Fantasia in Nana Plaza fell off the map. Once a popular bar, it descended in to utter mediocrity. Owners The Crown Group lost interest in it years ago amidst rumours the only reason they retained it was because the rent was low and keeping hold of it prevented a savvy operator from getting in to the plaza and becoming a competitor. In 2012 Fantasia, along with all the Crown Group bars, was sold to the Nana Group as a package deal. Fantasia was in disrepair, had few staff and was neglected by the new owners who concentrated on the larger bars in their group. Fantasia was sold a year later to owners who actually had plans for it. A full renovation was undertaken and a new team was put in place. It was renamed Hot Lips and a new bar was born. This week I checked it out.
With the interior refit and renovations completed at the start of the year, management had to wait months for the new sign until the transformation from Fantasia to Hot Lips was complete.
Legend has it that the brickwork of the original Fantasia was the handiwork of the fellow who headed up the Crown Group. At one time the Crown Group owned around half of all the bars in Nana Plaza and had the power to influence other bar operators. So the story goes, some 20+ years ago, said fellow was down to his last few baht after securing the lease for what would become Fantasia. A legal professional, he was so low on funds that he built much of the bar with his own hands rather than pay local contractors. The bar took off and the profits were reinvested in the plaza as he took on more leases. The Crown Group would become the dominant player in the plaza, a position it held until 2012 when rents more than doubled and it sold out.
There was a time when finding a seat in Nana Plaza bars was difficult. Owners were turning all but the prettiest girls away and with packed bars every night they wanted to expand. The bigger the bar, the higher the profits. Everything changed and with staff recruitment such a challenge large bars can be an expensive headache with rents running hundreds and hundreds of thousands of baht per month. Hot Lips is a medium-sized bar, the sweet spot for owners these days who are obviously keen to make a decent return while keeping a lid on costs.
The walls have signs that once said "no photo", but each is missing a letter or 2. The girls believe a ghost has taken the letters and is using these letters to send them a message, one which they have yet to decipher. It's something they are genuinely concerned about.
The foreign manager has been at pains to explain that the letters must have fallen off the wall overnight and the cleaning crew which operates by day has most likely picked them up and thrown them out, not realising what they are. The girls don't believe this for a moment, such are their superstitious beliefs.
Fantasia / Hot Lips has always been foreign-run, from the Crown Group to the Nana Group to the current owner, an independent. Hot Lips is foreign-owned, foreign-managed with the foreign manager on the premises most nights.
While numbers vary, there are usually around 30 dancers each night, a mix of coyote dancers and regular gogo dancers.
Drinks are standard Bangkok gogo bar prices, and for those on a budget Beer Chang is 99 baht a bottle, all night, every night.
There are specials every night. On Mondays and Wednesdays it's buy one drink, get another free from 8 until 10 PM.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, get a free Tequila or Sambuca shot with each drink ordered from 8 to 10 PM.
On Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, customers are given two dice to roll when it's time to settle their bill. Roll 11 and your drinks are free (except lady drinks).
The Mr. Magoo look is not a specific feature of the bar. There's something about Thai women in glasses that does it for me.
Younger Thais may be crazy about all things Korean, but it's the Apple iPhone which is the choice of bar ladies. Amongst bar ladies Apple is winning their battle with Samsung.
The bar has a young, pretty mamasan who is nothing like some of the miserable, heavy-set dragons found throughout the plaza who mastermind scams and manipulate girls and customers alike to line their own pockets. While so many bars are concerned about hiring pretty dancers – and that is obviously important – many seem to have underestimated the damage a dragon mamasan can do.
Barfines are the standard 600 baht for gogo girls. For coyote dancers it's 1,500 baht before midnight and 1,000 baht after.
Sliding barfine rates are more common in Pattaya than Bangkok and more bars should consider implementing them, especially given so many dancers are barfined multiple times per night these days.
Coyotes are barfineable at their discretion and some are choosy.
Be nice, dress well, be generous…and wear something that doesn't make it look like you're staying in a fan-cooled guesthouse room and the chances of them going are greater.
The bar aims to be fun with an atmosphere of old. Interaction between customers and girls is encouraged.
She's sweet, charming and ready to jump on your lap!
Where once Nana Plaza was full of bars for straight white guys, things have changed. Today the plaza is more diverse with several ladyboy bars along with venues which allow white guys inside but are actually for the Japanese. Hot Lips is run by Westerners for Westerners. A few Japanese drift in but it's largely a Caucasian crowd.
