When the lights went out on the Imperial Queen's Park Hotel in late 2014 it wasn't just Bangkok's largest hotel that was plunged in to darkness but with it much of Sukhumvit soi 22. The largest source of customers for many of the businesses in the soi was no longer. Since then it has been a struggle for many on soi 22 with some businesses folding, while many have scraped by. Few have thrived. With the refurbished Queen's Park Hotel rebranded as a Marriott and set to reopen in July as well as a flurry of construction taking place up and down the soi, the future of Sukhumvit soi 22 looks bright again.
Entering Sukhumvit soi 22, first impressions are dire. The 4 beer bars at the mouth of the soi are staffed by what must be the world's most convivial hosts because I cannot possibly imagine they were hired for their looks. A few paces along are a couple of massage houses with aggressive ladies who think nothing of grabbing the private parts of passersby. It's only when you reach Titanium, some hundred odd metres up from Sukhumvit Road that things start to get better.
Soi 22 runs 1.5 kilometres from the main Sukhumvit Road before cutting across and connecting with soi 24. With many sub sois, and mini-neighbourhoods with their own unique personality, soi 22 has a bit of everything. The top end has international chain hotels and swanky eateries and bars while the far end feels like another part of town, with dusty old ma & pa shops and slum-like housing. From fine dining to some of the cheapest short-time hotels in the city, soi 22 has it all.
The grey building with the long blue banner draped down the side with the pretty lady is the Holiday Inn, at the start of soi 22.
Bangkok's newest Marriott property is scheduled to welcome its first customers on July 9th when the wing closest to Sukhumvit Road is scheduled to open. The other wing will follow on November 9th. With more than 1,300 rooms, it will be the largest hotel in Bangkok. This alone should be the catalyst that turns soi 22 around.
Construction is about to commence on a new Movenpick Hotel, directly opposite the new Marriott.
Washington Square was leveled a few years ago and with it soi 22 lost a unique, if shabby slice of Bangkok bar history. Of the dozen or so venues operating in the area, a couple have relocated – Bourbon Street has moved to Soi Ekamai and Denny's Corner has been renamed Denny's and moved to the ground floor of the Holiday Inn and the start of soi 22. The rest of what was Washington Square is now the recently opened Dinosaur Planet theme park with the Ferris wheel which caught fire yesterday. Dinosaur Planet is a temporary addition to soi 22 and will be dismantled and moved to Pattaya later in the year.
What was Washington Square and the rest of the prime space at the start of soi 22 behind the Holiday Inn will be developed sooner or later but still no-one is sure what it will be with various sets of plans talked about. Rumour has it that with Em Quartier – the new shopping mall opposite the original Emporium – said to be doing just 40% of the numbers the owners expected, the planned Emisphere shopping mall precinct has been put on hold.
Soi 22 is home to the sort of pokey massage houses where the only thing not on offer is a back rub. With names like Love Me Bar & Massage, and Miss BJ, it's pretty obvious what it's all about.
Opposite what will be Bangkok's new Marriott is Park 22, a small dining precinct where a number of restaurants sprung up in late 2014 including the very good New York Style Steak & Burger, a wine bar along with upmarket Indian and Thai restaurants.
The best and most popular place to eat in soi 22 is, however, not in Park 22. The No Idea Gastro Pub, about 100 metres in to the soi on the right-hand side is the brainchild of Dave, who turned Corleone's around – rebranding it as Soi 8 Pub and taking it from a gang hangout to an immensely popular bistro and bar. No Idea has a strong following amongst expats and is known for very good food and one of the most extensive, yet reasonably priced wine lists in the city. Their duck salad with a light Moroccan sauce is a favourite of mine.
Soi 22 is home to the quirky Friese-Greene Club, a small 9-seat cinema. Its website describes it as "small, private dedicated to those people who have a passion for cinema; filmmakers, film students, film journalists, or film enthusiasts."
Long-running Titanium became known for its all-girl band but there's much more to it. Upstairs there's an ice bar and downstairs there are hot hostesses. In some ways it's a naughty boy's bar and in others it isn't. Some of the girls are available, some are not. It's popular not just with the naughty boy crowd but with female expats too. The barfine for the hostesses who go is more than some spend on a night out and even then there's no guarantee of anything more than a date.
A sub-soi off the main Sukhumvit soi 22.
Soi 22 has a couple of dozen massage houses. On the main road you have a few straight massage outlets where a proper massage will leave you feeling better than when you walked in. And then there are those outlets in which you're likely to be offered extras – and the masseuse may be annoyed if you decline. Venues down the side alleys tend to have signs showing a full range of massage options but expect to be steered towards an oil massage…and we know what that means!
