Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy closed for a few days in February when founder and owner Darel fell to his death from a Bangkok high-rise condo. Darel was the life of the party and many who frequented Dollhouse went not only for the entertainment, but to hang out with and party with Darel. It’s not overstating things to say that Darel was a big part of the bar’s enduring popularity.
With Darel no longer around, some wondered if Dollhouse would survive. Would Dollhouse without Darel end up like Manchester United without Sir Alex? (If you’re not a soccer fan, the club has sucked since the Jock retired.)
In those dark days following Darel’s passing, many wondered what would happen and things were whispered privately. Would Dollhouse overcome the tragic loss of the boss, or would it meander along lost? Or would perhaps the bar be acquired by another party, be renamed and redeveloped? More than a few thought it wouldn’t last…
A couple of weeks ago I stopped by Dollhouse and met with the most recent manager, the affable Dino, who is not the first foreign manager to run the place since dear Darel departed. Dino was once in charge at Las Vegas in Nana Plaza. I was keen to see how things were in the post-Darel era.
The venue itself has not changed – but then neither should it have after a minor revamp not so long ago. As has long been the case, many parts of the bar are branded with the bar’s name, from the Dollhouse website address plastered over the walls to the huge sign hanging out over the soi – the first of the big signs to appear before Soi Cowboy became the most photographed soi at night in Bangkok – to Dollhouse-themed iPhone covers to girls’ shorts to, well, just about everything. Many of the girls wear Dollhouse caps. You could never accuse Dollhouse’s owners of failing to push the brand.
Dollhouse was once known for attractive ladies but in fairness, that has not been the case for quite some time. In recent times you’d attribute its popularity to being a farang-owned bar with a farang manager that has a following with farangs. In other words, there’s none of the silly policies you get in some Thai-run bars and it is not popular with the Japanese.
The fun remains and Miss Pum is just plain fun. She’s been dancing in Dollhouse for a couple of years and cannot help smiling. Smile at her and she smiles back. Make a silly face and she smiles. Make a wild face or a threatening face or even shake your finger at her like you’re pretending to be mad and she still smiles!
Many of the dancers in Dollhouse have been there a long time. One dancer is pushing 40 but doesn’t look it. She has been there about 10 years (but is not featured in a photo and asked not to be photographed).
Dollhouse is a regular gogo bar and eschews the corny shows that some bars have resorted to in a desperate measure to lift falling customer numbers. The one exception is the classic fluorescent paint show, a show that has stood the test of time.
A tattoo artist by day, this Thai fellow paints scantily-clad girls by night. When I asked him whether he preferred day or night-time work he smiled and asked me, “What do you think?!”
The ladies are generally happy in Dollhouse and I guess this is what I like about the bar – it’s just plain fun.
Dollhouse has a knack of keeping dancers for a long time, which is hardly the norm in the industry these days. Many ladies don’t just have a fun attitude, they actually make eye contact, flirt and you get the feeling they enjoy engaging with customers. You never get the feeling that it’s all a big chore for them and with some joking around, it can, at times, feel a little like the old days.
Think of classic gogo bars and I think of the likes of Super Star in Patpong, Five Star in Cowboy and Sexy Night in Nana. Truth be told, they all predate my time in Bangkok and for me, it is bars like Dollhouse and Lighthouse that I consider the classics – bars where the music is not too old, where the girls are friendly and where it’s about good music (not old rock from around the time I was born) but something more modern.
A bar needn’t have superstar dancers – and I’d stick my neck out and say that the night I visited Dollhouse there was not one. But that doesn’t matter, venues like Dollhouse that are just plain fun prove you don’t need to reinvent the wheel to be popular.
I’ve commented before on the silly signs inside Dollhouse and the moronic threats of fining anyone secretly taking photos or video in the bar. No-one likes to be told what you can and can’t do in a gogo bar and getting away from rules is one of the reasons many choose to visit Thailand. We’re all big boys, we know what is ok and what isn’t!
Despite the large no photo sign, no-one so much as blinked when I took the camera out – and the boss and the manager were nowhere to be seen. As I have long said – in Thailand, any white foreigner who is decently dressed, confident and looks like he belongs can get away with just about anything.