Hot Lips is coming along nicely and is a huge improvement over the bar it replaced. A few more bars like this and Nana will reestablish itself as the horny farang's favourite Bangkok playground.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the alley connecting Patpong soi 1 with Patpong soi 2, with Tip Top Restaurant on Patpong 1 at one end, and the excellent G's German Restaurant at the Patpong 2 end. So where was this week's mystery photo taken?
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.
Movies, what sells.
There are stacks of novels that revolve around the farang-meets-Thai-girl plot. But so far, no filmed-adaptation blockbusters. Why not? Because the boy-meets-girl trope doesn't jibe with the more-popular buddies-howling-in-Funland plots that have earned box-office tribute in recent years. “Hangover Part II” presents the image of Thailand Hollywood filmmakers prefer. No, it's not “hooker with heart of gold meets noble travel-guide writer,” it's buddies on a road trip fuelled by loads of booze…and of course they get into trouble. This jibes with the YouTube take of Thailand where anyone with an Internet connection can gawk at neon and scantily clad babes. The group of bros gets into hilarious hijinks, and that's the draw. Now it's mainland China's turn. 2012's “Lost in Thailand” was a top-grossing film in China that year, and is about a bunch of guys who go to Thailand and have…misadventures. This seems to be the formula for success. Both Western and Eastern audiences respond well to a comedic plotline that pokes fun at male sexuality and men behaving badly. Other plotlines…well, “Hangover 2” grossed a quarter-billion US$ from a budget of US$80m, and is still the punch line for many a joke.
The good times may return.
I am replying to a theme from several weeks ago. Although the bar industry appears to be in freefall, there are precedents for a turn in fortunes. I first visited Angeles City in The Philippines just after the American military pulled out. What was left of the industry was dismal. Think power cuts at 9 PM and everybody going home in darkness. It went from bad to worse, with almost no dancers because the only available women were of an age you would not want to see in the buff with the lights on. Fast forward a couple of years, I returned and walked in to the first bar which was smaller than a single shophouse front and was met with the scene of a gogo bar bursting at the seams with 50 plus women all under the age of 25. What had changed? It's the economy, stupid. The visits were either side of 1997. If you see a bright new dawn of economic recovery ahead, then expect further declines in Thailand's bars. However, if you believe the unemployment figures are fudged, money printing is dangerous and the potential of rising interest rates spells danger, then maybe history will repeat itself. I don't wish economic collapse on anyone, least of all the Thais, but my wishes have little to do with events of the future. Perhaps we all need to fasten our seatbelts.
The ongoing, unresolved political crisis.
I'm heartily sick of this ongoing nonsense. If no-one was paying protestors to screw up the city, that'd be one thing. But these dingbat parties are well past the cute-puppy stage. Block the streets, block the airport, interfere repeatedly with average Thais trying to go to work and businesses trying to conduct essential biz. Every day there are legal documents that must be delivered – if you blockade the airport, essential biz transactions fail, because the provenance is not delivered on time. You never read stuff like this because the funny protestors with their hand-clappers provide the photo ops.
Bangkok blogging to go by the wayside?
About your quest to find interesting Thailand blogs, I've looked and have never found any I've thought worth subscribing to. I check your site a few times a week, and at one time even had a shell script set up to alert me when Phet posted something. I read everything by Phet, Ishiro, Steve Rosse, and I thought Mega's Twenty Years On was superb. Still, I'm not sure the lack of great blogs worth reading is confined to just Thailand-related subject matter. There are very few blogs around these days that I return to on a regular basis. I think there was a time when blogging was seen as a quick and easy route to fame and fortune – or at least a way to create a sustainable living in Thailand, but I think the reality that it's not that easy has set in. There was a lot of naivety out there. I also agree with your point on the effect of mobile devices which makes people consumers rather than producers of information. On the plus side, I have several hundred books on my iPad, and consume them at a rate of around one per week, mostly non-fiction. Maybe the future is writing for Ipads? I do wonder if perhaps blogging has had its day? Whereas there was a time when I had maybe 30 or so sites in my feed reader, these days I don't even need a feed reader to keep track of the blogs I like to read!
I am a farang who has just been well and truly stung by a bargirl. Isn't it time to fight back? How about this for an idea: Open up a website for stung farangs showing the photo, name and details of the lady in question in order to deter other farangs from being duped by the same lady. What do you think? <I think this is a ridiculous idea. It would be defamatory and its creation would be a crime in Thailand. It is about time people like you listened to those who have long warned of the dangers of such relationships. For relationships to work respect is needed but in the case of many Thai prostitute / Western customer relationships, there is little respect on either side, and in its place is disdain – Stick>
Thai police and Vietnamese police, not same same!
