Many foreigners visiting Bangkok, as well as a good few foreign residents, seldom venture beyond Sukhumvit Road. Sukhumvit has the highest concentration of decent hotels, the greatest variety of foreign restaurants and is the centre of the city's foreigner-centric nightlife. With the temperature hovering around a comfortable 30 degrees and the humidity level bearable, it's a good time to wander the streets with camera in hand. This week I wandered around Sukhumvit by day and by night, and this is what I saw.
Scrawled across the back of a bus shelter on Sukhumvit Road between sois 18 and 20 this eloquence doesn't get the audience it would if it was facing the road. It's not the only spot on Sukhumvit Road that this very message is written in this style. This same message written in the same scrawl and similarly large featured in this column more than a month ago on the pedestrian overbridge beside Sukhumvit soi 7. And there it remains today, with no effort to remove or paint over it. Who wrote it – a Thai or a foreigner?
The area once known as Washington Square is being cleared by a small crew. There is no urgency, suggesting that the redevelopment of the space is some time away. Undergrowth has taken over parts of the area in the same way it has other vacant lots along Sukhumvit – think the long-time empty spaces either side of the mouth of soi 8. There's been much speculation about what will follow. A hotel, a shopping centre and a high-end condo would all be safe bets.
Progress is similarly slow at the Bull & Bush on Sukhumvit soi 33, the mega British pub spanning 4 floors bar which has been touted as the next big thing in British pubs. It's all very well to create hype, but it helps to build it first! No-one knows when, or even if the Bull & Bush will ever be completed and it has become a laughing stock amongst the owners of existing pubs on the soi.
For the past couple of years it has been a stop / start affair and with monthly rent likely in the 150K – 200K baht range, maybe more, you'd think the investors would be screaming for it to be completed. Spread over 4 floors, the plans are said to include an open air rooftop bar area, a floor for dining and a designated cigar smoking room, expats had been waiting with baited breath but today many are doubtful of whether the project will ever be finished. Admittedly a completely different type of fit-out, the Family Mart branch just a couple of doors along took less than 2 weeks to build from start to finish.
Elephants aren't allowed on the streets of the capital but the authorities are turning a blind eye to this one.
One of the joys of wandering the streets of Bangkok is coming across the unexpected – and a life-sized multi-coloured elephant is not what you expect to see in the middle of a major capital. About one click up Sukhumvit soi 31, just before Mousse and Meringues, are a couple of large, colourful elephants, one on either side of the soi. They brighten up an otherwise dull soi.
It's lunch time and vendors set up stalls offering cheap eats on Soi Cowboy. Each weekday for an hour or so, Soi Cowboy attracts a very different type of lady to those who work at night. Between midday and 1:00 PM office workers search out lunch, and Soi Cowboy is one of the hot spots in the area with a variety of vendors and many tables sheltered from the elements set up in the covered area outside the bars. The demure office workers so beautifully made up slurp noodles and pick at sticky rice.
It's mid-afternoon on Sukhumvit and outside the oldest branch of Asia Books is wide open pavement. Strolling around downtown Bangkok hasn't been this easy for years. Of all of the crackdowns undertaken since the military took control, clearing vendors from the popular streets benefits everyone. How long will we have our streets back for before things revert to how they were?
The giant screen in the hotel of the Nana Hotel car park towers over the top of Soi Nana. How long will it be until the beer bars of Soi Nana place ads on the screen?
It's twilight and at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 11/1 vendors are setting up their stalls. They are not allowed to start selling before 7:00 PM.
Early evening is the busiest time at the top of Soi Nana. The office crowd working in the many businesses along the soi scurry to escape before the sun goes down when a steady precession of girls can be seen ambling towards the plaza from the BTS station. At the same time motorbike after motorbike deposits girls at the entrance of Nana – some are motorbike taxis, some are the girl's boyfriend and some are both.
It is business as usual, a total melee. From the beer bar railings, punters watch freelancers loitering out front of the Nana hotel. Upmarket Soi Nana isn't, but the best of Bangkok's foreigner bar areas it certainly is.
