The mix of a relaxed atmosphere and friendly staff has long made The Strip a favourite chrome pole bar. It is one of a handful of gogo bars where I can actually enjoy myself. This week I found myself in Patpong and what would a visit to Patpong be without checking out the latest line-up at The Strip?
June is one of those months where anything can happen weather-wise. You can't predict what the weatherman might order. This June has been wet and the rainy season is already upon us. The coup, martial law and the monsoon season all at the same time and the bars are awfully quiet.
The rain may be light, but that's enough to keep expats at home and visitors in their hotel room. There's not a soul to be seen on Patpong soi 2.
Rain plays havoc with the bar industry. The rainy season means fewer visitors in town and rain later afternoon can be enough to keep the girls at home too. In the absence of a specific reason to go to work – pay day, or arrangements to meet a generous customer – battling through the rain to get to work may be just too much hassle.
A girl comes in late and is teased by her colleagues. Seeing only one foreigner in the bar, a familiar figure who only ever drinks water, takes photos and never pays a barfine, she must be questioning her decision to leave the comforts of home.
A veteran of The Strip, Cat may be no spring chicken, but has long been a crowd pleaser and a fixture at The Strip for as long as I can remember.
Cat owns the part of the dance floor nearest the bar. She is a real pro who takes time to go through extensive stretching before getting up on stage.
With rain falling it's going to be a quiet night. There is not a single customer in the bar and the girls are joking around, making their own fun. One jumps in to a booth and poses, wrapping the curtain around herself. But without a single customer in the bar the smiles won't last long.
I sneak into the girls' quiet place. The girls' changing rooms is like a small cave entered via a partially concealed entrance. It's grubby, smelly and without a ray of outside light, it feels like you're deep underground. It reeks of a foul odour and I wonder if there is a dead rodent somewhere.
The girls are engrossed in doing their makeup, and playing on their mobile and barely glance at me.
Seeing the girls in their little corner of the bar where customers never venture sees a different side to them. There is none of the pretence and they are themselves. Behind the sexy bikini, the makeup and the forced smiles are women who just happened to grow up poor and who, as the result of a number of poor decisions ended up here. Inside the cave the mask is pulled back and you see real people. It's a reminder that they are real people.
I am invited to join some girls in a meal as I discover the source of the smell is a number of Isaan dishes. When I say I have already eaten, they insist that the food is delicious. I try not to screw my face up at the smell from the mystery dishes that even after all these years I cannot identify.
While every effort is made to keep the bar looking sharp, the changing room resembles a slum kitchen. The walls are caked with years of built up grime. Walls are cracked, fittings are broken. The girls' possessions are strewn all around. Is there a sign on the door prohibiting the cleaner from entering? With a low ceiling – it was probably never originally designed as anything more than a storage room – it feels like Middle Earth. No-one had foreigners entering this space in mind when the plans were drawn up and you have to stoop to avoid crashing your head against the ceiling.
The girls may have already done themselves up, but boredom sees some do their hair again. No, they haven't come back from round 1; not a single customer has yet walked in the door.
I return to the bar proper and see that nothing has changed. Nothing is happening. A girl standing outside is looking for customers, at the same time looking despondent. There is no foot traffic.
A taxi makes its way along Patpong soi 2, squeezing between bars and vendors selling the sort of junk that only first-time visitors look at.
The driver's eyes scan left and right, hoping to find a tourist keen to be carted back to his hotel. The red-light in the cab shows that just like the girls in the red-light area, it is available.
I approach Boo, last week's girl of the week. She chastises me for the lack of customers this past week. "Mai mee farang loei", she says…there are no farangs about.
She asks why I told her that featuring her in the column would result in customers. She says no-one has been in to see her, or at least no-one has said they saw her photo. I explain how a lady from The Strip featured a year earlier had people come in and ask for her every day for a week. She doesn't believe me until I call over the mamasan who confirms it.
