Stickman's Weekly Column March 30th, 2014

Bangkok Gogo Bars, From The Inside



Last week's column which looked at how Bangkok's gogo bars could learn from Pattaya bars received a massive response, and it wasn't just readers making their thoughts known. Bar owners also had a few things to say. One was Big Andy, the popular boss of Patpong's Club Electric Blue, a bar owner with 15 years experience in the industry and one of few who has operated bars in both Bangkok and Pattaya. When Andy asked me if I'd be interested in hearing about things from the inside looking out rather than the outside looking in I jumped at the chance.

Andy and I got together this week for a chat about some of the points made in the last column, as well as the general state of Bangkok's gogo bar industry.





<Before I even have a chance to say something and set the scene, Big Andy starts his spiel on the state of the industry.>

I remember when we opened Dollhouse in Clinton Plaza, 15 years ago. We were 120 baht a drink then. Now we are 15 years down the road and the price of drinks has gone up 30 baht. It's gone up to around 150 or 160 which seems to be the average. Look at inflation from 1999 to what year are we now, 2014? 15 years on and drink prices have gone up only 25%. But salaries have more than doubled. We used to pay dancers 7,000 for naked, 6,000 for topless and 5,000 for bikini. Now the girls make 15,000 – 20,000 baht a month to dance on stage, no naked or topless! They coyotes make anywhere from 500 – 1,000 baht a day depending where they're working so it only stands to reason why prices have gone up.

And what about expenses over that time?

<His eyes roll> To be quite honest with you, the guys with bars in Nana Plaza, I don't know how they make it with the rent they have to pay there.

You and me both!

It's just insanity! A 3-shophouse Nana Plaza ground floor bar for 700,000 baht a month? In US, that's over $20,000 rent a month. That's rent only! That same bar 15 years ago was maybe 100,000 baht a month rent!

It's crazy!

You know, Darel and I arrived here in 1999 and we fell in to the gogo scene. We thought we could open a bar different to any other. We tried different shit that had never been done before in Bangkok and all this new stuff but the bottom line is that you've got to have cold beer, cute girls, cool air-con and a good atmosphere. It hasn't changed a lot.

You know what I think? Too many bar owners overuse this hot girls and cold beer cliché and I'm not convinced. I think there's a lot of people going to the bars who want entertainment and don't necessarily want a girl.

Then you have to go to the show bars. There are show bars that specialise in shows and entertainment. They're like the West End or Broadway thing. If that is what you want then you go to one of the show bars. I think the majority of guys want to see cute girls on stage ready for a night of enjoyment.

So what about the money the girls ask these days? Some guys don't want to pay it, and some just can't afford it.

I tell you what someone said to me the other day. Years ago you never talked money with the girls. You know what you'd pay them – 2,000 baht for the night. If you asked her how much the first thing that came out of her mouth was "Up to you!"

You don't hear those words these days!

You try and do that now. You can't. The girls know what they want to charge and if you don't agree to it they ain't going with you! They know that the next guy is going to pay it. The days of "Up to you" are finished, long gone!

Yep.

I never used to think about it. I gave them 2,000 plus taxi money, whether it was short time or long time.

What are the girls here in Patpong asking now?

They want 2,500 or 3,000 short time and they get it.

You need to get back to reality. You're talking $100 for a cute 18 – 25 year old. You're not going to get that in the western world for $100. You're gonna get a street walker! You'd be lucky to get her for $100.

You have coyote dancers here in the bar now.

I never thought I would get in to coyote girls. I could never see it happening, I could never really understand it or get my head around it. We've had them here for over a year.

How are they?

Good! All our dancers and our coyotes go off. I think if dancers or coyotes don't go out with customers then it causes problems but because they all work for me, the coyotes and the dancers, it works better for the club.

But they cost more, right?

The bar is taking the same money as it was in its heyday. Barfines for girls 15 year ago were 500 baht. Barfines for regular girls today have gone up 100 baht to 600 baht. That is a 100 baht increase in 15 years. Coyote barfines we charge 1,200 baht and the only reason we charge that is I have to pay their salaries which are 3 times what the gogo girls make. You can't have a 600 baht barfine for a girl when you're paying her 750 – 1,000 baht a day. It doesn't make sense.

