Club Electric Blue in Patpong soi 2 has been one of the most popular gogo bars in Bangkok for more than 10 years. The owner is always looking to make improvements and asked the girls for their input. They said they want to look their best and were keen to try out some different uniforms. The mamasan went to Pratunam and came back with a bunch of samples. The girls got together to try on a mix of new and old uniforms. They had to decide which uniforms they look best in. I was invited along to take a few photos of the girls as they experimented with different outfits.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the Waterford Diamond apartment building, one of the tallest in the city which is in Sukhumvit soi 30, very close to the Philippines Embassy. It's a huge building and I reckon as many as a quarter of all the expats I know in Bangkok have lived there at one time or another.
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.
Soi Cowboy's transformation.
I think it's safe to say that Soi Cowboy has dethroned Patpong as Gawker Central, with most guidebooks now directing conventional tourists there. This is a disappointing turn from about a decade ago when Cowboy was mostly an expat refuge favoured for affordable happy hours. The transformation appears to be a perfect storm of unintended consequences. The first had to be the silly signage war of a few years back. Bars felt they had to keep up with competition, even though the signs added costs while not doing much for the experience of the "traditional" customer. The second was The Arab's practice of having "bait girls" outside his bars. The intended consequence was to get more customers to come in; unintended one was another thing for gawkers to take pictures of. Which leads directly to the third: The proliferation of iPhones and clones everywhere, to the point some vendors are even selling selfie sticks. Add all that together and it becomes an irresistible draw for curious gawkers wanting to take a few photos or get a drink on one of the patio bars. A few go inside, most don't. Is all this good for the bars or the business in general? I have my doubts. The only possible revenue they *might* get from the gawkers is customer drinks. The traditional business model goes light on profits there in favour of upselling like lady drinks or barfines, which generally aren't happening with the gawker couples. It's also hard to measure how much "traditional" business has been displaced because some guys consider the western women a buzzkill, but it's safe to say there's some. Pricing is also running many people off. Which is all to say that pricing and revenue will have to be reshuffled if this keeps up. I think you hit it on the head in a previous column that it's headed to an Amsterdam-like scenario where it becomes a parody of its former self and people have to pay more upfront to look, all based on a reputation that has become outdated. Cheap Charlies are likely to move on to the Philippines or Cambodia.
What happened to Midnite?
Concerning Soi Cowboy in past decades, I always remember Tilac back in the mid 90's as being a more modern, neoned-up place long before the others started getting fancy. Long Gun was indeed a lively place to go but my favourite right up until a few years ago was Midnite. That place was always swarming with really sexy women who were not shy at all about getting nasty right there in the booths. For the more discreet there were always the rooms upstairs. They were consistent all through the 90s up until about 2011 or 2012 when things changed. Last time I went in there, about a year ago, it was a complete waste of time. I couldn't understand how they were making money. The girls, mostly unattractive, were sitting around ignoring the few customers who were no doubt hurrying to finish their drinks and get the hell out of there like I was. What happened? <The Arab took over is what happened – Stick>
The sharks are hungry.
Business at Shark in Soi Cowboy is down. They used to have 100 ladies and now they are down to 50. I'd say that happened in less than 2 years, maybe 1 year. I think some ladies moved over to Baccara. They don't even use the upstairs dance floor anymore at Shark. The service staff is having a tough go and I've heard of tips for a Friday or Saturday being as low as 150 baht per person. I remember 300 baht as being pretty normal for a weekend night. It is really amazing, the changes over the last few years. It is my favourite bar in Bangkok, by a wide margin. 70 baht happy hour beers, no ladyboys, no coyotes.
In Pattaya I spent a fair amount of time in both beer bars and gogos and prefer the former to get to know a potential partner. More relaxed and less pressured, it's easier to flirt and find someone you like and can communicate with. It was in the latter that I found unpleasant scenes. Being Irish, I'm not unused to seeing girls drink a lot of alcohol. By goodness I saw some drinking in the clubs. In Moon Club on Walking Street I was sat next to two girls who were pouring the whisky into themselves in between dances. The drunker they got, the crazier the dancing. They'd more or less ignored me for the first hour until they finally started to give me some attention after a lot of booze. I made my excuses shortly after but it was a scene I witnessed in nearly every club I went to. Groups of girls gathered around a bottle as the evening got started. Very much Dutch courage drinking too. In some cases girls holding on to poles early in the evening just to stand up. Whatever about the physical health implications, it says a lot about their frame of mind and what they need to do to get through a day's work. I found it off-putting. That being said, many gogo bars were packed full of girls and many very good-looking. There doesn't appear to be the shortage of talent that there is in Bangkok.
