Think foreigners in Bangkok and the average Stickman reader probably thinks Sukhumvit. Think problem visitors up to no good and if you're anything like me, again, you'll probably think Sukhumvit. But Sukhumvit is not the only farang area in the city and another part of town might just rival Sukhumvit for general debauchery and even surpass it in terms of bad behaviour. Who would have thought that a part of town popular with young travellers on a budget could be so wild and depraved, but that is exactly how it is according to friends who until recently were in business in Khao San Road.
When a friend set up a business on Khao San Road, I thought he would hit the jackpot. How could you not do well in an area that is thronging with people every night and where seemingly every venue is packed after dark? He didn't hit the jackpot and after his first venture in the area vowed that he would never do business in the area again.
At night Khao San Road really comes alive as those staying in the many side sois and alleys gravitate to Khao San Road itself to meet, eat, drink, party and be merry.
Many go to Khao San Road to hook up and in some circles it is considered the place in Bangkok to find someone for a bit of hot and sweaty no-strings-attached fun. Some even describe Khao San Road as the closest thing in Bangkok to the Girls Gone Wild videos. And while the hookup scene is mainly an international / visitor thing, the Thais are getting in on it too.
Some who hook up can be in a hurry to get down to business, almost as if they're worried the person they've just met might get other ideas. They find the nearest private place and get down to business. Sex inside bar and restaurant toilets on Khao San Road happens all the time.
In one restaurant staff didn't know what was happening until the bathroom sink broke. Actually, it didn't just break, it became detached from the wall and crashed to the floor. The first staff knew of it was when water was seen flowing out of
the bathroom and by then, the amorous couple had gone native and fled the scene.
The sink became detached from the wall – and the pipes, causing complete destruction of the toilet – a few times before management realised this was not a random accident. At that point the whole sink design was changed and replaced with a new floor-mounted aluminum unit. From then on a new sink disappeared from the weekly expenses list.
But the bathroom being destroyed was not the only symptom of lavatory lasciviousness. Condoms discarded on the bathroom floor were the bane of staff who had to clean up after the randy rompers.
Toilet sex wasn't limited to foreign backpackers and couples entering the hong nam included foreign couples, Thai / Western couples and even young Thai couples. The most common profile was foreign teenagers, many of whom were Bangkok-based international school students.
Khao San Road has long been a favourite party zone of the international school set – Thai and foreign – and sex in the toilets on Khao San Road is preferred by some over a room in one of the city's many short-time hotels.
The toilets were a constant problem. Often they would clog up because notices forbidding toilet paper being thrown in to the loo were ignored by visitors oblivious to the fact that Thai toilets don't seem able to handle a volume of toilet paper. And with public toilets in Thailand about as common as green elephants, toilets would block up almost daily, a shitty problem for bar and restaurant staff.
Khao San Road bars and restaurants typically turn away those keen to use the toilets who are not paying customers; they can hardly impose a toilet service charge – even at a couple of baht it is thought backpackers would refuse to pay it. Some become incredibly indignant when told restaurant toilets are for customers only, killing the notion that backpackers are a laid back bunch.
The general experience of my friends was that the Khao San Road crowd complain much more than Western customers on Sukhumvit ever do and some can become super indignant when they don't get their own way.
Wherever you have trouble in Thailand, you have ladyboys and Khao San has its share. For the most part they are said to be harmless. The one story involved a moronic white guy who walked past a ladyboy and pulled her shirt up for no reason. The ladyboy turned around and delivered what was described as the best punch ever and sent him flying!
And wherever you have backpackers in South-East Asia, inevitably you have drugs. And just like on Sukhumvit, the most brazen drug dealers are young African males, usually operating in small groups.
Despite the penalties for drugs in South-East Asia, many of the backpacker crowd are not fazed and brazenly smoke marijuana out of sight, often in dark corners, foolishly forgetting the distinctive smell that signals to everyone in the area about what's nearby.
Further killing the idea that the Khao San crowd is a laid-back bunch, there are fights all the time on Khao San Road, sometimes amongst foreigners, sometimes amongst Thais and from time to time a foreigner pisses off a Thai and ends up getting a beating. Scuffles happen every day, some minor, some serious.
