It's hard to believe that it's 2 long years since I last stepped foot in Pattaya, a place I used to visit several times a year. How has the place I love to refer to as Sin City changed in that time? Would the streets be lined with girls giving you a knowing smile and declaring you a hansum man or had Sin City changed to meet the needs of a changing visitor demographic? I spent less than 48 hours in Pattaya. These are my observations.
Streams of Chinese traipse from boats back to land.
The first order of business was the same as it is almost every time I visit, a nice long walk from one end of Beach Road to the other, and back again.
It soon became clear that things had changed during my long absence. Few girls were on patrol, fewer than I ever remember. Was this a symptom of the state of business or had there just been a crackdown on street-walkers?
It wasn't just quiet, Beach Road was dead! You couldn't have asked for a better day for a stroll with blue skies and a gentle breeze, yet few people were about. At times it felt like I had the boardwalk to myself. I don't ever recall so few people about. It felt more like Jomtien than Pattaya.
Others enjoying the walk were not the Pattaya visitors of old. Once dominated by Germans, Brits and Americans, today Pattaya attracts more Chinese, Indians, Middle Easterners and Eastern Europeans. The days when Western men were drawn to Pattaya like flies to shit seem so long ago.
What had happened to the cliques of retirees parked along the Beach Road? Often grouped by native tongue, there were none of the packs of Westerners of old taking in the Beach Road vibe as used to be the case. They were part of the Beach Road scenery, as were the Thai ladies grazing in small groups, snacking on som tam and happily gasbagging away without a care in the world. You didn't know them, but you recognised the same people, visit after visit. They were as much a part of the Pattaya experience as the big Buddha on the hill and a visit to the Pump Station in Soi Post Office. The distinct feeling is that Western retirees in Pattaya are a dying breed.
Why were there so few people about? Not only were there few foreign men, there were few girls too. Local ladies walking hand in hand with a foreign man, both all smiles – once a common sight along Pattaya's Beach Road – was a rarity.
The open-air restaurant Kiss used to be a favourite spot for customers to take their barfine, just as it was a favourite spot to perch on the opposite side of the road with a telephoto lens and snipe.
There were fewer girls in the beer bars, fewer girls on motorbikes and fewer girls, well, just about everywhere. Ok, so it's the middle of the low season but this is Pattaya – where had all the girls gone?!
With fewer bargirls about, few girls on the Beach Road and little evidence of working girls parading their barfine by day, the 2016 version of Pattaya hardly feels like a sex tourist destination. Fewer girls are seen by day, as beer bar complexes are being torn down. There are more foreign couples and most visitors don't appear to be in Pattaya for its famed nightlife. That's not to say that Pattaya's naughty nightlife is in decline, rather that it appears to be a smaller part of the total Pattaya experience.
Perhaps the one exception to the apparent decrease in the size of the bar industry is the increase in the number of massage shops. They must have tripled in number in the past 2 years – and many have a full troop of staff. Some are legitimate; others are clearly more of the rub and tug variety.
Like tourism hot spots all over the world, Sin City has been invaded by the Chinese. Beach Road, Walking Street, Second Road, shopping malls and I bet most of the attractions outside of the downtown / beach area are over-run with Chinese. OK, so this is nothing new, but they are visiting in ever greater numbers.
Perhaps the one and only soi where there was zero evidence of Chinese visitors was soi 6, the most hardcore sex tourism soi in the entire country.
While Pattaya is changing to meet the needs of a changing visitor demographic, most of my old favourite non-nightlife venues remain and are as good as ever. Cafe Pitini and Benjamit Coffee House – both on Soi Buakhao – are my two favourite spots for an afternoon coffee.
I was not sure what to make of the pattern the barista made with the froth on this cup coffee. Was there a message in it? Was he hinting at something or did he perhaps think I am a dickhead? Or am I just over-thinking it?
By day, there was evidence that Pattaya's famed sex tourism is on the wane. That would all change after sundown, however, and for those who love Pattaya for all the reasons it became famous, fear not. After dark, the Pattaya you know and love comes roaring back to life!