Honing the ladyboy radar.
I have a 100% success rate with my ladyboy radar. It works like this: if they play and flick their hair back 5 or 6 times a minute and / or (usually and) check how they look in a compact mirror and / or mobile phone and / or shop window (usually all 3) every minute, it's a ladyboy!
Medical marijuana worries.
I had to take some action to avoid the small possibility I might end up visiting the monkey house because I turn up positive in a piss test. In Massachusetts I carry a medical card to smoke pot and I doubt if the boys in brown would give me a pass if I were to show it to them. We couldn't cancel our flight but rather than stay at the Nana the first 4 days of our 18-day vacation we will go straight to Pattaya. Nana and Soi Cowboy will lose a few bucks. My first trip to Thailand was 1988 and I have been back every year since. I am 71 now and going there is what keeps me alive!
A fair beating?
A recent column really touched a nerve, specifically the news story you linked to about the farang beaten to death in Pattaya. <He wasn't beaten to death, just knocked out – Stick> For me it was the proverbial "straw that broke the camel's back." Sorry for the sad cliché. I've been to Thailand on a dozen-odd trips over the course of the past dozen-odd years, on vacations from jobs in Korea and China. You'll remember the too many emails I've sent you regarding my experiences. Your site alone, these past odd years, as it chronicled the Pattaya Flying Club and other dangerous, sometimes fatal, ah…events…there in Thailand, got me thinking about the country in a more and more cautious way. But that last story really struck home. IT COULD HAVE BEEN ME! I've spent too many hours and too much time in Thailand gogo bars, both in Bangkok and Sin City. I can't remember ever not being able to pay but I am the forgetful type, was late paying the rent here in Hanoi just last week and could too easily have found myself 600 baht short, and needing to visit the ATM, after a night drinking in Pattaya. At what point do we say, "Enough is enough." We've read FAR too many stories of this sort. Here in Vietnam, in a neighbouring country, I may be frequently cheated (on cash payments) but am NEVER in fear of being beaten to death on the street. NEVER.
Som, Coyote dancer, The Strip, Patpong soi 2
I accidentally deleted my notes and can't remember the poor lady's name!
I do remember that she comes from Phuket and she loves to dance.
Thailand's low rating in a human trafficking report has been attributed as the main reason for a surge in nightspot visits all around the country with the authorities making a show of cracking down on the employment of underage ladies, foreign nationals and those working in brothels against their will. To the backdrop of these visits have been some silly rumours. In one Bangkok expat bar area it was said that barfining was not possible. This was false and it's very much business as usual.
A bit before midnight on Friday a number of police vehicles stopped at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy, blocking three lanes of the main Rachada Road. Most of the coppers present were from the Crime Suppression Division i.e. the big boys and were joined by colleagues from the Tourist Police division. Dozens of cops descended on the soi but what it was all about, I don't know. On Friday night bars closed around 2:00 AM or just after so they were not forcing bars to turn the lights out early.
The police were due to visit Nana on Saturday night. SMS messages were flying between bar bosses about the imminent visit before it happened.
The trend of farang females visiting red-light bar areas continues with a presence of Western women enjoying a few drinks. This week the most popular area for them seemed to be Nana Plaza. It's fun to watch them, especially when the group is made up only of Western women. As one of their group spots something – or do I mean someone (usually a particularly attractive ladyboy, or a particularly unattractive guy with a particularly attractive local lady) – they nudge the other(s) and all stop and stare. Some pluck up the courage to venture upstairs and venture inside chrome pole bars.
A month back there was some development in the long empty shophouse between Cockatoo and Sahara which looked like it might become Soi Cowboy's newest bar. Nothing has happened since and it remains locked up. One rumour doing the rounds was that it would become a small fish and chips restaurant but this was very much a case of Chinese whispers. That shophouse is owned by the same person who owns the Fish and Ship around the corner on Soi 23 so that's how that rumour came about. Talks to take over that space are ongoing so watch this space.