They chatter away and Boo laughs when she realises who I was talking about, a lady who has since left. I sense bad blood. In a culture in which people can't help but compare themselves to others and in an industry where everyone fights for the same customers, there can be a lot of bitchiness.
Some weeks I receive emails from readers saying how they would like to ravish the week's featured maiden. There was not a peep about Boo this week. I thought she was quite fetching. Surely I am not the only one.
The weatherman grants a reprieve and the rain stops. Soon there are people about and at long last, the bar gets its first customers of the night.
The energy level picks up and 2 guys have a dozen girls paying them attention.
I am reminded of Soi Cowboy in the late '90s, back when I knew hardly anyone. I would venture out for a few drinks, alone. Long Gun with the hottest girls on the soi would be full of old white guys, while all the other bars fought for the leftovers. You'd have more attention than you could handle and would be constantly fending girls off. Customers could never complain about a lack of attention.
More customers appear and things have turned around, customers now outnumbering girls.
It's time for the mamasan to earn her keep and she is firing off orders to the staff. Bring those guys a bowl of peanuts. Go and sit with that guy. A concerted effort is made to make the customers happy, and keep them in the bar as another guy walks in, makes a slow loop and walks out.
The mamasan barks out more orders. Crank up the fire show. Another girl is told to prepare for the shower show. The mamasan doubles as the manager and part of her role is giving customers a reason to stay.
Three girls sway on the main bar as a small reservoir is filled with lighter fluid and flames illuminate the bar.
The shower show is one the signatures of The Strip, but is only performed when the bar is busy. Some bars overdo shows which last too long, are silly and oftentimes contrived and divert customers' attention away from the stage. Shows are a boon for
first-time visitors, tedium for long-term expats. The shower show lasts but a couple of songs before regular service resumes.
The patrol has resumed outside the bar. It's still relatively quiet, but the smiles are back. With a dry soi comes hope that generous customers will flock to the bar. The girls know there is often a second wave of customers and Patpong's bars often don't get going until much later.
The Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2 is where you find all of the best bars in the Patpong area. Seen through the curtain from The Strip is Bada Bing, and directly opposite it, but not visible from The Strip, is Club Electric Blue. Along with Pink Panther and Black Pagoda, most locals agree these 5 bars are the best of Patpong. All share one thing in common – they are foreign-owned.
Dancers take their turn standing outside Bada Bing and inviting passersby inside. Why do some bars use scruffy Thai males at the door whose only words of English are welcome, sexy show and sexy lady?
One of the industry's most successful bar owners tells me of the secret to his success. It's not choreographed shows, he says. Competing to hire the prettiest girls doesn't work because they always get an offer they can't refuse and don't last. And certainly don't compete on price because then you get the Cheap Charlie crowd. Instil a sense of family amongst staff is the way to go, he tells me. That is what successful Thai workplaces do. He happily says this in the company of other bar owners, knowing that some just aren't capable of it. Some, he says, rules like tyrants, controlling the girls and bullying them. That is why they are not as successful as they could be, and that is why the attitude in some bars sucks – because the girls are just plain unhappy.
The owner of The Strip prescribes to the same theory. Each night he goes through a couple of rituals with the girls. After hanging up the balloons himself and getting the bar ready for the night, he buys all the girls a lady drink Tequila and together they all toast him. When he heads home for the evening, he and the girls all go in to a huddle like a sports team. Staff turnover is low and attitudes are good, so it seems to be working.
The rain has stopped, the roads are dry and hotel rooms are quiet as visitors head out to explore Bangkok at night. The Strip is filling up.
A smallish bar, The Strip doesn't need many customers to feel busy. Things have turned around and it feels like a high season, not a rainy night in June. The girls' mood has brightened, the laboured dancing is now more energetic and those girls who had been hiding in the cave are now mingling with the crowd. It's going to be a good night after all.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the building site next to the Ploenchit BTS station. OK, so that is the skytrain track in this week's photo, but exactly where?
