Stickman's Weekly Column September 7th, 2014

Transforming & Rebranding



There's something special about the atmosphere on Silom soi 4, a vibe not found elsewhere. The 100-metre long soi has a couple of dozen bars and restaurants, the prime spots outdoor balconies area where you can eat, drink and watch the world go by. With venues sidled up next to each other, space at a premium and tables jammed together, it's all very social. The layout of Silom soi 4 works so well but there's one thing that stops most of us from hanging out there. It's a gay soi.



Straights are welcome on Silom soi 4, but even for those who are open-minded, the gay scene is not our place.

Wouldn't it be great if there was somewhere like Silom soi 4 for straights, where bars and restaurants were snuggled up next to each other, where the vibe was contagious and where there was interaction between different venues, much as you find in Thai nightspots?

Amongst the farang bar areas are streets lined with bars and restaurants, but the vibe often feels contrived.

Sukhumvit soi 11 has stacks of places to eat and drink but at more than 500 metres in length, soi 11 is so long that bars and restaurants tend to be large and there is much space between them. An intimate atmosphere it is not. The sub soi with Cheap Charlies & Charley Brown's has potential and if there were venues on both sides of the soi – not just one – it could be great.

Khao San Road has many bars and restaurants alongside each other and with every square centimetre of space used, you interact with those around you. It can be fun but it's more for travellers than locals.

RCA, the eternally popular lane lined with nightspots for young Thais is a near miss. Venues are cavernous and the action is mostly inside. It doesn't have enough of an outdoor scene – wasted teenagers puking in the gutter doesn't count.


So I have a proposal which could transform a part of downtown Bangkok in to something with a vibe just like Silom soi 4 – but for straights.

Ever since Terminal 21 opened 3 odd years ago, the Asoke intersection feels like the heart of Bangkok. The skytrain and the underground connect, as do two of Bangkok's busiest arterials. The area is full of buildings hosting prominent local and international companies. Many 5-star hotels are in the area, and there just happens to be a 100-metre soi known to everyone, loved by some and loathed by others. That soi is Soi Cowboy.

Why not convert Soi Cowboy in to a more mainstream bar and eating street?

With fewer girls working these days, fewer customers and less demand for the girls' services, the 3 farang gogo bars area could – and some say should – be consolidated in to 2. And if that were to happen, it is Soi Cowboy which should be culled.

For starters, Soi Cowboy is in the very heart of downtown, right beside one of the busiest intersections and clearly seen from one of the most popular shopping centres and one of the busiest skytrain stations. That makes it embarrassing to many Thais.

In contrast, Nana Plaza is hidden away down a narrow soi and very much out of sight. And the main soi in Bangkok's oldest and most (in) famous bar area, Patpong, has become overgrown like wild jungle. Even at ground level many of the fleshpots of Patpong are only visible when you're standing right in front of them.

Soi Cowboy stands out like a giant bulbous nose, and many Thais see it – or at least the goings on and what it represents – as every bit as ugly.



Soi Cowboy

Prime downtown real estate, would Soi Cowboy be better as a more mainstream bar / dining setting?



Converting Soi Cowboy from bars with whores to bars where you need to work to score would likely increase its popularity and accommodate mainstream visitors.

Its central location, where foreigners and moneyed Thais live and work, would make an ideal after-work dining and drinks spot.

A couple of the bars could retain the chrome poles and flashing lights and maybe even the signage. It could be bar and restaurant themed as a gogo bar. A piece of Bangkok bar history would be retained, but the soi would be free of the nonsense.

The concept would appeal to the Thais who desperately like to reclaim the soi, and its location surrounded by skyscrapers full of office workers and high-end hotels would make it a sure thing.

What a concept it would be, the straight equivalent of Silom soi 4, a short, narrow soi jam-packed with bars and restaurants appealing to both Thais and foreigners, intimate enough that you can see most of the soi from wherever you're sitting.

This is all academic, of course. Unlike Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy is not owned by just one person or group, but a bunch of unrelated, unconnected landlords. The only way it would work is if all of the owners worked together, and that's unlikely.