When the sun goes down the vibe changes and Pattaya morphs in to its namesake, Sin City. Neon is turned on, the music cranks up, scantily-clad sexy Thai ladies descend on their places of work as Pattaya bursts in to life with the same explosive force as a porn star reaching climax.
Soi 15 off Walking Street reminds me of Soi Pattayaland 2 in its heyday, 15 or 20 odd years ago when it was very much a destination in its own right. You could party on the soi night after night and not feel the need to venture further. There's a pretty good argument that a few of the best gogo bars in town can be found in this soi which boasts Dollhouse, Sapphire, Angelwitch, Baby Dolls, Misty's, Imagine, Club Electric Blue and more. If you're in Pattaya for the nightlife and have limited time, soi 15 would be a good choice.
Before we look at Pattaya by night, I want to rant. Do you know my biggest complaint about the changing Pattaya? Any perceived decline in the bar industry is neither here nor there for me, and increasing prices simply mean that Pattaya is no longer a bargain, rather merely a good deal. What I want to know is who kidnapped all of the Middle Easterners who used to run Pattaya's kebab stands? They've disappeared from Sin City, amongst them my old friend at the corner of Second Road and South Pattaya Road, a proper trained chef from Egypt who took great pride in his kebab stand. All been replaced by Thais who think a kebab should be filled with ketchup and mayonnaise and no more than a few mouthfuls. Kebabs used to be a great, if rather unhealthy snack after a night of drinking but the kebabs sold in Pattaya today? Forget it!
At one time Pattaya had close to 100 gogo bars, but as popular and as visible as the chrome pole bars are, the mainstay of Pattaya's nightlife industry has long been beer bars. For many visitors, they were the major attraction. Even a curmudgeon couldn't help but enjoy a night out in a beer bar in the tropics with happy, smiling girls to keep you company.
The demise of Pattaya's beer bars continues – those on Walking Street aside – and today many are as decrepit as they are uninviting. It's hardly a recent thing. For more than 10 years it has felt like beer bar complexes are slowly being replaced by more profitable enterprises.
Walking Street by night shares one major similarity with day-time – the freelancer count is way down on what it once was. Where once the independent operators lingered on Walking Street, this time I saw few. Again, the question has to be asked: Has there been some sort of clean-up? Or have they perhaps moved up in the world to freelancer-friendly venues like Insomnia and I-Bar?
But fewer beer bar girls does not mean fewer sexy girls in Pattaya. Quite the contrary, the number of fun, sexy ladies in the bars was something else. Perhaps I have to acknowledge that when you no longer call Thailand home and you see sexy Thai girls that the impression is rather different than that of someone who lives in Thailand year-round. But for sure, I was impressed!
Every gogo bar I visited was good and three stood out – Dollhouse, G Spot and Club Electric Blue were all excellent. Each had a full complement of girls and most were smiling and happy. The distinct impression I got was that the girls in Pattaya are happier and more fun to be around than their Bangkok counterparts who these days can come across as mercenary.
I find it amazing that the girls in Pattaya strike me as less jaded than their Bangkok sisters. Why do I say that? Sin City has long attracted a more hardcore type of customer yet the impression I got was that many of the girls in Pattaya's gogo bars retained a pleasant and friendly demeanour and were generally friendlier than those in your average Bangkok bar.
Chatting with Pattaya expats, almost all are appalled at what has happened to prices in Bangkok, aghast at the numbers girls in Bangkok ask for (and get) and some are most concerned that said prices could become the norm in their backyard.
The next morning I took a leisurely stroll to the Pig and Whistle. It wasn't yet 8 AM, it was pleasant and few people were about. On the way to a good English fry-up, I see not one bargirl+customer couple, nor do I see much evidence of sex tourism. The days of ladies exiting hotels throughout the morning and in to the early afternoon, jumping on the nearest motorbike taxi to be shuttled back to their loom are a memory. With the sun rising fast, Pattaya is back to its well-behaved self and the Jekyll and Hyde-like cycle starts again.