What about finding girls these days?

We're lucky. We've been around a while and it's friends of the girls, younger sisters from girls who worked here years ago, cousins, other family members etc. We've been here a long time so the girls know we're here. We never screw with their money, we pay them what they earn on time. We're lucky that we have been around long enough that we manage to get girls. We did try an agency last year and that was a nightmare. The agencies will send you anything.

Other bars aren't doing so well getting girls.

No. We used this agency and it was just a lady who get hold of girls' phone numbers. She charged a high price, paid the girls a small amount of money, put pressure on them so we decided to hire them ourselves and where this agency was cutting the girls for all sorts of stuff, we don't cut them. They get cut for coming in late and that is it. They don't get cut for lady drinks or anything like that.

So when I talk of Bangkok and Pattaya being different and how Bangkok could take lessons from Pattaya, what do you make of that?

I have had bars in both Bangkok and Pattaya. I would rather be in Bangkok any day of the week. Bangkok has a steady trickle of customers all year round whereas in Pattaya it's feast or famine.

I still speak to guys in Pattaya with bars and they are all pissing in their cornflakes. Rents in Pattaya and key money are through the roof, especially if you want to be on Walking Street or in the vicinity of Walking Street.

You wouldn't go back down there?

No, I couldn't go down there again. Pattaya has changed and it's not for me.

Pattaya reminds me of Benidorm in the '70s when it was the cheap vacation centre for the world. Now Pattaya seems to be that way. Saying that, the prices for condos and houses in Pattaya are on the rise. I don't get it. You got prices for property in Pattaya going through the roof! You could get a better deal in the Western world than in Pattaya right now.

What are some of the challenges you have to deal with that customers might not see?

There are some things we can't talk about, but let's look at what we can.

Look at what we have been through in recent years – SARS, bird flu, coups, red shirt protests, yellow shirt protests, flooding, repeated elections with bar closures, many holidays and more bar closures.

Over the years I've had 3 different bars each ordered closed for 30 days at a time. You don't think that hurt? You're fighting with the authorities all the time. You have to do deal with behind the scenes stuff that customers walking in don't ever see.

If you can imagine having 40 girls on their period in the same week when they're all bitching and moaning, you have to deal with that. You've got to deal with customers who are unruly and can be badly behaved. You have to deal with guys who take a girl, are disappointed, feel it's not up to his expectations and he wants his money back. I didn't get no money for sex so why is he coming back to me?

I'll go a little bit further. Where 15 years ago most gogo bars really were a license to print money, now you'll be lucky to work on 20 – 25% profit.

And in the past? Boss Hogg once said to me it was something like 40 or 45%.

<His eyes light up like a cat that has crept up behind a mouse which has no idea the cat is about to devour it!>

50 – 60%.

Now you have to really look at every little thing, tighten your belt here, cut something there, all to get 20 or 25%. Throw in a few holidays when the bars are closed and what not that we seem to get every month or the heavies are in town and you have to close early and that's all part of it. You know, people say to me all the time that you have got the best job in the world. From the outside looking in it may look like that, but behind the scenes it's not.

Business is as bad now as I have ever seen it, and I really think the product just isn't the same. Prices are high, attitudes stink and the tourists haven't come back even after the protesters retreated, at least not in the numbers hoped. Do you think many bars will go to the wall?

I am surprised right now that there aren't a lot more bars closed. At one time I remember in Nana Plaza you used to be able to sell a 5 or 10% share of a bar for 5 million baht and the buyer was happy! I don't think anyone in their right mind would buy a bar right now, quite honestly.

I would say there are some bar owners who are there for the bragging rights to say that they are the owner of place with a bunch of pretty girls. I think there are bars for whom making money is not their first priority. Making their dreams come true is.

Do you think the bars might have made errors over the years and pushed customers away? For example, I think the girls are given so much latitude today and they get away with so much.

Let me answer that. At one time, the girls needed us. Now we need them.