Just a little further down the soi, perhaps 100 metres or so, it's calm, almost peaceful when you're out of earshot of all the nonsense.
If different parts of Sukhumvit were respective members of a family, between the Nana and Asoke intersections would be the black sheep. Illegal booze booths and beer carts, streetwalking ladyboys and freelance hookers with brains fried from years of methamphetamine abuse, after dark it's a blight on the city.
But inside Nana Plaza the vibe is rather more welcoming.
Outside Hot Lips bar on Nana Plaza's middle level is a money tree. Hot Lips bar is collecting money for Camillian House, a registered non-profit children's charity which helps, amongst others, children with HIV. If you find yourself in the plaza over the next few days do consider a small offering for a great cause. As I said to Dave The Rave, if for just one night every customer in the plaza gave whatever they would usually give in tips to bars to this charity instead, it would be a significant amount of money.
On that positive note it was time to leave Sukhumvit and head for home.
Where was this photo taken?
If ever anyone says Stickman readers are but a bunch of sex tourists, last week's photo competition suggests otherwise. Taken at the entrance of the best bar in Nana Plaza, Spellbound, not one person got it right! Some weeks, upwards of 50 readers get the photo right but when it was taken in a sex tourism area, no-one got it!
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.
Bring in the bulldozers!
I love the idea about transforming Soi Cowboy and agree wholeheartedly. You say Soi Cowboy could not be redeveloped because of all the different owners but these are all just scumbag pimps running illegal businesses and if the junta is serious about dealing with corruption why not just seize these businesses and sell them to legitimate business people to redevelop? It's my view that it's equally reasonable to do this at Nana and Patpong as well, albeit less of a priority. These businesses are a blight on Thai society and I'd just send in the bulldozers, but you make a good case for positive redevelopment. The Thai government needs to understand that these businesses have defined Thailand since Vietnam and Thailand will not be taken seriously until they get rid of these miscreants.
A Soi Cowboy fan speaks out.
Are you retarded? The world is full of mainstream bars. What's wrong with having a few areas in the world where guys like me can have a good time? I'm glad to hear you're leaving Thailand. Or maybe you just write stupid shit like this on purpose to piss people like me off. I hope whoever buys your site has more sense than you. I think you're just an idiot. You sound like an Obama voter.
Meeting coyotes at the end of the night.
I've always been amused at the idiots who boast about scoring a girl for 500 / 600 baht a night. A girl who goes for that price scares me. You can bet she has had more dick-ends than weekends, is not too pretty and has probably agreed to some pretty foul deeds for just a few hundred baht more. I'd be fairly confident that the chance of getting a dose from these low-priced girls is high. I am a big fan of coyote girls. They are in general younger, prettier, more polite and less hardened. Also, many have not had kids and have that washboard stomach I like. However, there is no way I am going to pay some crazy 1,000 / 1,200 baht barfine or pay for lots of overpriced drinks. I tell them I will give them 3,000 baht short-time if they meet me after their shift or if they come to my place before they start work the next day. I have found this to work very well and I've had no 10-minute 'hit and runs' and some of the late night short-times have resulted in all-nighters for no extra fee. I think it's the best deal – the girls are getting a great deal and I'm probably saving around 2,000 baht. I don't have to spend my nights crawling around bars and can have a nice evening out, knowing that my extracurricular activities are sorted. On the downside, not all coyotes go and some have no-showed but hey, that's the risk. In summary, I'm all for the girls getting better money. After all, it's not a very desirable job and their shelf life is limited. I also believe that you're entitled to more bang for your buck when paying good money and I mention this light-heartedly beforehand.
I just came back from the Ranong / Myanmar border crossing for a visa run and for the first time in 5 years the border was completely empty! I was the only person there, this on a Thursday afternoon. Usually there's 20 people or so, but a minimum of at least 10. The Immigration officer checked every stamp in my passport going back through the years and then asked for my work permit and checked it on the computer as well! On the return trip she checked it all again! Every page and stamp was checked and everything was verified once and for all. Wow! I was taken aback by the intense scrutiny since it had been totally absent the last 5 years. Things have changed for sure.