Backpackers are known for their frugality and Khao San has the lowest prices of any farang area in Bangkok. Backpackers visiting Sukhumvit are known to stop at 7 Eleven before they do a slow walk-through of Soi Cowboy with cheap beer in hand. On Khao San Road they are more brazen. Some stop by 7 Eleven, buy a few beers and then enter a venue where they buy a bottle of water (water can be very cheap in bars and restaurants on Khao San Road) while at the same time keeping their 7 Eleven bag under the table and trying to consume the beers surreptitiously. Staff keep an eye out for cheapskates – and it is always foreigners. Thais never engage in that nonsense.
Some buy food from street vendors like the cheap Pat Thai trays and try to take it in to restaurants where, again, the norm is to get legal by buying a bottle of water which is nursed while they occupy a prime table and avail themselves of the entertainment / movies / free w-fi.
On Khao San Road many think nothing of ordering one drink and nursing it for hours, even having the cheek to ask for more ice multiple times.
The stories of frugality and one-upmanship that are legend from the area are very real. Overheard in one venue, a fellow was chastised for choosing to sit in the bar with a special of 3 beers for 100 baht. For that he had a table, music to listen to, free wi-fi and a view. He was told that had he gone to 7 Eleven the same beer went for 29 baht a can, a total saving of 13 baht…
Complaints are much more common on Khao San Road than Sukhumvit, the most common being that the bucket cocktail is not strong enough and needs more alcohol added to it. Drinks on Khao San Road are cheap in many venues because they are made with shit liquor. A few venues price themselves a little higher and use the good stuff. In a bar using Absolute Vodka, the complaint was that the bucket was not strong enough so the vendor went down the soi, bought a bottle of rice liquor and topped the bucket up with it. Giving the bucket back to the foreigner customers, they gave it the thumbs up. Absolute Vodka costs bars 700+ baht a bottle while rice liquor is just 79 baht. The Thais partying on Khao San Road know what rice liquor is like and again, it's only the foreign customers who complain. I am told that rice liquor is so bad that even with just one you get a buzz.
Some venues are known to use the bottles of imported spirits but put bad stuff in there and some backpackers share stories the day after drinking buckets that they were puking black that morning!
Many lose complete control and in one venue with a mezzanine level, two foreigners fooling around fell over the balcony and crashed down on top the cashier. Fortunately no-one was badly hurt and nothing was broken.
The biggest spenders on Khao San Road hit the area on Friday and Saturday nights when international school students descend on the soi to party. They spend more in a night out than some backpackers spend over a couple of days.
There is a small number of down and out foreigners living in the Khao San area who the Thais largely leave be. These foreigners appear to have lost not just their money but their mind. The half dozen or so Westerners estimated to be living on the streets in the general Khao San Road / Banglamphu area seem to survive on handouts.
There are few reports of foreigners dying in the Khao San Road area. Whispers suggest some fear any sort of negative publicity, lest people get nervous about visiting.
The Indian lucky man scam is still a problem on Khao San Road. Posing as fortune tellers, Indian males approach foreigners and try to persuade them to go and sit with them away from the crowds so they can tell them their fortune. At the end they ask for money, telling their victim to pay what they can afford. Anything less than 100 baht elicits threats. If you don't pay, they tell you that they are going to put a curse on you and your family and bad things will follow. They often resort to the “I am a holy man, I don't lie” line to convince victims to part with their money.
Khao San Road is tough to do business on primarily because rents are so high and backpackers spend so little. Competition is fierce and markups are low. On Sukhumvit bars can mark up drinks prices around 4 times but on Khao San Road even 2 times might be more than the market will accept. A venue with 100 customers a night on Sukhumvit can make more than a place on Khao San Road serving 400 people per night, everything else being equal.
Like other Bangkok nightlife areas, Khao San Road is sometimes closed down early. It is said that a high-ranking military officer's wife went to the cop shop one night in her pajamas screaming that she could not sleep because of all of the noise so the entire soi was closed even earlier than the law says venues must close!
