Stickman's Weekly Column April 13th, 2014

Surviving Songkran



The meek and mild become monsters, hurling buckets of water through the open windows of passing buses, targeting motorbikes zooming along sois and rubbing talcum powder on the faces of anyone walking by. And if they've had a bit to drink and a female passes by, they might grab a handful. It's that time of year when the mercury peaks, when water wars rage and when the expat populace is polarized between those who love Songkran and those who hate it.





Songkran is the Thai New Year, the biggest holiday of the Thai calendar and many businesses shut for anything from a few to 10 days. Migrant workers return to the family home causing mass traffic jams around the country as journey times double or treble. The nation goes crazy as people flock outside, drink like fish, dance like strippers and hurl water at all and sundry.

Officially, the Songkran holiday is 3 days, April 13th – 15th. The water madness often starts on the night of the 12th but in parts of the country, particularly in the north, some may start a few days beforehand and in far-flung corners of the country the madness hasn't stopped a week later. In Chiang Mai it lasts more than the designated 3 days. It's a week in Pattaya whereas in Phuket and much of the south the water revelry is bearable, lasting just one day.



Songkran



Water fights are out of control, everyone is a target – and none more so than those who plead to be spared! And it's these water fights that polarise expats, and the difficulty avoiding them.

If you're no fan of Songkran and don't wish to get wet – read: drenched – there are areas that should be avoided.



Songkran



Foreigners and younger Thais flock to the backpacker district of Khao San Road where many restaurants are forced close. The area is bedlam and the only reason to be there is to be part of the water fight. Avoidance is not possible.

Silom Road draws huge numbers of Thais as the top Silom Road is closed for the holidays and turns in to a large street party / water fight. Again, there's only one reason to go there.



Songkran



Soi Cowboy has traditionally hosted water fights by day allowing the bars to open and it be business as usual by night. The girls who live above the bars come outside to play and are joined by some of their colleagues and regular customers. It's a fun atmosphere and the girls really get in to it. Soi Cowboy used to have a village-like atmosphere, less so these days as few girls live on the soi. After dark things have traditionally died down at Cowboy and from 9 PM onwards it's largely dry. With that said, the bars on soi 23 can be crazy well in to the night and there are always foreigners at each end of the soi spoiling it for those who wish to have a night out.

Nana Plaza has long been a magnet for those who revel in soaking those who don't wish to play. It probably goes back to the days Nana Plaza was predominately sex tourists and Soi Cowboy for locals – and some sex tourists didn't realise what they were letting themselves in for. The sight of someone unaware striding up to the mouth of Cowboy in slacks and a freshly pressed shirt getting drenched at the entranceway is kind of amusing, but shameful at the same time.



Songkran



Patpong can also be a nightmare with many open air bars along soi 2 and its location right next to the Silom Songkran street party making anyone in the vicinity a target.

Even sois with beer bars like soi 7, 7/1, 8, 22 and 33 get rowdy as the girls have inter-bar water wars.

All of the farang bar areas ought to be avoided if you wish to remain dry.



Songkran



Bar areas aside, the main Sukhumvit Road is not much of a water playground. Even on prime Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke you can avoid the worst of it.

In many sois very little happens. I can remember walking the length of Sukhumvit soi 31 one Songkran and not seeing a single person throwing water. The much shorter soi 33 with all of its bars was a different story.

Pleading to be spared seldom works, irrespective of what you may be wearing, where you might be going and even if it is obvious you wish to have no part of it. Protesting after the fact that your iPhone has been damaged or your designer sunnies were knocked off your face on to the ground and cracking their lenses because some sod with a high-powered water cannon intended to do exactly that will fall on deaf ears.



Songkran


The message is clear: Revellers can squirt you, shoot you or hurl water at you at Songkran with impunity. If you don't wish to get wet, don't go out on foot. Take a taxi door to door. Make sure your valuables are either left at home or in a waterproof plastic bag, and never forget that as a foreigner you are a prized target!