Elsewhere in the country, there has been talk about taking the sin out of Sin City. I wouldn't expect that to happen for some time yet. But one day it will happen in Bangkok. And when it does, the transformation of Soi Cowboy into a more mainstream entertainment area would greatly broaden its appeal and could be a commercial boon.

Wouldn't Soi Cowboy transformed in to a straight version of Silom soi 4 be great?





Where was this photo taken?

Bangkok


Last week's photo was taken from the Saen Saeb Canal from behind Central World, looking up at the Centara Grand Hotel. I thought it was quite tricky but over dozen clever readers got it right. I reckon this week's is easier but then maybe I will be surprised and few will get it right?


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 Land of the Perfunctory Fxxk!

I call it the land of the perfunctory fxxx. I used to think of Thais as practical people, but too often that translates to doing things in a half-assed way. I know the girls are just working, but I don't get the economics: For 500 baht a night they will dance naked on stage for 6 hours. For another 500, they will wriggle and giggle and down tequila as fast as they can. But when it comes to the real money – 2,000-3,000 baht or more – the performance stops and they act like it's all a terrible inconvenience! Some even throw in an insult or two for good measure. Unfortunately the best way to avoid the perfunctory fxxk is not to pay barfines at all – the upside is that you save a lot more money!

Land of Slies.

Thailand is the "Land of Slies." No, that isn't a typo, it's a cross between smiles and lies, as in "How do you know a Thai is lying to you?" Because they were smiling. Obviously this is a stupid generalisation but you really do have to be suspicious of any Thai who approaches you because respectable Thais rarely initiate contact with a foreigner without good reason.

Land of Creeping Unease.

It's certainly not a land of smiles any more, but a land of creeping unease with the uncertainty of one's position in a land where the law is so desperately inept, and the individual is left never knowing quite what is what, and must fall over in gratitude when the law as is written, is actually adhered to, such as it is.

Land of Restrictions.

Regarding unfair restrictions on foreigners in Thailand with a valid visa, I couldn't agree more. I lived, worked, and paid taxes in Thailand for 10 years and always seemed to have to report to someone, somewhere. We then moved to Canada where my Thai wife has permanent residency and she can work, move anywhere in the country, and never has to check in anywhere except to reapply for a new PR card every 5 years (and there is no need to report in person).

To sell, or not to sell.

Good on you for holding out for what your baby is worth to you. I actually operate within the internet consulting industry and see people in your situation really regret selling their sites. The big thing to remember is that it's not just the tangibles of traffic, domain, revenues that the purchaser is getting. It's also the Stickman brand and that intangible is worth serious money for the expat market. I know this is unsolicited, but from a quick look at your traffic stats, site and domain age, advertiser profiles, that likely equates to a sale price in the USD 130K range, but when I account for brand recognition and a few other intangibles, I'm closer to the 300K range. It's just my personal opinion but I would be looking at around 320K for what I would feel to be a solid offer. This is also based on the fact that revenue for most sites without solid analytics installed can be increased heaps. Just installing a heat map and developing a Stickman email list would create more value. Anyway, don't get sucked in by any of the revenue share guys. If a buyer can't raise the price they have no business buying it in the first place. Just like Bangkok, scammers abound in the internet market.



Debating the worth.

150k is nothing, you're right. Letting your site be bastardised or destroyed for a pittance is totally unacceptable. You could hire Thai web developers to revamp your site if you wanted to for next to nothing. Why would you need revenue sharing? I wish you would hang in there. That's the only good option. Make it a Stickman monthly article, fly over once a month to do your rounds. Have your cake and eat it too. Some Stickman is better than none. That way you could move to New Zealand or wherever you're going and also maintain the site. Anyone who buys it would screw it up most likely.

A snapshot of history is worth more.

