Goodbye, Mr. Average
We perched at the bar, looking out over a packed Angelwitch, not an empty seat in sight. Business was good, but Dave The Rave looked worried. When I asked what was up, he responded that he didn't see anyone he recognised. The gogo guru would explain that it was almost unknown for the bar to be so busy but without a single person he recognised. The bar was full. That was the good part. But there was not a regular in sight – and that was a worry. The gogo guru was right to be troubled. Many who used to be regular bargoers have disappeared.
He made up a significant percentage of the punters and with money and a willingness to spend it he was the sort of customer you wanted. He seldom caused trouble nor did he rock the boat. He returned year after year, sometimes making two or even multiple trips a year. He is Mr. Average. Or is that was? Today Mr. Average is the forgotten man of the bar industry.
One of the things that set Bangkok's hooker bar industry apart from elsewhere is that once upon a time it wasn't seedy. It didn't feel like prostitution. And that was very much part of the appeal for Mr. Average.
While seediness is a byproduct of the girls and the bar environment, customers are also a part of it. Mr. Average was just a common man back home. He likely worked a better than above average job. He was not the stereotypical sex tourist. He most likely did not use prostitutes at home, in fact it's possible he had never used the services of a sex worker until he visited Thailand.
For many years, the Nanaplaza.com forum was the Bangkok sex tourism forum. But it wasn't sleazy or seedy, far from it. Members would meet up at Woodstock in Nana Plaza every Friday for a bite and to shoot the breeze. The common interest was the bar scene, but in many ways the bars were just a backdrop. Many interesting people came along and many genuinely impressive people. Friendships were made. 15 years ago those meetings were one of the highlights of my week.
The reasons for the demise in the bar industry have been discussed over and over and are well-known. What gets less commentary is the effect the decline in the bar industry has had on the profile of customers in Bangkok. Mr. Average used to make up a lot of the customer base, but these days it seems he is less interested in the bars and gets his kicks elsewhere. The bars no longer holding much appeal for him.
The new generations of Mr. Average still visits the bars, but is more inclined to visit just the once. The industry doesn't lure him in as it did many before him.
Bar customers today are more likely to comprise first-time visitors / vacationing lookyloos / selfie hunters and the hardcore sex tourists and sexpats. Those who used to love the bar scene may still pop by from time to time but many are not enamoured with it as they once were. Mr. Average is largely absent.
And that has changed things. Bangkok is welcoming more visitors than ever and for the bars that means many customers are mainstream visitors who see a visit to a bar area much the same as they see the Grand Palace, Wat Po and the Chao Praya River – somewhere to tick off the list. They visit once. Customers today want to see a real live Thai ladyboy in the flesh, get a few selfies and move on to the next place on their list. They may buy drinks at 7 Eleven and do a walk-through; sticking around and soaking up the atmosphere is not necessary.
As the hardcore guys move on – and, eventually, most do – settling down, losing interest, running out of money, or passing away, the core of regulars is getting smaller.
Hence recent comments that entrance fees could be introduced to bar areas. Fewer regulars means less business for the bars and a drop in income. Alternative income streams need to be considered.
Bangkok's bar industry remains popular amongst the hardcore and will always appeal to first-time visitors. But today's Mr. Average isn't drawn to it like he was in the past. Mr. Average might buy a lady drink or two, he might even pay a barfine. He might repeat this for a few nights. But at the end of his holiday he won't be thinking about his next trip to Thailand, as Mr. Average used to.
The loss of Mr. Average is another problem for an industry in decline. He was their bread and butter, and helped see them through the low season. His departure could be a contributing factor to the way the industry evolves. Fewer regulars and more lookyloos means core revenue is likely to fall. Probably sooner rather than later the industry is going to have to evolve to meet the market. The new version could be remarkably similar to strip clubs in the West, albeit with a Thai flavour.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of Moulin Rouge which features Russian dancers.
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 – The internet effect.
The mercenary working girl is now the majority. Economics plays a part, surely. However, the overriding factor is the internet, and its forums which still perpetuate an atmosphere where Thai girls are taken for days at a time and it's like renting a girlfriend. Hell, some don't even barfine and keep that a secret until after you buy them an expensive ladies' drink. The other major factor is whoremonger forums which have done their best to indoctrinate men to pay more for a lower level of service year after year. That, along with the illusion that bad skin and, now, fat chicks are desirable. This is so far off the mark it's hilarious. Nothing is further from the truth.
Thai ladies staying home.