Public transport pilloried.
I just spent a week in Bangkok. It all started off pretty good with a 500 baht taxi ride into the city from the airport. Of course this was a flat rate charge. It was late at night and I didn't want the meter argument hassle. But as the week progressed, any time I wanted a taxi it came down to me having to convince the driver why he should be allowed to take my money in return for taking me where I wanted to go. Once successful with this plea bargain, I then would ask for the meter to be turned on. More often than not this would be refused. I would be left with a critical decision – stick to my principles and bail out or cave in to the extortion. Caving in would get me where I wanted to go at an inflated price and the other would necessitate the circus starting all over again. It's long been recognised that there is widespread corruption in the Land Of Smiles and the current administration appears to be trying to get this under control. I have a suggestion: Put down an edict whereby if a taxi driver refuses to use the meter when asked, his taxi is immediately impounded for 7 days. I guarantee this nonsense would be cleared up in the first week. Leaving the hotel this morning at 6 AM, I asked for a taxi at the front desk and told the concierge I would insist on the meter being used. No meter…no taxi! When I got in, of course the meter was off. I asked the driver to turn it on. After doing so he started the pitch for 500 baht for the ride. I said I would pay according to the meter, no more and no less. He then started crying the blues about how he only made 800 last night. Unfortunately his English was not sufficient for me to fully engage and ask why I needed to subsidise his wages because he had had a poor night. The obvious way to increase sales is to take all rides as they come along, but then that would be a simplistic approach to the market society we live in. Close to the airport, he once again started the poor me about only making 800. I again indicated I would pay the meter. He then started pushing for a tip. The meter showed 187 baht plus 25 toll (which I paid). I gave him 220 baht and received not so much as a thank you. But then I knew better than to expect it.
Public transport praised.
The other day I visited Wat Thammongkol. I was able to go by metro and skytrain to the Phunnawiti station and take a taxi from there to the wat. I was at the back of a long soi on my way back with no taxi to be seen. I started walking and a motorsai honked and stopped beside me. He asked if I wanted a ride to Phunnawiti and I said yes, that's my destination. I said then that I was quite heavy for the bike. He said no problem, just hop on, which I did. After 5 minutes we arrived and I asked the price. He said 15 baht and I gave him 20. He gave me a handshake and the biggest smile one can imagine and thanked me. It is these little moments of warmth and happiness that are precious but which very often happen here in Thailand. Today I went to The Mall in Bangkapi for a stroll around that part of the city. Going there I paid 130 baht. I made another short ride to Wat Thepleela and from there I had a very nice elderly driver take me back to my hotel. We had a little chat and I noticed that he knew well how to use the back streets. So I told him that I think that he is a very experienced and smart driver. He was very pleased and said that the younger drivers often just lack the patience to be cool-hearted in Bangkok's traffic. When we reached my hotel the fare was only 77 baht and to me it was clear he gets 100 and the change is his tip. Once again, a very nice experience.
Girl of the week
Miss Moo Larn, 23 years old
gogo dancer, Hot Lips, Nana Plaza
She loves taking photos and having her photo taken
and is described as being absolutely not shy at all!
September is one of the quietest months of the year for the bar industry, perhaps second quietest after June. But things are looking up and for once what my eyes see syncs perfectly with what bar owners are telling me – that numbers, both the number of punters in the bars and the amount of money passing through the till – are on the way up.
The big news in Bangkok's bar industry this week comes from Soi Nana where an American fell or jumped from the 5th floor of the Nana Hotel to his death just before the sun came up on Friday morning. The events that lead up to his demise aren't clear and everyone has a different version. It is said that he had been behaving erratically in a soi 4 beer bar. Somewhere between leaving that bar and entering Bangkok's most infamous sex tourist hotel, he had an argument. Who this argument was with and what it was about no-one knows. It is believed is that a Thai intervened. Translation: a group of Thais set upon him and some say a broken bottle may have been used as a weapon against him. The American received a nasty beating and with claret all over the pavement, he legged it to the Nana Hotel. He was not a guest at the Nana Hotel and when approached by staff trying to find out what had happened he was said to be in a state of panic and a highly agitated state, grabbing items and throwing them at hotel staff. All sorts of rumours are going around about what happened next but the official word is that he died from injuries sustained from jumping from the 5th floor. The beer bar where he had been earlier in the evening was closed by the authorities the following evening, around 7:30 PM. May the deceased, Kevin Curley, rest in peace.
