As complaints intensify about some girls' attitudes and the sky-high prices some girls ask for low levels of service, punters oughtn't forget that gogo bars are far from the only game in town. This is Bangkok, naughty nightlife central, and there are alternatives!
Lecherous Lee and I aren't what you'd call unfamiliar with Thai-style massage parlours, but then neither do we frequent them. So as we approached an establishment neither of us had been to before we weren't entirely sure what to expect.
Just a few kilometres east of the Rama 9 underground station, Colonze is typical of the many massive massage parlours found all over Bangkok. Set back from the road, large neon signs emblazoned across its structure illuminate the adjacent sois. The city needn't erect streetlights near these huge structures. As with most Thai-style massage parlours, the giant cube-shaped building has no windows. For local men, discretion is paramount.
Entering the hotel-sized building you pass through a small lobby which opens up in to a high-ceilinged room larger than the lobby of many 5-star hotels. In the centre are perhaps a dozen tables and comfortable couches with oversized cushions that once you sink in to you don't want to move from. It's immaculately clean and like many venues of its genre, the decor is very '80s with furniture and fittings straight out of an episode of Miami Vice.
The centre of the room is dim while two of the four walls are brightly lit. In these brightly lit areas sit the girls, in what is sometimes referred to as a fish bowl. Fish bowls often have tiered seating on which sit beautifully made-up Thai women in evening wear. Fish bowls are typically enclosed with glass separating customers outside from the ladies inside.
In Colonze there is no glass separating customers from the ladies and no tiered seating. Instead there are bright pink, camel back sofas where the ladies relax, waiting to be selected.
It was early in the week and there were perhaps 30 women present. No doubt others were upstairs doing their thing, so my best guess is that there could be 2 or 3 times that number on a busy night.
The ladies in the fish bowl took little notice of customers unless their name or number was called. Some ladies watched one of the large-screen TVs set up for them while others played with their phone.
Generally there's little interaction between the ladies and customers before a selection is made. It's not about getting to know the person first as in gogo bars. Thai guys don't get caught up in that nonsense.
Physically, the ladies are of a different archetype to what you find on Sukhumvit where most hail from the Isaan region. In Thai massage parlours – and Colonze is typical in this regard – the women are for the most part taller and shapelier than the ladies you see in the farang bars. Many come from the north of the country and most appeared to be aged in their 20s. There are no oldies and no fatties. If you like the type of ladies Thai men go for you'd be impressed.
Customers are encouraged to relax and take their time to choose a lady. You can invite a lady to your table first, or you can make a choice and take her straight upstairs, without a word said to her.
A handful of papasans roam, helping customers select a lady. Whereas in gogo bars the mamasan works for herself first and foremost, the girls & the bar second with the customer a distant third, you get the feeling the papasan is working for you. Smartly presented in a white shirt and black tie, they wai you and address you in polite Thai. There are none of the vulgarities so common with gogo bar mamasans. Everything is so much more professional and as clichéd as it sounds, it feels nothing like prostitution – and certainly much less like a paid sex environment than the farang bar areas.
Comfy chairs, soft music and friendly service make it all rather convivial. The entertainment of gogo bars is missing, there's no dancing and certainly no-one is seen in a bikini, but then that is all part of the appeal. It's a whole different vibe.
Drinks are reasonably priced – a large bottle of Heineken goes for 140 baht, less than most gogo bars charge for the small size. But these are not the sort of places where you go for a beer, or just to hang out. As Marc, the legend who made Eden Club legendary used to say, "This is not a place for drinking!"
Very basic, functional English may be spoken by some staff but a week or more might pass by without a single foreigner stepping inside. You could get by in English, but it helps to speak Thai.
This is a Thai environment, a place Thai men go to relax. Men from certain parts of the world may be refused entry, especially those who legend has it pack a Magnum and not a Beretta.