$150K US is too low in my estimation. There is historical value in the site, at least in my mind. Additionally, not sure just what genre to put the content in but the site comes across (at least your writings and those of contributors) as if one is talking to a wordy uncle at the dinner table. Some of the pondering and mentorship on male issues / affairs of the heart is priceless. In my mind it should be preserved for future generations of young (and not so young) men. Perhaps this is part of the popularity of the site. As I am certain you know, the last 30 odd years has seen an androidazation (not sure that's a word or not) of the sexes in the west and these submissions chronicle some of the effects and are a window in to the internal world of many of us during this period. One thing is certain, the pace of change in the future will be exponential and I think your site is a great snapshot of history and should be somehow preserved as such, all the way down to the format. I like it as is as it reflects the earlier days of the web and thus a certain period in history. That said, a person's emotional attachment / investment to something – be it a house, business or possession is rarely considered in the price someone is willing to pay, but I sure wouldn't part with it for less than 10 million baht and perhaps even more. Please keep us up to date on the outcome.

The Stickman show!

If you're hell-bent on selling your site, don't be afraid to ask a great deal – even more than you'd ever think it's worth. If you don't value it high enough, potential buyers won't either. You can always come down on your price but a year or two after you've sold it and it is burning a pathway to the bank, you can't go back and ask for more!

From main contributing correspondent to editor?

You have a brand and you have the site layout / style. Clunky, maybe, could be better organised perhaps, built on a 2002 website template sure, but I think there is an argument NOT to change the look and feel. 10 years on the internet is like 100 in real life and you've got a format that is somewhat similar to the New York Times. They haven't changed the type face / layout in over 100 years as people have come to expect consistency and surety in a changing world. One needs to spend a bit of time thinking about what the site means to people, as opposed to the value you see yourself pumping in. Can't argue that you've built an ethos on the site that has gained loyalty via your own principles. You are currently the sole source of that ethos, but it doesn't have to stay that way. There is no way Steve Jobs did everything at Apple, but he certainly steered the organisation his way. People come to the site to find common understanding of an environment they find strange yet alluring. Once they figure it out, they come back for detailed analysis and others' experiences to help them re-live their own. You have built a virtual community. Why stop feeding the cow when it is still giving milk? Just have someone else feed it for a while, with a diet you control. This is what editors do, not the writers.


Girl of the week

Chompoo, coyote dancer, Playskool, Nana Plaza

#209 in the bar, she is 21 years old, likes Tequila
and in her free times she loves playing computer games.


Bangkok gogo dancer

Bangkok gogo dancer



Bangkok gogo





Nana Plaza's newest bar, Underground, in the spot that since the '90s was Voodoo, is using the same logo as London Calling – derived from the tube station signs of the London underground system – opened this past Monday, sooner than we thought it would. Its format harks back to the good old days and delivers what most punters want – a standard gogo bar free of ladyboys and coyote dancers. You can't miss it with large Underground signs erected outside.

London Calling has installed a huge shower in the back right-hand corner of the bar. The shower cubicle is so big that it could accommodate a small village of girls.

On the plaza's middle floor, the shutter was down at Mandarin this week with a notice posted on a sheet of A4 that amusingly said, "Closed For Renovations", like we are all blind or something. The rumour mill has it that they had to <censored>, ooops, we cannot say that publicly!

Building work in the empty units on the top floor of Nana Plaza, opposite Billboard, was due to start this week. The new owners are building one large new bar entirely from scratch. It'll be interesting to see what they do with the very large space. Do expect a decent bar as one of the guys behind it is an expert interior finisher and worked on the construction of Sin in soi 4 and Twisted Republic in soi 11 amongst others.

As Dave The Rave settles in to his new role at Spellbound, that was a reason to stop by this week. Several weeks ago I stuck my neck out and said that Spellbound was the most fun Nana Plaza gogo bar. And having visited again this week, those comments still stand. Where Spellbound is different to every other bar in the plaza is that girls interact with customers, and don't just stare at the mirrors! Spellbound has some lovely-looking girls – as do many bars in Nana – but what sets it apart is the best vibe and best attitudes amongst the girls in the plaza. Check it out!

Shark Bar in Soi Cowboy will celebrate its anniversary this coming Thursday, September 11th, with a free buffet. Shark has consistently been one of the best bars in Soi Cowboy for many years.