Many Thai women will not go out at all for fear of being groped or worse.

It is often said that outside of Bangkok, especially in the north, Songkran celebrations are much gentler than in the capital. Having spent Songkran in both Chiang Mai and Lampang I refute that as nonsense. The people might be sweeter and nicer, but they are just as aggressive and have zero respect for those who request to be spared.



Songkran



Alcohol consumption increases at Songkran, and the road toll spikes as hundreds of people die over the week of Songkran. In a country which has something like 13,000 deaths on its road each year, deaths spike at around 50 per day over Songkran.

I've always felt the worst time of the Songkran holiday is from mid-afternoon onwards of the 3rd day. Locals know that their big holiday and the time they can freely run riot is almost over. Alcohol consumption goes stilly and packs of liquored up youths walk the streets smashed on cheap alcohol and act like total f-wits. Stay clear of these clowns.

I've never cared for Songkran. I don't wish to sound like a spoil sport, but I think it's appalling that many target those who wish to be spared, to deliberately upset them and ruin their day, or to actively try to damage or destroy people's property. Fights do break out and things can and do get ugly when those who ask to be spared are targeted. It's impossible to rationalise the moronic targeting of those on motorbikes with entire buckets of water hurled at them as they ride along a soi.



Songkran


This year downtown Bangkok Songkran seems to be more celebrated than previous years with more people out and about, bigger guns and by mid-afternoon Sukhumvit was full of drunks.

Thais tell me that Songkran used to be much more gentle and respectful, but that was long ago, well before I ever set foot in Thailand. I've never known anything other than water wars. Calling it a charming celebration is like calling a rabid pitbull the ideal family pet.

I'll be locking myself in the condo and barricading myself inside. If anyone so much as makes a sound outside I'm going to do an Oscar Pistorious and empty my .357 Magnum through the front door.

I am all for celebrations, just as I am all for the preservation of charming traditions, but Songkran today strikes me as neither charming nor traditional and is a period I dread!





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok

Last week's photo was taken from Wat Arun. This week's is another temple in Bangkok, but which one? There are many temples in Bangkok and they are very similar in design so the one clue I will give is that it is in a relatively central location.


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 Why punish yourself?

Here in the Philippines the girls are pretty much all looking for a relationship with us. I have so many choices I am stunned with the pleasant circumstances. At points in discussions I have learned to anticipate flash points with American women and many Thais as well, whereas the Filipino girls always seem to take the high road. I find myself thinking I am with a kinder, better person than me. I seldom had that feeling in Thailand. In Thailand it is all about appearances. The irony is most foreigners want the appearance of having a sleek Thai girl. That punishment is not worth it.

Younger gen don't do bargirls.

I recently discovered this website and have been reading through some readers' submissions and weekly columns. I am in my mid 20s and have lived and worked in Bangkok for 3½ years. I am completely amazed by some of the stuff on this site and not in a good way. Having shared the link around friends of my age they mostly had a similar opinion. The site is stuck in some kind of alternate universe where it is still 2002. The scene which is talked about may have been what most foreigners here did back then (I don't know) but it certainly isn't now, at least among people of my age. Other than a minority, almost all of my friends of similar age who live and work in Bangkok do not go to gogo bar areas except occasionally for a laugh if someone new comes and we take them to see the bars and the types of foreigners who go there. We certainly don't go to take women. It isn't because it's seen as wrong, but mostly that there is no chance we would pay money to sleep with women who look as bad as most of the bar women do. They are awful. Most of us meet girlfriends the same way we did in our own countries, randomly, at work, or at the gym, things like that. Girls that are far better than any found in a bar. With Thai women you always end up paying one way or another, but there is a big difference between spending perhaps a couple of thousand baht on food or whatever taking a hot looking girl out all night (who actually wants to go out with you) and going to some gogo bar and end up paying more to go to a room for an hour to have sex with a wreck of a girl who might have had sex 4 or 5 times that night and who doesn't want to be there and probably has to be drunk to do so. I noticed some readers complaining about the prices they have to pay for girls going up, and the quality of women in bars decreasing. How can anyone think it is a bad thing that Thai girls now have better opportunities in life than selling sex to foreigners.