Dave The Rave adored this lady and thought she was truly a knockout. He couldn’t stop raving about her. I feel compelled to point out hat he didn’t have his glasses on that night!
The Rave and I both love Indian food, use similar camera equipment and each run a Bangkok-centric website – but when it comes to women our tastes could not be more different.
In the weeks and months after Darel’s departure, Dollhouse did not get many favourable reviews. And I was, at times, scathing in my comments. It was hard to expect the fun-loving staff to remain all smiles after the tragedy that ended Darel’s life but the bar lost its way and descended in to mediocrity – and some would say that even that is being kind.
So where is Dollhouse at today? It’s humming along nicely. It is not where you will find the most attractive dancers but the vibe is fun, the music good and there is a decent happy hour. The new manager is also trying things with special promotions like free pizza with every beer ordered late at night.
Dollhouse has a fun crew, but they’re not the hottest birds in town. But then has Soi Cowboy ever been known for the prettiest dancers? Patpong was before Nana took the crown. What Dollhouse has today is what Soi Cowboy was long known for – a fun and friendly vibe – and that is something it has never really wavered from.
And the music selection is pretty good if you grew up in the ’80s and don’t care for the sounds that were popular during the Vietnam War and which many bars continued to play until not so long ago. Music is not too loud making Dollhouse a decent choice if you actually want to chat with your mates or seek intellectual stimulation from the dancers.
Darel can look down from heaven safe in the knowledge that his legacy is in decent hands. The flavour of the bar he created and helped to cultivate remains. Darel may be gone but Dollhouse remains.
Where was this photo taken?
Last week’s photo was taken at the RBSC Polo Club which is located deep in the heart of the city, its main entrance reached from Soi Polo which is off Wireless Road in the embassy district. I was amazed at how many people got it right, mistakenly thinking that few who knew the prestigious club would be Stickman readers. I guess it just goes to show that the cream of expat society regularly tune in! 🙂
Stick’s Email 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.
Many foreigners in Thailand, tourists and expats, would never be allowed to enter many countries. If the police did criminal background checks in Pattaya alone they would fill planeloads of foreign criminals. I would be willing to pay more for my visa if the Thai government made a serious effort to rid the country of these slimeballs. They are everywhere and easy to spot. You would have to be blind not to notice them. The majority of honest, good Thais do not have a high opinion of them either. You should seriously consider doing a weekly on dodgy foreigners in Thailand. The problem is you would lose 90% of your readers.
Retirement visa age too low.
I have always thought that the age for getting a retirement extension is way too low. How many people anywhere in the world are actually retired at 50? What I think will happen with this loophole is that they will just add on a decade or so to the age of eligibility. When the authorities start to implement any changes to Immigration policy, it is done slowly and gradually. Loopholes tighten then all but disappear. The retirement loophole will be one of the last affected. But even the new ten-year visa with its new regulations should be a warning. Smart money would also suggest that those out there counting down to turning 50 and thinking it will be easier to stay should reconsider.
Thailand for visiting, Malaysia for retiring.
I like visiting Thailand but don’t particularly enjoy living there. I figure I’m 5 to 7 years away from retirement and my current plan is to get the Malaysian retirement visa (MM2H). It gives me 10 years’ residence in Malaysia, no 90-day requirement to visit Immigration and unlimited entries to, and exits from the country. Renewal for another 10 years is supposed to be straightforward. I can buy one sales tax free (Malaysian) vehicle and I can buy property. In my opinion, it’s a much better deal than Thailand and the financial requirements are only about 50% more than those in Thailand. English is widely spoken which is good for me as a poor linguist. And I enjoy Malaysian food more than Thai. Plus, as it’s right next door, I figure I can visit Thailand as a tourist any time (meaning 3-4 times a year for 1-2 weeks each time).
Alternative to The Elite Card.