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 – When the destination is well worth the journey.
I took on the challenge of visiting Royal India yesterday. It was quite an odyssey indeed. I took the MRT to Hualumpong, then headed west in meandering fashion, coming to a Chinese gate on a roundabout. I saw 'Charoen Krung', knowing this to be the route to take, but 10 minutes later I was going back over the Klong Krung Kasem. Doh! I'd gone around in a circle! At least I'd realised what I'd done. Not wanting to hike up the Krung again, I took a pleasant detour down Yotha, then the entirety of Th Songwat, where I discovered delightful stuccoed facades of 19th century merchant warehouses. Banged off a couple of shots, then slogged round Chakrawat, finally onto Chakaphet. I was here, or was I? Found the sign 'Royal India' pointing the way down the alley quite easily, but where was the restaurant? I searched through the small warren of alleys to no avail. I stopped, seeing an open sided shack, about 3 plastic tables and a menu of Indian food nailed to the wall. Was this it? I got back on to Chakaphet feeling I was in some cruel 19th century Russian black comedy. Returning to the alley, I saw a squat wooden cube to my right, and an inconspicuous sign. There it was! After eventually taking my order with sloth-like apathy, dishes began to arrive. Samosas, then mains of chickpeas and fish curry with rotis and rice. The food was magnificent, a memorable culinary treat and exactly the sort of thing I love seeking out and finding it delivers on promise.
Military-controlled government is pro-tourism.
In your most recent column, you noted that the tourist nightlife industry was having a very rough time, and wondered whether the new anti-corruption bent of the new regime might affect it. I would suggest it would not, because the actions to date have demonstrated a systematic effort to encouraging tourists to come back to Thailand. When the curfew was imposed, it was very quickly lifted for Phuket, Pattaya, and Koh Samui – effective June 6th. The exemption was extended to Kho Phangan in time for the Full Moon Party to go forward as well – a full week before curfew was lifted for the nation. The crackdown on the law-breaking you highlighted is aimed at the scams that annoy tourists, like the cab mafia in Phuket. The new regime wants tourists to return ASAP to help prop up the economy. Shutting down the nightlife industry would be the opposite of what the regime is trying to accomplish.
A wake-up call?
Looks like another dismal tourist season. After the floods, the protests, and now the military coup, Thailand's tourist industry is in turmoil. No doubt many businesses will suffer if not close. Is my heart bleeding for them? Not in the least! After the high pricing, poor service and bad attitudes, I say bring it on! Perhaps this is what they need, a wake-up call. They have had it too good for too long. It's time we got back in the driver's seat!
Is the appeal to foreigners waning?
I'm not so sure that Thailand is as desirable for farang residents anymore. It certainly swelled over the past couple of decades, but I think the bloom's off the rose. FDI is pulling away, governments / NGOs seem eager to put the boot in, farang-inflation continues, oh and the place is a military dictatorship now. Well, that's how it's perceived. I don't think that'll put off Russians, but while pussy-simple guys from the West will always be inhabiting cheapo flats near On Nut or in Pattaya, do you see an influx of farang residents continuing?
You mentioned the inevitable focus on the pay for play scene. I also believe that there will be a crackdown on foreigners who have bought land through a company. As you well know, a lot of these companies don't actually trade and are just fronts that dodgy real estate agents advise their customers to make in order to get the chanote. I think it could lead to confiscation of land from foreigners. It's gonna get messy.
Many Thailand provinces never had a cinema.
Did you realise how many Thai provinces don't have a cinema? I thought, wow, there's still a province in Thailand without a cinema, and then I read this article and saw how many don't. Now with the major changes to the movie industry (even DVDs are becoming a thing of the past) they may never get a cinema as most residents will probably have high-speed internet in their home if they don't already and they'll just stream the movies to their tablet, computer, or phone. Here in Canada most video / DVD rental companies have gone out of business, but strangely enough, cinemas are still doing fine – of course it has helped that they now screen many movies in 3D.
