More shopping malls, more visitors, more expats, more bars, more to do, more to see….more of just about everything – that seems to sum up Bangkok these days. This week I reflect on spending several weeks in Bangkok, from the perspective of someone who was once intimately familiar with the country but who now considers himself very much an outsider.
Bangkok in General
The graffiti problem in downtown Bangkok is worse than ever with zero evidence of any effort to clean it up. The infamous Fuck Corruption slogan on the pedestrian bridge next to Sukhumvit soi 7 remains and profanity in both English and Thai is all over. From Nana to Asoke, Sukhumvit looks like it hosted a graffiti convention with the area an open canvas.
Sukhumvit is more touristy than ever. It's not that long ago that the area was expat central, but expats are greatly outnumbered these days by visitors and Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke is very much tourist ground zero.
Bangkok's transportation system is creaking under the strain of massive numbers of commuters. The skytrain and the underground are so overcrowded at times that they are awfully unpleasant to use. Long, slow queues at the ticket machines are a preview of what you can expect on the platform, but then at least Bangkokians are queuing these days. (Do yourself a favour and buy a pre-paid card and load it up with credit so you don't have to queue.) The obvious solution to the crowded trains of more carriages and greater frequency of trains seems so simple, yet nothing has been done. One imagines that it is the usual story – those who see it as their right to siphon off a percentage of all infrastructure spending are holding up the process.
Contrary to what is reported in the press about a crackdown on taxi drivers, I found them worse than ever, declining fares and some even making rude comments – the latter something I don't recall ever experiencing previously.
More than a few young expats are seen pedaling bicycles around downtown Bangkok, a sight which still amazes me. The Thais just don't get it why someone from a wealthy country chooses something so uncomfortable and dangerous.
I wouldn't say that Thais are using smartphones more than before, but where Bangkok is different from Auckland is the way Thais refuse to stop using their smartphone while walking. They absolutely will not take their eyes off the screen, and end up zigzagging as they walk, their eyes glued to their mobile phone and not where they're going.
The Bar Scene
For several years I have ranted about what the bar industry has become and how it's nothing like it used to be. I reckon it's got even worse! Having been away from Thailand for a while, checking out the bars was fun for a couple of drinks. That was all it took for me to be reminded of why unless you're after a lady for the night for 20 minutes, there are better entertainment options. I could not shake the feeling that the industry is very much about the extraction of money. The fun has gone.
Prices for a night out in the bars have really shot up. 160 – 200 baht might not sound like a lot for a drink if you're living & earning in the West, but in Bangkok that money goes a lot further in pretty much all other bars.
I strongly suspect drug abuse is more widespread these days. There are more super skinny girls who are clearly off, and almost certainly ya ba (methamphetamine) users.
Friends resident in Bangkok who used to enjoy the industry have given up on the bars for the most part. Most only stop by a few times a year, usually when friends are visiting from out of town. It's refreshing that most friends don't even mention the likes of Cowboy or Nana as a place to meet these days. That's not to say that there aren't fun bars and you can't have a good time.
I never did make it to Pattaya. I had invitations from bar bosses to profile their bar and friends in Sin City I hadn't seen in 18 months, but I just could not face Pattaya. I wonder if I will ever step foot in Sin City again?
Fortunately it's not all bad. One of the big positives to come out of visiting Bangkok is all of the new eateries that have sprung up. There are heaps of cool, new restaurants opening up in Bangkok and best of all, many are owned and run by foreigners. Bangkok's dining scene is better than ever. Whether you want a good steak, a good burger, good Mexican or whatever, there are many options. Every new restaurant I tried impressed me.
It's not that long ago that the city's top end restaurants – and those in 5-star hotels – were full of foreigners – white guys, often accompanied by a lady of the night. These days it is the Thais who dine in the best eateries whereas white guys tend to be seen in the mid-range places.
There are more and more buffet style restaurants – some restaurants are buffet only – and consequently the Thais are getting bigger. I bet that the weight of the average Thai has jumped a good few kg, perhaps even several, in just one generation.