A common scene in bars is that of girls on their mobile phone, ignoring customers completely. Why don't bar owners crack down on girls using mobile phones in the bar?

When we first opened in Bangkok no girls had telephones and the internet was new and not understood.

Now every girl has got two telephones. Every girl is on Facebook and dating sites. They've all got Line, Skype and WhatsApp. Guys can contact them through so many means. They're doing their own business with no need to be in a bar.





If I told all my girls now to switch off their phones and put them in their locker I would have a riot on my hands! They'd all be gone. See ya!

When the mobile phone first hit Thailand we never allowed the girls to have phones in the club. They had to be in their locker.

This is not a bar thing. When you jump on the skytrain, how many people are listening to music on their phone, talking on their phone, using the internet on their phone, or playing games on their phone? I guarantee you 80% are using mobile phones. It's not just the bar scene, it's the whole world! Everyone has got a mobile, everyone has Facebook, everyone has Skype. You just have to accept it. It's a changing world and people are in constant communication. I don't know anyone who doesn't have a phone. Can you imagine not having a mobile phone? It would be like having your hands cut off.

You see a lot of other bars operating. What do you think are some common mistakes bar owners make?

I think that some bar owners who have been doing this for a long time lose respect for what they own. They own a gogo bar. If you don't have the right girls on stage, the air-con isn't cold, you don't have cold drinks then people are going to vote with their feet.

I go in to some bars and I see these big heifers on stage and I wonder who in their right mind would hire these girls who are way too old, overweight, have had many babies and they're prancing around on stage. I know what I like – and it ain't that! Am I right?

Sure.

If you walked in my bar now and I had 30 girls on stage all weighing 75 kg each with stretch marks you'd just do a u-turn, and so would I!

You've got 3 areas in Bangkok – Nana, Cowboy and Patpong. 3 main full-on bar areas. Patpong has been here the longest. The trouble with Patpong is that it is mostly owned by two families who are stuck in the '70s.

What do you mean by that?

The bars have the same decor as when the Hueys were flying across to Vietnam. It's the same chairs, the same stage – they're stuck in a time warp. Luckily, Patpong 2 has more farang owners and seems to be doing better than Patpong 1.

When Darel and I opened Dollhouse, Soi Cowboy was dead. I hated Cowboy. You know, when we opened the Dollhouse we were one of the first bars in Cowboy to do a new-style, modern gogo bar and the other bars followed suit. Some changed owners, they remodeled the bars and now Cowboy is doing good. I think Cowboy took a lot of business from Nana Plaza.

Nana Plaza has had its problems, the same as everywhere. The rents in Nana Plaza and key money are mind-boggling. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night. I don't know how they do it.

Obviously there are some bars in Nana that do really well. The Rainbows, Angelwitch, Spanky's – they all do good but I think the people in those bars have their finger on the pulse.

You know, if you're not in the bar, you're gonna lose your arse. You have got to be in the bar. You have got to work the bar and have your finger on the pulse or you're gonna wake up on the 1st of every month and have to put your hand in your pocket to pay salaries and make rent.

What about bar managers? In last week's column I said Western bar managers were a key, yet so few bars have them. What do you make of that?

I have always had Western managers in all my clubs. We had Western managers in all the Dollhouse bars in Pattaya and Bangkok, the same with Club Electric Blue here and in Pattaya, and also in Beavers and Hooty's. You need them and I think bars who don't have Western managers need to wake up and smell the coffee. You need a friendly face in the bar doing everything unless you are going to do it all yourself After 15 years it gets old hat sitting here in the bar every night.

You told me you went through a period here where you hardly came in to the bar and I think you may not have had a manager then.

I went through a time with no manager. It was after the Red Shirt protests in this area. That destroyed Patpong. I didn't have a manager. I was doing it myself. Patpong was such a mess that I tried to save money on managers. I cannot sit here every night from 7:30 PM until 2:00 AM or later. The bar suffered because I wasn't here and I didn't have my finger on the pulse.

How did you turn that around?

I interviewed a bunch of guys, hired a good manager, let them have free run of the bar, ok, to some extent.