The papasan gave us the spiel: Standard service is a 90-minute session upstairs and the price is all-inclusive. The ladies are seated according to their rate. Rates start at 1,700 baht – but few ladies are actually available at that rate. The next two groups are 2,000 or 2,300 baht, encompassing most of the ladies present. And then you get the sideline ladies, a term used in Thai nightlife establishments for those considered more beautiful – which usually means they have skin as white as snow. Their rate can be 2,600 baht, 3,600 baht and a couple command 4,600 baht.
We said we'd take our time to make a selection when actually we never had any intention of that in the first place.
After a few recommendations from the papasan I made our excuses, playing to the local stereotype Thais have about the farang taste in women. I would explain that the ladies just weren't dark enough for us. We liked them dark and covered with tattoos, I said, from the heart of Isaan, and in the papasan's mind right out of the farang playbook. He pointed out a couple who had something of a tan. I explained that they were just too light for us and settled the drinks bill.
It used to be that the cost of a naughty in the gogo bars of Sukhumvit and the Thai-style massage parlours was about the same. The argument from many farangs was that they would not go to Thai-style places as the girls serviced, on average, 2 or 3 guys per night. And that was off-putting.
That argument is no longer valid with so many gogo girls going multiple times per night these days, no different to the massage parlour ladies.
Where gogo girls today ask 2,000 – 3,000 baht for short-time + barfine + lady drinks + the cost of a hotel room, there is a good argument for the massage parlours when it comes to value for money alone. That's before you look at all of the other advantages.
The 90-minute service standard means the lady is not going to do a runner. Discretion is assured. There is zero chance of being robbed. To my eyes and those of Lecherous Lee – and this is purely subjective – the ladies in the Thai-style venues are more attractive. They are polite with none of the ill manners that are the norm in so many chrome pole bars. When a lady approaches a customer, she wais him. She speaks softly. She doesn't yell out to friends from one side of the establishment to the other. It's all very – for want of a better word – civilized.
The big Thai massage parlours are not places to party. They are places to go for a naughty. Lecherous Lee and I both agreed that if we were active naughty boys we'd much prefer the Thai-style massage parlours over the farang gogo bars.
Gogo bars have their place, of course. They are entertaining, fun places to drink, to party and to have a raucous time.
Savvy travellers know that the best food is usually found where the locals eat. They know that what is served in tourist areas may not be the best quality, is often for a foreign palate and is invariably often overpriced. Why would it be any different with hookers?
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken from a little sub soi about 100 metres up Sukhumvit soi 5 which has a bunch of massage shops where the big-bummed ladies in the photo work. The building in the background was the Fortuna Hotel.
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 – Thai women today.
While I cannot identify where it is, I have to tell you that your photo of the week broke my heart. It shows a line-up of Thai women from behind looking toward a massage parlour, and it looks like it might have been taken in the States. Virtually all the women in the photo are carrying significant extra weight in their behinds. I realize that I'm being a chauvinist by criticizing such a thing, but it's shocking and depressing to see Thailand having affected such a huge (pun intended) Western diet-inspired lifestyle change. One of the things I enjoyed most about my trips was seeing a whole population that knew how to stay healthy through their indigenous diet. I remember coming back from my first trip, in February of 2000, and telling people back home that I couldn't remember seeing a single overweight girl on the streets the entire time I was there. How incredible to have this kind of disappointing change so perfectly captured in your photo. If someone wanted to take the time, they could probably look up demographic averages if they exist, but take it from a guy who's been away for a decade – it's an ENTIRELY different animal you're dealing with now. Of all the ladies I had the pleasure to be with when I was there, NOT ONE of them had a bottom that was larger than their top. Now, it looks like that accounts for most of them. Those girls are FAT! Anyone who doesn't believe that thousands of formerly attractive Thai women have destroyed their looks through weight gain have only to compare photos from years ago. It's profound!
Nana Plaza rents.
The question on Nana Plaza rents is amortizing the key money with the monthly rent for the true rent number. Remember the front shophouses are master-leased by a third party and then subleased. When unable to find a tenant the leaseholder created Hillary 4. Customers are effectively paying the rent and 225 – 240 baht a drink is not out of line in the gogos. That's 7 – 8 dollars per drink without a cover charge, well within the realm for a girly bar especially considering prices around the world. The real problem is that the number and quality of the girls continues to decline and sex tourist numbers also continue to decline. There will always be a tenant for a unit in Nana Plaza if someone walks away because they get in the bar business cheaper because they are not paying for an existing bar. Unless prices go up it would be very hard to make a profit.
