G Spot, Fantasia, Lollipop, Hollywood, Carousel, Carnival, Our Place, Pam's, Apache Coyote, Farang Connection, Rififi, Hogg's Breath….the list could go on and on. Classic Bangkok bar names are fast disappearing as bars change hands and new owners look for a fresh start, renaming their new baby and creating a new brand. It's hard to believe that it's 11 years since the Club Electric Blue brand name hit Bangkok, a brand name today that is as strong as ever. This week I popped by Club Electric Blue to say hi.
The Club Electric Blue story started in Pattaya in 2002 with the original bar on Walking Street, down towards FLB Bar. It ran until 2007 and was followed by the short-lived Club Electric Blue Junior experiment in Soi Diamond which lasted just 6 months.
The sign outside the bar is showing its age and you'll have more luck searching for a virgin in Sin City than you will Club Electric Blue.
The Bangkok branch opened in 2003 in the space that had previously been Rififi, a classic rock and roll bar which dated back to the mid 70s.
Thais love to be photographed and photos of pretty girls in a bar can only be good for business, right? Wrong! I am told that 20+ years ago you could take shots in many bars without a problem. That was before digital cameras and the age of the Internet. Freedom to shoot in many popular bars is perhaps the best perk of running a popular website with a naughty nightlife slant.
Coyote dancers have been a fixture in Electric Blue for a couple of years. The coyotes are in hot shorts, the regular gogo dancers are in skirts.
This isn't part of the job description for gogo dancers or coyotes.
There is more interaction between girls and customers at Club Electric Blue and some dancers love to put on a show.
One night recently she was quiet, almost a little forlorn and she had become withdrawn. The manager checked on her but she wouldn't say anything. Just 10 minutes before the bar was to close her mood changed, and she did a 180. She was smiling, jumping around, elated. When she settled down, she explained to the manager that someone had barfined her. She had been upset because she thought she was not going to be barfined. Every single night she has worked, someone has paid the barfine for her. She had come within 10 minutes of not being barfined that night, but just like a winning goal in extra time, someone paid the barfine and her 100% record remained intact.
These ladies can be hard. Not bad – well, a few are – but many are hard.
In the eyes of image-conscious, a Thai woman smoking in public and sporting home-made tats which cannot easily be concealed spells trouble.
Amongst girls in the bar business, tats are increasingly becoming the norm, especially on girls with 6 months or more in the industry. Smoking, however, still isn't that popular.
Behind the cashier and the DJ's booth is a short corridor leading to the toilet and the changing room.
There's something about dark alleys, corridors and side sois in Asia with dim neon lights that draws you in, and when I see a cute girl go in to the men's room I have to see what that's all about.
The lovely Som says the girls' changing room is cramped and suffocating. When she's doing nothing more than glancing in the mirror to check that she looks ok she prefers to do it in the men's room.
With a smile that never leaves her face and eyes that positively glow, Som has a real warmth. She points across to the changing room and says "Men" with an exaggerated grabbing of her nose – meaning the room or something inside it stinks.
Like every gogo bar back room, the changing room looks like a tip – and smells like one too, kind of surprising given the locals' difficulty in dealing with foul smells. It's so bad that the hair-stylist has donned a face mask to deal with the stench. The girls seem used to it.
The changing room is not the exclusive domain of the girls and no-one bats an eyelid at my presence. They share the small room with shelves of cleaning products, kegs of Chang draft, enough pairs of shoes to stock a second-hand shoe store and no doubt a few critters too. Wires run to what looks like Somchai's effort at a fuse box. As I move to one side to try and get a better shot, a girl gasps, grabs my arm and pulls me towards her. It's not love at first sight, but rather she explains that if I knock the box it can cause the power to go out in the entire bar. Ooops!
In many ways Club Electric Blue reminds me of Spanky's in Nana Plaza. Few of the girls would be crowned Miss Patpong, but they smile and the atmosphere is relaxed which makes for a fun bar. That's part of the reason the bar has such a following amongst old hands.
The girls of Club Electric Blue genuinely like the owner, not something you can say about a lot of bars.
8 years ago she was the hottest thing in the bar. A loyal servant, she used to be seen in a bikini, and in 2006 was presented with the Miss Club Electric Blue sash. Today she mixes the drinks, and kicks the butt of anyone who challenges her to a drinking contest!