Khao San Road may be one of the busiest entertainment areas in Bangkok, but it's not an easy place to do business. Some venues have been operating so long that they have historical rent agreements with rent rates far below market rates. A couple of big name groups on Khao San do well; as landowners they don't have high rents to meet. I'd never really thought about why there are so few foreigner-operated businesses operating in the Khao San Road area – compared to Sukhumvit where the majority of businesses are foreigner-run – but now I understand why.
Few foreigners run businesses on Khao San Road and a friend's experience as a business owner / operator there was one big headache. "Even if you gave me a million baht, I'd never operate there again. Let's just say that even if the sales were 200,000 baht a day I would not do it. I hate that place. After all the mess, I hate it, I really hate it!"
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken beside the Asoke BTS station, very close to Sukhumvit soi 14.
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 Facebook obsession.
I totally understand where you're coming from regarding Facebook. I took my youngest son swimming and his mother came along too. I was shocked that my ex was finally taking an interest in her son's life. When we got to the pool she paid no interest in her son outside of a few selfies with him in the background, followed by taking photos of herself at various spots around the pool. Back at the condo she started bitching that I hadn't "liked" any of the photos she had posted yet. So that incident, along with my neighbour constantly asking if I've watched any of the videos he uploaded to Facebook, along with my "friends" who feel the need to constantly voice their political, religious or other hot topic opinions again and again (even if I agree with them) made me finally say goodbye to Facebook. Do I miss it? Hell no!
Where perception trumps reality.
Just read your latest article and you nailed what I like to describe as "Fakebook". Fakebook is the modern, not just Thai, perverse obsession that your "brand", or perceived life by others, is far more important than any form of reality.
Facebook today, future embarrassment?
I have never quite got Facebook myself. Some people are never off it portraying how wonderful and perfect their lives are. The craziest thing of all is if the British government forced people to report what they were doing and show photos of it online at least once an hour, there would be an absolute outrage. I'm convinced that in 20 or 30 years time people will look back at how they portray themselves on line with absolute embarrassment.
Self-obsession on the MRT.
Your bit about Facebook self obsession got me thinking about the other day on the MRT. I observed two Thai young teen girls who got on the train and proceeded to preen themselves in their reflections in the train windows to the exclusion of all humanity. It was to such an extent as to be obscene to the point of offensive. All I can think is that they must be so nervous about being around people that this acts as a defence mechanism or security blanket for their anxiety. It's one thing to do it for a second but the way these girls did it was as if to display the highest degree of vanity possible! Where or how on earth did this behaviour became cool? I wanted to say "Get a room", and please lock the damn door!
Here's what passes for entertainment in Bangkok these days. The other night I ended up in Climax and found a cute girl. Her friend already had a customer but he disappeared so I ended up taking both of them home. I get in to bed with girl #1 while her friend sleeps on the couch. A minute later the friend decides to join us, but before I could say threesome, girl #1 attacks the other one, leading to a fairly serious hair-pulling bitch fight on my bedroom floor! I managed to separate them, and despite their best attempts to carry on with the job I kicked them both out with only 100 baht for taxi fare. If only I had recorded it.
Khao soi gai recommendation.
I have not tried the khao soi gai at the Emporium, but I really love it at Noodle House in Siam Square, back in the area behind the Lido Theatre. They too do big chunks of chicken breast and not leg, but theirs is about half the price of what you mentioned for the Emporium. Noodle House's is 60 baht. It's one of my favourite cheap meals in Bangkok.
Is the Jacuzzi in Bangkok Bunnies something of a design flaw? In the back left-hand corner of the bar, it's concealed from more than 90% of the customers and unless you're sitting right next to it or you happen to venture to the men's room you wouldn't know it was there. Or perhaps that is the whole point of putting it there in the first place? Jacuzzis are usually the focal point of bars which have them – Billboard on Nana's top floor a great example – but that's not the case in Bangkok Bunnies.
Bangkok Bunnies has been described to me as the bar equivalent of a used car, full of girls who used to work in other bars throughout the plaza. Few stand out and I think it's fair to say the bar doesn't have any true superstars. In that way, Bangkok Bunnies reminds me of a standard restaurant, a place not known for any special dishes and which does not have a signature dish. Probably that can be said about a lot of bars these days.