It's always been the case, of course, but I really noticed this time how the Thais don't have much of a recreation culture. All social occasions in Thailand revolve around eating. That's because the Thais love eating, right? Maybe there's another reason. Maybe it's because it's too hot for to spend time outside for much of the year and the idea of actually doing things doesn't appeal to the Thais so they default to eating. The idea of a variety of recreation activities is really only the domain of the upper echelons of society – and even then they hardly have a sense of adventure.
There are more expats residents than ever, and the visa crackdown has not diminished their number. There are more young expats. More retirees. More female expats. More professionals. More expats from countries like Estonia, Argentina, Kosovo and places you never met expats from in the past.
Some expats are doing very well for themselves, some are not. Those in gainful employment are doing fine; those operating in grey areas I am not so sure. A lot of young expats are doing very well, creating their own jobs and businesses online and thriving by earning from customers in the West and spending in the East. A lot of older expats seem to be doing it tough and my impression is that many long-termers retired too early and they are forced to watch their pennies.
Many foreigners in Thailand strike me as lonely. I was amazed at how many people were keen to meet up with me when I was in town – and I don't put that down to them particularly liking me – rather because they were bored and had little going on in their life. So many seem to spend their life on Facebook and watching movies and TV programs they downloaded. I got the impression many just don't have the funds to do much.
I'd say a significant percentage of foreigners in Thailand who don't have any friends in Thailand at all and one fellow I met up with came right out and said it, "I don't have any friends!" What a life, eh?!
Many long-term retirees / older expats look like shit. It's one of the first things I noticed when wandering Sukhumvit that first morning. Many middle-aged and older expats clearly don't look after themselves, many are alcoholics / have a crap diet, get little exercise and only visit the doc when there's a problem. More than a few look like they're about to die.
There's a gulf between younger expats and those who have been around a while. Many younger guys live a Western lifestyle in Thailand. They eat Western food, speak little or no Thai – and have no intention of getting beyond taxi Thai – and they even shirk Thai women, at least when it comes to relationships – they'll sleep with Thai women for fun but they absolutely do not want a Thai girlfriend. Despite living in Thailand, they come across as politically correct and avoid any sort of comments that could upset others, and many seem genuinely uncomfortable in the presence of a long-time expat. There is a VERY different vibe in the long-running bars and restaurants popular with older expats compared to venues popular with the young guys.
I enjoyed the first couple of weeks in Thailand but after that I was in countdown mode. The place just doesn't excite me like it used to, although that's not to say it's not exciting. It's still a great place for a holiday but if you've been there, done that, I don't think it has the same draw that it once did, at least it doesn't for me. I never really settled down when I was there and like I say, was counting down the days the same way a prisoner does not long before his release. "You've changed", one of my mates in Bangkok said to me. "You're not a local any more, you're more like a tourist." He was right. I was a tourist.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken at the intersection Saphan Phut Road and Chakphet Road, the area of the Bak Klong Dalat flower market. The photo was obviously taken on a Monday because that is the only day the roads are clear of the vendors.
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 – A fxxxing sxxt tattoo.
I was in Mercury on the second floor at Nana last night where there was a reasonably shapely girl who attracted my หื่น-ing until she turned around and there, just below the small of her back and above her buttock cheeks, in cursive, one-inch high script, was etched "Fucking Shit". I despair.
Long-time may not be such a good deal.
I caution all customers of businesses in Thailand against long-term "deals" such as the one offered by the Euro Grand Hotel. I used to go to the Wow California Fitness branch in Pattaya, in the shopping mall opposite Soi 12 on Second Road. I had a CaliFit membership in my home city and they had a reciprocal agreement – handy for a visit. In the locker room I spoke with a gent who'd purchased a "lifetime" membership. He'd retired in Pattaya and was delighted to have a gym he could visit for the rest of his days. The branch, of course, closed years ago. Refunds? This is Thailand!
One thing that stands out to me here in Phuket is the price of street food which has through the roof. 2 mangoes sliced, 100 baht. 4 king prawns on a stick bbq'ed 350 baht! A small fish fried and som tum 300 baht….and it's low season! They're pricing themselves out of the market. I might as well eat in a restaurant where I will pay a similar price.
Postcard from Angeles City.