The Queen's Park Plaza beer bar area is still in business despite many rumours over the years that it would be leveled and become a hotel or condominium. That will surely happen one day but for now it remains business as usual.
Queen's Park Plaza tends to be more laid-back than similar bars on the other side of the Asoke intersection, and is popular with those on a budget.
Like much of downtown Bangkok, land on Sukhumvit soi 22 is changing hands for numbers that look like telephone numbers. Expect the entire area from the Asoke intersection to Emporium and down to Rama 4 Road to change markedly over the next few years.
The block of 9 shophouses opposite the big hotel has been cleared out with only Super Rich still operating. Expect something shiny and new to replace it.
The area east of Asoke, to soi 22 and beyond, south of Sukhumvit Road i.e. the even numbered soi side, is seeing much construction with some huge condo developments going up.
A few hundred metres beyond the new Marriott Hotel, at least 5 huge towers are going up in the area between sois 22 and 24, two of which will be 60 storeys, the other 3 will be 40-odd storeys. That could be a few thousand new condos – and these are not cheap developments so expect most occupants to have a car. Soi 22, like so many sois off Sukhumvit, is narrow – just one lane in each direction. Traffic is already bad in the area at peak hour and can only get worse. It's not like they're going to widen the soi.
This time last year I thought the next Sukhumvit soi to see major investment and development would be soi 13, but I've changed my mind after construction on the mammoth Hyde Sukhumvit project at the start of the soi has stalled (again). Until that building is completed, the road is improved and a proper sidewalk built, it's hard to see much happening in the soi. Soi 22 has large hotels due to open, many huge condos being built, available space for new businesses to move in to and rents haven't got silly (yet). There's already enough going on in soi 22 for a good night out, but give it a few years and it could become a genuine rival to soi 11.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken on the road out to Nonthaburi, past Pak Kret. Only one person got it right.
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.
Thai Airways hard to beat.
This week you mention the cost of flights to Thailand. I have for years thought that there must be a vendetta by farangs against Thai Airways. When I used to read Thai Visa there seemed to be a concerted campaign. I have been coming to Thailand since 1997, sometimes to visit friends on my own, sometimes with family, nearly always with Thai Airways. Yes, in the old days we loved the food and the lovely trolley dollies. Now sadly that isn't so much of a draw. Having always needed to count the pennies, Thai was always the first choice of the direct flights. We have always paid around £500 except for one trip at over £700 and one at £600. Although they have recently become a bit more competitive, BA was always roughly 50% more than Thai and EVA hovered just above or below the Thai price. As of this evening, for a planned trip in November, EVA £439, Thai £494 and BA £605. Also Thai will take me on to anywhere in Thailand for a small supplement. We have always traveled economy and usually been very comfortable. Last January we did a one-way upgrade to business as a 50th wedding anniversary treat and were very impressed. Mind you, we have no point of comparison and what is worse is that we slept for much of the flight that we did not make full use of the facilities. Must do it just one more time and try to stay awake. By the way, business on Thai is £1700, EVA £1800, BA £2600. I have flown twice on EVA in premium. Yes, the seats are bigger but the food and service were not up to even present day Thai standards. What's more, the all female staff were not able to cope with a couple of disruptive passengers who would not have got away with their behaviour on Thai. Almost always the food and drinks service on Thai is good, if a little rushed. Usually two drinks runs, Singha in my case. Then wine and a top up with the meal and a couple of coffee and brandies to follow. And so to sleep. All around, difficult to beat in my opinion.
Don Meuang Airport Terminal 2.
First time trip to Don Meuang Airport's Terminal 2 and it is quite an improvement. It seems about triple the size of Terminal 1 and quite a bit easier to get around. I have learned to only arrive and depart during the middle of the day as morning and evening traffic can really isolate you if you're trying to go somewhere via car / taxi. Also, there is no difference in the taxi pick-up situation to go up to the departures level and easily catch an incoming taxi.
The Hua Hin bashing of foreigners.
I just saw the appalling video of the British family beaten remorselessly by Thai thugs in Hua Hin. I'm sure you've seen it too. The sad thing is my immediate thought was that it's good thing there was CCTV or the attack would probably have been pinned on some Burmese guest workers. That's about how cynical I have become with Thailand and its "justice system". I have long known that the perceived safety in Thailand is a bit of a mirage but until recently I still believed that if you keep your wits about you and have some insight into the local psyche and what might tick a Thai off, you were safer there than in most places. But now I feel I see more and more of these cases of violence where the victims did no wrong at all. I mean a stupidly drunk whoremonger who gets beaten up on the streets of Pattaya is one thing. I can say to myself he maybe got worse than he deserved but he probably wasn't altogether innocent in the first place. Now, however, I see more and more cases where people who did no wrong themselves get viciously attacked in situations they could not have foreseen as dangerous. It's not yet rampant enough to keep me from visiting, but it's heading in that direction. And my distrust in the Thai "justice system" compounds on this feeling.