Club Electric Blue does not have the prettiest girls in Patpong. It doesn't have the lowest prices – it does have the cheapest beer in a Bangkok gogo bar with draft 50 baht all night, every night. But what it does have is a farang manager, good music and most importantly, friendly fun-loving girls and a great vibe.
On stage the girls are lively and naughty. As the night goes on and they've had a good few drinks, things can start to resemble a show bar with the spice factor ratcheted up.
The girls of Club Electric Blue seem to enjoy themselves and it is this which separates Club Electric Blue from many other bars.
Club Electric Blue celebrated its 10-year anniversary in Patpong 2 not so long ago and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that it will still be going in another 10. That wouldn't be a bad thing at all.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of Pha That Luang, the main temple in Vientiane, Laos. Yep, sneaky me included a photo that was not even taken in Thailand! We're back in Thailand for this week's photo.
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 – Mobile phones, the bane of the bars.
I would love to see the rule of not using mobile devices at Bacarra enforced industry-wide. I took my brother to both of the leading soapy massage parlours here in Pattaya last week and guess what? The management in their great wisdom have removed the TVs that the girls behind the glass used to watch. Now they all have their faces planted in their phones and iPads. Both places had around 40 odd girls behind the glass and not a single one even saw us walk in and sit down. We both ordered a drink, each thinking that word would be sent to them that 2 customers had walked in. But no, nothing. We sat there for around 15 minutes in each establishment, finished our drinks and with zero interaction from any of girls I paid the bill. The waiter / pimp asked, both times, why we were leaving. I said the ladies like their phones more than customers and if he wanted us to come back he should tell his boss to stop the girls from using them. In typical Thai fashion they just shrugged their shoulders and smiled. This is the second time that this has happened to me at each of these places. No wonder we were the only customers.
Manners and social graces.
I would like to note that while Thais speak softly in public, on their mobile phones they practically yell. Many times I ask my wife (who is Thai) who she was arguing with on the phone. She just laughs and says there was no argument. Thais on the phone talk like Italians do in person with much body gesture. On another point of social grace, Thais find it disgusting to see someone use a toothpick to pick their teeth (proper Thai etiquette would be to cup you hand over your mouth). But Thais see nothing wrong with picking their nose in public! I taught in Thailand for 5 years and would tell my students (to their surprise) that when you travel to the West do not pick your nose in public!
Looking in the mirror.
I found many of your observations about expats and the character deterioration that goes on to be accurate. Of course, in all such perceptions, we wonder where we ourselves fit in the picture. Personally, I like the subject matter and hope it helps some guys see themselves, myself included. Who said, "The unexamined life is hardly worth living?"
Your food is my food!
I was struck by your going native piece in that I noticed I was doing at a Thai friend's home what Thai friends do when they come to my place. Namely – helping myself to food and drink without asking! Back in the UK (as I'm sure in most Western destinations), if you go as a guest to someone's home they offer food and drink, any refills etc and bring it to you in most cases. Here, no-one bats an eye and helps themselves to your beer, soft drinks, snacks, noodles etc. A minor thing but one I actually don't mind.
Refusing to go native.
I have become more laid back and slightly less ambitious about goals in life, but at the same time we have just finished building our dream house in the outskirts of Bangkok. This was made possible by my parents deciding to advance some of my inheritance and my wife and I getting a 2nd mortgage. I have achieved a lot of my goals already. Our business has not gone well over the last year, mainly due to the economy and the protests. However, we are not too worried as we do have ideas and plans about generating a new income stream. Preparations have been made. Speaking the local lingo is a must. Is that considered going native? It is so annoying to meet westerners who have lived here longer than I (3 years), and speak no or crap Thai. Really, man! As to unprotected sex, it's real simple. I have one sex partner and that is my wife. I do occasionally go to Nana with a buddy for a drink, but do not partake. Yeah, I know, most will not believe me. I have been faithful for 6+ years. When it comes to driving I do have my silly moments, like driving fast. I love my Audi turbo. Going native for me would be driving slowly and obstructively, talking on the phone. However, driving pissed back from the bar, no way. If I had a drink or two at dinner, then I might be on the limit. I have been stopped, but never above the limit. Thai time? It's bullshit. My wife is just as annoyed if someone does not bother to show up on time. In our line of work, the customer does not appreciate it if our team does not show up on time. When it comes to planning for the future, we have health insurance, life insurance, car insurance and whatnot. When it comes to unacceptable service / goods, I let my wife handle it if I am too annoyed. Sometimes, my wife is more annoyed than I. Not every westerner in Thailand is a reckless, alcoholic, diseased whoremonger, but you know this.