I just finished reading your comment about tattoos on ladies in Angeles City and had to respond. I am currently in the middle of an 18-day reconnaissance trip to Angeles City and Cebu. I have spent the last 6 nights in many bars on Fields Ave. I have been appalled at the huge number of tattoos sported by a number of the girls. I hate tattoos on a girl's body and really was not prepared for this, completely opposite from what you saw on the photos. Some are quite large and evidence minimal skill on the part of the artist. How did your friend even get those photos of ladies without tattoos? Cameras are strictly forbidden here in the bars, the same as in Thailand. As an aside, I have observed from my limited scouting efforts that the GFE is totally non-existent here in AC. So far I have barfined 5 girls from 5 different bars. I made the same agreement with each girl, that being they would stay until the morning. Every single girl provided the most mechanical service I have ever had and every one left early. Not one girl gave the LT as clearly agreed to. Mamasans could not care less about any complaint on this matter. The inclusion of the girl's fee in the barfine and the bars' complicity, I suspect, makes this quite easy for them to pull. It was disappointingly clear that their only motivation was to finish things as quickly as possible. In retrospect the following day it was actually rather comical. The purpose of the 18-day trip is to determine if a move from the increasingly expensive and dangerous Thailand is warranted. So far, it is not. Overall cost differences have been trivial. I would emphasize this is only one man's early impression. If you are interested I can share any other stark contrasts with the Thailand experience.
Postcard from Phnom Penh.
12 – 15 years ago in Phnom Penh the three expat-oriented girlie bars were Sharky, Walkabout, and Martini. And there were close to zero expat-oriented non-girly bars. Martini was in its third location for the last 6 or 7 years, I think. It recently closed. They tried to move it to a very small venue and just slap the Martini name on it, but I think that closed too. So basically Martini is gone too, notwithstanding that they might open up another tiny shack and put the Martini name on it. The freelancer scene is now in the Golden Sorya Mall (GSM) beer bar complex, plus the nearby huge nightclub / disco, Pontoon. Both are a very short walk from where Walkabout was. The GSM crowd is older, bottom feeder dudes and horrible drug-addled skanks who hang out there day and night. Cheap beer, singlets, etc. The clientele Walkabout used to have. Pontoon is a late night disco, better looking women, younger guys, off duty hostess bar girls, etc. A bit too loud for my tastes but otherwise a reasonable place.
Girl of the week
Escort, exclusive with PureBangkokEscorts.com
Musical chairs continue at Nana Plaza as the Dutchman who created Bangkok Bunnies before selling to Patrick of Bacarra fame buying it back. This is the fellow who bought Spellbound (previously Pretty Lady) and London Calling (previously Voodoo) and then went about knocking the wall down between them and creating the largest gogo bar in Nana Plaza, Bangkok Bunnies. Bangkok Bunnies was rocking when the Dutchman was in charge with heaps of girls and happy customers. When I was in town back in September I was very impressed with what he had created. When Patrick and co. took over Bunnies went in to decline but with the change in ownership back to the creator there is every reason to be optimistic that Bunnies will be turned around.
Said Dutchman must have more money than God because he has also bought The Den in Sukhumvit soi 12. He tells me that The Den will get a major overhaul and be super nice and clean.
The sale of The Den would explain why Jail Birdz has reopened – the owner of Jail Birdz also happened to be the owner of The Den and presumably the money from the sale of The Den was used to make the accounts at Jail Birdz look healthier. Jail Birdz also has a new manager with an Aussie entrusted to look after the jail birds – any comment about suitability to that role would be superfluous.
Getting back to Bangkok Bunnies, it's one of the newest bars in the plaza having been rebuilt throughout. In fact the bar has been rebuilt 4 times in the past 4 years! Spellbound which was a new rebuild, which amazingly followed two major refits at Pretty Lady in 2 years. And Bangkok Bunnies is going to get another new refit! The Dutch owner tells me that the new fit-out will be of a superior quality (I personally thought it was just fine already). He has also said that prices will come down which, really, they have to. When the owner of Bacarra took over, one of the first things he did was hike the prices which was almost certainly a contributing factor to the bar's decline. The music will be tweaked and in the new owner's words will be "more calm and less loud". The challenge at Bunnies will be getting lots of girls, with dancer numbers very low for such a large bar.