Cactus thumbs up!

A special thanks for the Cactus gogo plug in your March 30 column. I've been living in Bangkok for almost 3 years – on Sukhumvit soi 4 of all places – and had given up on the gogo bars due to the blaring hip hop and electronic trash that infects so many of them. Don't the owners understand that music also defines an atmosphere? However, I found Cactus to be a wonderful change of pace with old time rock & roll played at a volume that actually allowed me to converse with the girls. I ended up leaving with one of them instead of the usual ringing in my ears and have since returned twice.



The lady drink scam.

You have highlighted many of the gogo bar failings but have neglected to mention the lady drink scam. If I wish to get to know a barlady I will happily buy her a lady drink. She is there to earn money and I respect that. What I don't respect is the way so many ladies will take the drink, make an excuse and disappear within seconds of receiving the drink. Their asking for a drink implies they will sit with you and allow you a chance to get to know them for, at the very least, a good few minutes, but really it should be a little longer than that. Oftentimes when they leave after downing their drink, sometimes not even touching it, they don't even go to another customer. They go out the back of the bar and chat with their friends. If a barlady doesn't like a customer, ok, but being ripped off for 180 baht or more reflects on the barlady, and on the bar. I no longer go to <2 Soi Cowboy bar names removedStick> where this is practice is endemic.

Do Thais trust Thais?

It's really funny how trusting Thais can be with other Thais. I was at a Tawan Daeng style place in Nakhon Sawan. When my girlfriend and her 3 friends went to the toilet they all left their handbags and iPhones on the table. When they returned, all were shocked that I considered that to be risky behaviour!

How will FATCA affect Americans in Thailand?

Yes, FATCA will become law on July 1st. It only applies to Americans, but requires real grown-up-style compliance. For a Thai bank the easiest course of action is simply not to allow any bank accounts for US passport holders. In Hong Kong, banks are run by grown-ups, and they value their wealthy US customers so they're in compliance. As FATCAT, errr, FATCA also applies to "foreign" branches of US banks, if banks mai-pen-rai US passport holders away, they'll just have to keep their cash under the mattress or whatever. It might be a good idea / public service to get a professional opinion from someone, perhaps at Bangkok Bank or K-Bank. If a retirement visa requires a Thai bank account and that's not possible with a US passport, your readership will want to know that.

A shitty Songkran.

After 15 years of suffering water thrown at me by young adult males in Pattaya I decided to get even. It was ok at first when kids were squirting me, but as the years went by it got rougher and rougher. The squirt guns got bigger and the people got meaner. These were men in their 30's and 40's with water guns big enough to knock me off my motorbike. I am in my mid-70's and not rough and tumble any more. So here is what I did: I shit in the toilet and stirred it up real good so it was watery. I then put it in a laundry bottle used to squirt water on clothes, making sure it was large enough to squirt around 30 feet plus. Then, yes, you guessed it, I went about my daily duties with the bottle in one hand while riding my motorbike. As I drove down roads where there were bars, I had to brace myself from getting knocked off the bike, and returned the spray to these young men. And making sure I had a clear road ahead – very important – off I would go amid the shouts of, "Get that guy, he's squirting shit!"



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The bars are quiet over Songkran and some will have but a skeleton crew. Sitting in cool air-conditioning while soaking wet is no-one's idea of fun – and that's what it's like if you can't reach the bar dry. The bar areas are hardly the best place to celebrate Songkran which bar owners understand and some embrace. Popular Pattaya venue Devil's Den closes for a week while venue give the staff a much deserved break for a day or two. In Patpong soi 2, The Strip is closed today, and will open for reduced hours tomorrow and Tuesday. From 5:00 to 10:00 PM, The Strip will sell Singha, Chang & Leo at the front door. Operations are limited to alcohol sales at the front door and there will be no music or dancing. All beer will go for 100 baht per bottle and be served in large cups. Purchase a beer and you'll also get a buy-1-get-1-free coupon to use after April 17th (see website for conditions). Busty Kwan will be at the door each day in her little bikini serving beers and looking fine.