Hua Hin attack, love affair over.
We love Thailand. We've spent few weeks there every winter since 2006. The military regime has put us off from time to time but we've convinced ourselves that the country is still the same. Attacks on people is something we've seen in many clips over the past years, although we have always, successfully in our minds, managed to blame the drunken, middle-aged victims even though the young attackers seem to enjoy themselves. Anyway, this picture of a lady being kicked in the face in Hua Hin is just too much. Therefore, dear Thailand, it's over! Our winter holiday will be spent elsewhere.
I went to a very nice Thai restaurant the other evening just inside Sukhumvit soi 29 called Mahanaga serving what they describe as modern Thai cuisine. It claims it has 'continuously' been voted Thailand's best restaurant by Thailand Tattler magazine over the past 12 years. Nice garden if not too hot, and interesting decor inside. Polite and efficient service and very good food. I had a salmon steak with red chilli sauce which was delicious. It's designer food – I ordered the salmon and that is what I got. No extras. Interestingly, for such a place the prices were very reasonable. I'm sure I paid 400++ for my salmon, although their website says it is 500. A beer was 150. It doesn't look much from the street but venture inside. There is a very cosy bar area before you reach the main restaurant. A good place to take your lady if you have the chance.
Spritz is the name of the single shophouse bar and restaurant which opened on Soi Cowboy this week, right between Cockatoo and Sahara. The sign outside says that it was established 2010. Really?!
Popular Irish pub The Dubliner remains closed in the wake of the fight that broke out in the bar at Songkran and led to a mass walk-out by staff. Rumours have plagued The Dubliner since it moved to the new location about difficulty paying bills and some suppliers insisting on payment at the time of delivery, all of which has some asking not when The Dubliner will reopen, but if.
There's a perception that most of the Chinese visitors to Thailand come on organised group tours and are carted around the attractions in coaches and led around hot spots by flag-waving tour guides. This may be true for many, but there are also many independent travellers from China visiting Thailand, including many 20-somethings who prefer to explore themselves. It is this latter group who are increasingly showing up in the bars – and they are not just looking and taking selfies, some are sticking around for a drink or two and some are barfining. The Hangover tour company which holds visitors hands and takes them on a tour through the red-light bar areas reports much of their growth is visitors from China. Will the Chinese take to the bar areas in greater numbers? The average punter doesn't seem to think so but bar bosses hurting for customers will welcome whomever steps through the door with open arms.
And this new area of growth for the bars might be a contributing reason why prices – both drinks and for a girl's service – are on the up again. More and more girls are asking for and getting 3,000 or 4,000 baht for the shortest of short-times. Yes, you can have a hot, sweaty time for less, but increasingly in Bangkok the girls' expectations of a decent pay day are being met.
Insanity, Sukhumvit soi 12, will celebrate its 3rd anniversary on Thursday, May 12th. Doors open at 10 PM with a 500 baht entry fee which gets you an open bar. I wonder how many more anniversaries there will be for Insanity with the operators of the disco / freelancer bar in a legal battle with the landlord which is dragging on. The landlord has plans to redevelop the site and the last of the other tenants in what was known as The New York Gardens vacated in March of last year. The operators of Insanity paid a huge sum to buy what was previously called Insomnia, and are keen to squeeze every last baht out of the place while they can, all of which is preventing the entire site from being redeveloped.
Expect fewer ladyboys propositioning passersby on Sukhumvit with word that the ladyboy massage outlet between sois 5 and 7 has been boarded up and appears closed.
The preponderance of ladyboy bars in Nana Plaza – there are currently 7 bars that are ladyboy-only and a good few more which have a sprinkling of ladyboys – has put off some punters, particularly who don't know which bars are ladyboy venues and which are not. Word from one bar operator in the plaza is that around 80% of the customers in ladyboy bars are not Westerners at all, but Japanese.
The Strip in Patpong soi 2 will host a Cinco de Mayo party this coming Thursday, Friday and Saturday with 99 baht Mojitos and 20 baht Tequila shots. The snake will be around and new shows will be performed. One of the owners of The Strip used to be a bartender and is teaching the Thai bartender how to make proper cocktails. Their recent cocktail menu includes Mojito, Long Island Iced Tea, Cosmopolitan, Mai Tai, Black Russian, White Russian, Pina Colada and more. Do stop by for a cocktail and to see the snake (and the lovely Soda!).
