Many bargirls live life in the fast lane, not dis-similar to rock stars. Some bar customers foolishly think it is they who have the rock star lifestyle when in fact it is the girls. It is the girls who guys go to the bars to worship. It is the girls who customers pay to see and spend time with, and it is the girls who make the money.
A high-octane party lifestyle is not without its drawbacks and while the lifestyle might get a bit much at times, the money makes leaving the industry difficult.
And there's the freedom that's hard to give up too. In bars, bosses may rule with an iron fist, but ultimately the girls have the freedom to come and go as they please, to work when they want and to jump ship without a second thought. They know that in more mainstream lines of work they have less freedom.
But the undeniable truth that drives many punters crazy is that no-one grows up wanting to sleep with men for money.
They might adapt to it, they might make friends and they might even claim that they like it, but most want out of the bar industry.
So how do the girls get out of the industry and what becomes of them?
Bargirls typically don't get better with age and few age with the grace and dignity of Mama Noi. But truth can be stranger than fiction and age has never been a barrier to a lady being successful in the trade.
I am reminded of an Englishman who was a popular forum regular many years ago. A smashing fellow, no-one wanted to be the one to tell him that the lady he was with was 10+ years older than he thought she was.
There are plenty of ladies in the farang sector of the industry in their 40s and 50s, some even in their 60s. The combination of decent genes on her part and bad eyes and too much alcohol on his part means many punters are misled about her how many miles are on the clock. Many 50-year old Thai sex workers pass for 35. Many late 30-year olds pass for mid to late 20s.
Getting old does not force ladies out of the industry, especially as there is a shortage of ladies and many bars are screaming out for more staff.
Up until not too many years ago, many girls' exit plan was being whisked away by a customer and off to a better life. Perhaps they would move in with an expat, perhaps they would move to Farangland. Working in a bar was seen by many as the best way to find a foreign man.
Some relationships between former bar workers and their customers work out. Some don't.
Such relationships were more likely to work out in the past than they are now, for the simple reason that many years ago some women entered the industry for the express purpose of finding a guy to settle down with. Thailand welcomed fewer foreign visitors and ladies from a less well off background just didn't know where to meet a foreign guy other than in the bar industry.
These days very few ladies enter the industry with a plan to meet a man to settle down with. They enter the industry to make money – yes – but to hunt for a husband? No! There is more opportunity these days to earn enough to have a semblance of a life without a man. They needn't feel that hypergamy is the only path to survival.
And if the popular Pattaya t-shirt slogan is accurate and bad guys really do go to Pattaya, what hope do the ladies have of a better life with these men anyway?
These old-style bargirl / customer relationships are a throwback to the past. The nature of the industry today and the way ladies are focused on maximising their income quickly means there's much less chance for any sparks to develop in to a relationship, let alone for such a relationship to flourish.
And even when something does develop, more often than not it doesn't work out – usually for the very same reasons things often don't work out between Thai ladies who never worked in a bar and a Western man – and she ends up back in the bar. And so the cycle starts again.
Is Dr Wise's Clinic still in business?
What about the many ills of the industry? Surely they must account for some ladies' departure, or even their demise?
Alcoholism is widespread and you hear of the odd alcohol-related death but there are few confirmed reports of the lifestyle being the end of many ladies.
Even more amazingly – especially given how widespread sex bargirls without protection seems to be – reports of ladies being diagnosed HIV+ and leaving the industry aren't that common.
Some ladies just disappear. Perhaps they return to their village. Perhaps they head to Singapore or elsewhere abroad to chase the big $$. Some just disappear and are never seen again.
For so long a fixture around Pattaya sois 7 and 8, the troubled lady is another who just disappeared.
Occasionally the mainstream media reports that a barlady has been killed by her customer. Such reports are rare.
A bit over a year ago, the remains of the body of a dancer from Rainbow 4 were found hacked in to pieces in a suitcase in Kanchanaburi province, a few hours' drive west of Bangkok. She was last seen exiting Nana Plaza with an Englishman who acknowledged that he knew her but denied any knowledge of, or involvement in her death.
Some ladies do time in the industry and return to their Thai boyfriend / husband. These guys may or may not have known what she was doing.
Some bargirls make enough money to support their family for the period they're working, and perhaps for some time beyond. If they're lucky they might save enough to build a house, return to their province, start a small business and go on to live happily ever after. A couple of years in the gogo bars for a semi-attractive lady could set her up for life.
With the amount of money the ladies make, it would be nice if their life changed for the better. For some it does, for others I am not so sure.