I got some cute girls back in, did special drink prices, did some advertising and got it all back on track again.

A lot of guys talk about the good old days. But you can't look back, and the world is changing faster than ever. What do you think we can look forward to in the future?

I haven't got a crystal ball. I think things are going to get tougher before they get better.

The trouble is now we are competing with Cambodia and Angeles City. I was in Cambodia last week. Beers are 50 cents or a $1. Girls are asking $20 for the night. Bangkok cannot compete with that. Thailand cannot compete with that. You're competing with other countries and Thailand is not a cheap country any more unless you want to live up in the boonies, in the north-east, have a fan turned on all day long and drink local whiskey. Only then is it a cheap country.

The Philippines and Cambodia have opened up and they are a lot cheaper than Thailand. I don't think they are such fun places as Thailand. The same with other countries. You and I went to Vietnam. What did I get offered? $100 short time. That's no different to what it is here.

Do I see Patpong, Nana and Cowboy here in 10 – 15 years time? Quite honestly, no. I think the land that each of these areas sits on is just too expensive. There is so much money in real estate in central Bangkok now.

I know you're not there and don't visit any more, but what about Pattaya?

Pattaya is going down two paths at the same time. You've got Eastern Europeans spending all this money on real estate and across the road you've got every cheap Charlie in the world living there. I don't know which way Pattaya is going.

When we opened Dollhouse on Walking Street there were only so many other clubs on Walking Street. Soi Pattayaland 2 was the in place. How many clubs are there on Walking Street now?

So I am out of here within a year. You and I have been here about the same length of time…are you gonna stick it out?

Yeah, I ain't going nowhere. I've got a little boy here and I ain't going nowhere. I can't afford to live in London or Miami. I can still have more fun here than I can back in London or Miami.





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was not the Philippines Embassy as many readers thought, but was taken of the dwelling at the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 20. 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.


Sunrise Tacos


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 – Old hat not for new expats.

Now that I've moved here, the last place I feel like going is the girly bars. As a tourist I used to love the p4p bar scene but now that I have lived here long enough to notice what's going on, there is way too much other good stuff happening in Bangkok to bother with the old-hat crap. That scene no longer caters for expats anyway, unless you're Japanese. With hundreds of the world's finest and coolest bars and restaurants opening up in Thonglor, Ekamai, Sathorn and elsewhere, names like Washington Square, Cowboy, Nana and Patpong are old hat for new expats. My new Thai colleagues also earn almost as much as I do these days so there's every reason to hang out with them with more chance of pulling a real girlfriend who actually has something in common rather than the ever-declining fake "girlfriend experience" of the Vietnam War days. Relatively new, happening and vibey publications like BK Magazine are read by more people (both Thai and expat alike) than the old p4p blogs. The old girly bar scene depended on an inequality that no longer applies. Many expats (who are younger) work / party with a breed of modern, aspirational Thais who show us where the cool spots are in one of the world's great cities.

The vibe is better elsewhere.

With respect to the state of gogo bars in Bangkok, I think you raise an interesting point. Notwithstanding the political issues in Bangkok, there are still plenty of expats in the city and the expats I hang out with do not spend the same amount of time in the gogos as they previously did. The reason why is they are bored with gogos (but they do still like to drop down to Pattaya every now and then). I tend to be in Thailand 3 times a year and on more recent trips, I hardly spend time in Bangkok gogos. Looking at my last visit in December and January, I barely visited any gogos (and the ones I did visit were very specific and intentional i.e. there were specific reasons for going such as an event or promotion that had previously been advertised). I still did plenty of drinking but it was at the various pubs, pool halls, and even occasionally at a sports bar. To be honest, those seem to be the places with the better vibe these days. A lot of Bangkok gogos are starting to feel like dinosaurs in terms of format etc, notwithstanding any renovations they make. They need to try to recapture the atmosphere.

With so many tourists, there's no need for customer service.