Electroman hits the streets of Bangkok.
How to become super fast and invisible in Bangkok? Easy, buy an electric bicycle! For short distances it is faster than a car. It can be parked anywhere and is a lot of fun to ride. Thai seems to be unable to say the word jakayan without a big smile on their face and the girls love to try it. It gives me a bit of exercise which is a good thing. For some reason since I have it I am no longer subjected to the controls of the police and they just look through me & my bicycle. Weird. Before, I was stopped about once a week or more. The only downside is the risk of the bicycle being stolen. So far there have been 2 cases of motorsai taxi overtaking me while screaming like mad men (trying to make me lose my balance by scaring me). They are pissed to see a farang who is not giving them money to get around! Anyway, it's the best thing I have bought in years so I thought to share my experience with your readers.
Girl of the week
Jay, 19, dancer @ The Strip, Patpong soi 2.
From Prachinburi, Jay is new to the industry.
She likes dancing, but doesn't like alcohol.
Starting the news section of the column with the death of a porn star is a first and is perhaps an indicator of just how well-known this farang porn star was in the region. Naughty Nigel, or Notorious Nigel as he preferred to be called, passed away on Monday this past week in Bangkok. Nigel featured in sex clips – not full blown movies – and had unprotected sex with hundreds of girls and many transsexuals too. Needless to say, many rumours circulated about the medical condition Nigel was afflicted with, but it was malignant melanoma, or in layman's terms, skin cancer which gave him a red card. Nigel had sought alternative treatment but it was unsuccessful and he finally checked out this past Monday. The infamous Englishman has been in and out of Bangkok since the '90s and became one of the most recognisable farangs in South-East Asia as the farang porn star who featured in hundreds of clips with working girls from across South-East Asia. There was a time when Nigel was all over the Internet and he was frequently seen around Bangkok's bar areas. He moved around the region, making porn movies in Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia and quite possibly elsewhere. On the forums of the day posters would often comment on the girls he did the dirty with, some getting some warped pleasure from saying that they had shared some of the girls Nigel had bedded. As he became better known, Nigel would find himself unwelcome in many Nana Plaza bars. Managers put the word out to door security to keep him out while mamasans were instructed to tell the girls to steer clear of him. I hadn't spotted him around the traps for several years, but occasionally I would hear reports that he was seen here or there. For some time he was said to live in Soi Sribumphen where he was often seen, a neighbourhood known for cheap accommodation, junkies and street walkers. Nigel lived on the fringes of society, was a drug dealer for a period and at one time was involved in transnational credit card fraud. Several years ago he was stabbed in the slums of Klong Toey, a huge scar later visible on his stomach. He had a business card that simply read: Notorious Nigel, listed his phone number and a last line that read: Fuck Off Man U. Like him or loathe him, Naughty Nigel was a Bangkok legend.
The law is being enforced to the letter in Bangkok's oldest bar area with bars in Patpong closing at 2 AM sharp. No leeway is being given to open even a minute later.
And also down at Patpong, that boutique house of oral relief in the back alley of Patpong soi 2, the long-running Star of Light, known for services offered not just on the premises, but right there in the bar, for the time being at least, offering services offsite only. The technicians are prohibited from playing with tools on site.
Patpong soi 2 bar Black Pagoda has had great success with a discount card which gives 25% off drinks. For more details on how to acquire the card, stop by the bar. Black Pagoda has bucked the low season and had some big nights recently.
Foreigners often joke about the propensity of Thai vendors to put prices up when business is down. Lost income must be compensated for somehow, right?! But not everyone prescribes to that particular economic theory. Sukhumvit soi 22 has many Thai massage outlets and a bunch (all owned by the same woman) have dropped the price of most massages by 100 baht in the hope it will stimulate demand. That means regular Thai massage runs 200 baht, oil massage 300 baht etc. If you're price sensitive, do hunt around for prices vary greatly in the soi. If you want a no nonsense massage, soi 22 is a decent bet. If, however, you prefer the pretence of a regular massage but don't object to things getting spicier, head over to soi 23.