For many ladies the bar industry is not all happy endings.
Update: For bar girls, freelancers, and professional escorts, give Smooci a go. This all-in-one next generation escort and paid dating directory is a new concept, and something which is taking Bangkok by storm.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken in The Strip, the popular Patpong bar which once used to feature often in this column. The clues were the special on the side of the bucket and the background which Patpong bargoers would recognise as the distinctive bar in The Strip. This week's photo was taken outside of Bangkok and I am looking for a specific location, not just a street name!
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 – Just another night in Bangkok.
A few weeks back, I get a call from a distant cousin about his daughter coming to Bangkok with her boyfriend and was asked if I would mind showing them around. They are in their 20s and figured out their own way around, but they did meet me one evening for dinner. At the end of the evening, the 20-something daughter said to me, "I would like to get some new boobs. Can you recommend someone?" I have a nurse in my network who works in one of the better clinics, a phone call was made and an appointment was set to meet the doctor the next evening. We show up at the clinic – the girl, the boyfriend, my girlfriend (translator) and me. She was very satisfied with the interview and we left. But there was a small issue….she wanted to see and feel what new boobs would be like. Could I arrange that too? Like now, tonight, as they are off to Samui in the morning! Sure, no problem! You would like me to find a girl who has had them done, so you can feel them like right now? Yes! Off to Nana we go. In a ladyboy bar, a round of drinks later (double for the boyfriend who was freaking out), "There, pick the one you would like to be like!" She pointed to one very good looking "girl" and my girlfriend went on to explain the situation to her. Off they went to the toilet: the candidate, the translator and the model. They came out after a while, all of them with a huge grin on their faces: the cousin because she got to feel and take pictures to show the doctor, the ladyboy who was now 500 baht richer, and my girlfriend who could no longer keep a straight face. Just another typical evening in Bangkok!
Thanks so much for your tribute to Dollhouse Darel. I started tearing up a little as I was reading it, realizing I'm never going to see the guy again. I also remember the under-sized Donald Duck motorbike, but the cartoon character was only part of the reason people laughed when they saw him riding it. The other reason was the motorcycle helmet he used at that time which was a genuine police motorcycle helmet, one of those black and gold ones with the big silver emblem on the front. It was hilarious seeing him riding around like that! He told me a policeman friend gave him the helmet, and one day he was actually pulled over for wearing it. I think they tried to take it from him but he managed to keep it. He did stop wearing it after that incident though.
Hooters thumbs up.
I just came back from Bangkok. I didn't go to any bars but had a drink one night at Hooters in Sukhumvit soi 15. I must say this is starting to become the go to place among my mates who live in Bangkok. Good vibes, good music but not too loud that you can't chat, and good looking girls. Overall, a great place for a few beers.
Eagle-eyed Thai Immigration.
The Brit who tore pages out of her passport to wipe her ass really does beggar belief. Dumb stupidity of the most jaw-dropping kind. Interesting that Thai immigration found it but no other country did. I wonder if this indicates a higher level of vigilance by Thai Immigration looking for visitors, particularly farangs, who are coming and going more often than i.e. expats on tourist visas who are spending a lot of time in Thailand? Anyone who flouts the visa rules either in letter or spirit is asking for trouble these days, especially if they have the stupidity to turn up at immigration with a damaged and incomplete passport.
Don't force us to tip.
The ++ thing has been in Thailand for some time already, forcing customers to tip. In the number one nation of the world they reinvented it ages ago as a substitute for a living wage paid to service staff by their employer. Hence the desperation and downright aggression you'll likely face there if not tipping regardless of service and standards. I doubt much of any ++ on your bill in Thailand reaches service staff. There might be exceptions, but I'd not rely on them. To me, adding ++ automatically puts me off. I'm not cheap and I'm not shy to tip if I'm happy. But ++ is like taking for granted that I'm not only pleased, but really happy. I might not be. I recall a certain 5-star hotel on Sukhumvit that was somewhat expensive for lukewarm brownish water (coffee) and soiled turpentine (Cognac) served slow by seemingly angry staff – maybe they did not get a taste of the ++?
Activity on Soi Cowboy – a new bar coming or an existing venue expanding?
Is a new venue coming to Soi Cowboy or is an existing venue expanding? Rumours have been doing the rounds for more than 18 months about what will happen to the single shophouse between Sahara and Cockatoo. This week there was plenty of activity. Something is coming.
Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy remains closed but it is hoped that it will reopen very soon. Some sources say it will reopen this coming Wednesday. Monks visited this past week which will go some way to appeasing the girls. With Dollhouse still closed, Soi Cowboy was described by one friend as quiet, almost like it was slipping in to low season.