Cowboy barfine rates.
That was an interesting reader's letter regarding Soi Cowboy prices. He is right regarding barfines in the Arab's bars, but the 5,000 baht barfine he quoted is applicable only after 10:30 PM. Take a girl before then and it's a staggering 8,500 baht!
Bail for murder.
There was a story in the Irish Times this past week that sent a shiver down my spine. I am sure you will recall the gory account of the murder of a prostitute in Pattaya several years ago. I assumed that the Irish perp would have received the death sentence or be sent to rot in jail for the rest of his days. Not so. It seems incredible that the cold-blooded murderer of a young Thai woman could be released on a €30K bail bond – and with a very high risk of flight from the country. Is that the value of a prostitute's life in Thailand? If the victim had been from a more respectable or middle-class profession, would this have happened?
Bangkok no longer the bargain it was.
My husband and I are in Bangkok currently and have gone to several hair restoration clinics. We have been blown away by the cost which is more than our quote was in the USA! My husband only has a small bald spot on the top of his head and all the clinics are quoting around $10,000 USD. In Florida we were quoted $5,500 for the same procedure! I am also very disappointed with the price I have gotten for liposuction and other medical procedures here. I was expecting that the cost would be about half of what we pay in the US. We have read your blog claiming how cheap it is to live here, but we are finding that Thailand is not as great a deal as everyone is saying, at least if we want to maintain our current or a higher standard of living than that which we have in Florida. Our home is paid off in Florida and apartment prices are pretty good here. However, I find that dining out on Thai food is inexpensive but if you want anything else, it is not! We enjoy drinking wine, which is also very expensive here. Gym memberships are expensive so overall it is not a huge saving. It's a bit disappointing as people rave about how cheap it is here. We are going to check out Chiang Mai as well but I am concerned it may be too isolated. We prefer living in a big city with all the amenities.
Further visa tightening recommended.
I hope Thailand tightens up more on its visa laws. It will be for the good of the country and the “quality” of the foreigners who reside there. Consider Singapore now. To get any sort of job in Singapore and to be able to stay here requires you to have a minimum salary of SGD$12,000 per month. Anything less, don't even try (unless you are a Filipino maid or something like that). And for those already here, trying to get Permanent Residence is even tougher. The result? A population of skilled professionals that will continue to see Singapore as a world-class financial centre and one of the wealthiest places on earth. If Thailand takes similar steps to bring in the best foreigners that can only be a good thing. Of course it has to deal with its own political issues too. And for retirees, Thailand should tighten up too. Requiring only 800K baht in a bank account is laughable. To retire in Singapore you need to bring in SGD$3m. So even if Thailand changed the requirement from 800K baht to 10 million, it would still be cheap. I reckon a reasonable sum for retirement would be 10m to 20m baht in a bank account. Again, attract the quality. It is those professionals (who are growing in number) moving to Bangkok on packages of around THB500,000/month (of which I know at least a few) that Thailand should be encouraging. Of course, the unskilled expats will kick and scream every step of the way as they are forced to exit, but most will not hear them because they will be too busy making money from the comfort of their air-conditioned office tower.
The Ko Tao murders sour some visitors on the country.
The UK backpacker threatened on Koh Tao just goes to show how murky the beach resorts really are. I always thought that Bangkok was a safer option, and I haven't really missed the beaches when in Thailand. Maybe I am putting myself at undue risk in the suburbs of Bangkok, especially where drink and late nights are involved in the Thai bar scene. You can count one less tourist, I just canceled my flight to Bangkok for November 2014. I'm going to a European country instead.
What do you think I am?!
I had become fond of a coyote girl working in a Nana bar. She is well-educated and speaks good English. During a recent conversation she was telling me of her financial problems (I thought, here we go!), and in a moment of weakness I told her I would send her some money to help. She was most put out and said, 'What do you think I am?' She then added, 'A bargirl?' You can't beat Thai logic!