Soi Cowboy history lesson.
You mention Bacarra being the first 3-storey gogo bar in the land, but back in the late 80's there was a gogo at the other end of Cowboy called the Darling Bar. This featured a 3-storey high spiral staircase in the middle of the bar with dance podiums on each of the 3 floors. The dancers started at the top level and danced their way down to ground level over several songs. Unfortunately it shut down many years ago. I believe it is now called Rawhide.
Don Meuang history lesson.
Regarding the taxi driver pulling a gun on his passenger between Sukhumvit sois 23 and 33, back in the late 80's and early 90's there was a spate of drivers picking up passengers from Don Meuang Airport, driving them to waste land, robbing and killing them.
Sleepy Sihanoukville days.
Wifey and I were chatting with an American whilst having breakfast at an establishment on Victory Hill, Sihanoukville, a couple of weeks ago. He was retired and moved to Cambodia after being cleaned out financially by his Thai wife. There are so many of those lost souls around. Anyway, I asked him what he did all day and he replied, "I sit here and watch the bars change owners every three months."
Girl of the week
Som, coyote dancer, Club Electric Blue, Patpong soi 2.
She is tattoo-free, speaks very decent English,
is always smiling and seems to be permanently happy!
Genuine Penthouse cover girls who have featured in the Thai edition will be at Secrets in Pattaya on Monday, July 14th, where they will put on a show, after which they will be happy to pose with punters for photos. This is a camera-friendly event. With signed copies of Penthouse featuring the ladies for 200 baht as well as photos of themselves with the ladies, I can just imagine some of the BS that will follow in pubs back in the West when those photos are shown to mates!
This coming Friday and Saturday are Buddhist holidays and I'd expect many bars will be closed. Interpretation of the law is not the same across Bangkok's many police districts so while bars in most areas are expected to close, no doubt bars in the odd area will remain open. With police nervous about being seen to be shirking their duties, I'd expect the bars on Sukhumvit to be lights out and you'll be hard-pressed to find alcohol or dancing girls in any of the usual bar areas on Friday 11th and Saturday 12th. Of the major bar areas, Patpong is most likely to be the exception and open.
The launch of a new bar or the renovation and reopening of an existing bar is usually welcomed by owners of other bars in the area. Bargoers don't tend to go out with the idea of going to just one bar, but to an area. The more good bars in one bar area, the more likely customers will choose to visit that area. But at least two bars are displeased at the reopening of Lust in Patpong soi 1 this past week after Club Electric Blue and Pink Panther saw some of their ranks enticed to go and work for the opposition. If your favourite Club Electric Blue or Pink Panther girl is missing, stick your head in Lust and you might just see her.
With tourism in the doldrums and 2 of Bangkok's biggest bar operators – and by definition, biggest investors – in a state of flux, don't expect to see any significant investment in the bar industry at this time. The 2 major movers and shakers of the industry are waiting – or is that hoping – for visitor numbers to return to normal. Along with other challenges they face away from the bar industry, don't expect to see too much happen in the bar areas at this time.
And speaking of developments, it looks like the redevelopment of the New York Gardens – where Insanity, V8 Diner, Sunrise Tacos main branch and co. all share a prime spot on Sukhumvit – has been put on hold. Nothing is official, but don't expect any of these venues to be making way for an office tower or low-rise shopping centre as has been mooted, any time soon. Again, it's a case of investments being put on hold until things settle down.
Club Electric Blue's latest promotion kicks off tonight with what they are calling a Liquid Buffet. For 399 baht it's all you can drink Chang draft beer from 7:30 – 11:00 PM, every Sunday night. Note, this is per person and strictly no sharing. If it proves popular it will become a nightly special.