When creating a business, the basic business model is to obtain and then retain customers, i.e. customer service. Existing customers are much cheaper to keep than to advertise for new ones. Your idea of a foreign manager in the gogo bars is an excellent one. Of course they would need to have some authority because it would be meaningless if I had a problem in their bar and after approaching this foreign manager he could do nothing. So he would need to be a problem solver as well. A buffer, if you will. I believe the bars reflect the downward opinion Thais have of foreigners even though foreigners represent a large segment of their income. It makes sense the gogo bars are partial to the tourist because that's how Thais feel. Take the tourists' money then the tourists fly home, but that doesn't typically work in successful business models. Thais have been able to get away with this attitude towards expats because of the flood of tourists in years past. Different story now, but don't get your hopes up. If they are good to expats now and tourist numbers increase, they will treat us like crap again. That's the way, no insight or foresight at all.



No positives in the Bangkok gogo bars.

My best guess is that Bangkok's gogo bars are already in a death spiral, and rigor mortis will set in soon. Of course a few bars will remain, there will always be enough gullible tourists and hardcore sexpats to support a handful of establishments no matter how poor the service and attitudes of staff and management. My last visit to Nana Plaza was well over one year ago, only because I needed to stay overnight to visit my embassy. After walking the gauntlet of Nigerian drug dealers on lower Suhkumvit, I perched myself at the Golden Bar, opposite the Nana Plaza entrance and ordered a beer with glass and ice. The surly waitress shuffled over with my beer but no glass with ice, so I smiled and repeated that I wanted a glass with ice. She made that Thai exclamation "Ow!", looked at me with total disgust and again shuffled away. I eventually received a glass, but no ice. I people watched for a while, but one beer was enough. I paid with exact change and left. I did a quick walk through Nana Plaza, then took the skytrain to a Thai establishment with pretties (eye candy) and the (mostly) great service that Thais extend to their fellow countrymen and the few foreigners that wander in. The foreign nightlife scene will pretty much die out in Bangkok. It's a function of economics, perception and staff recruitment. Astronomical rents and salaries mean drink prices will continue to soar. Suhkumvit is deep in the heart of Bangkok, the capital city of a proud nation where perception is everything. I mean, come on, how long will the Thais continue to tolerate the riff raff associated with Nana Plaza? And bar staff, don't get me started. Thailand has zero unemployment, anyone with a pulse can get a job – and they know it. No decent, self-respecting woman will subject herself to the indignities of working as a bargirl. What is left are mostly the dregs of Thai society: the mentally disturbed, lazy, drug-addicted, criminally-minded, opportunistic women looking for the big score. Yeah, harsh words but that's how I see it, in Bangkok any way. Bangkok expats will continue their weekend trips to Pattaya and the industry there probably has more life left. Most women prostitute themselves out of desperation, some do it for easy money and a few are trafficked and forced in to it. Thailand is moving forward economically and women simply have more choices. It happened in post war Germany, Japan and Korea. We see it now here in Thailand and it's beginning even in the Philippines. Beats me where the new hot spots will be, but they will most certainly be in countries poorer than Thailand.

Prices out of hand.

Prices are finally catching up with the gogos and it looks like things are finally coming to a head in Bangkok. For several years, serious mongers and expats alike have been saying the same thing, prices are getting too high. The cost of a night out, combined with drinks, lady drinks, barfines, and a rent a gogo gal have become ridiculous. For one third the price I can frequent an establishment where I can enjoy a cold beverage, with good service, and then grab a freelancer. I am not a newbie tourist anymore, and as I said to a gal in Nana the other night, why would I pay your price when I can get a nice gal on the street for 1,000 baht? Even she understood my reasoning. And don't kid yourself, Pattaya is a shadow of itself this year with many gogos near empty nightly. It won't be long before you are writing the same column about Pattaya.

Ladyboy labeling.

In addition to the idea of colored neck lanyards to identify coyote dancers, how about a symbol outside of every gogo bar (the biological circle with either an arrow or cross) so we punters can tell if it is a ladyboy bar or not. I've been to Nana Plaza many times but still get confused.

The party's at Pattaya!