Word has come through detailing the recent sale of a single shophouse bar on Soi Cowboy i.e. one of the little wee bars, which is rumoured to have changed hands for a not shabby 12 million baht. And here I was thinking that here in Auckland, houses (something you own essentially forever, and which generally cannot be taken away) were expensive. With much uncertainty about the future of the bar area, someone is quite the optimist.
Former Dollhouse manager Marc, known to some as Taffy, will celebrate his birthday at his new posting of Angelwitch Pattaya. This coming Thursday, February 25th, is his big day and he would love to celebrate with Pattaya regulars. A night of fun, shots and shows is promised.
Just around the corner from Soi Cowboy is super popular gogo bar Crazy House where I keep hearing reports about one girl and her dramatic look. Her torso – both front and back – including her derrière, are covered with tattoos. She is also said to have multiple piercings including every place some gents like to nibble. There are said to be so many piercings downstairs that if you really must dine there you might have to bring a can opener to the party. Crazy House polarizes punters. I often felt it was hardcore – popular with those more concerned about barfining than drinking, and filled with maidens who, for the most part, have such a level of confidence that you just know they have been around the block. That's all accentuated by their dancing style where many strive to give you a full view and like in a handful of Pattaya bars, what the girls wear on stage, or otherwise, is what the girls wear off stage, or otherwise.
A reminder that the grand opening for EQ Late Night Club (in the space that was once Nana Disco) takes places this Thursday, 25th February. There are 10 free tickets to give away so if anyone is interested, the ticket is for one person plus other (so two can go on the one ticket) and there is a dress code on the ticket which says "sexy black", whatever that means. Anyone who wants one of these tickets should email email@example.com with their name and the ticket will be left at the door for you. First come, first served – there are only 10 to give out.
Tomorrow is one of the Buddhist public holidays. At the time of publishing, word was that Soi Cowboy is likely to be closed on Monday, Nana Plaza will be closed on Monday and Patpong bars are likely to open. Nana Plaza bars expect to be open tonight until midnight when they will close before reopening for business on Tuesday. It should be noted that last minute shenanigans and negotiations are not unknown so no-one can say with 100% certainty just what will happen until the day.
The English League Cup Final takes place at 11:30 PM Bangkok time, next Sunday, February 28th, when Liverpool meet Manchester City to contest the first trophy of the English football season. Regular readers of this column need no reminding that when Liverpool meet Man City, there's one bar that stands out as the place to watch it. Stumble Inn is great for footy banter at the best of times, and with the bar's owner being a huge City fan and the bar's manager a red through-and-through, it will be a great spot to be. Stumble Inn gives a free bottle of beer to every punter wearing their club shirt to watch the game, while running a free-to-enter 'predict the score' competition with the winner(s) claiming a 3-litre tower of draft Chang. There'll be a small finger food buffet at half time. With Stumble Inn out the front of Nana Plaza, don't expect to sit in silence during the game as the bar's girls love to party and are known to scream as loudly when a goal is scored as when a hansum man walks in the bar.
I wonder if the girls of the beer bars are so keen to play games like they did in the past, the likes of Connect 4 and other games which used to be popular. As the industry becomes more commercial, are the girls so keen on light entertainment or are they more inclined to suggest visiting a customer's hotel? I ask this question after a good mate sent me a couple of emails while in two popular Bangkok gogo bars this week where he observed customers sitting in the bar alone, drinking beers and just gawking. No customers were sitting with girls which struck him as weird and is rather different from how things once were.
Demonia in Sukhumvit soi 33 is Bangkok's longest running fetish bar and will celebrate its 13th anniversary this week. Keeping with the theme of the venue, Bangkok's fetish bars insist you dress in black – for those who forget, there are black shirts which can be borrowed at the venue.
I've just about given up on relaying comments on how busy or otherwise the bar areas are as it causes some to react – some get REALLY angry – if what is said doesn't match what they see (or what they want the world to believe). So let me simply relay the comments from a bar maiden at a bar on Sukhumvit Road this past week, "It's so quiet it's driving me mad!"
Will there be fewer Thai spouses relocating to Australia? Reports from one Aussie visa agency have it that partner visa applications from Thailand have fallen off a cliff. Whether it's the stuttering Australia economy, the dip in the value of the AUD$, the exorbitant visas fees (nearly AUD$7,000 in visa fees alone) or a combination of all of the above, who knows?