But this all becomes irrelevant after news broke this week that Bangkok Bunnies has been sold to Patrick, owner of Bacarra. Bangkok Bunnies is the largest bar in Nana Plaza and has undergone various guises over the last few years but has not hit the big time in the way the big-talking owner said it would. Previously Pretty Lady, then Spellbound for a short while and now Bangkok Bunnies, will it soon become Bacarra? The plans aren't known but don't be surprised if it is rethemed and renamed Bacarra – which would be massive for Nana Plaza. Exciting times in the plaza.
Progress is slow on the Japanese restaurant that is under construction on Soi Cowboy in the single shophouse between Cockatoo and Sahara. I'm not sure how well a sushi / ramen / bento box outlet will fit in to the neon jungle that is Soi Cowboy, but what would I know? Rumour has it that the owner of Bacarra is behind it too. Workers on the site say there will be rooms upstairs, which raises eyebrows. I guess they would be a place to retreat from and escape the heat, noise and chaos of the soi for a short while.
It's a few weeks since Pink Panther at the Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 2 was raided by police who found underage dancers. The venue was ordered closed, reopening just days later. Some of the girls found to be underage were taken away to a place which from descriptions sounds like a secure facility for troubled juveniles. They are locked up and are being detained for an unknown period of time. Family can visit and take them food. Word from one girl is that she has been treated fairly and her one complaint is that they don't give her anything sweet to eat. I guess that goes to show that she really is still just a kid.
King's Corner in Patpong has had price lists outside in Chinese for some time.
Some say the Chinese are visiting the bar areas, others say that they're Japanese and / or Korean – groups which have been visiting the farang bar areas for as long as anyone can remember – and the average Westerner can't tell the difference. There is mounting evidence that Chinese are descending on bar areas in greater numbers with bar bosses saying they see more Chinese, there are touts yelling out in Chinese and signs have been going up in Chinese in the bar areas for some time now. Those bars that get in early with the Chinese and make a genuine effort to understand what their needs are could do very well indeed.
Chinese visitors have been visible on Pattaya's Walking Street since it became a tourist attraction in its own right and was no longer the domain of naughty boys. Like Bangla Road in Phuket, Walking Street is a major drawcard and a great spectacle. Chinese tour groups have been led along Walking Street by flag-waving tour leaders for a good few years now. In time, could the Chinese crowds outnumber Westerners in bar areas? Projections for the number of Chinese visiting Thailand are huge and it's quite possible that within 5 years Thailand could be welcoming 50 million visitors – and it's not a stretch that approaching half of them could be Chinese. (Current numbers are 30 million+ a year total with more than a quarter Chinese.) When the number of Chinese visitors to bar areas reach a certain level – let's call it a critical mass – it could push all but the die-hards away. The Chinese have their own way of doing things and descending en masse on an area, they could crowd out all others. It's not far fetched to say that could only be a few years away. A video clip went viral this week showing Chinese tourists behaving like animals at the buffet at a hotel in the Victory Monument area, fighting over food and showing just what happens when the Chinese descend on a place in numbers. Seriously, take a look at the video clip! We saw similar behaviour recently during the NZ cherry season where Chinese would literally try and push you out of the way to grab boxes of cherries. How will the naughty boys feel if – or is that when – the Chinese descend on their bar areas in greater numbers?
A rumour has come out of Patpong, one which I would not be too concerned about as it's probably something innocuous, but one which should not be totally ignored either. I have heard this from 3 different people – a webmaster, a restaurateur and a bar owner. Currently, lease renewals on properties owned by the Patpong Group are for 1 year only. Not all properties in the area are owned by the Patpong Group; many are. This obviously has chins wagging about the possible reasons, given that landlords typically look to lock tenants in to longer leases. I'm not going to speculate, but it's something to keep an eye on.
Patpong is different from Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy in many ways – and one is smell. Patpong retains a distinctive, pungent and frankly unpleasant smell which is not indifferent from how Bangkok used to smell 20 odd years ago – a combination of pollution, fumes, tropical fruit, rotting rubbish, animal feces, sweat, discarded alcohol and vomit. It's one of the first things I noticed whenever I went to Patpong – and is particularly noticeable on the main Patpong soi, and not so much on soi 2.