The next Nanapong dance contest will be held tonight at Club Electric Blue in Patpong soi 2. Last month's dance contest was a huge success and old-timers present said it recaptured the atmosphere of the Bangkok of old. So if you have tuned in early to today's column, you might just be able to get there in time for what should be a fun night as girls from the host bar, Soi Cowboy's Dollhouse and Nana Plaza's Playskool dance off for bar pride and monetary prizes.
Spellbound on Nana Plaza's ground floor, will throw a big party this coming Thursday, September 18th, to celebrate manager Tukata's birthday. The party will feature special sexy shows and a free buffet. Standard beers, Johnnie Walker Red, Gordon's Gin, Smirnoff Vodka, Bacardi Rum, Sang Som Whisky, Tequila, Sambuca, Black Cherry, Rocket Fuel and Spellbound drinks are all just 95 baht, all night long. It promises to be a fantastic night so if you have yet to check out Spellbound, this is the night to do it!
Playskool, on Nana Plaza's ground floor, will celebrate the first anniversary of its major rebuild this coming Saturday, September 20th. There will be free food including garlic mushrooms, spring rolls, Scotch eggs, fresh red-roasted peanuts, chicken wings, sausages, sandwiches and som tam to keep the Mrs. happy. There will be free pen ink shots and naughty girls in detention shows. The party starts at 7:30 PM.
Nana Plaza's newest bar, Underground, which opened just last week, has suffered the embarrassment of having to close for a few days this week as they scramble to recruit dancers. The few girls who first appeared in Underground can now be found dancing in Underground's sister bar, London Calling. The word is that the owners of Underground – who are new to the industry – have resigned themselves to filling Underground with coyotes. They'd better reopen quick smart because rents on the ground floor of Nana are outrageously high and every day they are closed is another 20K or so baht to the landlord.
Candy Land, one of the largest bars in the plaza, needs heaps of girls so that it doesn't feel dead. HR has done well – there are plenty of dancers but for some reason it hasn't caught on with customers. I wonder if the high energy music play list is putting some people off.
At long last a gogo bar in Nana Plaza has introduced a generous happy hour – and it's working with the bar packed early evenings. Dave The Rave and I made our rounds together this week and neither of us could believe how well Hot Lips was doing. It may not be the biggest bar in the plaza but the 2 for 1 special on all drinks from 7 – 10 PM is clearly working. The happy hour applies to all drinks on the menu, cocktails included. Only lady drinks aren't included. Hot Lips has done away with the coyote dancer nonsense and recently received a new consignment from Phuket – 4 gogo dancers and 1 service girl. Hot Lips was one of the best bars in the plaza this week.
The Spanky's spankers are no longer. As good as Spanky's is, the male Spanky's staff outside the bar and at the foot of the stairs leading up to the middle level who spank passersby with those rubber tubes are pests you want to swat like flies. Apparently the authorities didn't like that carry on either and have outlawed it; now the only spanking taking place is inside the bar.
Mandarin on Nana's middle floor reopened this week after being closed for a week, with a few former dancers forced to go back to school resign.
You know the crackdown on closing times in Bangkok is serious when the Hillary bars in Soi Nana are shut up 2 AM sharp. Hillary 2 in particular has long been popular late at night when everywhere else is in darkness, but even there it's lights out at 2 AM.
One Nana Plaza gogo bar manager attributes some of the increase in custom in the plaza over the past 10 days or so to the crackdown on the illegal booze booths / street bars. Fewer booze booths means fewer places to drink and customers are returning to the plaza.