Word from bars and restaurants was that the past week was a good one with pretty much everyone telling me that trade shot up. Not a single person could come up with just why that was. It's now May, the weather is hot and many expats are complaining of the brutal heat. May is good if you want to avoid the crowds and is usually the quietest month of the year.
Stories do the rounds about how the ladies working in the venues where Thai men go are more attractive than those in the likes of Nana and Cowboy. And there is no doubt in my mind that it is true – and they're not just more attractive, they are more likely to be sweet and treat customers nicely. There are downsides, however. You pay for the privilege and in many of the Thai bars, these girls are not a sure thing. Some will milk a guy dry before he gets his. Some Thai guys desperate to bed a G club beauty pay silly money and take her away for a weekend, showing her a good time and hoping for the best. He might outlay 20,000, 30,000 or 40,000 baht flying her to Phuket or Samui for a weekend with no guarantee of anything more than a sweet smile and companionship. At least in the farang bars you know it's a sure thing!
The authorities appear to have changed strategy as they seek to close down some businesses that are borderline legal (typically unlicensed bars or venues where girls / sex is available on the premises). Instead of going directly after the business itself, they put pressure on the landlord. Many bars and massage houses aren't in the tax system. Even some of the big name Thai-owned bars aren't in the system whereas, curiously, almost all foreign-owned businesses are. So what the authorities are doing now is paying a visit to premises of, say, a massage house that is known to allow sex on the premises and is in many ways masquerading as a massage house when the business would be more accurately described as a brothel. The authorities will point out that they don't have the right licenses, and to get those licenses they need to provide the licence issuing authority with all sorts of documents including the lease agreement with the landlord. The landlord invariably is not declaring the rental income which is a flat rate 15% on rent. The landlord refuses to provide a rental agreement to the tenant – thus the authorities won't issue a licence – and the business is closed down. It's happening more and more around Sukhumvit.
Ain't it funny how many Western brands that are considered mid-range brands in the West suddenly become premium brands in Thailand? Even budget outlets – Tesco in the UK is a classic example – becomes known for premium products in Thailand.
Burgers and Bangers operated at the Onut Market until late last year and has since moved to a small sub-soi between Sukhumvit sois 18 and 20. Its limited menu (just 5 different burgers and 2 types of sausage) has built up a cult following amongst younger expats. Prices are reasonable – a bacon & cheese burger will set you back 280, a chicken burger 240 and there's none of the ++ nonsense. Bangers and Burgers is a place to enjoy a burger rather than a place to linger and wile away the hours with its counter seating much like the soi 5 branch of Foodland. They hope to have an alcohol licence in the next week and alcoholic drinks will be added to the menu. The charming, attractive owner makes the burgers and I bet she will be hit on by many customers. Bangers and Burgers is a little hard to find, but worth going out of your way for.
Word on the modern taxis floating about Bangkok is that they belong to the All Thai Taxis company. All the vehicles in the fleet are a hybrid Toyota Prius. Despite providing a premium service, the fares are the same standard fares as charged by all other taxis.
Life in Thailand can be a headache for expats at the best of times and if it's not one thing, it's another. In recent years it has been visa issues which have been a big headache for some, especially those working off the books. Some reached a point where it just got too hard and they moved on from Thailand. There have also been a few occasions over the years when some expats discovered that the stamp in their passport was in fact fake after they had used an agent to procure them a visa, rather than doing the hard yards themselves. Word coming out of the expat community in Saigon is that many expats in Vietnam have a big headache after a visa agent went rogue and some expats discovered that the visa extension procured for them by an agent was not done properly, the stamp in their passport is fake and there's no record of the visa extension in the Immigration Department's computer system. Those caught face a fine in the vicinity of $500 and there is talk some may have been deported. Some say it could be carnage due to the way the Immigration Department in Vietnam essentially encourages foreigners to get their visa extended by an agent. Making matters worse, some enterprising experts will say a visa is fake and that they can fix it for a few hundred dollars….and then it turns out that visa was not fake at all! The expat lifestyle is great but it can be a headache at times.
Quote of the week comes from a reader and really resonates with me, "The longer you are away from Thailand, the harder it is to care about all the bullshit that goes on there."
Reader's story of the week comes from Farang Dave, "American Baseball Comes to Nana Plaza".
A video has emerged online showing a man riding his moped down a street in Thailand while appearing to be asleep!