The problem of light-fingered ladyboys on Sukhumvit goes back decades and there was a time when it wasn't the market stalls that were the biggest obstacle when walking between Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy but the pesky pick-pocketing ladyboys. They would linger in the shadows between sois 5 and 7/1 and pounce, usually in pairs, one grabbing a guy's crotch and distracting him while the long fingers of her partner in crime would deftly dive in to the unsuspecting guy's pockets hunting for his wallet, cash or mobile phone. The MO today is much the same but with that side of Sukhumvit clogged up with market stalls, they now operate on the other side of the road. The hot spots – or is that the black spots – are the stretches of pavement where it is dark. They favour the dark stretch between Bully's and the JW Marriott, outside Chuwit Park and also the footpath out the front of Pacific City Place (which is between the Nana BTS station and the Landmark Hotel). They also linger below the pedestrian bridges. They usually operate in pairs, sometimes in packs. Be careful.
Sukhumvit soi 22 has never managed to break out of the category of second tier bar area, and with the fall of Washington Square, any hopes it had of joining Nana, Cowboy and the Pong in tier 1 died. Several months back Queen's Park Hotel, which was located about 500 metres up soi 22, closed. With more than 1,200 rooms it was the largest hotel in Bangkok and many guests would use the restaurants, bars and massage shops on the soi. But now that it has closed business on soi 22 has plummeted. Known more for its massage shops than its bars, several soi 22 massage houses have closed in the last month including the large May Massage, one of the few massage shops that were legit i.e. where you could get a genuine massage and there was no hanky panky. The massage houses that remain are down on staff numbers as girls move elsewhere looking for venues where they can make money. Many massage shops don't pay a salary per se with staff earning a commission on each massage they perform + tips. It's not just the bars and massage shop trade on soi 22 which have been hit. Even No Idea, the best restaurant on the soi, opens a little later some days. The soi has suffered further as some expats have avoided it because it was a hot spot for police stops, second only to the Asoke intersection. Those police stops may have ended, but until the hotel reopens some time next year after the renovations are complete, Sukhumvit soi 22 is probably going to do it tough. Looking on the bright side, for those who like quiet bar areas, soi 22 might be for you.
Sukhumvit soi 13 is being talked up as the next soi 11, that is the next soi to be developed with bars, restaurants and a vibrant nightlife. With the replacement venue for Bed Supper Club to open on soi 13, that could be the impetus the soi needs. If the soi does develop, they're going to have to look at access as it is amongst the worst sois on Sukhumvit Road for walking. It's particularly bad at peak hour as cars and people jostle for space, making walking even more stressful than sitting on the back of a motorbike taxi.
Bacarra is booming and the monthly profit would probably be enough to buy an Aston Martin, the annual profit enough for a sizeable apartment in Manhattan. But which Soi Cowboy bar is doing the second best trade after Bacarra? The obvious choices would be Shark or Tilac…but I am not sure either would make #2. #3, perhaps, but not #2. Crazy House is not technically on Soi Cowboy so we won't count it. I reckon the second most profitable bar on Soi Cowboy would be Country Road, the live music venue which usually has a smattering of customers throughout the day. After the sun goes down it is packed all the way through until closing. With not a chrome pole to be seen, Country Road does consistently well night after night.
It has been suggested that the signmaker got it wrong and Crazy Horse on Sukhumvit soi 23 was actually supposed to be called the similar sounding Crazy Whores. With some of the antics going on inside, the latter would seem a more appropriate name.
Finnegan's, the single shophouse Irish bar on Soi Nana has closed with the proprietor citing a rent rise as the reason for vacating. A sign outside says that the space is available for rent.
Down in Pattaya, Dream Club on Soi Diamond has a new owner they are offering two for one drinks all night, every night. Spend 5,000 baht and you get a free barfine.
From expats in the seaside city of sin there are more late-night roadblocks these days as police take the issue of drink driving more seriously. Drivers are being stopped and breathlysed. Some expats don't want the hassle of taking a cab – taxi fares in Pattaya are negotiated and cost many times what a similar journey would in Bangkok – and choose to stay at home. The roads may be safer but the bars are suffering.
Just off Pattaya's 3rd Road is M Club, one of Sin City's so-called gentleman's clubs. It ought to be pointed out that the meaning of the term gentleman's club depends on where you are. In the capital the term generally refers to a very well-appointed venue where a membership may be required, where the surroundings are flash – sometimes to the point of being ostentatious – and where if there are women available, they are truly classy. In Pattaya the term gentleman's club is something of a misnomer and means a venue where freelancing hookers hang out and there are usually rooms on the premises. Anyway, M Club was visited by the police yesterday and all punters were taken down to the main Pattaya Police Station on Beach Road. Those with ID (passport or local driver's licence) were let go while those without had to make arrangements for someone to bring ID to the station.
Still in Pattaya, Club Malibu in Soi LK Metro is introducing new promotions. This starts tomorrow with San Miguel Light just 75 baht every Monday, all night long. Club Malibu currently has a tasty lineup of dancers so drop by for a nosey.
Another reason many expats are staying away from the bars during live sporting events is because unlike the old days, they can now often watch these matches at home. It's only two years ago that most southern hemisphere rugby wasn't broadcast on cable TV and you had to go out to a bar which had Astra from Malaysia to watch it live. Fortunately that has all changed and if you have a True Visions package then the rugby is on the Setanta channel. There is a new phenomenon, Internet boxes. These are proving popular with many who can watch all the sport they like at home without the need to go out. Watching sport in bars is less of an attraction now.
From the owner a new Pattaya escort agency comes the story of a customer who tried to rip off 2 of the agency's girls in one day. To cut a long story short, a mid-30s Brit with business interests in Hong Kong booked a couple of different girls from one agency on the same day, but not at the same time. He utilised each of the girls' services but didn't pay either of them. He managed to get away with it because the girls were new to the business and there was some confusion about how payment would be made. Feeling that something was not right, they called the owner of the agency who immediately went to the hotel to try and sort things out. The customer had checked out of the hotel but amazingly he had forgotten his mobile and left it in the room. The hotel was not the flashest property in town and once the situation had been explained – and they understood that two Thai ladies had been cheated – they allowed the agency owner to take the guy's mobile phone. The phone wasn't locked and after scanning through various messages, the first call was made to a number in the UK who it was suspected was the man's wife. She was asked if she knew where her husband was. Hong Kong? Sorry, dear, he's in Pattaya, Thailand – and if you don't know anything about the place, Google it and see what it's famous for! She was told that not only was he not where she thought he was, he had just had sex with two working girls and had done a runner without paying them. Needless to say she was not happy! The phone call ends and soon after there is an incoming call from the UK. It is the father of the customer / owner of the phone who is calling from the UK and he is livid! It was explained to the guy's father that payment had better be made pronto otherwise each person in the phone's directory would be called and an explanation of why they were being called would be made – could they identify the owner of the phone so the escort agency could recover money for the two prostitutes whose services he had utilised before doing a runner. Arrangements were quickly made for the money to be sent, the girls were paid and the phone was returned to its owner.
I am receiving far more complaints from readers about the bar scene and what it has become than ever before. Many who have become disenchanted say they are going to try Cambodia. The Cambodian capital's bar area for foreigners is not that big and if a number of guys do head over that way, customer numbers will swell, demand could exceed supply and what has happened in Thailand may well happen over there. Som nam na, the naughty boys will be back to where they started! From a friend who spends much time in the zone in Phnom Penh comes reports of excess testosterone and fights breaking out frequently.
If you're bored of the bar scene or looking for a long-term partner, you might try online dating. If you get fed up with that as many do, you might opt for one of the high-end introduction services. A good mate did exactly that. It was arranged that he would meet a lady through this high-end service. He went to the meeting place at the appointed time, only for the lady he was to meet and the translator to turn up late. When they did arrive she was not at all what he expected. She was dressed in what he thought looked like a sack and the translator was more attractive. Whether this is representative of this firm or other so-called high-end introduction agencies I do not know, but it was yet another disappointment.
Another farang food venue is no longer with Dallas Steakhouse which was on the main Sukhumvit Road just around the corner from soi 33 closing. Whether this shocking posting on Craigslist (the same appeared on Facebook along with photos) had anything to do with it, I have no idea.
The message played every time the train pulls into Hualumpong station – the last station on the underground line – with words in English to the effect of, "This is the terminal station. We apologise for any inconvenience. Please ask the station staff for assistance" ought to be changed. It doesn't make sense and is confusing to tourists not familiar with the Bangkok underground.
Quote of the week, "Only in Thailand is prostitution seen to be a lifestyle choice to brag about, but then only by visitors."
Reader's story of the week comes from Stick Reader Ian, "An Ordinary Life – Part 1".
On YouTube is an old news-reel report of the American navy landing in Pattaya in 1952.
Police catch a ladyboy who operated for 10 years and conned an estimated 100 million baht from Japanese.
Thai cops want to speak to a Brit in connection with the murder and dismemberment of a lady who used to work in Nana Plaza.
Thailand is a culture soaked in superstition, an obsession critics say is holding the nation back.
A female Chinese tourist has been chastised on social media for airing her undergarments in at Chiang Mai Airport.
I get disillusioned when I read reports like this where foreigners have to pay 10 x what Thais to do enter national parks.
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 (my Thai wife is) in the process of selling a house in Bangkok. The proceeds will be around AUD $30,000 (800,000 THB). My question is, will I have any problem transferring this money back to Australia (where it came from).
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Your wife may or may not have difficulty in transferring the funds out of the country; it will depend on the policy of the bank used. They are monitored and governed by the Bank of Thailand and require that the person transferring the funds must complete a form verifying where the funds came from as well as the reason for transferring the funds when they process the client's transfer request.
Question 2: Please understand I am getting this information from my wife whose legal terminology may not be correct. My wife's family (rice farmers) have a real estate issue in Udon Thani. The issue is legal ownership. Apparently after years of incomplete documentation – and in some part possibly fraudulent documentation – they have engaged some lawyers from Bangkok to deal with the legal ownership issues. As I understand, the case must go to court (even though the issues are unopposed) to properly register the property. My question is that the family is required to pay, in addition to legal fees, a fee they call a judge's fee – apparently based on land value. Is such a fee normal and correct?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: Even though it is unchallenged, it is a bureaucratic procedure that still requires your in-laws to petition the court to obtain the formal ruling. In normal civil lawsuits there is usually a 2% fee of the claim but for Consumer Protection and Labour Courts they do collect a small administrative fee. This may be that although other courts do not charge this fee.
Question 3: My Thai wife (on our behalf!) is soon to purchase a property with land in Thailand. We wish to set up a Usufruct for my benefit. How flexible can a Usufruct be made? I understand that 30 years is typical – but could a Usufruct be made for a longer time period? With rights of renewal built in? What if I died before the Usufruct time expiry – would my Western based family be able to use the remainder of the time? What about a Usufruct for my lifetime? Could this be set up too?
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisers responds: A lease is limited to 30 years while a usufruct can be registered for the lifetime of the Usufructuary. If the Usufructuary passes away, the rights given by the Land Owner to the Usufructuary will not be inherited by the heirs of the Usufructuary. It is also possible to register the usufruct for a 30 year plus option to renew but the land owner could refuse to renew and you would have to file a lawsuit for breach of agreement. In theory, there is no restriction for a foreigner to be listed as an Usufructuary, but in practice the Officer at the Land Office may refuse to immediately register a usufruct on a newly acquired property. They may (at their discretion) recommend the parties put the registration on hold. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors has extensive experience in registering both usufructs and leases so that they are fully legal and protect your rights.
The lovely Yam, previously featured as girl of the week in late 2013, is now at The Strip.
I have received many encouraging emails to continue this column beyond the end of next month but I am afraid that is definitely going to be the end. With fewer visitors in the bar areas, little in the way of new developments in the industry and many bar owners less open and more reluctant to talk about what is really going on, there's less to write about and it's more difficult to verify things. Making my rounds, I often ask bar bosses about the funniest thing that happened in the past week as I hunt for humorous and amusing anecdotes, anything to liven things up a little. Some look at me like I just asked them who their favourite ladyboy is. The way the industry is going makes me think that end of this column is going to be rather well-timed.
Your Bangkok commentator,