There's been much gossip about a visit by the authorities to a bar and restaurant on Sukhumvit soi 4 with a distinctly European name one morning this past week. Customers were hauled outside and their passports demanded for inspection. Long-time business owners on the soi believe the visit was a result of management refusing to adhere to the hours of the curfew that has seen them come in for special attention.
Iconic soi 33 pub The Londoner has closed. A new venue is being built and should open in 4 – 5 months on Pattanakarn Road, between sois 30 and 32. You don't know Pattanakarn Road? Drive east along Petchaburi Road and keep going past all the big massage parlours at which point Petchaburi Road becomes Pattanakarn Road. How The Londoner will go in its new location, who knows. I have to admit I have reservations about the location, especially when I consider what happened to Woodstock. The ultra popular bar and restaurant used to be located within Nana Plaza in the spot which is now Rainbow 4. When it moved out to Thonglor it never enjoyed the same success, and eventually closed.
The curfew is over and while Thailand's tourism industry has a history of bouncing back quickly from setbacks, tourists have yet to return. Flights in to the country are far from full and no-one has mentioned queues at Immigration. I reiterate what I have said in previous columns: despite being under Martial law, Bangkok is safe and there really is nothing for tourists to be concerned about.
The renovated Fish And Chips Shop on Sukhumvit soi 23 is a combination of three venues that have closed on the soi in the past year – The Ship Inn, The Offshore and The Fish And Chips Shop. The Fish and Chips Shop is located on the ground floor where there is a basic dining area. Upstairs is flasher with Macs for punters to access the 'net, a dart board and it's all rather pleasant. The plan is that the upstairs dining area will have an expanded menu with steaks, burgers etc.
Next Saturday, June 28th, is the I-Day Celebration which seems to have replaced the British Fair as the outdoor / day-time highlight of the expat calendar. A number of popular American food providers will be present including Roadhouse Barbecue, Sunrise Tacos, Anantara and Angel City Diner. There will be a chilli cook-off and heaps of stuff for families and kids. The event takes place at the KIS International School from 11:30 AM – 8:00 PM. Probably the easiest way to get there is to take the MRT to Huay Kwang exit 1 from where free shuttles to KIS are provided. Tickets are 200 baht if purchased in advance from AMCHAM and 300 baht if purchased on the day. For more information visit: AmChamThailand.com/IDayPicnic2014.
I was stopped by the police on Sukhumvit soi 16 this week, about half way down the soi, beyond the Bali Laos restaurant. It seems they have expanded the area where they are conducting searches of foreigners, beyond the Asoke intersection and the main Sukhumvit Road. It has to be said that the cops were friendly, polite and professional. I was gone in about 15 seconds after a couple of questions – where had I come from and where was I going, asked in English but answered in Thai. No search, nor any request to do so. I can only guess that I did not fit the profile they were looking for.
What is the plural form of the word "farang"? Is it farangs with an "s" or is it farang, without an "s", kind of like the singular and plural form of the word "baht" is "baht", with no "s" needed. I guess we are then asking whether farang is a countable or an uncountable noun. There's one for you English teachers to debate in the teachers' room this week.
There are so many different types of places for expats to choose to live in Bangkok. Apartments, condos, townhouses, houses, shophouses…and guesthouses. Yes, some folks live in hotels and even guesthouses. Down in Soi Sribumphen, the small backpacker area just south of Rama 4 Road which predates Khao San Road, is an older American retiree living in a guesthouse who has totally lost the plot. He would make a great poster boy for those locals who wish to rid the capital of expats as he is everything the Thais don't like – ugly of appearance, smelly, drunk, cheap, mouthy and belligerent! He sits outside the guesthouse in which he is a permanent resident and bellows abuse at those walking past while slugging down beer. He actually reminds me of Mekong Kurt, in terms of his looks and attire, but his attitude is nothing like Kurt who was always unfailing polite and gracious, even after he lost his marbles.