Sukhumvit soi 11 has been a happening area for a few years now, but the question that is now being asked is whether the popular soi might be losing its lustre. Last year soi 11 could claim two of the hottest spots in town – Bed and Q Bar. Bed closed in the second half of last year and Q Bar, despite a very nice renovation and the addition of the Paris period-themed Le Derrière, seems to have gone off the boil. With new nightspots opening up all the time in Thonglor and Ekamai, soi 11 doesn't seem to have the same draw with the in crowd. The hot spots for the time being are in the aforementioned Sukhumvit neighbourhoods and down at Silom where the likes of Maggie Choo and Ku De Ta attract those who like to be seen. With so much choice, soi 11 remains a good choice for a night out, but it's not at the forefront of the city's nightlife as it could once claim.
On the subject of up and coming areas, Sukhumvit sois 13 and 22 look like they will be the next two sois to see major developments with hotels and condos planned – and restaurants and bars usually follow.
Many bars have their regulars, those who drink in the venue most nights, who make a point of stopping by whenever they are out and about. These regulars can remain customers of a bar for years and their accumulative spend can run to hundreds of thousands of baht. They really should get extra special treatment but they don't always get the appreciation and gratitude that perhaps they should. Asking one bar boss this week about changes in customer patterns, he said that while the number of tourists may be down, most faces in the bar are not those he recognises nor has he seen before, suggesting they are, in fact, visitors. What has hit his bar is that many regulars have moved on. Some of these regulars were almost as much a part of the bar as the chrome poles and grouchy mamasans. Many of these regulars just seem to have disappeared. They don't seem to have popped up elsewhere, but just moved on. To where, who knows?
Could visa runners be forced to visit 2 countries when making a visa run, and not one as they currently do, exiting Thailand at a land border, entering a neighbouring country and re-entering Thailand within, oh, an hour or so? While NOT official, rumour has it that one of the proposals being looked at to prevent the "out / in" visa runs that has long irked Immigration and which goes against the spirit of visas, is the possible requirement that anyone making more than one back to back "out/in" exit and re-entry has to show they have not just exited the country for a short period, but been to 2 countries (or more) before returning to Thailand. So, say, crossing the border to Malaysia and returning straight back to Thailand would not be ok, but crossing in to Malaysia, travelling on to Singapore and then returning to Thailand would be. That might pose something of an expensive and time-consuming challenge for visa run companies.
While Thailand is tightening up on visa rules, Indonesia is increasing the price of visas on arrival. Unlike Thailand, visitors from most Western countries have to pay every time they enter Indonesia. For the passport holders of most western countries, it used to be that a visa on arrival in Indonesia cost $10 for a stay of up to 7 days, or $25 for a stay of up to 30 days. The 7-day visa has been done away with and now it's $35 for a 30-day visa on arrival. Note: your Thai partner gets visa-free entry to Indonesia.
One strong piece of advice I have for expats in Thailand is that if you are doing anything you shouldn't be, keep it to yourself. It could be something as innocuous as working online for a firm aboard, or something more serious such as using recreational drugs. Whatever you're up to, if it is questionable or illegal, don't tell anyone – especially your Thai girlfriend! Call me a cynic, but at times in this country many think nothing about using information against others, be it control or blackmail. The locals can be real snitches. Combine that with a jealous streak and if you're up to something you shouldn't be, it could come back to haunt you. That girlfriend you just dumped might let those in tight brown uniforms know that that loose tile in the back corner of your bathroom can be moved and that's where you store your green. Locals who feel slighted have no hesitation in grassing you up.
For American Express cardholders, I am told there is a way of using the card to make fee-free ATM withdrawals from your foreign bank account which don't incur the Thai bank levied 180 baht fee. It requires your American Express card to be linked to your bank account and you need to contact American Express at home to set it up and get a PIN.
A lot of expats will tell you how great life is in Thailand and how much better it is than where they come from. In some cases they are withholding a few pertinent details. I heard a quite hilarious story recently about the manager of a popular bar who is a prolific poster online. He paints a rosy picture of both life in Thailand and his own life. He lives in a $100 a month room with his girlfriend and one of her friends. The building only issues one security swipe card per room, not one card per resident. The card is needed to enter the building and without the card, you would need to wait for someone else to be going in or coming out to gain entry. As a bar manager he works late and by the time gets back to the building, his girlfriend and her friend are asleep. He calls them so one can come downstairs and open the security door to let him in. But sometimes his girlfriend's phone is turned off. That means he can't get in to the building and he is forced to sleep outside on the street until early morning when residents start exiting the building, allowing him to enter. It has happened a number of times.