The Biergarten-esque matrons are still hanging off the balcony outside The Game late morning, cat calling to passersby. It's a dreadful look that is horribly off-putting to customers, enough to make those intending on venturing inside to change their mind and go elsewhere. As this has been mentioned ad nauseum online and management is well aware of it, I can only assume that they are actively encouraging it.

Bacarra in Soi Cowboy introduced a policy a year or two back where punters must buy a minimum of 2 lady drinks if they wish to pay a lady's barfine. Rumour has it that this disease may have spread in the soi with word that 2 other bars in the soi – foreigner-owned bars, no less – have put the same policy in place.

Down in Pattaya, business is so bad that one big-name bar which operates from early until late and which has both a day and a night crew has had to axe its lady drink quota. Many bars have a quota whereby a lady must receive xx lady drinks per month and if she fails to meet that number her salary is cut. Even the seemingly modest requirement of averaging 2 lady drinks per day over the course of a month is unachievable with so few customers about. The girls complained so much and threatened to leave after being cut when there were no customers around to buy them drinks that management relented.

It's is not just a Pattaya thing and the same has happened in Nana Plaza. Some gogo bars tried to introduce lady drink quotas and had to get rid of them quick smart when some girls were quick to tell their boss that other bars – Rainbow group was given as an example – does not impose such a quota on its girls. The girls really do have the power these days!

A Pattaya gogo bar owner who wishes to remain anonymous admits that his bar is down 30% on last year – and it's probably a fair guess that other bars are down by a similar amount.

Heaven Above in Pattaya's Soi Diamond will celebrate its 10th birthday this coming Friday, September 12th. Who would ever have imagined this club which has the same owners today as the day it opened would reach the glorious age of 10 years old? It will open at 7:30 PM with a double happy hour – all local spirits and draught beers are just 50 baht until 9:30 PM. A free BBQ will be offered from 9 PM along with Thai food. There will be lucky door prizes, 65 baht draught beer all night and the promise of some surprises. Heaven Above does not employ agency girls (known as coyotes in Bangkok) and all staff are employed directly by the club. Heaven Above has re-introduced showgirls. The gogo dancers are up on stage from 8 PM and the showgirls at 9:30 PM. Heaven Above is on Soi Diamond, directly upstairs from Super Baby.



After renovating the interior, the next set of changes centres around the food served and the menu. The bar will have a food photo shoot on Tuesday with 30 odd dishes to be photographed for the new menu. Food will be free to anyone spending in excess of 100 baht and it will be first come, first served. There will be a list of food available which can be ordered from the list. The dish will then be cooked, photographed, served and crossed off the list. I hear the lamb shank has already been booked! Crossbar is located on a cross soi connecting Sukhumvit sois 21 and 23, about 250 metres up from Soi Cowboy.

It's amazing how some girls new to gogo dancing take to the industry. Making my rounds one night this week, it was just after 10 PM a bar boss explained that he had had a hot new dancer start that night and she had been barfined twice already. Just at that moment she walked back in the bar with a huge grin on her face, having returned from completing her second short-time, just 2 hours after starting work as a gogo dancer! She got changed in to a bikini, got back up on stage and proceeded to hunt for victim #3 for the night. With another 4 hours until closing, the night was still young! She has been schooled well on how to play with customers.

And that demonstrates one of the big changes in the industry in Bangkok over the past several years – the movement away from long-time to short-time, and the way Bangkok sex workers often perform multiple tricks each night as opposed to spending the night with one customer. In Nana Plaza there are bars where some girls don't even bother getting changed out of their bikini when barfined. They scamper to the short-time hotel with a garment draped around them. Why bother getting changed when no sooner will they be back on stage in the bar in a bikini?! A couple of Pattaya bar bosses insist that most Pattaya gogo girls don't do multiple short-times each night, and most don't even think about returning to the bar that night after they have had a customer. That would seem to be one major difference between Bangkok and Pattaya these days. Word from Phuket is that it's much the same as Pattaya and girls doing multiple short-times each night is not that common.

It should come as no surprise that some visa run companies are in big trouble. One outfit which until recently offered a daily service to the border is scheduling just a couple of trips each week as the number of foreigners doing overland visa runs has fallen off a cliff. The principal of that firm says business is down a whopping 90%.