Bada Bing in Patpong soi 2 has banned cigar smoking while cigarette smoking remains fine. Cigar smoking in bars is not that common – perhaps one or two people a week smoke a cigar in a bar – so I wonder what caused them to specifically ban cigars? Of course, smoking cigarettes or cigars in Thailand is technically illegal, but in most bars in Patpong and Nana it is allowed. Non-smokers and those sensitive to smoke and smoky bars should stick to Soi Cowboy.
The inevitable happened and the nail-painting, American-accented Aussie who was relieved of command at The Strip last week and moved to Black Pagoda has been given the boot. I guess that means he can return to his previous life as an international fashion photographer in New York. As we say in New Zealand – Yeah, right!
Down in Pattaya, Larry, formerly of Secrets and now of BabyDolls, will celebrate his 60th birthday this coming Saturday, March 26th, in BabyDolls, soi 15 off Walking Street.
Most nightlife venues in Bangkok are closed by 2:00 AM as part of the ongoing government crackdown on closing times. At this time, two areas are consistently open later – Sukhumvit sois 4 and 11. On soi 4, bars in Nana Plaza may dim the lights out front but inside many bars are open until 3:00 AM and some bars further down the soi open until around 4:00 AM. Ditto soi 11 where Levels is one of a number of venues also open until 4:00 AM most nights. So while foreigners may complain that bars close early in Bangkok, the reality is that two of the most popular sois for foreigners are open later than elsewhere.
A friend's part-time hobby is scouring through porn flicks online looking for ladies he recognises from the bar industry and amazingly, he finds quite a few. His best guess is that 1% of girls in the industry have been enticed by the money on offer and done porn at some stage.
Squaronians – the term coined by and often used by the late Mekhong Kurt to refer to the regulars of Washington Square – will be horrified to hear what has become of the area. The ramshackle bar area which was leveled a few years ago was never going to win the prettiest neighbourhood of Bangkok award but that still beats the hell out of what has happened to it. The area is being transformed in to a dinosaur theme park which is due to open later this week. What happened to the plans for the area unveiled a few years back showing shopping malls, hotels and new condo buildings?
How well does the management of Nana Plaza know their own bar area? On the official Nana Plaza website run by Nana Partners, they have nicked some of my photos and used them without permission, stripping the Stickman watermark from them. What makes me laugh is that some of the photos weren't taken in Nana Plaza at all but in Patpong. Morons!
Human trafficking is one of the buzzwords of the news media and no-one wants their name to appear anywhere near any mention of human trafficking. News media and law enforcement know how powerful the term human trafficking is and use it as a tool to elicit sympathy for their cause and to put pressure on people to change their behaviour. A good example would be the article Inside the Thai Sex Trade in the New Zealand Herald last week which perpetuated many myths about bar areas in Bangkok popular with foreigners. That women working in these areas are trafficked is nonsense. Let's look at the reality of the situation: Many of the women working in the bars have a Facebook account and all have a smartphone. I have to ask the question – how can you be trafficked if you have a smartphone and Facebook account?!
I hear that Hyde Sukhumvit, the gigantic condo / hotel at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 13, is still far from completion. Construction has been on again, off again for about a decade. Construction first stalled when Lehmann Brothers went tits up way back and the delays in completing this building are becoming an issue and holding back the development of Sukhumvit soi 13, a soi I pick as the next up and coming soi on Sukhumvit. The start of soi 13 is such a mess with a construction site, broken road and no pedestrian footpath that it puts you off venturing up the soi. And don't expect the city to fix the start of the soi until this monstrosity of a condo is completed – and no-one knows when that will be. Of course it doesn't help soi 13's reputation that as soon as the sun goes down the mouth of the soi has a dozen or so Africans who attempt to make contact with passersby who they then offer to sell drugs to, a problem that the authorities must know about but have shown scant interest in.