It's just not happening on Patpong soi 1 and what was once ground zero for Bangkok's naughty nightlife stutters along with most of the action now in soi 2. Lust, potentially the most exciting new bar to open in Patpong soi 1 in ages, is a smart looking bar with an identity crisis. The beautifully decorated bar seemingly changes format between each visit and in the latest guise has now shed its dancers. Not only are the dancers gone, so are the stages. If only they had put as much thought in to the concept as they did the decor, this bar could have been a roaring success. Bangkok's 3 established naughty bar areas have been crying out for something new but expectations that Lust could succeed are rapidly fading. Exactly what the theme will be next is unknown.

Across town in Soi Cowboy, Cowboy 2 has beautiful neon outside and is sometimes mistaken for being one of The Arab's bars – which it certainly is not. Cowboy 2 was pumping this week with a bunch of pretty dancers and more customers than most other Soi Cowboy bars, Bacarra aside. However, I remain confused as to whether the dancers are gogo dancers or coyote dancers. In no other bar is it as confusing as in Cowboy 2. The dancers are dressed as coyotes (skimpy top and the tightest of tight shorts), yet their dancing is laboured, like gogo dancers. I'm supposed to know about these things but I could not say whether they were gogo or coyote – and if the guy who writes about this stuff isn't sure, how can a customer be expected to know? Still, don't let that put you off – Cowboy 2 is a fun bar and worth a visit.

The second ambitious project on Sukhumvit soi 33 in the past year after Ocean, the Bull and Bush – a gastro pub and wine bar – in the space that used to be Renoir is now a large sign outside advertising for staff. Progress has accelerated and hopefully it won't be that long until the newest English-style pub opens in the soi 33 area.

At long last the sign for Lighthouse in Soi Cowboy has gone up. The frontage of the bar needs work and the top of Lighthouse remains dark- but at least it looks better than it did.



Pink Panther in Patpong 2 is a fun bar, but consider avoiding it between 11:00 and 11:30 PM. At that time scantily-clad dancers are replaced with a Thai boxing show – not a fight, but a show / entertainment. When the fight has finished the fighters roam amongst the audience requesting tips and not shy to intimidate those who don't put their hand in their pocket, notwithstanding that many probably never wanted to see a fight in the first place. As good a bar as Pink Panther is – there are some very pretty and friendly girls in there – go before 11:00 or after 11:30 unless you specifically want to see staged Thai boxing.

Mamasans showing interested customers a rate card with the girls' price is common in some of the Rainbow bars in Nana Plaza, where it's 2,500 baht for short-time and twice that for long-time. Is it a good thing that they are being so clear and transparent about pricing, or does this just reinforce the transactional nature of the deal? I wonder if this will be the norm with girls sticking together and being resolute on the price charged.

Why is that one day a bar can be full of dancers, and the next it is dead? The answer might be pay day. Bars are almost guaranteed a full turn-out on pay day. Pay day varies from bar to bar but figure most bars to pay the girls on the 4th or 5th of the month. That can be a good day to see a full complement of dancers. Conversely, a day to avoid is the day after pay day, which is often the quietest night of the month as many girls blow their salary on a big night out with their Thai boyfriend.

Underage was a big problem in the bars last year and the hiring of underage girls in the foreigner gogo bar areas came to an abrupt halt in the middle of last year after a bust in Nana Plaza. Camera crews were present and it was all over the TV news that night. The incident reverberated through the industry as underage girls – those aged under 18 – were told by bar bosses that they had to lay low for a while. It wasn't just underage – foreign nationals had to become scarce, so the many Laotians and few Cambodians disappeared too. That was 9 long months ago and with bars truly desperate for staff the underage problem has again reared its ugly head. There's an argument by some that the underage girls are borderline legal age and have been around the block already so to speak. That may be true in some cases, but many aren't borderline at all. They're not 17, not yet 16 and in some cases they've yet to have their 15th birthday. Employing underage girls is just plain wrong. I've said it before and I'll say it again, some of these girls who say they are 18 or 19 are much younger. It's bad news all around. When will the next bust be?