Girl of the week
Olivia, escort, exclusive with BangkokEscort.com
Confident and with great English, she is not for the faint of heart!
Gogo bar owners face all sorts of challenges these days, from the immediate worry of how they are going to pay rent at the start of the month and salaries at the end of the month, to the ongoing concern in back of their mind that the military-controlled government might take a closer look at the industry to, perhaps, the biggest issue of all, finding girls willing to dance. What I think most bar bosses don't get is that the challenge of recruiting is in many ways a sales issue. The old days when most were grateful just to be offered a job are long gone. The environment has changed and with near zero unemployment it is the staff, not the boss, who have the power. Few foreign bar bosses seem to genuinely grasp this and fewer make any attempt to really understand the girls, most of whom come from the provinces and for whom the work environment is more than just a job. Being away from home, many seek that sense of being part of a family and it is those bar bosses who understand this and who try to create a sense of family who don't just secure the girls' services, they have a happy team. The owner of Spanky's is one of few bar owners who really gets it. The girls at Spanky's have a real affinity for their boss who has created a sense of family and the bar has a very low level of staff attrition. Most bar bosses just don't get it.
And the problem of finding staff has been a real issue for the owners of Underground on Nana Plaza's ground floor. The bar's re-opening was supposed to be 27th of last month, was then delayed until the 1st of this month and finally the plaza's newest bar reopened this past Thursday, the 2nd. Like most bars, Underground has struggled to find girls and what they have ended up with is a small number of coyote girls, some of whom have come over from sister bar London Calling which has dwindled stocks.
Erotica, the chrome pole bar in the plaza wedged in between floors 2 and 3 and reached via the stairwell on the left-hand side, has been ordered closed for 15 days, age issues the word on the street.
Dollhouse isn't the only bar in Soi Cowboy getting a makeover as Déjà Vu is torn up and undergoes renovations. For those excited that this might mean one less Arab bar in the soi, that's not likely. It looks like a renovation, not a change of ownership, as the signage with the bar's name has not been touched.
Crazy House in soi 23 was visited by the authorities this weekend and the goings on toned down. Wonders never cease!
Word from the owners is that for one of the "big 4" Soi Cowboy bars September was the worst month in the bar's history with the lowest monthly take ever! I was surprised as it has been around a long time!
Almost everyone has positive things to say about Shark Bar in Soi Cowboy – good music, pretty dancers and a happy hour with most drinks just 80 baht. There's an argument that it's the best of the medium-sized gogo bars across all 3 bar areas.
No bar is as polarizing as Candy Land in Nana Plaza (the bar once known as G Spot). On Fridays and Saturdays it is full of beautiful girls while other nights the number of dancers is much lower. It should be one of the best bars in the plaza but who is the DJ and what is it with that car alarm music – where it sounds like all the cars in an underground car park's alarms have gone off at the same time. With a little fine-tuning it could be a great bar; as it stands it's flawed.
The beer bar outside Spellbound on Nana Plaza' ground floor has introduced a happy hour from 5 – 9 PM. Local beers, some top shelf drinks like Johnnie Walker Red, Gordon's Gin and Jim Beam and a bunch of shots are just 80 baht.
A reminder that the next Nanapong dance contest will be held next Sunday, October 12th, at Club Electric Blue in Patpong soi 2. The doors open at 7:30 PM and the action starts around 9:00. These dance contests are wild and if the Pongers can keep things up the whole Nanapong movement should gain momentum and there's potential for a huge positive spin-off for the gogo bar industry Bangkok-wide. Get there early to get a good seat.
The rumour mill has it that the block near the Asoke intersection where the Black Swan is located is going to be redeveloped and as such it will soon be demolished. It would be a shame if true as The Black Swan has always impressed but with that said, I've only been there a handful of times.