The Irish now have a fully fledged embassy in Bangkok which opened this past week. Previously the Irish were served by a consulate offering limited services with the nearest embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
Also on the move is the visa section of the Chinese embassy which has moved to Thanapoom Tower on New Petchaburi Road. I am told the new office provides a quicker service than the previous where a 2-hour wait was not unheard of. I am also told that visa applicants need to provide a copy of their air ticket, a hotel booking and a copy of a bank statement.
Just as there's plenty of philandering going on in Thailand, there are plenty of acts of revenge against those doing the philandering. Does a week ever go by without a news report of a Thai seeking revenge against their lover for cheating on them? Revenge can run the full gamut from destroying property to maiming and even to murder. But what rather surprises me is the lack of reported incidents of revenge involving Western men who have philandered. The reason I say this is that some of the ladies on dating sites like ThaiCupid and ThaiFriendly who are seeking no strings attached fun neglect to tell you one rather important detail: that they have a boyfriend already. Come on, you didn't really believe that such an attractive lady with such a good job and such a large social circle had been single for so long, did you? If her other half knew, there's no limit to what he might do. He might seek revenge against her or he might even go after the farang guy although in these cases it is less common that the person seeking revenge goes after the third party. But funnily enough, they seldom seem to go after the farang guy. That's rare. Their rage tends to be concentrated on their other half. Maybe they're actually being fair and reasonable and deducing that the foreign guy probably didn't know. Fair and reasonable in Thailand? Nah, must be another explanation!
What is it with the attitudes of backpackers these days? When I backpacked around Europe for 6 months back in the '90s, one of the best parts of the whole experience was the people you met and sometimes even travelled with along the way. One of my favourites was an Aussie character who was about 25 years older who I travelled from Trier in Germany through Luxembourg and Belgium with. He liked league and I liked rugby. He was a smoker and I wasn't. He was a blob and I was fit. He was old enough to be my Dad, we had little in common but we got on like a house on fire. When I see backpackers these days – and this applies as much to backpackers in Thailand as it does to New Zealand – they seem to be very much exclusive of those outside of their own age group, style and beliefs. In my backpacking days we had some great "camp-fire style" discussions in youth hostels and guesthouses about the state of the world, our respective beliefs, politics….everything. These days things seem to have changed amongst young travellers and it all seems so cliquey, age-conscious and not at all accepting of others and their ideas, which is all rather amusing given how so many make themselves out to be open to others' ideas. The complete opposite is closer to the reality.
Quote of the week comes from Canadian Pete, "When you go back to the bar you were at from your last trip to Thailand you might not recognize the girls but you'll remember the same hand towel in the bathroom!"
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Two For The Road".
A British pensioner is fighting for his life after a mysterious attack in Pattaya.
The Daily Mail ran a photo essay of a truly bizarre temple in Northern Thailand apparently created to warn against sin.
The Aussie press reported on the soaring number of deaths of visitors in Thailand.
Here's another collections of photos from Thailand's past, this time from a French language Thailand forum.
Deutsche Welle looks at why gun ownership in Thailand is so high.
Getting a visa as a foreign correspondent in Thailand might be getting more difficult.
IATA says Bangkok's main airport is congested, a safety risk and needs urgent expansion.
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: Can I get a driver's licence on a tourist visa?
Sunbelt Legal responds: In general, a tourist visa is not enough to obtain a driver's license. Most Land Transportation offices require a non-immigrant visa. Additionally, you will also need a letter certifying your residence from your embassy or consulate (your local Immigration office may also provide this letter but it is best to check as some do not) and a medical certificate from a doctor – a standard form doctors fill out.
If you do not have a license from home or an international license then you will be required to watch a video lesson, and take the theory and practical tests.
Question 2: I married a Thai lady on the island of Koh Phangan. We now both live in the UK. I'd like to divorce her. Do I have to do that in Koh Phangan?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Since you were married in Thailand, you can obtain a divorce (providing both parties consent) at any District Office inside Thailand or at any Thai embassy or consulate overseas. But if you decide to proceed with your divorce registration in Thailand, it is recommended to process at the same district office that your marriage was registered, as that specific district office would have your record of marriage.
Some bar and restaurant bosses tell me that many customers appear increasingly reluctant to part with their money and that the days of big-spenders running up large bills have become a thing of the past. I have also noticed a general tone in emails where some readers appear much more sensitive about price. And in some instances, where once they may have been prepared to pay for a service, now there is almost an expectation that said service will be super cheap, or even free! Is Bangkok attracting more Cheap Charlies and dare I say it, freeloaders, these days?
Your Bangkok commentator,