Quote of the week comes from Jack Black, "The biggest dangers in Bangkok are the ones you make for yourself."
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "What's All the Hubbub?"
An abandoned mall in Bangkok has been overtaken by and is now inhabited by fish.
A young German learns that there is no such thing as a free massage in Pattaya.
Thailand has a large gender imbalance with more females than males.
The so-called paradise island of Phuket has been described as corrupt and immoral and faces a major cleanup.
Be careful late at night in Phuket with reported stabbings of and thefts from tourists this week.
Vice.com spend a night out with Pattaya's controversial Tourist Police Volunteers.
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 am considering buying a condo in Bangkok. I am a British citizen, not married but do have a Thai girlfriend. As I do not permanently live in Thailand, I am considering letting the property out on a short-term basis whilst I am back home working. Could you give me an idea on the tax situation. Obviously I would incur some sort of bill, but how do I go about paying it, or legally go about paying as little as possible? My girlfriend suggested paying through her. Would that have an impact on the ownership of the property if we were to separate?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: The majority of home / condo owners rent to an individual and so their tenant is not eligible to withhold taxes. If you were renting to a juristic entity then the tenant would be required to withhold taxes and declare their rent as company expenses. This would also require you, the landlord, to declare the income.
It is generally a good idea to declare the income as personal income. It would not need a work permit or special visa to do so. Personal income tax is calculated on a progressive rate and expenses such as life insurance and mortgages are deductible expenses. Sunbelt Asia has experienced tax experts who can assist you in filing your annual taxes and ensuring that you remain fully legal.
As for the unit's monthly expenses, there will be common property area fees, electricity, water and perhaps telephone. The common area fees will be on a fixed rate and in a newly-built condo will be collected a year or two in advance. For older buildings, sometimes the juristic management may collect them on a monthly basis. You will need to check with the juristic manager to check the payment schedule and how to pay. Other bills will depend on the amount used and you will need to ensure your tenant pays these bills if you are not covering them yourself. It is possible to set up a direct debit for these bills as well as online banking.
You could have your Thai girlfriend handle the expenses on your behalf or you can arrange this directly with the condominium juristic management. Be aware that having her take on such responsibilities could give her cause to claim for half of the assets obtained during your relationship on the basis of being a "life partner". This is an unregistered relationship but has the same basis as a legal marriage i.e. living together as if husband and wife, arranging a wedding ceremony without formally registering the marriage, basically any actions which would lead the courts to believe that you and your girlfriend had a relationship similar to a marriage.
Question 2: I have just turned 50 and am thinking about a Thai retirement visa. How could that be made compatible with doing paid contract work with a US-based company via the internet (which has no structure in Thailand, and no relationship with Thailand)?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Holding a retirement visa extension or retirement visa does not allow you to apply for a work permit in Thailand. You would need to change your visa to a Non-Immigrant “B”, but in order to obtain this visa, you will either have to be employed by a Thai company or for you to establish a juristic entity in Thailand. In order to be entirely legal, this is the best option. If you are married to a Thai national then you can have a regular non-O based on marriage to a Thai national but still need an employer, either a company here or your own, in order to obtain the work permit. While the Labour Department has been overlooking people who work for companies overseas, and obtain their income overseas, there is no guarantee that this will continue and Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors recommends that for peace of mind, being fully legal is the best way forward. We have extensive experience in non-B visas and work permits as well as setting up companies that act as consultants for overseas firms so if you wish to meet with a legal advisor for a free initial consultation, please get in touch.
Every year for the past few years there's been much fanfare locally when Bangkok has been awarded the world's best city by the readers of Travel and Leisure magazine. This year's award winners were announced this week and after 4 straight years of topping the best city in the world category, Bangkok didn't even make the top 10. One-trick pony Siem Reap came in at number 3 and even crime-ridden Mexico City fared better, coming in at number 9. With everything that has happened in Bangkok over the past 12 months, Bangkok could not possibly keep the top spot. Will the city return to the top 10 next year, or are its days winning this prestigious award over? The trickle of visitors has increased a little and some Bangkok hotels report much improved bookings for August, so here's hoping things have turned the corner.
Your Bangkok commentator,