I’ve lived in Bangkok for almost 20 years. I enjoyed your recent columns on migration into Thailand. Fortunately, I’ve always been gainfully and legitimately employed with proper work permits and visas. Several years ago, around 2009, I could sense that from an immigration / visa perspective that things would drastically tighten up. Given my time in Thailand, work history and other qualifications I decided to apply for Thai Permanent Residency. This way I would never, theoretically, have to worry about getting locked out of Thailand, would never need to do visa runs, or otherwise worry about staying here. Once you are a Thai Permanent Resident you are allowed to stay forever in Thailand with the only requirement getting a re-entry permit (single/multiple) every time you leave Thailand and registering with the police in your local amphoe every 5 years. No big deal. For those who qualify, applying for and getting PR may be a better and less costly long-term option for those wanting to stay permanently / semi-permanently in Thailand. Aside from being able to stay in Thailand, one can also buy a condo without needing to remit funds from overseas, and after 5 years you can apply for Thai citizenship. I applied in 2009 and got approved in 2015; I understand now that the wait is much, much shorter. Also, I did everything above board and the total cost, including application fee and lawyer’s fee was about 500,000 baht. Compared to an Elite Card it’s about the same, and potentially much less over the medium to long-term. I thought I would offer this up as another potential alternative.
Granny needs love too!
In the November 20 column, there was a reader’s email about White Bar in soi 22, where an older lady was “in residence”. As I am over 60, I do not like to go with a 19-year old girl, but look for more mature women. Over 40 or 50 and sometimes I really like a 60+, good-looking female to have fun with. The problem is finding them. The usual places like the Biergarten and some bars / hotels on soi 4 do not have them, or they are NOT good-looking. Maybe you can write an article with some insider’s tips & tricks, because I think there will be more interested in this.
One thing that may have deserved attention is the liars’ letters from retirees’ respective embassies and consulates. I thought it was only a few countries with this privilege, but plenty of Americans use this method. It seems to be a pretty big farce. It is rarely checked, and it would be easy for Immigration to require a bankbook showing the monthly deposit. As with the Elite Card, many saying it is about trust simply cannot afford it. No, it is not really a lot, and people living check to check is more the rule than the exception. Living on 25K baht per month in the form of a pension check is oddly a lot different from living on 25K baht per month with millions in the bank. I think it is the liar letter people who are the ones that will wind up destitute in Thailand. They should be more closely scrutinized, and I have often thought that would be the next shoe to drop. But there are very few reports of trouble at renewal time. What percentage of these folks truly have a 65K baht / month pension? Is their monthly pension closer to 6,500?! Some of these guys have so little money that they didn’t turn on the air-conditioning when it was 108 degrees Fahrenheit last April!
Quiet before sundown.
I am finding that the number of venues where you can drink before the sun goes down to be fewer than before. It’s funny that you referenced that small soi near soi 20 where Top Secret lies. I was out with the wolf pack only 4 weeks ago and we struggled to find anywhere around the soi 22 area, including that soi, that was open at 2:30 PM in the afternoon. Even Queen’s Park Plaza was dead, with 3 bars open in total. It seems to be a function of trade more than anything, and there just aren’t enough punters around at that time to justify many places opening up (at that end of town). Soi 4 seems to have the lion’s share of day-trade, now more so that half the bars on the soi have gone due to the re-development of the Raja Hotel complex.
To lend or not to lend.
Your paragraph about not ever lending money really struck a chord and I laud your stance and totally agree. I live an extremely frugal and non-consumer existence; I guess this is a product of the late ’70s and early ’80s where being in poverty whilst studying was quite fashionable. Furthermore, I do very nicely just taking care of myself, number 1. All bills paid on time in cash, I’m fully insured and never being a burden on others is my mantra. If any person, be it friend, family, associate – whomever – asks to borrow so much as 10 baht / 50 cents I take it as an insult and I will distance myself from the offender as quickly as I possibly can. Nobody ever gave me a handout or leg-up in the world and I find the vast majority of people can be takers rather than givers. Good on ya!
Girl of The Week
Fawn, escort with BangkokEscort.com
Fawn is sensual and very much enjoys time in the sack.
If you’re going to book her, make sure you have sufficient energy!
