer thing. David Beckham, Kobe Bryant, Ewan McGregor and Mariah Carey amongst others all have a tattoo in honour of their spouse.
Traditional tattoos I get. But a rose, a butterfly or some other clichéd image in a conspicuous spot which is difficult to conceal strikes me as curious. And what about a woman who chooses to have a tattoo just above her breast. It makes a statement. Whether one wants to make that same statement for their entire life or not, I have my doubts.
At a mid-range hotel recently my eyebrows were raised seeing one of the reception staff sporting such a tattoo above her breast. It was clearly visible as she sat behind the reception desk on duty. I guess that says more about the labour market in Bangkok today than anything.
Miss Kwang got her first tattoo at 15, soon after she left school. Just 3 years on her body is covered with them. Her shoulder, back, fingers, arms and legs make her something of a walking advertisement for a tattoo studio – and she is not finished yet. Her 20th birthday is still the best part of 2 years away.
A friend in Pattaya had fxxx off tattooed between the fingers of one hand and the same in Thai tattooed between the fingers of the other hand. I imagine he gets interesting reactions from those who don't know him.
Yam's leg is tattooed from top to bottom. Her entire back is covered in ink, a traditional tattoo on the top half and a decorative design on the lower half. Her right leg will be next, followed by her navel.
This is Yam's back. She looks at me with curious bemusement when I ask her about her full-back tattoo, as if I am asking something as innocuous as why her hair is dyed the colour it is, or why her nails are painted scarlet.
Taitle is a former girl of the week who has one of the most exotic tattoos in the bar. A lady of few words, she prefers to dance up a storm than talk about her tattoo. Taitle's full-back tattoo impresses tattoo aficionados in both its design and the workmanship in penning it.
This full back tattoo is not finished. Tattoos are an investment in time. It has taken 4 separate sessions of 5 hours to get to this point.
This lass had an unusual reason for getting tattooed. She said that she is small-bodied (but no smaller than the average girl in the bars) and feels that a full back tattoo will make her appear bigger than she actually is. That was the primary reason for getting a full back tattoo. She worked with the tattoo artist, explaining that she wanted a mixed Thai / Japanese style design and this is what they came up with. She has paid 3,000 baht so far but owes money on the work done so far and will have to pay much more to get it finished. The final cost is unknown.
Girls with tattoos below the navel are often concealing stretch marks. Usually these tattoos look rough, but in this case the design is colourful and eye-catching.
Most of these girls get tattoos because….well, because they can! I was hoping for some insight from them on why they chose the design they did, why they chose the body part they did, how they determined its size etc. I had hoped to try and understand what goes through a girl's mind when she makes the decision to get permanently marked. Tattoos aren't like a piece of clothing; you can't change it if you decide you no longer like it or it goes out of fashion.
The girls were unanimous in their reasons for getting tattoos – tattoos are cool, cute and sexy!
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of a Westerner painting Khao San Road. 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 – Smuggling doesn't pay.
When I flew in to Suvarnabhumi Airport in early December I was stopped by a policeman after clearing Immigration and Customs and asked if I had brought in any alcohol or cigarettes. I had a gift set of 150 ml of spirits and told him so and offered to open my backpack to show him. As I was about to do so he said he believed me and let me go to continue my travels. However, in the queue when leaving Bangkok I mentioned this to a fellow countryman and he told me his tale on entry. He had bought 9 x 200 cigarettes in Dubai for his friends in Thailand and was collared on arrival by Customs at Suvarnabhumi. Since he was not in their system as a known smuggler he was given the minimum fine (he showed me the stamped paperwork), 43,065 baht! Needless to say his passport is now flagged each time on entry.
Treating the protests as a party.
I don't know if any bloggers are doing photo essays, but yours are exemplary. You capture the protestscape, the city (and how it's affected), and importantly, the characters. I can easily picture the party atmosphere. Thais seem to view any big gathering as a party, which is one of their lovely traits. But the puppy analogy holds. Yes, it's cute when it's harmless and fuzzy but after a while it grows into a dog, and you wonder if it's gonna bite. When I see the sandbags and tents, I think, ok, this is gonna last a while. Right now it's a minor inconvenience for most. We'll re-evaluate February 2nd, and after.