In last week's column it was mentioned that popular French-owned gogo bar on Patpong soi 1, Bada Bing had covered up all of the signs sporting the bar's name. The reason for that has become clear and once again a bar has to change its name due to license issues. Located in the same building, Twilo and Bada Bing can only have one entertainment licence, and Bada Bing will become Twilo. Expect all of the signage outside to say Twilo so that the licensing authorities are happy.
In last week's column I made mention of a young Western couple who had fallen for the upstairs bar show scam in Patpong – that is they were presented with an outrageous bill for a show and intimidated in to paying it by heavies. A concerned Patpong bar boss would like to respond and provide some perspective and advice on how to deal with this sort of situation: These clubs operate outside of the law. If this happens to you, refuse to pay your bill, ask for the police to come and sort it out, and the police will take your side every time. If you are confronted by the guys that walk around Patpong with cards in hand offering all kinds of weird shows, say thanks but no thanks. Never ever go to a bar on the second floor in Patpong. These rip-off bars get closed all the time, so if you don't go they will lose. My advice is to stay on Patpong soi 2 where the bars are run as normal with no rip-off bars. * Note: Black Pagoda on Patpong soi 2 is reached by going upstairs but it is totally safe and there are no such rip-offs there.
In Pattaya, one of Bangkok's biggest names is coming with news that G Spot will open on Walking Street in what is described as a proven location. The opening is tentatively planned for July 5th and so keen are the team behind it that the website for G Spot Pattaya is up online more than a month before the bar is open. G Spot is brought to Pattaya by those behind Club Electric Blue and Dollhouse.
A reminder that the Dollhouse Darel memorial Nanapong-style dance contest will be held at Dollhouse in Pattaya on June 4th and will feature the girls of Dollhouse Pattaya vs. the girls of club Electric Blue Pattaya vs. the girls of Club Electric Blue Bangkok. If it is anything like previous Nanapong dance contests, expect a wild night to remember.
When I was in Bangkok recently I heard a few reports of foreigners who had engaged a local lawyer who it seemed was taking them for a ride. In some cases the foreign customer was quoted sky-high fees for very simple assignments – and in some cases these had to be paid in advance, in cash, with the client given the flimsiest of receipts. Stories of lawyers in Thailand stringing Westerners along, indicating that the situation / case / deal will soon be complete but continuing to bill them more and more, with little clarity of what has been done and whether any more work will be needed are legion. They keep billing and making out they are doing things when it is not clear whether they really are. Don't let this happen to you! If you want a good, solid law firm with affordable fees, go for Sunbelt Legal. If you want the best legal representation in Thailand that money can buy, Tilleke & Gibbons is generally regarded as the best.
Police in downtown Bangkok stopping foreigners and asking to search their person has stopped, right? There's no more of it, right? Think again! This week, there were two reports of police stop and searches, both in the old stop and search zone i.e. the area of that Police Station. One was near the Super Rich office on Sukhumvit soi 22, the one and only outlet remaining in a block of 9 shophouses opposite the soon to open Marriott Hotel, and the other was further down Sukhumvit Road. Has this nonsense recommenced?
One thing I noticed in Thailand recently was how long-term expats who come from small or medium-sized towns in their homeland had no interest in returning to Farangland whatsoever, whereas those who come from a big city – irrespective of country – were much more open-minded to, or in some cases actually planning to move back home. And it didn't seem to matter too much where in Thailand they were – if they come from a large city in their homeland it seemed like they felt that going back home wouldn't be such a bad thing at all.
Quote of the week comes from a reader, "Once you've tasted a few sweet & lovely Bangkok office girls, the thought of going back to uneducated, tattooed alcoholics expecting cash sucks!"
Reader story of the week comes from Steve Rosse, "The List".
An Englishman is found dead in a Chiang Mai hotel room with a plastic bag over his head.
A new Thai-centric website started up which is mildly amusing, ThaisPointingAtThings.
Man wins desperate struggle to free his penis from a toilet python in Thailand (where else?).
Yet another boat incident near Ko Samui where a boat capsizes and tourists die.
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.
The updated version was supposed to be go live in April but that has not happened. Tut tut. When I was in Thailand recently I took a few sets of photos for the girl of the week section which will be revived until the photos are exhausted. That section is back temporarily. As for where things are going with this column, let's just say storm clouds are forming on the not too distant horizon….