Last month for the first time ever in my 35 years in and out of Thailand and having spent a total of at least 2 years there, I spent 3 days in Pattaya. The last 12 years I hardly went to any bar as my teeruk keeps me busy, but when I did I felt being in the wrong place. How different was Pattaya! It reminded me of Bangkok 20 or 30 years ago in many ways, much cheaper than Bangkok too and really fun to do some bar hopping. I really regret having spent so many boring weekends in Bangkok in the old days instead of taking a bus from Ekamai!





Making the rounds at Soi Cowboy this week, it wasn't until we'd been through a few bars that I realised something was off, something was very different to usual. I couldn't put my finger on it at first, but something just didn't feel quite right. And then it struck me….almost all the customers in all the bars visited were sitting alone. It was quite an odd sight when you think about it, sitting in one of the most popular bars in Soi Cowboy with perhaps 25 or 30 customers, but few had a lady sitting beside them. And as the night went on hardly any dancers approached customers. Almost exactly the same scene played out in all the bars I visited – Tilac, Cactus, Bacarra and Lighthouse. In each bar there were more dancers than customers and apart from Tilac which had a handful of coyotes, it wasn't like these were bars full of coyotes who tend to be more standoffish than regular gogo dancers. I can only speculate that the working girls of Bangkok are making decent money (salary and / or multiple sponsors) that they don't feel any desire to approach and entertain customers. And to think some claim the industry isn't changing at all!

Did Bacarra and Yanhee have a falling out? The dancers on the top floor of Bacarra are selected to a specific archetype – slim, shortish and young(-looking) girls who are top heavy, yet this week there was clearly much less silicone in the bar.

If you would like to know what Soi Cowboy was like back in the '90s, you can still experience it as an authentic slice of Cowboy survives and continues to this day. Stepping inside the long-running single shophouse Cactus for the first time in ages, it is just as I remember it without any apparent changes – an odd design with a small stage in the middle of the bar, and seating on either side (which is unusual in single shophouse gogo bars which tend to have the dance floor against one wall). Cactus doesn't try to compete with the bigger, more modern bars on the soi and is content to do its own thing. It had a following and many of its fans like the fact that it's a throwback to the '90s. All the girls dance in the buff, most are a tad on the plump side, but they smile and for the most part they seem content. The music is older than the girls – and the girls aren't young, and the decor looks like it hasn't changed in years. For a walk down memory lane, Cactus is worth a drink or two.

I used to go to Tilac at least once a week, often twice – and that lasted for a good few years. 5 years ago I stuck my neck out and said it was the best bar of its type in Bangkok. But no bar stays great forever and despite still being wildly popular, Tilac 2014 is much like this year's Manchester United, and cannot compare with years gone by. I would use two H-words to describe many the girls on stage – hard and heavy – and in the bar industry that's not a good combination. You do have to admire Tilac's management for the bar doesn't suffer the sort of staff turnover that other bars do and the girls enjoy working there. The problem is that this is one industry in which you don't want your employees to stick around forever!



The disco on the ground floor of the Nana Hotel has changed name almost as often as a Bangkok playboy changes girlfriends. To Nana Liquid, back to Nana Disco, to Mai Peng, it doesn't matter what the sign at the entrance says, the venue hasn't managed to cash in on the prime location on the ground floor of the world's most famous sex tourist hotel, right across the road from the self-styled world's largest adult playground. Mai Peng Disco closed a month ago and is not expected to reopen until around the middle of the year – and when it does, expect another new name.

Bangkok Quiz Masters and Flann O'Brien's on Silom Road (the bar that used to be known as O'Reilly's) are bringing the pub quiz back to Silom from April 1st. You can join in every Tuesday at 7:45 PM for fun, prizes and a revolving jackpot. Entry is free.

If the farang manager of Club Electric Blue ever decides he'd like a new job perhaps he can try out as a professional rugby player. He impressed all in the soi this past week with his rugby tackling skills – and has grazed knees to show for it. An Aussie customer had run up a 12,000 baht bill in the Patpong bar and was a little worse for wear when presented with the bill. He explained to service staff that he didn't have that much money on him and would go to the ATM to get some cash and return to settle the bill. The manager had a bad feeling about it and followed the guy out in to the soi. Outside the bar the cheeky Aussie does a runner, but a short way up the soi he is tackled by our multi-talented bar manager who escorts the Aussie to the ATM machine where cash is withdrawn and the bill settled. You've got to have a full array of skills to be a Bangkok bar boss!