In this week's column you said “Many years ago some women entered the industry for the express purpose of finding a guy to settle down with….These days very few ladies enter the industry with a plan to meet a man to settle down with”. I thought this image from the Economist a few weeks back supports this view. In 2006 some 11K Thai spouses were entering the UK a year; in 2012 (the last year before rules changed to have financial and language considerations) it had nearly halved to around 6K. The vast majority of these Thai women were former bargirls and the downward trend was already in force long before the government started to clamp down and make it harder. Furthermore, this downward trend happened whilst UK visits to Thailand were increasing to unseen levels. More visitors to Pattaya in particular but less marriages. Go figure! I know from where I live in the UK, which has a community of around 1,000 Thais (90% female), new arrivals are nearly non-existent now. There is a real feeling the days of new girls arriving all the time as wives are well and truly over.
There's baht in them thar hills!
With my gleaned experiences knowing Thai commercial women from way back when, it appeared to me that the more thoughtful among them were looking to hook a fish and relocate to a Western country. Boomsing with a morbidly obese, drunken farang in Thailand can only take you so far. Better to marry one and head out to Farangland. If it doesn't work out, move on in a country where upward mobility is always possible and government benefits are aplenty. Matter of fact, two sweeties I met in Pattaya were passport ready and looking to land an American, settle in the USA, ditch the bugger then head out west to Las Vegas and seek their fortune. There's baht in them thar hills! It's the American dream and every immigrant seeks it.
Where is the value?
You ended the column with a comment that bar owners have been tossing around for years – that the big spenders are gone and have been replaced by Cheap Charlies. I'm one of the customers that bar owners complain about. What is interesting is that while my bar tab has shrunk in Thailand, it has stayed the same or in many cases increased during my visits to the Philippines. It's not that I have gotten cheaper. Like any intelligent customer, I demand value for my money. Many like me have been warning of this trend for 10+ years and we were always shot down and tagged as doom and gloomers.
Where is the value part 2?
Your last paragraph hit a nerve. In Thailand, what goes up doesn't seem to come down unless it's a farang off a balcony or condo prices in Pattaya. The forces of supply and demand don't seem to apply there. I wouldn't use the term cheap charlies. I think that value for money isn't there and like the one beer customer, they aren't coming back. Market forces are beginning to dictate from the customers' point of view and the bars and girls are neglecting to see the reality. We know that you can buy 3 tall Leos in 7 Eleven for 163 baht and four cans for 151. Prices have been exorbitant for quite some time.
Tribal rivalries and alcohol.
I find it interesting that in Bangkok you are given a free beer if you wear your team's colours. Over here in England, if you wear your club's shirt to a pub on match day, you certainly won't get a free beer, in fact you often won't get in at all! Tribal rivalries and alcohol are not generally a good mix. Funny old world.
No seat belt, no problem.
A recent reader story, “Two For The Road”, dovetails with what I and my friends have witnessed many times. It seems that both riders and drivers seem to expect the other party to look out for them rather than to ride / drive defensively and assume that everyone is a potential hazard to their survival. When you see bikes pulling up in front of trucks in their blind spots or overtaking a left-turning car / truck on the left is tantamount to having a death wish. The carnage on the roads defies belief, yet when I have westerners in the back of my car, they seem happy not to wear a seatbelt, even though they understand how dangerous Thai roads can be and the reasons why this is illegal back in their home countries. Do western visitors leave their brains behind when they come to Thailand?
The girls we met.
There was a gal I was fond of circa 2001. I met her at an internet shop in The Tunnel. The owner asked me if I would interpret an email. It was something like, "Baby, I miss your big tits!" 10 minutes later the lady and I were headed back to my room at the Nana Hotel and she moved in for a month for the long gone girlfriend experience. She worked out of the Nana Disco and possessed an internal radar. I'd hit town unannounced, check in and a few minutes later the phone would ring, "Hi honey, can I come up?" Sure you can. So I'm back in Texas and get a phone call. "Hi honey, do you know where I am?" "Ahhh! Sukhumvit?" "No, Oregon, I don't like it here, come and pick me up!" Texas to Oregon is not a short haul and besides, then what? I declined and wished her good luck. She was on a 3-month fiancé visa and the blighter eventually sent her back to Bangkok. I don't know why because she was a real sweetheart. I've run in to her now and then, the last time maybe 4 years ago. She looked great, had had her teeth straightened, was well-dressed and told me she was out of the game (?) and being sponsored by an Irishman who lived in Ireland. I often think of her and hope she is well and happy.
Welcome to the concrete jungle.