I alighted from the BTS at Asoke last night around 6 PM. I should have known better and gotten off at Prom Pong. It was utter chaos. It has been the past week as you know, as you have late-coming protesters (arriving after work, by the makeup of the commuters on the skytrain), along with regular commuters like me who live in the area. But last night it was downright scary. Along with some (in)dignitary on the main stage riling up the masses, and the closing of the pedestrian skywalk by the ersatz PDRC guards / thugs, there seemed to be some small parade coming down Sukhumvit eastbound toward the Asoke intersection. The result was the BTS platform and all available exits (now reduced to the stairways) were absolutely packed, dangerously so. It took around 20 minutes from the turnstile to street level, using the stairway on the south-east side of the platform. People were moving at a snail's pace, some just standing and gawking at the goings on Thai-style (I have seen this on a smaller scale time and time again – Thais stopping in the middle of a stairway to chat oblivious of other people, but in this situation, come on!), as well as some farang media types taking photos. It really had a mob feel to it. All it would have taken was a firecracker or a muffler backfiring and it would have been a stampede like you see at a rock concert or club fire. At street level it took some nimble maneuvering to get across the intersection as well. The funny thing is, once you got across the intersection (in front of True Fitness) it was clear sailing down Sukhumvit. Tonight I will take the extra stop and get off at Prom Pong.
It's all about the money.
I commented to my wife that I was surprised that the protests are still ongoing after they declared there will be an election. My wife's analysis is that there is a lot of money to be made by keeping the protest sites up and running. While some shops are being harmed, other enterprising Thais have turned this in to a land grab opportunity to re-position their businesses and profit heavily. Perhaps when you walk around, look at the economics of the situation and see if there are some large organised operations providing new services to anyone and everyone in the protest areas and crowding out existing businesses in the area. I'm curious if this is true as it could provide extra monetization to the occupiers.
Bar phone ban!
Smartphones should be banned at work and specifically in the bars. All the girls have a Samsung phone and they simply cannot leave the things alone. Yesterday I went into a bar and sat down between two phone-addicted girls. Without even looking at me, one asked after a couple of minutes, "Would you like a drink?" I got up and left. I was also the only customer in the bar at 10 PM. One guy told me that as soon as he got his girl back to the hotel she wanted the wi-fi password and then spent the next 30 minutes texting. Through the night the phone was constantly emitting alerts as new messages came in. Then in the morning she needed another hour for text replies. Apart from insisting that the addiction be turned off, maybe it's a good idea to deny knowing the wi-fi password? So a plea to bar owners, please restrict the use of phones, not only when there are customers in the bar, but also because if I now see a group of girls huddled up totally engaged with their phones I walk past. You are losing business!
Saturday night fever.
I was in Tilac last night and spent a couple of hours there. At no time between 10 PM and midnight were there more than a dozen customers in the bar, on a Saturday night in high season when you should be struggling to get in the door. Most of the time there were just 6 or 7. A girl sat with me said it's the same every night, so I wonder how long these places can keep functioning. A couple of bizarre things – one of the managers in Tilac was out buying some protester shirt souvenirs and showing them around, apparently not linking in her mind the mob and lack of business. And a girl dressed like a Barbie Doll came in collecting funds for the protesters and wasn't thrown out. In fact, she engaged in friendly conversation. They just don't get it. Even Crazy House, when I poked my head in, wasn't using the upstairs area, although downstairs was busy enough.
I just finished reading your review of Vietnam. You did a good job for a stranger but missed the good stuff! The expat bars here are just that, a place for expats to go and hang out. They have little in common with anything going on here and frankly speaking, I have never understood the draw. Vietnam has a host of other places to see, all very common to the locals and any foreigners willing to venture out a little bit. There are numerous Vietnamese style “Hooters” which can be a great deal of fun. The bars you took photos of are, for the most part, for people passing through. Anyone living here (and looking for female companionship) would go to a karaoke. Many with tall, white skin and well proportioned ladies not seen in the bar areas. The laws here are strict when it comes to prostitution and as a result it is not in your face in the same way as it is in Thailand, but it is here, believe me. The stricter laws have given birth to a more clandestine, more underground form of service from the ladies, and it has resulted in an interesting twist over Thailand. Because it is much more secretive, it allows for ladies of a much higher breeding (look) to enter into the oldest of trades. Women whom would otherwise abstain from the naughty nightlife have an outlet to ply their trade without ever being seen swinging from a poll or adorned on a website. This results in a much higher quality. There is also another difference worth mentioning. There is still the Western wow factor here. Girls are genuinely excited to meet us or engage in conversation, which seems to be missing in Thailand.
Girl of the week
Jenny, coyote dancer.
Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2.
The political protests in Bangkok continue as the occupation of a number of intersections in downtown Bangkok affects residents and visitors, businesses and the general public. The protests have seen a significant drop in visitor arrivals and bar trade remains weak. One Soi Nana bar owner who requests to remain anonymous says that trade in his bar is down 30 – 40% on January of last year and believes that most other bars on the soi are down a similar amount.
But if it's bad in the naughty boy bar areas, it's even worse elsewhere. Sukhumvit soi 11 has been hit hard and trade appears to be down by at least as much, perhaps even more than in the sois popular with naughty boys.