Yet more reports from Pattaya of visitors being the victims of crime perpetrated by ladyboys.
The video of a British family set upon by Thai thugs in Hua Hin is caught on CCTV camera and goes viral.
The BBC takes a look at the appeal of Bangkok for expats.
There's concern that a popular Thai dish might just kill the diner.
A German survives an attack by his Thai girlfriend who stabbed him in the neck with a pair of scissors.
A Thai in Auckland uses the Find My Iphone app to retrieve her phone after the hopeless NZ Police fail to help her.
The New York Times took a closer look at the Chao Praya River, the River of Kings.
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'm a 32 year old American, visit Thailand several times a year for short stays, 1 week to a month, maybe 3-5 times. I've decided to do a half year visit to see how I like it for a possibly longer stay in the distant future. I run my business online and am completely self-sufficient, not looking for a job, nor a school (though I wouldn't mind taking some Thai classes formally or informally since I have lots of free time). So basically I'm looking for the best way to stay for half a year, some combination of multiple 30-day visa-free entries and an actual visa as well? I wouldn't mind, and actually do enjoy to leave once every 3-4 weeks to visit friends in other nearby countries like Korea, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, and maybe even 1 brief visit home to the US mixed in.
Sunbelt Legal responds: As you plan on traveling in and out of Thailand repeatedly through the year, holding a Multiple-Entry Non-Immigrant Type B (Business) Visa would be the most recommended option moving forward.
It should be noted that many Thai embassies and consulates abroad now restrict the issuance of the business visa without the applicant first holding a work permit from the Thai Labour Department. The Thai embassy in New York is however one of the few remaining embassies that will issue the visa without this requirement.
Sunbelt Asia does offer an invitation letter if you are a serious investor exploring investment and business opportunities in Thailand, and this service includes all required company paperwork showing that this is a legitimate request.
This may suit your goals as you do not wish to rush in to starting a business straight away, but gives you time to explore your options in Thailand either by starting a business, finding employment or going to school. Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors is happy to arrange a consultation to go over this process in detail.
Question 2: My question is perhaps less legal in nature, but after the way you answered the question from the guy who bumped his head and ended up restrained in hospital I thought I'd run this by you. I moved in to a condo 2 months ago and like everything about it except for one thing – my neighbour in the condo opposite who blasts music loud late at night. I have complained to the reception staff (they are only here during the day, Monday to Saturday) and the security staff. They are sympathetic but ultimately they do nothing about it. It's disturbing my sleep and lack of sleep is causing me to not function well at work the next day. This guy, a young Belgian, also smokes marijuana – the unmistakable smell is strong and distinct yet reception, security and even the maids who sweep and mop the common areas are aware of what is going on. I don't want to cause this guy any problems but his refusal to turn down music at night is causing me problems and is detrimental to my quality of life and my performance at work. I have toyed with the idea of going to the Thonglor police to report him but I know that that could see him get jail time and that's not really something that sits well with me. I just want him to be reasonable and turn down the music. I am at my wits end! What can I do?
Sunbelt Legal responds: Presumably you have contacted the neighbour to ask him to turn it down? If not, you should make that your first step. Your second step would be to contact the juristic manager of the building, not reception, to file a formal complaint. Consider asking other tenants to find out who the manger is. Additionally, you can complain to the owner of the condo you are renting who can pass the complaints on to the manager. Most condos have a board that meets regularly. If your complaint to the manager does not work, consider attending the board meeting and informing them of the disruptive tenant.
The world was aghast this week as the video of hooligans viciously attacking a British family in Hua Hin went viral. The sickening attack was nothing that hasn't happened in Thailand many times before. The difference this time was that one of the victims was an old lady. Thais ganging up on foreigners in great numbers and not letting up even when the foreigner is down is nothing new. With mobile phones with video recording capability, reports of such incidents are more common, but I am of the belief that it is only the reporting of such incidents that is on the increase and that this sort of thing has been happening for a long time. The Thais appear to be more concerned about who leaked the video than the incident itself. As per usual, they fear any negative effects it may have on their precious tourism industry. This should be a reminder that Thailand is not as safe as you may think, either in terms of vicious attacks like this or accidents due to carelessness or recklessness. A couple of years back I was, I think, the only person to report the incident in which the wing mirror of a tour bus driving down narrow Soi Nana clipped a foreigner in the back of the head, sending him crashing to the ground outside Stumble Inn. He died. There are so many negative news stories involving foreigners in Thailand that are never reported, even on social media. Be careful out there – Thailand is much more dangerous than most think.