You could say Pattaya is changing. I'd say it has already changed. It has continued along the path it has been on for some years now, with the naughty stuff slowly making way for more family-friendly attractions. Walking Street retains its colour and is unquestionably an adult entertainment area where almost anything goes. At the same time, gawkers far outnumber naughty boys. Pattaya will probably never become sophisticated but it feels like there is more depth to it. It's still firmly a favourite of the sex tourist – and I think it offers a much more compelling nightlife product than Bangkok – but it's no longer a one-trick pony. The 2016 version of Pattaya really does have something for everyone.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week's photo was taken of the English-style red telephone box between Benjakit Park and the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre. Not a single soul got it right which I thought was hopeless, especially given that the very distinctive Lumpini 24 condo building could be seen, albeit blurred, in the background.
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.
The ladyboy issue is a tough one. I tried to be nice to one and it bit me in the ass – though not literally. The van that picks up my kids is right in front of a ladyboy bar. When passing by one afternoon, one of the ladyboys said hello and said that they see me in the morning with my boys. I didn't have plans on New Year's Eve, so I thought I'd give that bar some business for being friendly and buy that ladyboy a drink. I ended up buying a drink for everyone in the bar, about 10 drinks, and then the mamasan bought me a drink in return. Once finished I was out the door and on to regular bars for the rest of the evening. Now, every time I walk past that bar and that ladyboy is there I hear, "Peter, Peter!" which thank God isn't my name – and I have no idea where he got that from. So no more going out of my way to be nice to ladyboys!
The key to a happy retirement.
Your description of Udon farang wasn't encouraging. The key to a successful retired life is exercise, and intellectual stimulation. Thailand has excelled in attracting scruffdogs in recent years and challenging conversations with Thais are rare as unicorns, even if you're fluent in the local language.
I spent most of July in Pattaya. On my twice weekly visits to the Wat Chai market I was surprised to see Farang males digging through piles of used clothing in the old part of the market. This was an activity that was previously only done by the poorest of Pattaya's citizens. Many of these gents did not appear to be pensioners but were barely out of their 30's. As for Pattaya, it is more fxxxed up and more fun than ever!
I agree that retiree budgets are down. I think that many guys go through the initial euphoria after a couple of trips to Thailand and move here without adequate long-term finances. They have a couple of enjoyable years, then the exchange rate goes against them or they foolishly deplete their savings and it's back home for them (not that there is anything wrong with living in the West). I've always been careful with money – but there is a big difference between spending less by choice as opposed to not having it to spend. A couple of guys I met in Thailand would chide me for being frugal and were fond of passing around 100 baht tips and bragging “One hundred baht is nothing to me!” Now they are all back home, and one guy went bust before the year was out.
Every day is a selfie day.
Sitting at Big Dogs bar in Soi Nana I had a prime position watching the night action in Soi Nana. I glanced across at the girls lined up in front of the large, iconic Nana Hotel sign directly across the road when I saw one lady raise her phone above her head and take a selfie. Why would you?
About white trash, it's not always money or the lack of it that makes people white trash. Here in Sihanoukville, the most dominant groups of Westerners are from New Zealand and Australia. I have seen many arrive as good, decent people and within a month or three they have changed completely, drinking from sunrise until they tumble over. And they won't learn. It's not only people from New Zealand and Australia, of course.
Balconies and oranges.
Years ago I stayed at a Hua Hin resort as part of a team building event. Much alcohol was consumed on our final evening and one of my co-workers suggested he could jump off a third floor balcony into the pool below. I suggested that a world class long jumper wouldn't cover the distance required to clear the blue tiles. One of our group flew helicopters for offshore rigs. He went to the kitchen table, grabbed a large orange from the fruit bowl, and handed it to the prospective jumper. "Throw this as far as you think you can jump", he said. The fellow grasped the edge of the balcony and threw the orange like a baseball towards the swimming pool. It splattered 10 feet short of the pool's edge. He didn't jump. It makes you wonder if so many balcony jumps aren't suicide (or sinister) at all; but rather stupid drunks with a poor grasp of physics.
The recent bombings.
Some thoughts on the reaction of the authorities to the recent bombings in Thailand. They have been quick to deny the incidents had anything to do with terrorism as they don't want to scare away tourists. What they don't understand is that tourists don't care what the reason is behind them. They only care that the bombings occurred. There is supposed to be increased security in Thailand following the latest bombings, but a few days later I took a domestic flight to Bangkok and in error I showed my return boarding pass to get through airport security. No-one noticed the wrong date and wrong destination. When I got to Bangkok and entered the underground train system the security shone a torch at my closed bag. That's it. So we can all feel safe.
Girl of the Week
Opal, escort from NewBangkokEscort.com
A softly-spoken lady, she loves to smile.
Window-shopping is her pastime and nice perfume is her poison.
She has an interest in and likes to understand foreign cultures.
The Tavern on Soi Nana is a small American-owned, American-themed bar with a cult following. With seating for just a handful of people, The Tavern was the brainchild of American expat Scott. Next to The Tavern was a small sub-soi named after Scott who arranged for an official-looking sign to go up calling it Soi Scott. Sadly, Scott reached the end of the soi yesterday and passed away after spending several days in ICU at Chulalongkorn Hospital where he was being treated for liver failure. Scott had been a practicing emergency room physician until he discovered South-East Asia. He ran the Jungle Bar in Phnom Penh 10+ years ago and later moved to Bangkok where he opened The Tavern in Soi Nana. It had a cult following amongst Americans in Bangkok and with a limited food menu featuring the likes of chilli, hamburgers and hot dogs, some described it as a small slice of the USA in downtown Bangkok. It is believed that cashier Gai will take over the lease and the running of The Tavern. Gai has been with Scott at The Tavern since day one. Scott Lawson was in his late 50s. May he rest in peace.
A new bar is to open on the top floor of Nana Plaza, right next to the booming Billboard – currently the best and most popular bar in Nana Plaza (and quite possibly best bar of its type in all of Bangkok). Plastic sheeting has gone up and work is underway. Word is that the Twister Bar (in the ex-Rainbow 4 space) people are behind it. If there are no casualties between now and the bar opening, it will be the first time in many years that all of the bar space in Nana Plaza is taken and all bars open for business.
The aptly named Balcony Bar – which is not a bar per se, but a collection of seats at the railings outside the Hollywood Inn short-time hotel with a view of Nana Plaza – has put its prices up again, something that has become a bit of a habit. Standard drinks are now 90 baht all night which is, admittedly, still a bargain compared to the rest of the plaza but when you consider that just 3 years ago drinks there were just 59 baht, that's a steep increase in a relatively short space of time. 90 baht for a good drink (it includes decent top shelf spirits) and a ringside view of the madness in Nana Plaza remains a good deal, but it's no longer the bargain it was.
Last Sunday, not long after last week's column went to press, in the dismantled space that was once known as the New York Gardens a crane was used to take down the iconic vintage American car that had been a novel fixture on lower Sukhumvit and was part of the marketing material for V8 Diner.
There is an *unconfirmed rumour* that another icon of the Sukhumvit soi 12 area, Darling Turkish Bath, is to close at the end of the month. The Thai-style soapy massage parlour with a following amongst Westerners has been fraught with rumours in recent years and at one stage it was even said that it had closed, either for it to reopen or perhaps it never closed in the first place. Said rumours have resurfaced and are stronger than ever.
The demolished Strikers Sports Bar posted this to their Facebook page this week: "Strikers had to take a break due to the extensive renovation project currently underway at the Rajah Hotel Complex. And we have landed again in a location that will serve as a premier venue to host our Strikers' friends and family. Located in the Hotel Nana we are building what some have called Strikers III and it will be new and fun and with our same staff we will soon be back in the business of providing memorable times for all that come. The venue is approx the same size, perhaps a little larger, and we have a target opening date of 1 October 2016 .. let's see how close we come."
Widely considered Bangkok's premier escort agency,BangkokEscort.com has just launched an updated site with a focus on short videos featuring their very sexy Thai escorts. Check it out!
This coming Thursday, September 1st, is the day that vendors on Silom Road in the vicinity of Patpong are supposed to shut up shop for good. Many are picking that they will not so let's wait and see. This is not a crackdown on the Patpong bar area but part of an ongoing campaign to rid major thoroughfares in Bangkok of street vendors operating in areas which are not designated for such vendors and for which they do not have permission to be there.
Popular Soi Nana beer bar Stumble Inn will celebrate its 4th anniversary this week with a 2-day bash! On Wednesday, August 30th, the classic bar party themes of rock 'n' roll and schoolgirls will combine in a party that features a free buffet, prizes draws and live music. And then on August 31st, festivities continue with Patty's Funky Disco Birthday Party. Just who Patty is I have no idea, but who needs an excuse to party, right?!
Pattaya's longest running gogo bar, TQ on Beach Road, along with some other Pattaya gogo bars once known as places to hang out in the afternoon have reopened in the afternoons having previously been ordered closed during day-light hours and told they could not open until sun-down. On Soi LK Metro where Champagne and one or two others faced the same problem, I am not sure if they have reopened or not.
Reader PineConeHead tells me that on Monday of this week at around 2 PM, large pieces of the facade from the hotel above the popular Game Bar & Grill below the Nana BTS station on Sukhumvit Road fell off and crashed down on to the sidewalk below, scaring the hell out of those walking by. Our correspondent, PineConeHead, was lucky to be sitting in Jackie's tailor just across the alley when this all happened and did not become CrushedPineConeHead. It seems like if it's not one danger in Thailand, it's another….but man, wouldn't that be a terrible way to go – parts of the facade of a building falling on top of you while you're out for a leisurely stroll on Sukhumvit! And don't think that it wouldn't happen for this would not be a first – there have been various deaths reported in the mainstream press over the years where innocent folks perished after being in the wrong place at the wrong time and something came crashing down on top of them, sometimes from a building site, other times from a poorly constructed or maintained building.
If you're looking for a naughty massage in downtown Bangkok, the website of this firm offers a more candid description of what goes on inside. Check out: ExoticMassageBangkok.com.
Bangkok's best known New Zealand-themed restaurant, Snapper, the fish and chip restaurant on the sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 11 with Charley Brown's and Cheap Charlies, is calling it quits and will close in a couple of weeks. Business must be bad because that sub soi won't exist after March, 2017, with a condominium to be built. Word is that Snapper hasn't done well which questions the wisdom of the decision to triple in size a few years back – which meant their rent tripled and ultimately they had to charge ridiculous prices for what was, at the end of the day, just (albeit very good) fish and chips.
I am told that Beer Lao is available in 7 Eleven stores in Bangkok now and sells for around 55 baht a can. My comments in last week's column about the availability of Beer Lao in Thailand – or rather, the lack of it – just goes to show how out of touch I am!
Popular Bangkok-based author Dean Barrett used to write a wonderful online column but eventually gave it up to concentrate on the serious business of enjoying life. This week he sent out an email to friends that I got a good laugh from. The prince of prose has allowed me to republish it here:
Yet another disaster of the first magnitude: Mistress Baby Chick has left BarBar and according to the owner just disappeared into the ether! I’ll have to deal with this when I return from Cambodia! Jesus Christ, one disaster after another: Texas Lone Star Saloon and all of Washington Square closed because Thais needed another shopping center; the Londoner Pub replaced by a much-needed 7-11; the original, historic CheckInn99 closed because the landlord wanted to sell trinkets to tourists; Nataree Massage, the best in Thailand, lost out in a power struggle between the boys in green and the boys in brown; and now my sensei of 12 years in the spiritual (and physical) development of attitude adjustment and the star of my 70th birthday party has disappeared. The malevolent dominos keep falling, one after another. It may be time to convert to Islam and move to Saudi Arabia. And don’t forget: all this happened on Obama’s watch.
Pattaya Visa Shop is a respected visa consultancy company based in the heart of Pattaya on the Soi Buakhao junction with Soi Diana and Soi Lengkee, specialising in visa applications for Thai nationals travelling or moving abroad with a foreign partner. They are also experts at dealing with any problems foreigners may have with Thailand Immigration including visa issues and overstays. No matter what the problem, everything can be taken care of. The Pattaya Visa Shop team has been in business for 16 years and has built up a very good reputation in an industry tainted by a few untrustworthy sods who take your cash and feed you nothing but false promises and deliver nothing.
Who is the ajarn responsible for English-speaking Thais overusing the word "moreover". Obviously some English teacher somewhere along the line has taught this word on a letter-writing course and / or a report-writing course. There is nothing wrong with the word and the Thais actually use it correctly, but they overuse it. How often do you hear / read the word "moreover" used by native English speakers? Not so often, right? With English-speaking Thais on the other hand, it is used rather (too) often.
What is the story with Chuwit Park, the green space next to Sukhumvit soi 12 that has been closed since June with a notice saying it is under renovation. It seems nothing has happened since which has folks wondering if anything is going to come of that space. The owner of that space is the former Thai massage parlour tycoon, Mr. Chuwit, who just happens to be behind bars due to his part in the destruction of Sukhumvit Square – the bar area that used to be on that space – way back in 2001. That piece of land would be worth tens of millions of dollars so one imagines that one day it is going to be redeveloped.
There are various grades of diplomatic missions. Embassies are obviously at the top of the tree, honorary consulates at the bottom and consulate generals are in the middle. Embassies and consulate generals are run by diplomatic staff and government employees while honorary consulates are usually run by locals who may not even be nationals of the country whose mission they run. In what appears to be a further tightening on the issue of visas for Thailand, many honorary consulates no longer issue multiple-entry visas. They still issue single-entry visas, but in the case of multiple-entry tourist visas or multiple-entry non-immigrant visas, they may not be able to issue them. For multiple-entry visas, you might need to go to an embassy proper or a consulate general. It varies from country to country so check with your local Thai mission on whether they can issue the type of visa you're after.
Quote of the week, "If you have no appetite for risk, perhaps Thailand is not for you."
Once again, the idea of a ferry service connecting Pattaya and Hua Hin is on the table.
Police are telling visitors engaged in trysts with ladyboys to be careful, lest their belongings disappear.
The BBC comments on something I have been saying for a while, Bangkok's famed street food scene is fading.
From The Daily Mail comes a great prank by a girlfriend fooling her boyfriend that he slept with a Bangkok ladyboy.
A former British policeman seeks justice after his 23 million baht house is to be forcibly sold for just 9 million baht.
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 saw a YouTube video where a Westerner was running a recruitment business in Thailand, recruiting staff for bank jobs. I was wondering if there are restrictions around setting up a professional services business in Thailand i.e. are some industries restricted? And in regards to setting the business up, is this the kind of thing Sunbelt would do and hold the 51% ownership that a foreigner cannot own? Or do I need a separate business partner? If I set this kind of business up, I would be able to get a work permit if I own 49%, right?
Sunbelt Legal responds: While there are restrictions on foreigners doing certain businesses that are defined by the Foreign Business Act of 1999, other businesses can have a minority shareholding foreign owner. However, there are some businesses where the government has stipulated extra conditions such as recruitment agencies which are required to have a Thai director and the license is issued to the Thai director only.
Sunbelt Asia has a number of solutions in reference to the 49% criteria such as Amity, BOI, joint ventures, foreign business exemption, categories that have no restrictions on shareholding quotas such as exporting and class of shares held. It is best to contact us to see what fits your specific needs.
Work permits can be acquired for a client with a foreigner as a majority or minority shareholder so long as the company is set up correctly on shareholding for all shareholders with the category of business to be operated in.
Sunbelt Asia has an experienced team of experts who can assist you in setting up the company, obtaining the work permit and renewal and ensuring that your accounting is fully compliant with Thai law.
I wasn't close to Scott, the owner of The Tavern who passed away in Bangkok yesterday. He adds to a growing number of people I know who passed away in Thailand. What's scary is that older relatives aside, I can only think of a couple of people I know who have died in New Zealand over the same period. I guess it's partially because in Thailand we have friends of all ages (and quite a few older friends) whereas in New Zealand most of my friends are around the same age as me. I'm way too young to die – I'll start to think more about that in 40 years or so – but the idea of dying in Thailand always filled me with dread. When my time comes, I'd hate it to be outside of New Zealand. I know it's not like it really matters but that's how I feel. For expats in Thailand and those contemplating the move to Thailand, I wonder if this is something you've given much thought to?