Only one of Bangkok's 3 major naughty nightlife bar areas has a clear visual crime deterrent with a large police sign and uniformed policemen on duty. There have been police stationed at each end of Soi Cowboy every night for months, the only bar area where that's the case. For many years a Tourist Police van parked at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 1 but that stopped years ago. Those officers were kept busy by victims of the upstairs bar scams – where unwitting visitors are given a massively inflated bill said to be the cost of a filthy ping pong ball show. The odd undercover copper hangs around Soi Nana although I've never had the impression they were there to look after visitors, more to keep an eye on what business operators are up to. With cops stationed at Khao San Road each night, perhaps Patpong and Nana could benefit from their presence too.
Far and away the biggest cause of complaint in the foreign bar areas these days is the coyote concept. Many just don't know who the coyote dancers are and who the regular gogo dancers are. But is this really any different to how things were the '90s? Back then, many gogo bars – I'd say at least half the gogo bars in each of Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza – had the odd ladyboy on stage – and many customers did not know. There were few ladyboy-only bars back then (none in Cowboy and only one in Nana). As more ladyboy bars opened up, fewer regular gogo bars had ladyboy dancers and there was a period when you would have been hard-pressed to find a bar with both girls and ladyboys dancing, outside of Patpong soi 1. But that has all changed and in Nana Plaza today, in addition to the 4 all-ladyboy bars in Nana Plaza (Casanova, True Obsessions, Temptations and Cascade), there are at least another 4 bars where there are between one and a handful of post-op ladyboys who unless you have a fine-tuned ladyboy radar you would not know. In comparison, is the coyote concept so bad? I mean, what's worse – post-op ladyboys who you might mistakenly take to your hotel room and unknowingly have sex with, or a lady you might lust after who it turns out is unavailable? There's an opportunity for bars which are ladyboy-free and coyote-free to promote that.
Nana Plaza is a disease zone! OK, so that may be hyperbole but if ever there was any doubt that it's the rainy season, the proof is with those foreigners who call Nana Plaza their workplace. Making my rounds on Friday night, bar boss after bar boss in the plaza was coughing and spluttering having picked up the dreaded lurgy. It's a hard life in the bars and whenever the nasties start going around it's those with weakened immune systems due to a hard lifestyle who always go down first – and in expat circles that's the bar bosses.
Late afternoon rains saw few taking advantage of happy hour at Soi Cowboy early this week.
Bully's, on Sukhumvit Road between sois 2 and 4, has a new chef / manager. American Patrick's CV includes a decade with the Outback Steakhouse chain including positions in food development, training and opening new Outback restaurant branches around the world. The food at Bully's is greatly improved and there will be a new menu before Halloween. Don't take my word for it – TripAdvisor shows 5-star reviews during the new chef / manager's first month in charge. Lamb shanks special is offered on Saturdays and Sundays.
Don't forget that The Sportsman on Sukhumvit soi 13 hosts quiz night on Tuesday nights. The rollover prize has not been claimed for 17 weeks and now stands at 8,500 baht. Weekly prizes include a 1,000 baht voucher for the winning team, a 500 baht voucher for the runners-up, and a bucket of beers for the team that finishes 2nd last. If you're free on Tuesday, pop by for a fun quiz night hosted by David Dickinson starting at 7:45 PM.
The Robin Hood, on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 33/1, also has a quiz night held every Monday. The Robin Hood has extended its 99 baht all-day, everyday Carlsberg pint special. Also at 99 baht is their fry-up before midday. They are also doing a decent cup of hot coffee for just 40 baht and a pot of tea (PG Tips) for 35 baht from 9 AM – midday. That's a seriously cheap cuppa for downtown Bangkok.
Second Road in Pattaya is to be resealed and has been skimmed from Walking Street to the Big C mall at North Pattaya. The result is that there is a horrible dust in the air all along Second Road which really can't be good for you. There are either clouds of dust or when they water the area, a mushy mess which is spread far and wide by traffic. Dust masks are selling well.
In last week's column I asked what the collective noun was for freelancers, and also for ladyboys. There were a lot of funny responses and here are some of the best:
* A gobble of katoeys.
* A cuckold of ladyboys.
* A clique of dick.
* A fleece of freelancers, a danger, a risk, a temptation or an attraction even? And, of course, a scrotum of ladyboys!