After some confusion, I can confirm that the Thai consulate in Brisbane is issuing most visas, multiple-entry non-immigrant visas included, same day. It is still same day service for most visas where you can lodge your application in the morning and return later in the day to collect it.


shuffleboard

Local office workers take to shuffleboard, upstairs at Margarita Storm.


Margarita Storm on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 13 has installed some games upstairs including shuffleboard, a Fussball table and a classic arcade games console. All are free and can be enjoyed around the clock with the restaurant and bar open 24 hours. The classic arcade games cabinet is great and has 53 game choices including many old favourites like Donkey Kong, Galaxians and Rally X. It's set to free play and is a chance to rekindle your misspent youth. The upstairs area of Margarita Storm is comfortable and with these games should become a popular spot for parties and groups.

Bangkok's newest steakhouse has opened on Sukhumvit soi 16. The US Steakhouse is in the same spot that used to be Avenue Steakhouse, the ill-fated steakhouse that never got going. Walking past The US Steakhouse it looks much the same as Avenue with the same layout. Soi 16 doesn't get a lot of tourist traffic and is not a popular cut-through between Sukhumvit and Rama 4 and as such there aren't a lot of bars or restaurants in the soi. Those that are there tend to be known only by those who work or are resident in the soi. Soi 16 has long been a graveyard for eateries targeting Westerners and Green Parrot is the only spot that has bucked that trend. (The excellent Pizzazzo does well too but most customers are Thai.) Located out of the way, the marketing department is going to have to work awfully hard to get the word out. Hint to the owner: you might want to be more aggressive with your pricing.

I was telling a Chinese (as in Chinese from China and *not* Chinese Thai) friend about the way many Westerners in Thailand have complicated love lifes, often because they made a questionable choice of lady in the first place. She quoted an old Chinese idiom – it's better to go without something than have something shoddy or of low quality, an idiom which she says can be applied not just to things, but also to affairs of the heart.

Is the character Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad the farang male equivalent of a Thai bargirl? Talking with a mate about Breaking Bad, Jesse came up. I reckon Jesse is just like a Thai bargirl – inattentive, money-hungry, fun to be around but ultimately not particularly trustworthy and deep down you know that sooner or later you're going to get burned!




Why is it that Air Asia flies to almost all of the capitals in the region along with some fairly obscure places – but does not fly between Bangkok and Vientiane? Air Asia does fly to Vientiane – from Kuala Lumpur – but does not fly there from Bangkok. From time to time I fancy a few quiet days away and in this part of the world Vientiane is absolutely ideal for that with its riverfront, French patisseries and laid-back bars serving Beer Lao. But the fare on full-service carriers kind of puts me off. It would be nice if Air Asia added that route.

Local mobile phone providers are expanding their 4G network and while 4G coverage is still spotty, it's getting better. It should be noted that if you have a 4G capable mobile phone that you might need to change the SIM to get a 4G signal. It can be done at any of the provider's stores in a jiffy. If you are on a post-paid (i.e. contract plan) the replacement SIM is free, but if you are on a pre-paid plan there might be a small charge for the new SIM card.

Down in Pattaya an expat pal has had issues with a Russian and he is yet another Western expat to have anti-Russian thoughts. In his central Pattaya apartment with a seaside view, he pays a monthly rate to have all of his clothes / bed sheets washed by a laundry service operating in the building. He left his duvet with the laundry service to be washed and returned 2 days to collect it. They asked for the ticket and he didn't have one, explaining that paying a monthly rate he is not issued with a ticket. The assistant denied the duvet had ever been deposited in the shop. After describing it, the lady recalled that it had in fact been washed and she remembered that the same day a Russian resident also on a monthly plan had left a number of items to be washed. She wondered if it had been mistakenly given to him. So the expat and the laundry lady get in the lift and go up to the Ruskie's condo. They knock on the door and when he opens it, they see the duvet on the bed which he had been shamelessly using!



Heaven Above










The Strip Gogo Bar Bangkok



Quote of the week comes from a popular writer, "You may leave the Kingdom, Stick, but it doesn't leave you."