The old Carnival bar on the top floor of Nana Plaza has been up for sale for months. Huge signs with an hilarious message state it will be a cash cow and a gold mine for the new owner. I don't think so! The top floor bars of Nana get the least foot traffic and being next door to a ladyboy bar puts some customers off. With the industry in the doldrums due to fewer customers in the bars, great difficulty recruiting girls and awfully high rents in Nana Plaza, what is the future of the space we knew as Carnival for so long? Is there demand for a bar and restaurant like the old Woodstock? Or a British pub or sports bar, like Shadow in Cowboy? Or how about this for a radical idea – make the top floor all ladyboy bars and the bottom two floors girl only?

The naughty sector of Bangkok's bar industry desperately needs something new to inject some life in to it. It needn't be something which requires significant investment – but it needs some sort of spark, something to get punters talking and give those who have turned their back on the industry a reason to return. Whoever can come up with something genuinely original and exciting will do well, and there should be a flow on effect for others bars in that area. Bangkok's bar areas have become a mirror of the city at large – whenever something new goes up it is often a copy of someplace else or another branch of an existing chain. Punters are getting bored of the same old thing and crave something new, something original – and that will get people talking and writing about it online. Theme nights aren't enough and neither is a new music playlist. At the very least, it should be something like the ribbon dancers in Alcatraz down in Pattaya, an exotic show not seen in any other venue. Come on, this is Bangkok, the world centre of gogo bars – it should be so much better! Which bar owner will come up with something original? Perhaps bar bosses ought to look further afield at what's happening elsewhere. Over in Angeles City there are pool parties where heaps of girls dance sexy around hotel pools in events that are hugely popular. The clichéd formula of hot women and cold beer just isn't enough. A new spark, something to get punters talking, is desperately needed.



Thais are shocked at the way we foreigners consider Bangkok to be safe and it takes reports from the street to reiterate to foreigners that bad things do happen in downtown Bangkok. One of the service staff from Soi Cowboy's Dollhouse had her purse grabbed on Sukhumvit soi 23 as she was walking to her car around 3 AM earlier this week. It was the usual MO, 2 bad dudes on a passing motorcycle, one riding and the other grabbing. It happened as she was walking to her car – obviously some bars pay their service staff well! The villains got away with her bag which contained 10K baht, her mobile phone and all the usual stuff. Her car keys were in her hand so she was lucky on that front. She ended up with a broken tooth and cuts to her arm. Dollhouse is paying her medical bills. Bangkok is safe by day, but do be aware of your surroundings late at night.

Sunrise Tacos' newest branch is expected to open proper on April 21st. It actually opened yesterday, selling beer and buckets while the construction guys are on holiday. During the Songkran holiday beer will be sold at promotional prices, 60 baht for cans of Chang export, 90 baht for large bottles. Singha and Tiger are 70 baht for small bottles, 100 baht for the big size. At the Silom soi 4 outlet it's 3 cans of Chang Export for 100 baht outside the front door.

When I think of Songkran, negative thoughts flood my mind. But when I think back to Songkran holidays when I was single I have some fantastic memories! Not all Thais return to the family home and some stay in Bangkok. Alone. With many local women living alone, and with all the madness going on outside, being home alone they can become lonely – and loneliness is not an emotion the Thais cope with. Many turn to the Internet for entertainment, to find someone to chat with, and more. Songkran is absolutely the best time of year to meet local ladies online. If you're keen to try your luck online, the best two Thailand-centric dating sites (hook up sites would probably be more accurate) are ThaiLoveLinks and ThaiFriendly.