I've been passing in and out of BKK a lot lately and noticed one thing the other day. Off a flight at Swampy, as you walk towards Immigration (from any area), you have the same ugly and raw concrete walls and ceilings casing you in as when you walk up and down Sukhumvit Road and get stuck in the BTS stations. Just as ugly. Compare that to Singapore T3 or other new airports.
Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy came back to life this past Wednesday, reopening after the awful events of the past few weeks which culminated in owner Darel falling to his death having been locked out of his condo. Some of the old staff were back wearing the same numbers they had before the closure. All in all, there were around 30 dancers on Wednesday night with every table upstairs in use and a full stage downstairs. The night was not without the odd hiccup and some early fumbling around with rock music felt out of place with the Dollhouse's usual playlist but once the dance music CD was found the party came to life. By 8:30 PM most seats were taken. Laughter, smiles and playful girls were making up for lost time. A couple of days later more dancers had been added but in fairness, Dollhouse standard they are not. For the new crop in Dollhouse, the classic lithe gogo dancer's figure has been replaced by an archetype more typically found in the massage houses around the corner on soi 23.
Dollhouse received a welcome back visit from the boys in brown on Friday night who descended on the bar en masse after 10 PM. The rumour mill went wild about just what the visit was about. Word from within the bar is that the cops were checking for showing – and I guess the bar passed with flying colours because showing they certainly were!
Still at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy, management needs to kill the tacky notices posted around the bar warning customers about the penalties for breaking a glass and taking photos or video inside the bar. Knocking a glass over must just about be a nightly affair given how narrow the tables are, yet it will see you asked to pay a 200 baht fine….for a glass that can't cost more than about 15 baht. And if caught taking photos or videos in the bar, notices state the bar will hit you with a 20,000 baht fine. That's obviously not enforceable but that doesn't mean there won't be a brouhaha if someone is caught surreptitiously using a digital recording device. These stupid notices only detract from the general vibe of the bar and are the sort of nonsense I would expect in one of The Arab's bars and not in Dollhouse.
Dollhouse in Pattaya is a quite separate entity from Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy with a different owner and none of the aforementioned nonsense. Dollhouse in Pattaya is celebrating the hot season with what the boss is calling March Madness. Ice-cold draft beer is just 45 baht – all night, every night, all month long.
Pink Panther, one of the most popular bars in Patpong soi 2, will be closed for a week starting from tomorrow. Just how they got away with a closure of just one week for underage girls on the premises when other bars in Patpong have been virtually put out of business after receiving a year-long closure for the same infraction is moot.
The Hilary empire is to expand in to Sukhumvit soi 7/1 with a large new venue which will be set over two floors and will include a restaurant as well as the usual skirts the Hillary bars are known for. The name is not yet known.
It's not that often that drinking laws make the national news but that's exactly what happened this week when the military announced on national TV on Wednesday night that any venue serving alcohol after 2:00 AM will be closed for 5 years. It sounds like they're serious, right? Sounds like…
The conspicuously named EQ Late Night Club was packed with revellers on its grand reopening this week with the party still going strong after 5:00 AM. So much for lights out at 2:00 AM, eh? It will be interesting to see if they can keep it up – both the crowds and the late night opening.
Why don't these crackdowns on the sale of alcohol apply to the street-side booze booths which sell alcohol from dusk till dawn along the busiest part of Sukhumvit, seemingly with impunity? I guess part of the reason is that bans apply to a specific location, so even if the vendor was banned from operating in such and such a place, they could, in theory at least, just move 10 or 20 metres either side and resume.
I commented to a friend who is a fixture in Nana that I had heard from multiple sources that trade in Soi Cowboy had dipped and asked him how Nana was. He responded that Nana was doing well and the recent trend was – get this – heaps of Chinese visitors in the plaza. The Chinese tourist juggernaut continues to gain momentum but Chinese in Nana Plaza? That's a surprise. Soi Cowboy as a destination for visitors is understandable after the exposure it got from Hangover II – it's great for taking photos with the beautiful neon. And Patpong is popular with its night market, but what does Nana have to lure Chinese visitors? Nana is the seediest of the three main farang bar areas and actually feels like a sex shopping centre – which is exactly what it is. It is the place for hardcore sex tourists. Or maybe it's the fact that Nana Plaza is widely known for its many ladyboy bars – maybe that appeals to the Chinese?
Thinking about the whole Hangover II thing and how Soi Cowboy has benefited massively from an influx of mainstream visitors for a few years now, if you were the owners of Nana Plaza would you consider getting in touch with Hollywood and rolling out the red carpet to any moviemaker who was willing to tie in Nana Plaza in to a future production? The hardcore naughty boys scoff off at mainstream visitors and hate being stared at by those in bar areas for a look, but at the end of the day business is business and the mainstream visitor market is the future.