Rumours have persisted for a couple of years about how the most successful gogo bar in the country, Bacarra in Soi Cowboy, would expand. Bacarra is a well run bar that is immensely popular with the Japanese. That makes it a goldmine and as such the owners are keen to increase its capacity. The easiest way to do that is to gobble up popular Shark Bar, right next door. A couple of years back the rumour mill had it that Bacarra had secured Shark bar, but that proved to be false. These rumours started up again this week with word that when the lease for Shark Bar ends it will be taken over by Bacarra. The plan is that the wall will be knocked out and Bacarra will become a mega gogo bar. Time will tell.
And there could be unexpected changes in Soi Cowboy with the rumour mill bursting in to life this week with news that The Arab may have put one or two bars on the market. Word is that Midnite is available for the right price and at least one other Arab-run bar might be up for sale. The one we have long termed The Arab – who is, in fact, Persian – has long been associated with dodgy bars, but in fairness to his bars, I have not heard a single negative report from any of them in a long time.
The action in Patpong is in soi 2 for the naughty boys while soi 1, the main Patpong soi, is for tourists. The Strip in Patpong's soi 2 has become a beneficiary of Patpong-based dancers looking for customers as a small flock has relocated to The Strip in soi 2 from Safari in Patpong soi 1.
Some stores on Sukhumvit Road between sois 3 and 7 have had the steps from the pavement leading in to their shop destroyed! I assume the reason for it is that they had encroached on public land. Now some shops have a large single step leading in to them and there is at least one ATM which is mounted so high that unless you're an NBA player you won't be able to use it. Welcome to Amazing Thailand!
The issue of the constabulary stopping foreigners walking in or around, particularly just east of the Asoke intersection and searching them is ongoing – and these stops are happening around the clock. I'm seldom out late but readers tell me they have been approached after the bars have closed and asked to submit to a search of their person, which is a bit of a concern when tiddly. One bar boss has been stopped while carting his bars' take to an offsite safe and has been forced to take the money elsewhere. Who wants to be confronted at 3 AM with potentially hundreds of thousands of baht on their person?
The debate rages about the girlfriend experience – the service standard which separates prostitution in South-East Asia from other parts of the world – where a guy may spend his entire holiday with one lady who treats him just like a real girlfriend would. Some claim the girlfriend experience no longer exists. It does, but I get the feeling that where once upon a time you could get the girlfriend experience with almost any lady in the industry – the hottest gogo dancers included – now there is a much smaller percentage of girls who are girlfriend experience material. Back in the days when there was no guarantee they would be barfined, working girls made the most money by staying with a guy for many days and receiving a large payout at the end. However, the industry has changed and these days most working girls prefer to do a few short-times a night and then go home to their Thai boyfriend.
I receive more email about bad experiences in the bar industry these days than ever before, and they run the full gamut from being pestered for lady drinks to poor attitudes to being ignored to being promised the bedroom Olympics and experiencing anything but. I have 3 words for you: this is prostitution! Prostitution is an industry in which false promises are common, and an industry in which there are almost no guarantees (Eden Club aside). You take a risk from the moment you walk in to a bar – from whether the drink you ordered is what you are actually served to whether the lady you fancy really is a she and not a he. With prostitution there are inherent risks and as a big boy you should know that. If you want a reliable product or service and a guarantee that things work as they should, purchase a Japanese-manufactured product from an official retailer in Farangland. Don't expect guarantees with anything to do with the world's oldest industry in Thailand and don't come crying to Stick when things didn't work out as you had hoped.
It's often said that local men prefer fair-skinned ladies with white skin prized in Thailand as the ultimate sign of beauty, so much so that almost everything else may be overlooked. For many Thai guys, a white-skinned girl with buck teeth trumps a pretty girl with a beautiful smile but dark skin! When it comes to Thai ladies' preference in men, yes, some do look at the shade of a man's skin. A mate was back in the US doing the family thing for a few weeks. It was winter in his hometown of DC, snowing outside and there was little to do other than eat. And eat he did, enjoying many of his favourite restaurants and dishes you don't get in Bangkok. He returned to Thailand a few weeks later and a few kg heavier. He had developed a bit of a belly that hung out over his jeans. On his return to Thailand, a female friend commented on how handsome he looked. He was gobsmacked! He'd put on a few kg and had no colour. Thinking she was taking the piss, he asked her what she meant and she tapped his arm and said that he had wealy why sa-kin (very white skin)! His fair skin was a big positive in her eyes, the few extra kg inconsequential!