Reader's story of the week comes from a Thai female, "Dowry Money – An Average Thai Girl's View".

A Brit is facing court and potentially harsh penalties for a report where he alleged the use of slave labour in Thailand.

Chinese tourists complain to police after paying a Thai guide to take them to see a sex show which never took place.

The Nation newspaper opines that dual-pricing is scaring tourists away.

A beach deck chair vendor on Ko Larn, near Pattaya, behaves disgracefully with a female foreign tourist.

Some residents are battling to make Pattaya a clean and safe city.




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: We are a Thai / Danish couple, legally married and living in Thailand with our two daughters who hold both Thai and Danish nationality. We are about to have our will written in case we both pass away while our children are still young. In such case we would like my brother in Denmark to take care of our children and move them both to Denmark. However, we are told this is not possible to do in Thai law thus it is our last will, even if they are only "half Thai". Despite our children's dual citizenship, we are told that my wife's mother (Thai) will gain custody and she would need to sign a release form that has to go through court before my brother can bring them to Denmark – a process that could take 3 months to 1 year! Is this correct or can we avoid such a procedure?

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Under Family Law Book 5 (Family section), Chapter 3 concerning Guardianship, Section 1587 stipulated that any person sui juris may be appointed a guardian, except the following:

1. Person adjudged incompetent or quasi-incompetent;
2. Person who is bankrupt;
3. Person who is unfit to take charge of the person or property of the minor;
4. Person having or having had a lawsuit against the minor, ascendants or brothers and sisters of full blood or brothers and sisters of half blood of minor;
5. Person having been excluded by name in writing from the guardianship by the deceased parent.

If the above qualifications do not apply to your brother then you can state in your will that it is your desire to appoint your brother as the guardian of your daughters. The stipulation cannot be in contradiction with your wife's will and will apply if your wife predeceases you. You and your wife can both stipulate this condition in each of your separate wills to ensure your wishes are enforced. Be aware that you will need to also name an executor for your will. It cannot be someone named in the will. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drafting wills, in both Thai and English and can assist you and your wife in drafting wills that lay out your wishes clearly.





Question 2: My employer (a very prominent and respected university) has informed me that when my work permit comes up for renewal at the end of next month I am required to provide the results of an HIV test as part of my new work permit application. In much of the world there are laws preventing an employer from asking employees for such information. I feel this is a gross invasion of my privacy for them to ask. Can you please advise me on the law here regarding this and what action I need to take to stop this. Let me say for the record that I am not HIV+, but I am ideologically opposed to this request. I am willing to dig my heels in and will do whatever is required to prevent this invasion of privacy.

Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: In order to obtain a work permit, a medical certificate is needed and will show that you are clear of leprosy, tuberculosis, drug addiction, alcoholism, elephantiasis, and tertiary syphilis. A blood test is required for syphilis and you will need to include your blood type. They may require a test for this as well.

It is possible that your employer wishes to apply for group medical coverage for their employees. The insurance may require some kind of verification that the employees (as a group) are not a HIV+. While there is a law concerning basic human rights, the HIV test requirement has not been included in this law. However, according to national policy in regards to HIV testing for employees, they are allowed to require it only if four criteria are met.

1. The employee must be willing to take the test.
2. Counseling and information must be provided both before and after the test.
3. Confidentiality between doctor and patient must remain.
4. Patient consent is required to reveal the results of the test.


Nana Plaza


Today's opening piece was, of course, tongue and cheek, and there is very little chance of it ever happening. With that said, I do think Soi Cowboy is slipping further behind Nana Plaza which has wrested the bragging rights as Bangkok's best farang gogo bar area. Soi Cowboy is fraught with issues from the Arab's bars which many avoid, to the fact that there are really only 4 genuinely good gogo bars to the feeling that the soi has lost its soul. What once set Cowboy apart was the fact that girls lived on the soi. It was its own little community, had a unique atmosphere and was genuinely fun. Today it feels like just another bar area. Nana Plaza is on the up and Soi Cowboy, despite its famously beautiful neon, just isn't in the fight.



Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick


Firehouse