Could one day a bar area like Nana Plaza charge an entrance fee?
The Strip in Patpong 2 has long been a favourite bar of mine. At the same time I have to admit that it has been very much up and down over the years, going through periods of great popularity followed, almost inevitably it seems, by utter mediocrity. Much blood and sweat was put in to it by the American manager from 2013 – 2015 and he made a real connection with his staff. He had The Strip humming, running better than ever. But in a management shuffle he moved aside and reports have it that The Strip has taken a nosedive. I was reluctant to print some of the emails I have received in recent weeks which were unanimous – The Strip sucks! Things reached a new low last week when a vicious attack took place in the bar which saw a coyote dancer stabbed and rushed to hospital with multiple serious stab wounds. The perpetrator, another coyote dancer, had been dancing on stage with a knife wedged in her bikini – how the hell is that allowed to happen? A disagreement took place between two coyote dancers, escalated and erupted in to a full-blown knife fight which saw one coyote dancer sliced up. The most serious wound was a long, deep cut to the front of the girl's thigh. At hospital she was told that had it been a few centimetres to the side it could have caught the artery – and she could have died. The dramas at The Strip don't end there. A couple of weeks back one of the dancers fell off stage, crashing her head to the ground in a horrible accident. She also had to be rushed to hospital but fortunately she had a thick skull and all was well. A new manager has been recruited – an Aussie with an American accent and a girl's name, he paints his nails and claims to be one of the world's top fashion photographers. Such eccentricity doesn't faze the Thais but since he has taken over at the helm of the Strip he doused one of the staff in a bucket of ice-cold water which saw a mass walk-out of staff who refuse to return. The Strip has massive problems. Here's hoping what has, at times, been a great bar can be turned around.
It was reported in this column throughout December and January how quiet the bar areas were and how trade was far below high-season expectations. Some stuck their neck out and said it was the worst high season in memory. Well, now it's official….kind of. Leaks from a popular farang-owned gogo bar which shall remain anonymous are that trade for December and January was down a whopping 40% from the same two months a year earlier.
The Nana Plaza marketing department tells me that the new American owners have got top floor bar Billboard humming and the number of dancers is on the increase. Billboard is one of the largest bars in the plaza so the more ladies, the better.
A large piece of fish, hand-cut fries and homemade tartar sauce, yum!
Margarita Storm, at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 13, is experimenting with some new dishes for their new and improved menu. One of the dishes they are looking at introducing is the classic fish and chips and their proposed version, pictured here, looks delicious.
One of my all-time favourite Thai songs is ยาม by Labanoon. ยาม "yarm" is the Thai word for security guard. Labanoon will perform a free concert at Climax in Sukhumvit soi 11 on March 18th. Climax is, of course, part of the Hillary Group which has a rich history of arranging free concerts featuring some of the biggest names of Thai rock. I wish I could be there.
Reports in the Thai press this week about a Thai man who waited until his girlfriend was sleeping before dousing her in petrol and setting her alight highlights just what can happen when relationships go bad in Thailand. Thais get jealous very easily and can respond very badly if they feel they have been cheated on or betrayed. I reiterate that cheating in Thailand is NOT considered ok despite what some foreigners may claim. Spurned Thais can feel an overwhelming need to exact revenge – and it can be extreme. I use this as a real life example to back up what I said recently – be careful if you're fooling around with ladies outside the bar industry who claim not to have an other half. Farangs largely seem to get a free ride but you just never know what might happen if you unwittingly fool around with a Thai woman who unbeknownst to you has a Thai partner. You might get off lightly but she might not…
The challenge the massive influx of Chinese visitors brings is not just that their ideas about politeness and manners seem not to match those of the rest of us, but that they descend on tourist sights and establishments like a swarm of bees. Small numbers can be accommodated, but coach-load after coach-load led by a flag-bearing leader is something many businesses and sites just aren't geared up for. Such numbers can really change the feel of a place and in many places part of the enjoyment is the peaceful and laid-back atmosphere. And the numbers just look set to rise and rise and rise…
Looking online to compare mobile phone packages offered in New Zealand with those in Thailand, man, there are some great deals to be had in Thailand, especially when it comes to data allowances. I also note that mobile plans seem to have dumped SMS and MMS allowances and users are essentially forced to use Line (or any other instant messaging app). I guess that's not so bad as with a generous data allowance it essentially means unlimited texting. I see plans with 12 gigabytes of data and hundreds of minutes of calls for around 1,000 baht. That's a great deal given that you can tether your laptop and / or tablet to your phone – and that should easily be enough data for most people to last a stay of a few weeks.