One of my misgivings about the naughty nightlife industry is the way some customers mistreat the girls – and the way some actually gloat to others about their nasty exploits. This mistreatment takes many forms, from physically abusing the girls to surreptitiously taking photos or recording videos of the girl in a compromising state and posting them online. I've commented countless times on how I remain aghast that many do the deed with bargirls without protection, and then go home to their wife, and presumably do the very same. Whenever I mention this there is always someone who called me a prude, naive, spoilsport or something similar. I recently heard about a fellow with herpes who refuses to wrap up, who has unprotected sex with different bargirls every week, all while knowing that he has the herpes virus. It's beyond reckless and despite what some may say to defend their actions, herpes may be spread even when sores are not visible. In my casual observation there would seem to be a commonality in many of the cases where condom usage is refused, even in the knowledge that he is carrying an STD – age. Many guys who refuse to use a condom are aged 60, 65 or older. Not wrapping up is one thing, but doing the dirty with dozens, or maybe hundreds of different partners knowing you have an incurable STD which you could be passing on strikes me as sick, even borderline criminal. I always thought we were supposed to get wiser and become better people with age. I guess I got that wrong.
Sunrise Tacos has launched a new branch in Siam Square One, the new shopping centre next to the Siam skytrain station. To celebrate they have an opening special with a number of dishes priced at just 99 baht. The highlight has to be the junior burger made with Aussie beef and served with hand-cut fries – at 99 baht it's a bargain.
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Kodachrome".
The Western media is reporting how the party is back on in Bangkok.
In Indonesia, local authorities are under pressure to close down Surabaya's long-running red-light area, Dolly.
The military controlled government is cleaning up the taxi Mafia at Suwannaphum Airport.
Fine work by the men in brown arresting a German in Bangkok who had been scamming Thai women by offering iPhones cheap.
Thailand is downgraded in the annual Trafficking in Persons report to the lowest level, placing it alongside North Korea.
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: I moved in to my condo in September 2011, paying 2 months deposit and signing a 1-year rental contract. The expiry date of the contract was September 2012. I am still in the same condo now and am quite happy here, and I think the owner is happy as I always pay on time, am never late with the payment nor have I ever complained about anything or caused any problems. I don't wish to contact the landlord about the anomaly of the contract having expired almost 2 years ago as I feel that I am on a good deal, paying what I believe to be below market rent. I just wanted to check if there are any issues I need to be aware of, being out of contact so to speak?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors recommends that you re-negotiate your contract with your landlord. While he does have the two-month deposit, this does not guarantee that he has to give you two months' notice. The lease deposit is used to cover damage fees and outstanding utility bills. The landlord could, at his or her discretion, give you as little as 7 days' notice to vacate or 15 days or 30 days. It would be entirely up to him as you would not be protected by any contract.
If you wish to keep your right to stay in the apartment secure then you will need to renegotiate a new lease contract. If you wish to keep the rent at the original rate then you must accept the fact that your residence is subject to the landlord and you could be forced to vacate at short notice.
The monsoon rains came to the capital this week, with showers late afternoon and early evening most days, and a couple of nights saw heavy downpours late. In my early years when there was no skytrain getting around when it rained was a nightmare so I dreaded the rainy season. The city's infrastructure is so much better today and now I don't mind the rainy season. The temperature dips, the crap in the air is washed away and wet streets and rain makes for all sorts of photo opps. If you've never been to Bangkok during the rainy season, the rains are no big deal. It doesn't usually rain for more than an hour or two and is nothing like the rainy season in, say, India, where areas can be underwater for days. There are fewer tourists, lower hotel prices and airfares so there are some decent arguments about this being a good time to visit!
Your Bangkok commentator,