I was stopped a few years ago at the Ekamai bus station for a search of my luggage. My blood ran cold channeling that book "12 years in a Bangkok Prison". My wife walked up and got me out of it. Today in Ho Chi Minh City a policeman stopped the insane traffic so I could walk safely across the street. Thailand is the only country where I've ever been hassled by the police.
Girl of the week
Ploy, Hot Lips, Nana Plaza
Bangkok born and bred, she is 18 years old
She loves having her photo taken and likes to play the wildcat
Work is racing along at Bacarra to restore the bar to its former glory after fire damaged the top floor last week. The neon frontage has been removed and will be replaced. For the time being the soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy is somewhat darker than usual.
The management of Lucky Luke's, the beer bar just inside Nana Plaza on the right-hand side, is hoping that their application for consent to build a 2-storey bar will be approved. The plans look fantastic so here's hoping it goes ahead.
This coming Tuesday, May 13th, is a public holiday, one of the Buddhist holidays, so there's a real chance that bars may not open that night. As seems to be the case these days we won't know for sure until the night before whether bars will be open or not. In Bangkok, expect bars in Patpong to be open but it might be quiet on Sukhumvit. Ask at your favourite bar on Monday night to be sure.
In last week's column I said that bars will probably be closed from 6 PM on Saturday, July 12th until midnight Sunday July 13th as advance voting takes place on the weekend before the general election. It should be noted that July 11th is Asahna Bucha Day, another Buddhist holiday and July 12th is the start of Buddhist Lent this year, so in effect the bars will probably be closed for 3 consecutive days. And with the election to take place the following weekend – meaning most bars will be shut another 2 nights – that's 5 days out of 10 when most bars are closed. But it's not the high season – it's only July so it doesn't matter, right?! Think again. July is the northern hemisphere summer and for anyone planning a couple of weeks in Thailand at that time, they might want to choose their travel period carefully.
Bangkok bar business icon Dave the Rave is in Pattaya for a couple of weeks. Drop by Angelwitch 2 to meet the popular Bangkok bar boy who will be in Sin City for another week or so.
If the opening piece of last week's column with a peek inside a Bangkok fetish house got you excited, mark down Friday, May 30th and Saturday May 31st in your calendar when the city's other fetish house, Demonia in Sukhumvit soi 33, celebrates its 11-year anniversary party.
The dancers at PlaySkool on the ground floor of Nana Plaza are sporting new uniforms. Designed by Captain Hornbag, they feature the bar's logo and feature straps which make the girls look leggy. Does Captain Hornbag have a future in bikini design?
The branch of the constabulary charged with looking after Sukhumvit Road east of the Asoke intersection seems determined to make it the safest place in the city. After a lull when it seems they were performing their duties elsewhere, they have resumed checking foreign males on foot in the area and are more active than ever. Their actions have become so visible – stand on the skywalk near Exchange Tower looking east down on Sukhumvit for a while and you might see them – that it's almost as if they have a quota of searches they have to carry out each day. At the Asoke intersection itself and just east along Sukhumvit Road near the start of sois 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27 and 29 is where foreign males strolling are most likely to be stopped and asked to submit to a search of their person and belongings.
Fans and former customers of Washington Square – known as Squaronians – have long wondered what will become of the area. Large hoardings along Sukhumvit Road state that the new development in the area which was once home to a bunch of ramshackle bars particularly popular with long-time resident American retirees, will be called Emsphere. Yep, you guessed it, another high-end shopping centre…exactly what Bangkok needs more of.
With fewer dancers in most gogo bars these days, there is less selection than there once was. You'd think bar owners and managers wouldn't be pleased about that as it means fewer barfines, right? Wrong! The industry is changing and one of those changes is that where once girls were barfined on average once per night – that is if they were barfined at all, bar owners tell me that today many girls are going 2 or 3 times a night – which used to be the exclusive domain of a handful of superstars across the industry. In these difficult times this is the sort of break bar owners needed – they are paying fewer salaries as there are fewer dancers, but the average number of barfines per dancer is up markedly on, say, a couple of years ago. For customers I guess it means you have to look at these girls the same way as you look at a taxi i.e. you know that what you're about to take a ride in someone else just got out of…but you don't give the previous customer or their ride a single thought.