Simple Simon's, the well-known, profitable restaurant, bar and guesthouse in Jomtien which has been in business for 18 years is offered for sale. Located on soi 5, Jomtien Beach Road, the asking price is 5.5 million baht which includes a year's rent paid in advance. It has been described as one of the most popular English restaurant-bars in the area with a large number of regular expat customers throughout the year, including low season. Additional profit is generated by retail sales of their bacon, sausages and pies. The profit can be further increased by opening later at night. The reason for the sale is domestic circumstances. Serious enquiries can be made to [email protected]
One of the first impressions I get of Bangkok is when you drive in to the city from the airport after dark and you see just how dim the city is. Despite all of the new high-rises and Bangkok's famed neon nightlife, Bangkok really is dark. Street lights are often turned off, or are very low-powered and provide little illumination. By day you get the impression that the city is storming ahead with construction projects filling the horizon as new apartment buildings are being built and new electric train lines are sprawling out. But at the same time, those buildings which have been completed are for the most part in darkness, suggesting most units are unoccupied. Have they even been sold? It's weird – the traffic is manic which makes you think the place is on the move but those apartment buildings mostly in darkness causes you to rethink that idea.
The American standing outside the New Yorker Cafe, on Sukhumvit Road between the Asoke intersection and soi 18, gives a very good impression when he hands out cards promoting his business. Thais employed to hand out flyers typically do it with the enthusiasm of a patient visiting a proctologist. This fellow greets passersby, hands out flyers and actually attempts to engage and describe what's on offer inside.
Reader story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "My Korat Virginity".
A female British backpacker who went missing in Thailand and was later found safe sounds like she might have been bonkers.
Are tough new rules for visas for foreign correspondents meant to discourage outsiders reporting on affairs in Thailand?
The BBC sneaks a camera in to the Immigration Detention Centre and films Pakistani asylum seekers stuck in the Thai system.
Thailand has the 3rd highest number of suicides in the world, reports The Nation.
Andrew Biggs' latest column Farangs Behaving Badly is up to his usual high standards.
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 recently purchased a new big-bike from my local Kawasaki dealer. They told me that they had two colours available, green and orange. I chose orange because it was only released for the 2016 model. The 2015 model was only available in green. Later, when I went to purchase some accessories from another store, I was asked to confirm the exact model year of the bike. I decoded the VIN on the motorbike's frame which said it was a 2015 model. My wife spoke to the dealer who initially insisted that they had sold me a 2016 model bike, but when she explained about the VIN, they were forced to admit that they had installed the orange components on to a 2015 bike to make it look like a 2016 bike. Is this legal if they do not inform me about this before the sale?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Usually when someone wants to purchase a vehicle they will put down a deposit to reserve the vehicle. This deposit is generally non-refundable so long as the dealer is not in default. The reservation form states the expected date of delivery and availability of the vehicle, which allows the dealer to prepare the ordered vehicle and the purchaser can apply for finances if needed.
Once the vehicle is delivered it is the buyer's responsibility to inspect the vehicle to make sure it is in accordance with the reservation form, such as model, color, serial numbers and any giveaway accessories that are part of the dealer's promotional campaign.
Once the purchaser signs off on the inspection, it is assumed that they have accepted the vehicle as presented to them. If the purchaser does not sign off on the inspection then they can terminate the purchase agreement under the following conditions:
1. The Dealer has raised the price; or
2. The Dealer did not deliver the vehicle on time
3. The Dealer did not deliver the goods in accordance to the agreed model, year, color, engine size, etc.
4. The Dealer did not deliver the goods with accessories and benefits as agreed in the agreement.
It is important to note that if you bought from an authorized dealer and on the receipt it stated an incorrect year you could have a case to file with the Consumer Protection office but be aware that if you signed the inspection form accepting the vehicle then that could mitigate the case.
The last week has been amazing for the number of people in Thailand I have learned are in dire straits financially. Most are getting on in years with retirement so close they can just about reach out and touch it. What's so surprising about that, it's not like foreigners who spend a long time in Thailand tend to amass wealth, right? The thing is…..they are all businesspeople – some of whom I had assumed were doing well. Just what possessed some to stick with a bad plan when the writing was on the wall, I have no idea. I'd love to write about them but I imagine none would be too pleased to see their story in print.