Snatch and grab thefts by passing motorbikes aren't considered common in Bangkok like they are in other parts of the region, right? Think again! Last week there were 2 reports from Sukhumvit soi 16 of women walking along the soi reasonably late at night, down beyond the Foodland branch, whose bag was grabbed by the passenger on the back of a passing motorbike. In the first incident a Thai woman lost her bag and all its contents. In the second incident, a foreign woman amazingly managed to hang on to her bag as the thieves zoomed off. She did go crashing down to the ground and suffered cuts and bruises, but nothing too serious. Thais in the soi claim it's the work of slum dwellers from the nearby Klong Toey slum high on ya-ba (methamphetamine) but who really knows. It's a reminder to be careful and consider that as safe as downtown Bangkok feels to the average foreigner, incidents like this do happen. Perhaps the advice given to visitors to Saigon where motorbike snatch and grabs is a big problem should be considered – if slinging possessions over your shoulder, make sure it is over your shoulder that is away from the road.



There is much debate about the prices the girls charge for a naughty these days and a report this week from a good friend and genuine old Asia hand who resides in deepest, darkest Isaan shows that steep price inflation is not limited to foreigner bars in the heart of Bangkok. In an Isaan province that borders Laos, the going rates are 1,300 / 2,000 for short time / long time. It's not that long ago that girls in that part of the country commonly asked 500 baht for on the premises fun. Not any more!

Last week's opening piece where I pointed out some of the common failings of Bangkok gogo bars and suggested how they could perhaps consider replicating what is going on in Pattaya gave me reason to reflect on the industry. Another big issue is service staff who are often rude, pushy, belligerent and talk to customers in a way they should never be talked to. From the way they bother you to choose a girl to sit with you (when that may be the last thing you want) to the way they ask for a tip to the way they openly sneer if you tip less than they believe they deserve, service at times borders on insulting. Many bars need to do something about service staff – and that starts with the mamasan. Ah, perhaps that's where the problem lies…



The term gig became popular in Thailand perhaps several years ago and means fxxk buddy or friend with benefits, a concept that was largely unknown in Thailand until that time, and a concept that has proliferated in Thailand since Internet dating and online hookups have exploded and become wildly popular. In a true gig relationship, there is zero expectation of money and zero expectation of fidelity. If she wants money or one party wants commitment, it's not a gig.



cable TV Thailand



marian plum


It took me 4 years living in Thailand to discover fresh lychees, now one of my favourite fruits. And it took me a remarkable 16 years to discover the Marian plum, pictured above. Now is the season for the orange-coloured, egg-shaped and -sized fruit that has a similar colour, flavour and texture to mangoes. They currently sell for around 100 baht / kg, have numerous health benefits and are absolutely delicious. If you like mangoes, you'll love them!

A reader leaving Thailand has 3 Thailand-centric website businesses for sale – Mrhomethai.com, thaicomparecars.com and sashasthaidating.com. He'd ideally like to sell them as a package of 3 going concerns for 1.9 million baht, but would entertain offers for each individually. Interested parties should email me and I will forward your email to the owner.

Is there anything worse than customers who threaten business owners with going to TripAdvisor (or other online review sites) if they don't get their own way? From downtown Bangkok comes a report from a popular restaurant which has on its menu a bottomless bowl of chips and sauces. A customer ordered this and proceeded to spend the next 9 hours availing himself of unlimited chips while using the restaurant's free wi-fi. That in itself is not so bad, but he had a hygiene issue and customers sitting near him were put off by the foul odour coming from him – some even mentioning this to staff. Eventually, some 9 hours later, the manager casually mentioned to the customer that there would be a shift change and presented the customer with the bill. The inference was that the change of shift would be the end of the deal. This was not explicitly stated – the manager is much too gracious in that respect. Upon being presented with a bill for well under 100 baht, the customer spurted out that he would be writing to TripAdvisor about this! Can you believe it? Unfortunately Bangkok seems to attract these types.