* If it's a pride of lions, how about a prance or a preen of ladyboys? Or, how about a buffet of ladyboys?
* Given that a phalanx was a Macedonian army section with long stabbing spears, it really would be better as a phalanx of ladyboys.
* I normally call a group of ladyboys a giggle or if they are of the more dishonest type, a dip. The only word to describe a collection of freelancers has to be a temptation of.
* A head of ladyboys? A gaggle of ladyboys? A swallow of ladyboys?
* Uncharitably, how about an importunment of freelancers? A desperation of freelancers? It is obviously a scrum of ladyboys. Or maybe a surprise of ladyboys?
I don't read much Bangkok fiction these days, in fact unless the main character is Vincent Calvino I don't read any Bangkok fiction at all. But there is a new novel set in Bangkok which looks interesting. The Lost Innocence by Simon Palmer is the first novel by this Bangkok-based screenplay writer. The main character is a sketch artist who travels to Bangkok to draw the girls and, well, we can probably guess the rest. Check out the YouTube trailer for The Lost Innocence.
The big talking point in expat circles this week has been the arrest of 3 Burmese migrant workers who police say have confessed to the rape and murder of two English backpackers on Ko Tao a few weeks ago. Thailand's expat forums leapt to life with many disbelieving of the confession. If you have followed the whole affair, there are more than a few things that don't add up causing some to question whether the police have arrested the right guys. What I find most interesting is that the same discussion is being had on the Thai language forums and the very same conclusion has been reached. Thai Internet users have been uncharacteristically outspoken and many are full of doubt as to whether the right trio are in handcuffs.
If you have a need for aerial photographs or video, you might consider contacting SkyShotAsia, a farang-owned firm specialising in aerial photography. They have photographed all sorts of stuff from the sky including tourist attractions, houses, golf courses, offices, facilities, hotels and even weddings.
Quote of the week comes from the book "The Women of Asia", published in 1978! "When I asked an educated Thai colleague why more western men don't marry Thai women despite their obvious beauty and femininity her reply was, 'The vast majority of Thai women are only interested in beauty, food, family problems and gossiping about friends which ultimately, for an educated and successful foreign man, just isn't enough to keep them interested'".
Reader's story of the week comes from the most popular submissions writer, Mega, "End of Empire".
A Pattaya bar maiden steals ₤2,900 from an English tourist and is caught by
The Thai government has come up with a robot that identifies whether Thai food really is Thai food!
Visitors to Thailand may be issued with visitor identification wristbands, a Thai minister says.
The Independent is scathing of the way the investigation in to the deaths of the 2 Brits on Kao Tao has been handled.
Tim Ward, AKA The Shark Man of Pattaya, had an issue with Pattaya's finest this week.
Down in Phuket, 3 Bogans find out the hard way that it takes more than a few beers and a balcony to be able to fly.
The story of a 20-year old Aussie who was savagely beaten on Ko Samui is another black mark on Thailand's tourism industry.
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: If a house is on a 50% mortgage from a bank to a Thai national, can a 30-year lease still be put on the house to a farang?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors responds:
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in drafting 30 year leases and usufructs should you find a property that has no encumbrances on it.
Nana Plaza, March 2001, before Stickman Weekly was born. Only one of the bars in the photo still exists today.
This week's email of the week reinforced something which has been on my mind for a while – that Bangkok has changed massively and in so many ways in the relatively short time I have been here. When you say to people that Bangkok has changed, they often take it to be negative, which it isn't, at least not necessarily. Many of the changes are certainly positive while others perhaps aren't. I do find it amazing that there are some foreigners who have lived here much longer than me who really do believe that there hasn't been a great deal of change! I guess that's because the change is almost imperceptible for those based here – and is more easily observed by those who have not stepped foot here in a while. When I look at photographs taken not that long ago, it is as obvious as it is amazing just how much things have changed. I'm not saying the change is good or bad, simply that the level of change is huge – which is what you would expect in what was, at least at the time I arrived, a developing country.
Your Bangkok commentator,