The general election is scheduled to take place next weekend. The sale of alcohol is prohibited on election day in the hope that voters will be sober. With the election due to be held next Sunday (I say "due to" because with the political protests there is a chance it might not go ahead), that would usually mean alcohol cannot be sold from 6 PM Saturday until midnight of Sunday night. For an indication of what may happen next weekend we should look at what happened this weekend. Today is advance voting day and the same law applies to advance voting day as it does to election day. All 3 of Bangkok's farang bar areas were open last night. Alcohol was off the menu at Soi Cowboy. At Nana Plaza and Patpong, bars served alcoholic drinks in paper cups where it was a case of nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
Down in Pattaya it was a different story and most bars were closed. Some opened and served soft drinks only. It's fair to expect that it will be the same next weekend.
In Phuket bars were closed which is kind of ironic because people can't vote since polling stations have been blockaded and the south is a Democrat Party stronghold – and that party is not competing in the elections! While the bars are officially supposed to stay closed until midnight, word is that many will open around 10:30, perhaps earlier.
There are increasing signs that the naughty bar industry in Bangkok is in trouble. Word from two of the major players in the industry is of decreasing sales and falling profits. This has not been attributed to the downturn in tourist numbers in Bangkok due to the political protests but a variety of other reasons including difficulty in recruiting staff, higher salaries and soaring rent. A major player in the industry laid off a dozen of its foreign managers, replacing them with Thais in what appears to be a cost-saving measure.
2 iconic gogo bars on the main Patpong soi, Kiss and Camelot Castle, have both closed without comment or explanation from the owners. Rumours run the full gamut from the recent rent increases making them no longer viable to operate, to they're each about to undergo renovations (which is rather unlikely) to the rumour I believe most likely to be closest to the truth – that bars are facing such difficulty getting girls that it's viable to consolidate the girls in to a smaller number of bars. The girls from Camelot Castle can be found dancing in King's Castle 1 and the Kiss team is now doing their thing in Super Star.
With the number of Japanese visiting Thailand dropping markedly due to the ongoing political protests, will white men find themselves in favour at the Thermae? It's a good few years since Japanese invaded the Thermae and repelled the allied forces. The Thermae is still very much Japanese territory. Many of the girls at the Thermae service Japanese only and some avert their eyes when a white guy looks their way. But business is business and with fewer Japanese visiting Bangkok at this time, will there be a change in attitude?
In late December I reported that there were plans for monthly gogo dance contests to be held in the first 3 months of the year. What made this so exciting was that some of the venues and organisers from the cult Nanapong dance contests had expressed an interest in being involved. Unfortunately interest seems to have diminished and not a peep has been heard since.
Candy Land is the name of the renovated bar in Nana Plaza that was once known as G Spot. Initial reports were that it would be more of a lounge bar than a conventional gogo bar, but they have proved wrong and Candy Land will feature chrome poles. Candy Land looks very much like it will be a revamped version of G Spot. As you walk in there are two small dance stages on the left – one in front of the DJ's booth and the other in front of the room where the shower shows used to be performed. This is where the coyote girls will dance. The large dance floor in the middle is for gogo dancers and at the top of the bar (the far right as you walk in), are two Jacuzzis. Candy Land is one of the biggest bars in the plaza so filling it with girls is going to be a challenge. Candy Land hopes to open on Monday, February 3rd.
I haven't been there myself but the word from friends in Pattaya is that Amytist in Soi LK Metro has some lovely dancers. Check it out.
From time to time I see posts on naughty boy forums about porn movies and occasionally there are discussions about the (international) porn stars they lust after. The idea of going with a porn star seems to excite some, but do these naughty boys realise that they may have unwittingly already been with a porn star?! There are a number of girls (and ladyboys) in the bar industry who have starred in porn movies and in Nana Plaza alone there are at least half a dozen.
Your favourite bargirl might beam a thousand watt smile when she sees you walk in but don't take that to mean that these girls are the happy-go-lucky folks they'd like you to think they are. Many bargirls are competitive and there can be much rivalry amongst them. Get a few drinks in them and their true feelings come out. That is exactly what happened at Patpong this week when a popular girl got in to a fight with 3 girls in the bar. She'd had too much to drink, said a few things that weren't very nice and a cat fight took place, spilling outside the bar and causing a commotion. The farang owner had to step in and stop it.
Notices posted around bar areas provide an insight in to where the industry is at. Outside Hot Lips in Nana Plaza (which still has the Fantasia sign erected outside) a notice says staff wanted and lists the salary on offer with rates that show the demand the girls are in these days. Coyote dancers are being offered 20,000 baht a month and gogo girls 13,000 – 15,000 baht a month. Lady drink commissions and tips will top that up to a quite liveable salary. That's one of many reasons why bargirls in Bangkok often quote such lofty rates for extras these days – they already earn enough to have a comfortable life and support their family upcountry and they are not desperate like they used to be. Bars are competing for staff and with fewer girls entering the industry salaries will probably continue to rise. That's one of the reasons why drinks and barfine rates have gone up.