Further down soi 13, Chi – essentially the new version of Bed Supper Club, using the old building but with a new interior – has opened. Chi features a novel symbol / motif, like a cross between a buffalo and the devil. It's early days, but word is that it has yet to take off. With rumours putting the building cost at 65 million baht, there is going to be pressure on the marketing department to perform. You'd have to say the opening was a mess, Chi opening around Christmas for a few days and then closing as they waited for a permit. The opening proper was a couple of weeks ago. The owner has a string of clubs behind him, in excess of 20 I believe, and most people expect that once it catches on it will do well.
Reader's story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "Going Home".
A new terminal opened at Don Meuang Airport.
Over 100,000 baht worth of valuables is stolen from a Pattaya hotel room while the occupants are sleeping.
A Canadian who refuses to pay a bar bill suffers a severe beating in Pattaya's soi 7.
The UK's Telegraph looks at the obesity problem amongst monks in Thailand.
The Bangkok Post looks at why new condos in Bangkok are smaller and more expensive than older units.
Chinese tourists are criticized after video shows them shoveling food with plates at a buffet in Thailand goes viral.
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 own a jet ski which has been officially registered with the Harbour Department, as required. Are there any additional permits required, or restrictions in place, on using it in central Bangkok – on either the Chao Phraya River or the klongs? I am thinking of using it for commuting.
Sunbelt Legal responds: Registration of a Jet Ski with a Harbour Department does not provide an all-encompassing authority to use it anywhere in Thailand. On the back page of the registration issued by the Harbour Department would provide a specific district or province of where it can be used.
So you must first confirm at which Harbour Department the Jet Ski was registered. Assuming the registration was not completed in Bangkok, using it in the Chao Praya River or the klongs would not be possible. However, you would still need to check with the Harbour Department in Bangkok if it is ok. If you are not registered in Bangkok then you will need to re-register the Jet Ski to match the district or province involved. Approval is judged on a case by case basis..
Question 2: What are the penalties for exceeding the speed limit when driving in Thailand, and is there a threshold over and above the speed limit at which there is mandatory loss of licence? I have heard stories of people clocked at very high speeds and the fine is quoted as what seems to me to be a paltry 1,000 baht, when some say they have been clocked at 50 km/h or more over the speed limit. Also, is there any difference in penalty if you are captured on a speed camera as opposed to by an officer using a radar gun?
Sunbelt Legal responds: A driver's License can be revoked for no longer than 1 year for the following reasons:
1. A person is found guilty at a court of law in violation of the Motor Vehicle Act;
2. Someone refused to obey an order by a competent officer while driving;
3. Someone was found guilty at a law court for endangering other people by reckless driving;
4. A person caused a serious threat to public safety on the road.
Speeding could fall into one of the clauses but it is not mentioned specifically and a vast majority of speeding offenses are generally resolved by paying a fine. The maximum fine is 1,000 baht but the actual amount is up to the officer's discretion.
The only difference between being caught by the speed camera rather than the officer is the timeline to pay the fine; getting caught by the camera means the fine will be sent to your home and you can make this payment later. However, it is important to note that your license could be revoked if you pay late.
Question 3: I've noticed that it's impossible to find liquor with high alcohol content in Thailand, such as Bacardi 151 Rum (75.5% alcohol) or Everclear Grain Alcohol (95% alcohol). Is there a particular law in Thailand that prohibits the sale of liquors with high alcohol content? And would it be illegal for me to bring a bottle of Bacardi 151 or Everclear into Thailand from the States?
Sunbelt Legal responds: There are restrictions on the amounts of alcohol and tobacco products that can be brought into the country but not on the alcohol content. If you are carrying up to one liter of wine or alcohol it does not need to be declared but if you wish to import for sale then you must have the permitted licenses and the tax is between 50% – 60% and no restriction on alcohol content.
Soi Cowboy looked different in 1999; this site looks and functions much the same now as it did back then!
The launch of the new version of the website has been delayed until next month. It's basically done but testing is taking longer than anticipated and there are lots of small issues that need to be addressed before it can go live. Having messed around with the new version, I really like what the designers have done and in many ways it reminds me of when you get a new mobile phone or a new laptop – you're doing the same stuff but it's faster, has new features and an improved look, all of which makes for a nicer experience. When it finally goes live I hope you feel the same way.