An ebook that served as a how to guide about prostitutes and the naughty nightlife industry in Thailand hit local news this week when Thai TV featured the story of a Thai celebrity who discovered her photo was being used without her permission on the book's cover. The foreign author had taken a short cut and rather than licensing a photo from a stock agency or taking a photo himself, he nicked a photo of a gorgeous Thai star who clearly is not, nor has never been a sex worker. The Thai celebrity is obviously less than pleased and made a complaint to the police. The author was identified as an American who had been a long-time resident on Ko Samui and happened to be out of the country. It looks like he will be facing criminal charges as well as a civil suit should he ever return to Thailand. As he is outside the country, he may have escaped trouble in Thailand for the time being. However, word is that the celebrity is going to pursue this in America. Her image was used for commercial purposes without her permission so it would seem he will have something to answer. Why oh why didn't he make just a little effort to take an original photo where the lady featured could not possibly be identified, such as the cover photo of Private Dancer?
The family of Canadian journalist Dave Walker whose body was found in Siem Reap last week issued 2 damning press releases this week regarding progress in the investigation in to his death. It was scathing of some Cambodian law enforcement officials and the term cover up was used, and it was scathing of the Canadian government for its silence following what the press release describes as indisputably false statements made by the Cambodian government. The family was disappointed at the (lack of) pressure put on the Cambodian government and that an autopsy still has not been carried out. Dave's body remains in Cambodia, unrefrigerated, a country in which no Canadian diplomats are based. A sad and most unbefitting end to the life of a fine man.
Another Thai / Farang dating site has launched. Farangdate.com is free so if online dating is your thing, the usual comments apply – these sites are best in the early days.
The Immigration Department is getting stricter on those who exit and quickly or immediately re-enter the country to extend their stay with an announcement yesterday which effectively prevents foreigners residing in Thailand indefinitely on visa exempt entries. In an interpretation of the law which could catch out (and keep out) more than just the visa runners – who would appear to be the target of the crackdown – anyone who attempts to exit the country and re-enter at a land border crossing can do so only once, after which the next time they exit and try to re-enter at a land border they will be refused entry. And from August 12th, it will no longer be possible to fly out of Thailand and return (immediately? soon after? this part remains unclear) more than once as the policy will be extended to include arrivals by air. Those who are regularly in and out of the country will need to go to a Thai embassy or consulate outside of the country and apply for an actual (tourist or non-immigrant) visa. The rule is confusing and has the potential to catch a lot of people out.
This short, unedited email received from a reader this week shows the mess some foreigners in Thailand get themselves in with regard to their personal situation, their finances and their visa:
"Bottom line I have overstayed my visa a couple of years. I have 0 money left. I have to get back to usa. What will happen to me? Please advise. Billy"
So what will happen to Billy? Anyone who has overstayed their visa is fined when they leave the country @ a rate of 500 baht per day overstayed, up to a maximum fine of 20,000 baht. Some see the fact that the fine maxes out as an opportunity to remain on overstay status long-term and just pay the 20K baht fine when they leave. It isn't always that easy. If the overstay is less than a year, you can usually just pay the fine and leave. The Immigration officer, however, has the discretion to detain the person and charge with overstaying. Yes, remaining beyond the period for which you have permission to stay is a crime! Anyone who has overstayed their visa by more than a year has to exit the country via Suwannaphum Airport. If they attempt to exit via any other border point, or are picked up by police in the meantime who determine that they have overstayed their permission to remain in the country, they will be arrested and sent to Bangkok for processing. They will be charged, go to court, presumably be found guilty, receive a fine of around 5,000 baht and have a criminal record. The court may inform that person's embassy which means that their own government will then be aware that they have a criminal record. After being processed by court, they are taken to the Immigration Detention Centre which is described as hell. From there they have to make arrangements to get out of the country…which wouldn't be easy from behind bars! An intermediary would be needed to arrange for the purchase of tickets etc. Once those arrangements have been made, they are transported to Suwannaphum Airport. While they were fined by the court for overstaying, there is still the issue of the overstay fine itself of 20,000 baht which has to be paid – the court fine does not absolve you of that! If you do not have the money to pay, you've got major problems. The bottom line is that if you overstay for any reason other than an accident or circumstances beyond your control, you are taking a huge risk. In other words, don't overstay!
Popular Bangkok-based author Dean Barrett who has published various novels set in Thailand has just released his latest novel. The sequel to Hangman's Point, Thieves Hamlet is available on Amazon for the Kindle. It features sex and violence and betrayal and lust and murder and all those things that Dean says make life worth living! You can find it at Amazon.com.
I notice a change in attitude amongst younger Bangkok Thais towards drink driving which appears to be a consequence of the fact that they cannot wriggle their way out of it! The police are cracking down on drunk driving in Bangkok with more and more checkpoints set up at night checking for drivers over the legal limit. Word is that quickly settling the infraction may not be possible. Drunk driving is a huge problem in Thailand – and expat drivers are every bit as guilty as locals. Any efforts made to curb it are a good thing.