You need not limit yourself to dating websites. At long last a Thai dating (or again, is it hook-up) app has come to the market. Gay guys in Thailand have long been avid users of Grindr, the mobile app with nifty features like showing you where others online are located geographically with regards to your position i.e. it might report that someone is 200 metres east of you, or if you happen to be in an area popular with gay guys like say Silom soi 4, another user currently online might be just metres away. With more and more folks using their mobile phone in preference to a laptop or desktop, horny foreign guys resident in Thailand and promiscuous Thai gals have long been waiting for a Thailand-centric dating app. ThaiJoop (joop means "kiss" in Thai) is the first Thailand-centric mobile app for straight guys and girls. There are others currently in development. It's available for the iPhone and iPad at the App Store. An Android version will become available in the future. The best results with these dating sites / apps are experienced by those who get in early.


ThaiJoop Thai Dating


From the owner of one of the smaller Bangkok escort agencies comes word that the MILF (Mother I'd Like to Fxxx) phenomenon has well and truly arrived in Thailand. He has noticed and increase in requests for "mature ladies" and now lists some ladies on his site who are in their 50s!

If you buy new release paperbacks in Bangkok, the Asia Books branch in Emporium offers a 20% discount on most new releases, both regular paperbacks and the trade paperback size. It won't make you rich but it might save you a few baht. Most of the other branches don't offer this discount, including the branches at Siam and those on Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke.

The Ministry of Education is testing those on an ED visa studying Thai when it comes time to renew their visa. A friend uses the ED visa as a means of staying in Thailand and like so many foreigners residing in Thailand and enjoying the life he hardly ever goes to class. He signed up for Thai language course primarily to get the visa. He has little interest in learning Thai and what Thai he does speak is very basic. He got the shock of his life when the language institute advised him that to renew the visa that he had to first go for an interview at the MoE – and he had to pass a test which the MoE would sign off on before he would be able to renew his visa. The test was essentially basic conversation where he was asked basic questions about a variety of things such as Thai food, the seasons and his life in Thailand. Somehow he muddled his way through. While there he got chatting with a guy who was looking at extending his visa for the second time i.e. at the start of his 3rd year studying Thai. Having studied Thai full-time for 2 years he should be totally fluent – and the MoE recognises this and after two years administers a written test. ED visa extensions are going to become a challenge for those whose Thai is poor.

Occasionally a reader lets me know that they appear in the background of a photo published on this site. Usually it's not a problem and some actually seem to like it. If you happen to appear in any photo published on this site and are not comfortable about that, drop me an email and let me know. I'll happily blur your face out so you can't be recognised.



The Strip Bangkok



The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok


Quote of the week comes from Dave Rave, "Where there's boobs there's trouble but where there's boobs and booze there's double trouble!"

Reader's story of the week from Thai Paul, "When It All Went Wrong",

is a fascinating look at how the industry has changed.

Airport security in Thailand is a concern after a crazy dude gets on a plane without a ticket, boarding pass or any ID.

Read this Bangkok Post article about intercity bus travel in Thailand and you'll be reluctant to ever get on one again!

More bank accounts in Thailand have money stolen as the reports of ATM skimming in the country seem to get worse.

A British drug trafficker is arrested in Cha Am and extradited to France to face charges which is ironic given his surname.

Taxi drivers in Thailand don't have a great rep, but you have to feel sorry for a Pattaya cabbie scammed by one of his own.

An English tourist is shocked that a Buddhist temple in Chiang Rai has a mural of planes hitting the Twin Towers.





** There weren't any questions for Sunbelt Asia Legal this week **



Wat Arun


Songkran has traditionally been the marker between the end of the tourism high season and the start of the low season. With the past high season such a let-down due to trip cancellations and postponements because of the political protests in Bangkok this year's low season might be busier than the high season. I wonder if those who postponed trips will actually return to Bangkok this year, or whether Bangkok has fallen out of favour. It would be no surprise to something of an unseasonal spike in visitor numbers in the low season. Whatever happens, hot weather aside, count me amongst those who prefer the low season over the high season.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse