For some the highlight of Pattaya is Walking Street, the melee that is ground zero for sex tourists as well as those who want to get no closer to the action than taking a sneaky peek. For others the highlight is the beer bars with their laid-back atmosphere. For me, I used to like roaming Pattaya in the afternoon, seeing it all in the harsh light of day. A combination of exercise, catching up on what had changed since my previous visit and taking lots of photos, I always enjoyed making the Coconut Bar walk.
A creature of habit, whenever I went to Pattaya I used to stay at the same hotel, not far from Soi Buakhao. A comfortable bed, reliable wi-fi and a car park, it filled all my needs. From there, I'd walk along Soi Buakhao past the intersection where Buakhao meets Soi Diana, and where a melee of motorbikes, baht buses and pedestrians are watched intently by bored-looking retirees perched in open air bars nursing their 50 baht beers.
I'd continue along Soi Buakhao to Soi Honey, where I'd turn left. Soi Honey is full of the sort of massage shops where massage is very much a euphemism. I don't think anyone going to Soi Honey has any expectation of getting therapeutic rubdown.
Soi Honey leads to Second Road where I would turn right and wander to the top of sois 7 and 8, which are less than a hundred metres apart. I'd turn down soi 7 one day, soi 8 the next – and head for the beach.
If bad guys really do go to Pattaya – the slogan is apt – what hope is there for the girls who enter the industry hoping to meet a foreign guy in the hope of finding a better life? There once was a time when many ladies entered the industry for that reason. Not now. These days, it's easier for a local woman to make enough money away from the bar industry to have a semblance of a decent life without having to resort to hypergamy. The word is out about foreign men and most Thai women know that to meet a white guy all she needs to do is join the tens of thousands of Thai women on ThaiCupid.com.
I used to see many of the same characters on the Coconut Bar walk, and none stick in my mind quite like the troubled lady of Pattaya who was a familiar sight around sois 7 and 8 for many years. It must be 2 or 3 years or more since I last saw her.
The poor thing never looked well but many people looked after her, girls and punters alike slipping her cigarettes, banknotes or offering her a meal. Thailand's good like that – they really do look after those unable to look after themselves.
From the bottom of sois 7 and 8 it was across Beach Road to the beach. I'd turn right and head for the northern end of the beach.
From Pattaya Klang (Central Pattaya Road) to the northern end of the beach is the quiet part of the beach and boardwalk. If you were looking for company, you'd be better off heading towards South Pattaya and Walking Street.
Every few years they tear up the boardwalk and redo it, even when it looked perfectly ok. In fairness, the latest version of the beachfront promenade is a big improvement, much wider and with more space to accommodate the greater numbers Pattaya attracts these days.
The highlight of the walk – or otherwise – is the many ladies you meet along the way. Some are standoffish, some are friendly, Some are old and some are much too young. Some are ugly and very, very occasionally you might come across one who is cute. And some are just plain bonkers!
I'd head to the northern end of the beach, passing Gulliver's, what was then Henry J. Beans, and the distinctive A-One Cruise Hotel. And then I'd turn around and go back the other way, heading for Walking Street and beyond, all the way to the Bali Hai Pier.
I fondly remember the days when the default expression of the girls along the way was to smile, the days when they actually asked someone carrying a camera to take their photo.
The girls would often be bored – they all had phones, but this was before the bargirl smartphone revolution – and they were always keen to wile away the time with chit chat. Banter was always fun and while their opening line was almost always Go with you, even when you made it clear you had no intention of dragging them to the nearest short-time room.
For decades Pattaya was the domain of the white man, where Europeans and Americans comprised the bulk of visitors. Today Pattaya is marketed to a wider audience, drawing visitors from every part of the globe. This change is reflected on Beach Road where the parade is made up all shapes and sizes.
Pattaya attracts an element from the Middle East – some of whom have a thing for well-rounded ladies – and they don't have to look hard to find what they're looking for.
Old-style bargirl / customer relationships seem to be a thing of past. It still happens, of course, but the nature of the industry today and the way ladies are like Bangkok taxi drivers – preferring many short routes – sees fewer such relationships flourish.
The girls of Beach Road are a hard-looking bunch. Break through the BS and the mere suggestion that a prince might fall in love with them and whisk them away has them in hysterics. They are very much aware of their place in Thai society, and it doesn't help that the Thai language doesn't have the equivalent of the English happily ever after.
Some are independent operators, others prefer the camaraderie of friends, grazing on food that passes by throughout the day. They are as much amused by passersby as passersby are of them, and just as passersby gossip about them so they gossip about passersby.
The girls aren't the only characters on the Beach Road. There are plenty of Westerners who classify for the ambiguous term "character", and more than a few Thai males too.
Is the fellow perched in the tree waiting for his wife? Don't laugh, he just might be.
Many visitors struggle to get their head around the fact that many working women have a Thai significant other, and after a few trips to short-time rooms they go back to the room they share with their local boyfriend / husband just like they would if they had finished a shift behind the counter at 7 Eleven.
So often the girls are eating, something I put down to boredom. It's one way to help pass the time.
Nowadays their escape from boredom is the smartphone.
And they will offer to share their food with you if you show a genuine interest in what they're eating. Even with complete strangers, they will offer to share with you. Thais get a lot of grief for all sorts of stuff – especially the working girls – but this is a truly charming trait.
Some would spot me walking from a distance and pretend they're not watching you when they are. They look away, all coquettish, almost like an awkward teenager, clumsy but cute at the same time.
It's yet another charming characteristic of Thai bargirls. Some – particularly those who work the street – are hard on the outside with their homemade tattoos, scars – some of which are self-inflicted and dead eyes that long ago lost hope that this life would be full of joy. But look hard enough and it's those small moments, the knowing smile, the wink and you see that on the inside some have managed to retain a semblance of the sweetness of the innocent village girl they once were.
Across the road from Mike's the smiles come easily despite it being a popular spot for some hard-looking girls who look like they hadn't had easy lives.
Their pimp boyfriends, scrawny and rougher than anything the dog ever dragged in, linger spitting distance away. If they're going to take the money their girlfriends earn, the very least they could do is buy some new threads. Gambling, drink and drugs are more likely where the hard-earned goes. That the girls put up with a lot of shit only for the money to be wasted is such a shame.
A long-time fixture on Beach Road, look her way and she will smile, a smile that comes oh so naturally.
The odd lady has their possessions at their side, and a small number are said to sleep under the stars.
You hear stories of this lifestyle being the end of some. Alcoholism gets some, they say. Others, we hear, are diagnosed HIV+ and end up succumbing to the usual complications that come with HIV. Pattaya's Beach Road and Bangkok's Thermae are the two places where these ladies are found in abundance, they say, places where HIV is rife.
After so many years following the industry and chronicling what goes on, I'm not so sure there is much truth in it.
The logic of those telling such stories has always been that where you find freelancers, you find a greater incidence of HIV. Ladies only freelance when they cannot work in a bar, right? And they can't work in a bar because they are tested for HIV pre-employment.
Few bars test ladies and many ladies simply choose not to work in a bar because they don't like the rules, the deductions made for this and that and the bossy mamasans who lord it over them.
Many who choose to freelance have no issue exchanging sex for money. The thought of taking their clothes off and dancing on a stage in front of people, however, positively horrifies them!
Getting back to HIV, confirmed reports of HIV+ barladies are few and far between, amazing given how widespread sex without protection between sex workers and their customers is in Thailand.
It's a tough job and you hear stories of girls experiencing stuff no-one deserves. Occasionally the mainstream media reports that a barlady was killed by her customer, but fortunately it's rare.
On the subject of bargirl deaths, what's the latest with the investigation in to the murder of the lady who danced in Rainbow 4? To recap, she was last seen exiting Nana Plaza with an Englishman who would become the main suspect. He admitted that he had known the lady but vehemently denied any knowledge of, or involvement in her death. Said Englishman left Thailand a few weeks after he had been seen leaving with her (but before he was identified as a suspect) and has not – as far as I am aware – come back to Thailand, nor has his extradition been sought. Speculation amongst expats is that the way she was killed makes it seem unlikely the perpetrator was a foreigner.
The Coconut Bar walkabout killed three birds with one stone. First, I got my daily exercise and had a good walk of several kilometres. Next, it gave me a chance to see what was going on in Sin City. It's one thing to do the rounds at night, but there's plenty that's easier to see by day. Finally, it was a chance to pursue my passion, and take loads of photographs.
Many of the Beach Road crew end up on Walking Street after dark when there is a drift from the beach to the neon-lined strip.
On Walking Street, just as on Beach Road, ladies stand around and wait.
For how many ladies of the night do things work out? Do they sometimes go home alone, without a customer, without any income for the day? Or do they do more tricks in a day than a circus clown?
Longer term, are they in a better situation when they leave the industry than before they entered it? Or do they find themselves back at square one? How many can say that things really did end happily ever after?
I really enjoyed making the Coconut Bar walk and was the highlight of trips to Pattaya. At the same time, it asked more questions than it answered about the industry and those involved in it.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at the intersection of Sathorn and Narathiwat Roads, just up Sathorn Road from the Chongnonsee BTS station. This week's is, I reckon, one of the most challenging shots in a long time.
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 – Time changes us and our surroundings.
Pattaya and myself have changed over the last 6 years, just as Bangkok and yourself have. Bangkok has probably lost its edge and has become tamer in many ways. It's still an interesting city but when you live somewhere it becomes "home" instead of a grand vacation to an exotic city. Eating local food for the first time isn't the same as eating the same dish for the 930th time. I hear some expats leave Thailand because they are looking to recapture the feel of Thailand 15 or 20 years ago. Stick, you have changed over the last 10 years. Ten years ago Thailand was right for you. Today, New Zealand fits the bill for your happiness. Kudos! In many ways I enjoyed Thailand a lot more 6 years ago. It is getting to be a busy country. I wish I had come to Thailand 20 years ago. My favourite spot was going out to Bang Saray Beach. Arrive late afternoon, eat on the beach and watch day become night. It was beautiful and quiet. Those days are gone. Bang Saray is becoming a suburb of Pattaya. Each year it becomes harder to find that special place and when you do, it doesn't stay that way for long. I hope the upside with increased tourism is a better Thailand for its citizens.
Nowhere escapes the march of time.
I find that I am happiest when I am on the move. After X amount of time in Thailand I am bored of it and want to get home to the States. Yet after 3 months of being in the States I can't wait to get back to Thailand. Without digressing, I have discovered I am happiest in Thailand when I am not involved in the bar scene. I go and have a drink and a laugh, but realize that "scene" is literally a drug that I had fun with 3 years ago when I was in Asia for 6 months, but I am much happier now as an observer and not an active participant. Your comments about the bar scene going downhill and eventually becoming obsolete are spot on. Look at NYC and Times Square: 20 – 30 years ago there were ladies of the night and porn shops on every block, but the economy developed and the city was cleaned up. I used to work with 60- & 70-year old guys who would tell stories about the things they did in Times Square in broad daylight and I couldn't believe it! I guess MTV and Carson Daly launching TRL there 15 years or so back got rid of the mess (joke!).
Looking forward to Hooters in Bangkok.
Your comment that Hooters was planning to open branches in Pattaya and Bangkok made me smile and brought back memories. While I haven't been in a Hooters in over 10 years, I remember when the first branch opened in Florida back in the '80s. I was on a business trip to Tampa and a friend said that we were going to a new bar called Hooters after work. It was in Clearwater, Florida on a causeway connecting it with Tampa. It was a casual place, basically beer, wings, fried fish, but those Hooters girls were cute. Young, fit and wearing a white Hooters t-shirt and orange gym shorts. I think they only had 2 sizes – tight and tighter. They also produced a calendar that featured 12 of their finest girls, which became a collector's item. The founders were 6 local businessmen who sold out after a few years. A few years later I relocated and noted that Hooters had expanded to several other cities in Florida. I was playing in volleyball and basketball leagues and after games a nearby Hooters would be our go to place for beer after matches. It had a fun, almost college-like atmosphere. I moved back to New York City and then began travelling to Asia and Europe and forgot about Hooters. About 10 or so years ago I was on a trip to Singapore and while walking around Clarke Quay what did I see? Hooters! I didn't know that they had expanded outside the US. Went in for a beer, same theme, same menu. Many of the waitresses were Aussies or Europeans – I guess they filled out the t-shirt better than the local girls. In subsequent years I saw Hooters branches in Taipei, Seoul and Tokyo where most of the waitresses were local girls – push-up bras can do wonders. It's amazing how many of these big franchise operations started out as one outlet. Roy Kroc grew McDonald's from one burger joint in California to a global franchise. Howard Schultz started Starbucks as a single coffee shop in Seattle. And Hooters went from a bar with cute waitresses serving beer and wings in Tampa to a global franchise. When I go back to Bangkok later this year I'll have to check out Hooters.
Soi 4's best kept secret.
What's the best-kept secret on Soi 4? The large number of post-op ladyboys standing curbside. I spotted and / or had 10 of them pointed out to me on a recent evening and all were very presentable and most of them passable, even to my discerning eye. Here's the secret: all of them are passing themselves off as what in the ladyboy world are called "GGs," or Genetic Girls. Consider this a salute to the terrific Thai surgeons, known worldwide for their skilful gender reassignment surgery.
Thainess, face, denial.
The bar scene is poisonous, as I well found out in 2014. I think only we long-termers can truly appreciate the aggressiveness & bitchiness within the bars. 2 years ago a Patpong bargirl was convicted of drug dealing. She was gorgeous and didn't seem the sort, but probably got dobbed in by some other jealous person and didn't have enough money to pay off the BIB. She got 4 years. I was told it got reduced to 2 years. These bars hide so much internal misery behind their lurid glitz. Ignorance is indeed bliss. It makes my blood boil how these dirt-poor Isaan parents send their wayward daughters to Bangkok who have to feign real jobs because of face and ever present Thainess or shame, yet the parents take their hundreds of thousands of baht eagerly, never asking how they earn so much money with so little education. They know damned well what their darling daughters are doing when they return to the village, decked out in Louis Vuitton with an iPhone 6. All the neighbours know or at the very least suspect. The parents live in strong denial because of face.
Express 90-day reporting.
I wanted to let you know that 90-day reporting is available at Imperial World, Big C, Lad Prao and it's a joy to use. I have previously used Chaeng Wattana. Living in the Lad Prao area, I used Imperial World last year when the curfew was in place. I had heard on the grapevine it was still open to expats so I gave it a look. I got there at 1:15 PM – lunch is from 12:30 – 1:30 PM – and at 1:25 PM they opened the doors and gave out tickets. I was called to a separate desk and given ticket A23. I sat down with about 20 other people and the counter opened at A20 so I did not have to wait long for my number to be displayed. The clerk checked my TM47 form, filled in a report slip, gave me a copy and said that was it. No photocopies of passport details page, visa stamp or arrival card required. I asked if I had to wait for anything and she said no, finished. In and out within 20 minutes. Pleasant staff, not so stressed as Chaeng Wattana, and more importantly, no queues with hundreds of people milling around. I used to dread the journey to Chaeng Wattana – time it wrong and you are waiting for hours as lunch kicks in and the doors close. It used to be more or less a day including travel, now it's just a few minutes.
Suzy Wong reopened on Thursday night, just a week after it was busted for underage dancers and fans of Soi Cowboy breathed a sigh of relief. Speculation had been rife not just about how long the bar would be ordered closed for – conventional theory was a month; some said up to 90 days – but whether the one we call The Arab might make a play for it. There is a long history between The Arab and the English owner of Suzy Wong. At one time things were so bad between them that security from one of The Arab's bars and security at one of the Englishman's bars had a big fight in the street with various items from the respective bars hurled across the soi! In recent times The Arab has been as quiet as his bars, which makes me wonder if he has ditched the plans he once had to acquire every single bar in Soi Cowboy.
Coyote dancers can now be found in a couple more Soi Cowboy bars with smaller venues Fanny's and Jungle Jim adding coyotes to their respective lineups. These 2 particular bars have long had more than their share of old dames. Perhaps this is a form of subtle encouragement to some of the older birds to move on?
Dollhouse has upped happy hour drink prices to 90 baht – still a very good deal when you compare it to some of the other happy hours in the soi, such as happy hour at Long Gun where drinks run 120 baht.
Over in Goldfinger in Patpong soi 1, the excitement is over as the influx of dancers has moved on. Some are reported to have moved to Thigh Bar where the salaries offered are higher. This troop of roving dancers have the same sort of loyalty to bars that Premier League footballers have to their club. It was fun while it lasted at Goldfinger and goes to show that bars with more good looking girls get more customers.
I've long had a soft spot for Black Pagoda in Patpong soi 2, a bar I first profiled not long after it opened. Black Pagoda isn't really a gogo bar but neither is it a hostess bar, but it is sufficiently different from everywhere else that it warrants a visit if you've never been. With Dave the Rave now at the helm, he has pledged that he will recruit only the most attractive girls. There will be high standards, and every girl must have a hot body, Dave tells me. No maps of the world and no scars. This is what the industry needs, bar bosses striving to provide a quality experience and not be just another bar which doesn't stand out from the crowd.
Former Stickman girl of the week Nina was set to return to The Strip this week after a long absence. Nina is one of few industry ladies who I would not have said no to playing doctors and nurses with. The sexy early 30s Nina took time off and a much-needed vacation in Bali but it's time to resume making money so it's back to The Strip for her. Nina and her good friend Noi are known for frolicking around on stage and together bring a show-business atmosphere to The Strip. They're not a double act as such, but they work well together and are two of The Strip's most prized employees.
The bust at foreigner-owned Suzy Wong raises a question that is seldom asked. Should foreigners be allowed to be involved in running hooker bars in the first place? From a customer's point of view, most of us prefer foreign-owned bars because foreigners know what foreigners want and there is a certain comfort when you know a bar is foreign-owned or better still, foreigner-managed. I do think, however, that when foreigners and Thais are competing against each other in an industry which is very much a grey area and in which there is all sorts of skullduggery going on and worse, it can be a recipe for trouble. Foreigners who get in a dispute with Thais in Thailand often come unstuck – and in this industry the stakes can be high and the people you're up against not the nicest people around, and ruthless.
What's the situation for customers in a bar when it is raided by police? ID checks of customers may be carried out and in some cases foreign customers may be asked to submit to a piss-test which checks for the presence of illicit drugs in their system. In many cases the raid is targeted – like that on Suzy Wong last week – and the cops have no interest in foreign customers. With that said, you really don't want to be there when the cops arrive, turn off the music and turn on the lights. What would happen, if, for example, you were sitting with a lady who it turned out was not of legal age? Could you find yourself in the gun? Is it conceivable you could actually be charged with a crime of some sort just for sitting with her? What about if you had barfined her, she was underage (which you didn't know) but you had not left the bar? So long as you have not done anything of a sexual nature with her, you should be ok. At the end of the day it isn't illegal to talk with a minor. If you were caught in a room with her then things, obviously, would be rather different.
Up in Udon Thani where you find Isaan's biggest farang bar district, it's awfully quiet – and it is being at least partially attributed to the strict midnight closing being enforced by the military. All of the bars in the small farang bar area are closed at midnight sharp, although in other parts of town, popular Thai bars remain open until much later. The main beer bar complex, Day Night, currently has few girls and even fewer customers. Even long-running pickup bar Mr. Tong's is dead. Once upon a time you couldn't get in to Mr. Tong's late and now there is nobody to be seen. It sounds like General HappyFace's troops have well and truly sucked the fun out of Udon's small farang bar district.
I can confirm that Casey How – the star of the opening piece of last week's column – is NOT a Singaporean. Some thought I was referring to the likeable Singaporean Casey who once managed bars in Clinton Plaza and later, Soi Cowboy. No, Casey How absolutely is not him! That particular Casey is a fine fellow who would never involve himself with that sort of nonsense.
What was once jail bait, and soon be Jail Birdz, still has not opened. I have no idea what the hold-up is but clearly the Project Manager's contract doesn't have any penalty clauses for late completion.
Tuktuk drivers are tuktuk drivers where ever they happen to be, right? There's little difference between tuktuk drivers in, for example, Bangkok, and tuktuk drivers in Phnom Penh, right? Hmmm, I am not so sure. Single male travellers in Bangkok are often approached by tuktuk drivers who offer to take them to a massage house or a brothel where they get a commission from every customer they take along. And in far flung Thai provinces, especially those which border Laos or Myanmar, single male foreign travellers may explicitly be told by tuktuk drivers that there are young girls – often around 16 years of age i.e. not of legal age. Contrast this with Phnom Penh where some tuktuks have signs about protecting youngsters. Some of these tuktuk drivers will call the cops if they see a foreigner with a girl they suspect not of legal age, or if a foreigner requests to be taken to an underage sex worker. That makes a nice change.
Bangkok Wine Delivery is a new player in the local wine market and claims all the wine they offer is premium product of good vintage. They tell me that they don't import any entry-level wine like that local wine merchant chain. For now, they have mostly Spanish and Italian wines while the next shipment will have more French and South African. No Aussie or Kiwi wines are in stock which is rather a shame. They opened just 3 weeks ago and have in stock 400+ wine brands but for now the website features around 70. Delivery can be arranged between 12 noon and 9 PM across greater Bangkok within 2 hours of placing an order. If you need advice about matching wine with whatever it is you are planning to rustle up, they have an online sommelier who can make recommendations.
Even if your favourite bar has girls not of legal age and girls from neighbouring countries who have never had a passport, Thailand is changing and the crackdown on corruption that General HappyFace talks about really is going on. From a province not so popular with foreigners comes a story which shows just how things are changing. This provincial capital features an outdoor restaurant that has been in business for several years. It is popular and the owner has become very successful. His customers love him because of his friendly nature and personality. Amongst his many customers are policemen, many of who he considers friends. He makes regular contributions to the authorities and has been doing so for years. Last week the restaurant was raided by the police AND the army. He did not hear about it ahead of time as is often the case for those who contribute. It was found that some of the customers drinking were not of legal age so as the owner he was arrested, charged, thrown in jail and later released on bail.
The annual AMCHAM Annual Independence Day Picnic is one of the most popular events of the expat calendar, a family affair and a fun day out. It will be held next Saturday, July 4th, from 12 noon – 8 PM at KIS International School. There is no parking at the event so the easiest way to get there is to take the MRT to the Huay Kwang station, take exit #1 from where you can hop on a free shuttle. Entry is 200 baht if purchased in advance from the AMCHAM office or 300 baht on the day. The event will feature American food and drink, music, games and prizes. There will be a full BBQ with real American hot dogs, burgers and ribs, along with apple pie and ice cream and a selection of classic and craft American beers. Food and beverage booths will include Sunrise Tacos, Absolute Fit Food, Roadside BBQ and more. American rock, blues and folk will play all afternoon from some of Bangkok's best American bands. There will also be a Big Chili Cook Off and you can download the sign up-form here.
An open letter to Thailand's biggest English-language university generates much talk about it and education in the country.
A bunch of Aussies are tasered, pistol-whipped and then extorted of $25,000 by police in Bali.
The ever helpful Thai government is to teach journalists, both Thai and foreign, how to ask questions.
A team of Cambodian burglars targeting foreign households in Pattaya are caught by Pattaya's finest.
A New Zealander released after 11 years of a 20-year sentence for raping young girls in Cambodia claims he is innocent.
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.
There were no questions for Sunbelt Legal this week.
It's 3 months since I left Thailand. There's been the odd complaint about the content of the column but not much more than the odd comment. There have also been some nice comments about the change in tone. The direction of the column will change a little, as will that which I write about. Change a little, not a lot. For those who wish things wouldn't change, I'm afraid that just isn't possible. I'm no longer in Thailand so it will never be quite the same. That doesn't necessarily mean it will be worse. It'll just be a little different. The big upside is that I now have freedom to write largely what I want. I have always self-censored – and will continue to do so – but geography does allow me quite a bit more freedom. That should make up for the challenges of geography. A few months away and I am generally happy with how it's going. I hope you are too.
Your Bangkok commentator,