Since turning my back on teaching I haven't looked back; returning to the classroom has never entered my mind. I left the industry and chose not to keep in touch with what's going in teaching circles. From time to time I hear reports about the state of the industry and these reports are often contradictory. Some tell me that the teaching industry in Bangkok is more professional these days, and that for prospective teachers things are more competitive. They tell me it's nothing like the old days when a white face was all you needed to get a job and a white face in a white shirt with a colourful tie elevated you to the top of the heap. At the same time I hear that there are graduates from the West who cannot find work in their homelands and are desperate for a job – any job – and they will accept whatever salary is offered. Apparently these young, bright graduates flocking to Thailand are causing teaching salaries to stagnate in some sectors of the industry. At the same time, I hear from others that if you aren't a qualified teacher i.e. you don't have a specific teaching qualification over and above a degree, you won't be considered for a teaching position by many schools. So what's really going on? I have no idea!
The rhetoric has started again and the words "civil" and "war" have been mentioned by protest leaders if the political impasse cannot be solved. On the ground there has been chaos for some travellers with appalling images circulating on Facebook of foreign tourists stuck on the overhead motorway to Don Meuang Airport dragging their luggage as they head for the next exit in the hope that their plane has not left without them. It's no wonder that there are reports that some groups of visitors are down markedly.
An American asked me to mention in this column that he has of all things, a boat for sale. Cool! It's a bit unusual but he and the boat are both in Thailand so what the heck, why not give it a mention? He describes MV Miss Moon as a 7-year old, 50-foot, 30-ton, timber-built, raised-pilot house, trawler yacht. You can check his website for more details.
Quote of the week comes from Professor, "Anyone who says they can't find an acceptable western woman is either not trying hard enough or has something seriously wrong with them."
A Brit resident of Pattaya takes a bullet and loses face after being shot by a fellow Brit who fled on a motorbike.
Earthquakes in Chiang Rai have damaged the famous white temple beyond repair.
New laws regarding the use of seat belts come in to effect today with harsh penalties for those who don't comply.
A 46-year old Brit is killed in Pattaya Remand Prison.
Two foreigners are filmed having sex on a public bus in Thailand.
The Bangkok Post looks at what happens to women who are trafficked and then later rescued.
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: Thai Labour Law guarantees severance pay for employees terminated by the company. The number of days severance pay is based upon the years of employment. It gets confusing on how that is calculated when payroll is given monthly. For example, if an employee is paid monthly, and his offer letter says working hours are Monday to Friday, does that mean that the daily salary is calculated as MONTHLY SALARY/20 days per month = daily severance entitlement? Or is it by MONTHLY SALARY / 31 days per month = daily severance entitlement? The first scenario is based on “working days per month” and provides a much higher entitlement.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Usually in an employment agreement there will be a stipulation as to how much your employer will pay you on a monthly basis, while the days that you have to work (e.g. Monday to Friday from 8 AM to 5 PM) will be the terms and condition of the employment. Your monthly salary rate should also reflect on your work permit as well as the Monthly Withholding Tax on Staff Salary (known by the Revenue Department as PND1), unless you and your employer had previously stipulated that your working day during employment is calculated on a daily rate.
As for the severance, it is calculated as follow:
1. Working consecutively for 120 days or more but less than 1 year, you are entitled to 30 days (1 month) of severance.
2. Working consecutively for 1 year or more but less than 3 years, you are entitled to 90 days (3 months) of severance.
3. Working consecutively for 3 years or more but less than 6 years, you are entitled to 180 days (6 months) of severance.
4. Working consecutively for 6 years or more but less than 10 years, you are entitled to 240 days (8 months) of severance.
5. Working consecutively for more than 10 years, you are entitled to 300 days (10 months) of severance.
For simple calculation, it is usually considered that there are 30 days in a month. If you are unsure as to what your employment contract stipulates, Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can assist you in reviewing your employment contract.
I strive to publish the column on time every week and almost always meet or publish well before the official 6 PM deadline. However, as I'm taking off for an adventure over the next week I think there's a decent chance that next week's column will be published late. Time away from Bangkok is a curveball for my regular routines, so take this as advance notice that next week's column may well be published late – and in a worst case scenario it could be as late as Tuesday night. With that said, I will make every effort get it up on Sunday. There definitely will be a column next week but it will likely be late.
Your Bangkok commentator,