Monsoon in Sukhumvit soi 8 is known for good, solid food, both Thai and Western. That's good news for Hemingway's in Sukhumvit soi 14 which recruited the American head chef from Monsoon just a couple of weeks ago.
At long last there is a chain of coffee houses in Bangkok which serves genuinely good coffee. Dean & Deluca leaves the other coffee chains for dead. It's a shame the food is so pricey – but the coffee is great! The branch at Ploenchit is a pleasant spot to sit back and watch the world go by.
Comparing airfares recently, it's not hard to see why Thai Airways isn't doing well financially – on some routes they are the most expensive carrier. Thai Airways appears to price their domestic routes relatively low – flights within Thailand are reasonably priced – while their international route pricing is high. Could it be that international routes (which may have more foreign passengers than Thais) are subsidising domestic routes, where most passengers are Thai?
It's not cold by farang standards but this week the lowest overnight temperature in Bangkok for 30 years was recorded. Thais are in jackets, soi dogs are wrapped in baby's clothes and beggars sit with their hands out in direct sunlight when there is a shady area beside them.
Do you notice more Thais speaking a dialect you don't understand? Odds are that while they may look like Thais they are probably Burmese. More and more Burmese are working in Thailand today and more businesses are catering to them. Signs and adverts in the Burmese script are popping up around town including billboard for Western Union with Burmese script. Expect the trend to continue as Thailand has a labour shortage and is reliant on immigrant labour.
Quote of the week is a Stickman original, "The baht is as stubborn as a Thai bargirl, refusing to drop her price and asking for more than many think she is worth."
Reader's story of the week is many men's worst nightmare, "My Girlfriend Turns Out To Be A Post-op Ladyboy".
Expats in Bangkok are carrying on with life as usual
despite the protests.
Toyota threatens to leave Thailand if the political unrest and protests are not settled soon.
Aussies are warned that their insurance might not cover them if problems are suffered during civil unrest in Thailand.
A Thai TV channel shows that English is not the only language Thais are weak at.
An Englishman confronts his Thai bride with a meat cleaver, thinking she was cheating on him and treating him like a cash cow!
A Swede is sentenced to life in prison and fined 12.5 million baht after being convicted of murder in Phuket.
Thai protesters mistakenly create a Mercedes Benz logo instead of a peace symbol!
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: In the weekly of January 12, someone asked a question about working online. Sunbelt said, inter alia, "if you were going to make a permanent home in Thailand then you should consider starting a legitimate business and Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you with that." I asked a visa advisor for whom I have some respect how one could "get legal" for online work. He thought it wasn't easy. Either as a farang you were not working, or you needed to set up a Thai company which would bring considerable compliance burdens, possibly including the need to employ a certain number of Thai staff. There wasn't, he said, a simple appropriate legal vehicle for an online freelancer. Is he right? Or, putting it differently, could Sunbelt perhaps say a little more about how you do this?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: That is correct. There is no legal alternative for online freelancers except to start their own consulting business to obtain the necessary visa and work permit. You would need to meet all the same requirements as for a regular company; 2 million baht in registered capital (1 million baht if married to a Thai national) and 4 Thai employees. Three shareholders are required and at least 51% of the shares must be owned by Thai nationals if the business does not fall under certain qualifications allowing for 100% foreign ownership; such as a company that only exports, or if the company is being set up by American nationals using the Amity Treaty, or under the aegis of the Board of Investment (BOI). Be aware that an Amity company requires 3 million baht in capitalization for a work permit but you can avoid the issue of Thai majority shareholders. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can meet with you for a free initial consultation to go over your options, but ultimately those options are limited to either starting your own company or finding an employer who will sponsor your work permit.
The protests in Bangkok continue with no end in sight. The announcement of an emergency decree starting Wednesday which gives the government more powers to deal with the situation has not been followed by action. Businesses are hurting, many Bangkokians living or working near the protest sites are getting fed up and expats are starting to mutter. As to whether one should visit Bangkok at this time, that's a question I'm not prepared to answer because we all have different tolerance levels. But what I will say is this. I have not heard from anyone who has visited Bangkok in the past 2 weeks who feels they made the wrong decision to visit at this time. I have not heard from anyone who feels the inconvenience suffered was such that they regretted visiting. Many Thais, expat residents and business owners are growing increasingly unhappy, but visitors who are in town for just a few days appear to be enjoying themselves. Some even see the protests as a bonus, an opportunity for a few unusual photos for their Facebook page and a story to tell the folks back home!
Your Bangkok commentator,