The pancakes at Margarita storm. My favourite is with peaches on top.
Finding good pancakes has never been easy in Bangkok, that is if you're not willing to pay 5-star hotel prices for 3 piddly small pancakes, often no bigger than a beer coaster. Now you can get a generous portion of breakfast pancakes in downtown Bangkok at a fair price at Margarita Storm at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 13. A 4-stack will cost you 129 baht, or 169 baht if served with one of a variety of toppings.
I wonder whether the Immigration Department will at some point impose a minimum financial requirement on those applying for ED visas, in the same way those applying for a retirement visa are required to show proof of funds to finance their stay in the country. It would make sense to do so, and it would make sense that the financial requirements are the same – that is either showing a minimum bank balance of 800,000 baht, or an income from abroad of 65,000 baht per month.
Look at any website with historical weather metrics in Bangkok by month and September is always shown as the month with the most rainfall. Maybe this year will be an exception as this month we haven't had that much rain…so far.
Bourbon Street celebrates its 28th anniversary this weekend and is celebrating in the usual custom, throwing a weekend-long buffet which is always a great deal. It's just 328 baht ++ which for the quality of food that comes out of Bourbon Street's kitchen is a bargain. There's only a few hours to go until the special is over so now you have a choice of what to do tonight – will it be the Nanapong dance contest or the Bourbon Street buffet? Tough choice!
Reader's story of the week comes from Codefreeze, "From The Archives", a collection of a reader's favourite stories.
A Belgian who took explicit photos of a Thai woman and threatened to put them online
unless she paid him money is arrested.
Great concern as a passenger boards a plane in Bangkok from Chiang Mai Airport with a fake gun.
The Nation newspaper reported on the American who fell to his death from the 5th floor of the Nana Hotel.
The Nation newspaper looks at the problem of foreign criminals operating in Thailand.
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 live and work in Thailand. I make money in Thailand and some of my clients have become annoyed that I am unable to invoice them. It is just too much hassle for me to register a business, but actually I do want to pay tax because I wish to stay in Thailand for a long time and I don't want to have problems at a later date. My question might seem strange so please bear with me. Can I submit a tax return to the tax department to pay money on my earnings here in Thailand, even though I don't have a registered business. My earnings are about 1.5 million baht per annum and my expenses are minimal. I don't want to breach tax laws but the thing is this: I don't want to do the right thing by submitting a tax return but then that gets me in trouble for having no company registered and no work permit. Is this possible? If it is, what do I need to do to pay tax but without drawing attention to myself for business and work permit related infractions?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: If you wish to declare income and pay taxes in Thailand, the payment must be paid to an entity recognised by the Thai authorities. This could be a Thai limited company, branch etc. Currently, you cannot file tax for the income earned from your clients and your clients are not eligible to declare the fees paid to you as expenses.
By working in Thailand, officials would consider you to be in violation of the Alien Business Act and the Revenue Code. We would strongly recommend that you either find an employer who can cover your overseas work or to set up your own company, either a Thai limited company or other juristic entity, that could support your work permit thus allowing you to work legally in Thailand. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors can sit down with you for a free initial consultation to determine what entity best suits your needs.
I go through phases with this column when I enjoy putting it together immensely, and other times when it can feel like a bit of a chore. This week was one I really enjoyed. Maybe it's the good news coming out of the bar industry. More people around and the girls smiling makes for a fun vibe – and that makes doing the rounds more enjoyable. Believe it or not, I do prefer to be positive and not dwell too much on the bad stuff, even if at times that might not appear to be the case!
Your Bangkok commentator,