And in another only in Bangkok story, a customer in the Silom branch of Sunrise Tacos this week put a proposal to the manager. He explained that he loves the food at Sunrise and that he had an idea that would be a win : win for him and for the restaurant. He would get a tattoo of the owner on his body saying Sunrise Tacos – if he could eat at Sunrise Tacos free for life. Little did this fellow know that the owner of Sunrise Tacos is a larger than life character and the tattoo would require one large block of skin! The friendly owner declined the offer.







The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok



Quote of the week, "When the Prime Minister is better looking than most of the girls in the gogo bars it's time to move on!"

Reader's story of the week comes from Anonymous, "Memo To Bangkok Gogo Bar Owners".

From Phuket is a first-hand report of the visa run from hell!

Bangkok's top IT shopping mall, Panthip Plaza, so popular with foreigners, is to get a 500 million baht facelift.

From Cambodia comes the report of a mother selling her daughter's virginity.

Diving instructors talk of money extorted from them by the authorities in Phuket.

If you've ever wondered what the Aussie / Kiwi slang bogan means, from Phuket comes a great example of a bogan.




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: Some farang amateur musicians here in Udon Thani want to play music in public places but without work permits. It's illegal – we could be arrested, fined or deported. We're all retired and don't want payment. Some are married to Thais so we have differing visa situations. We want to be able to play with Thais as well as farangs. It's not even legal for us to play for charities. We can play legally at private parties but what constitutes a private party? We've been told that if we hold a taxpayer ID card we can be hired by the hour by, say, a restaurant where the owner would deduct tax, send it to the Tax Dept and that would be legal. However, we don't believe it. We want ideas to legally get around the situation e.g. what if we hire a bar for a night, call it a private party by invitation only, give away printed invitations at the door and people bring their own beer which they could purchase on the sidewalk outside the bar or at the bar next door?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: It is possible to obtain a one-day work permit from your local Labour Office (with support from the potential employer) for a special event. They issue the work permit on a case by case basis. It is best to check with your local Work Permit Office to see what they want in order to apply for one. Please be aware that a person on a retirement visa extension cannot obtain a one-day work permit as they are not allowed to work at all.



Question 2: I am confused whether the financial requirement for a marriage visa is 40,000 baht per month in income and 400,000 baht in your bank account or just one of either. Internet searches give different answers – some say both, some say either of these!

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The answer is you can use one or the other or a combination of both. You can show 40,000 baht a month in income, or 400,000 baht in the bank. Alternatively, you can show a combination of the two that will make up the difference. For example, let's say you receive a monthly income of 20,000 baht a month. The officer will assume that your expected fixed income is 240,000 baht a year. Therefore you will need to show 160,000 baht in your savings account to make up the difference between the 240,000 from income and the required 400,000 baht. The funds must be transferred from your offshore bank account in to your Thai bank account and will need to be in your Thai bank account for 2 months prior to the initial application for the extension. If you are renewing your extension then the money must be in your Thai bank account for 3 months prior to application. Sunbelt Asia has extensive experience in helping people obtain their one year extensions based on marriage and can help walk you through the procedure if you are in Bangkok.







Nana Plaza


It's hard to remember a column opener where readers were unanimous with the main points made. Even the most popular weekly column openers ever like Cyberbullying & Karma, Arsenal Alex and tales of sleuthing, which generated huge email responses elicited comments from the odd detractor. Not last week's column. Not only was there a massive email response, readers also penned their own articles about the state of Bangkok's gogo bars which have been published in the readers' submissions section.


Memo To Bangkok Gogo Bar Owners


The message is clear – punters want bar owners and managers to understand the issues in the hope that attempts can be made to address them, turn things around and maybe, just maybe, the magic might return.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse

An Inconvenient Truth
The Decline of Bangkok's Girlie Bars
Bangkok Nightlife, Gogo Bars & Pubs and Foreign Managers Needed