Strikers Sports Bar reopened in the car park of the Nana Hotel in what is the third iteration of the popular, American-owned sports bar / beer bar. The first was in the spot that is currently Hillary 4; the next was the ill-fated location in the middle of the Raja Hotel car park. In each case the landlords wanted to redevelop the space so Strikers was forced out and had to find a new home, something they’ve become rather adept at. Version 3 of Strikers would appear to be the best location of the lot and is closer to the top of the soi than before. But at 10 PM on the night of their opening there weren’t that many customers. With decent free food from their own kitchen one might have expected a larger turnout. The venue’s layout is in the shape of a donut and you can walk all around it. The stark concrete inner wall is actually the tank holding water for the pool at the Nana Hotel and is essentially inside Strikers. Besides the main entrance from the parking lot, there’s another from inside the Nana Hotel. The barfine for those ladies who are available is 500 baht. The concept at the new Strikers location has been described as similar to Hooters, which is part of the same hotel complex. While it’s never nice to be forced out of your premises, Strikers is probably better off where they are now so here’s hoping that this time the location is permanent, or as permanent as you can get in Bangkok.
The cavernous Jail Birdz on the top floor of Nana Plaza officially becomes Butterflies this coming Thursday when the opening party will be held. A nice job has been done on the renovation and the next challenge for the owners is not just to fill the very large bar with girls, but to create an atmosphere. While I understand work on the venue is complete, if I was to suggest a change it would be to lower the ceiling. At present, the venue is just too big – and that is not a criticism I make lightly. Such a high ceiling makes it feel more like a disco than a gogo bar. Putting a lower ceiling in place would do wonders for the atmosphere.
Tonight, the head honcho of Billboard will celebrate his birthday with a Sexy Blue Jeans Party. There will be free food and special shows fitting of the occasion. Billboard is on the top floor of Nana Plaza.
The young male Africans at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 13 are drug dealers openly peddling their poison. These crooks know that if caught they could spend a large chunk of their life behind bars and they get upset when a camera is pointed in their direction. One of them become incensed when he thought he was being photographed and leapt to punch a fine-looking gentleman sitting on the lovely balcony outside Margarita Storm on the main Sukhumvit Road, but the large gentleman defied his size and rocked back, avoiding the crook. Almost immediately, the vendors who rent the adjacent wall space jumped to the fellow’s defence. The local constabulary really ought to repel these goons from the corner of Sukhumvit soi 13 once and for all. For sure, if these African drug dealers tried this in the Thonglor police district (which starts on the other side of the Asoke intersection), they would not last a day.
Who is the white guy roaming Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke who has been photographed by at least two readers and is said to be making rather a nuisance of himself. He is regularly seen staggering up and down Soi Nana muttering to himself, has been spotted entering the lobby of the Grande Sukhumvit Hotel on soi 6 where he was turfed out and has also been harassing people on soi 19. Usually seen walking without a shirt, someone has written some Thai on his back which says that he is crazy and a drunk. He’s clearly off his rocker, although he does seem vaguely aware of his surroundings and seems to know his way about. Speaking of farang ba (crazy foreigners), I can confirm that as of last week the homeless foreigner I photographed in Benjakit Park a few weeks ago is still there and still wearing the same clothes I photographed him in. He carries his possessions around the park with him in two bright-coloured plastic bags.
Getting decent turkey in Thailand has become difficult in recent years with the authorities cracking down on importation of the bird. If you’re looking for a quick and easy solution for Christmas turkey at home in Bangkok, here is a list of turkey options with premium imported birds from America and Australia. There is also the option to purchase your bird frozen or cooked. More details here.
Have the security staff manning the body scanners at the entrances to the underground stations finally given up on the pretense? When the alarm goes off, they don’t do anything anymore and just stand by grinning. Previously when the alarm went, they would ask the person walking through to stop and open their bag. Security staff point their flashlight in to the person’s bag, make a cursory glance and send them on their way in what all seemed to be a show with no actual check made. Now no such pretense is made and whether the alarm goes off or not they do nothing. So why not just get rid of the machines altogether if they’re not going to act on them?!
The beautiful, historic old building in Sukhumvit soi 14 that was most recently home to Hemingway’s was dismantled this week as yet another historic spot popular predominately with foreigners goes the way of the dodo. Apparently it was built of teak so some lucky person is going to get that teak to build themselves a nice teak house somewhere.
A lot of people rant about taxi drivers in Bangkok but there are plenty of stories in the press of drivers returning high-valued items left in their cabs when they could very easily have kept the goodies and no-one would be the wiser. This past week, one of the owners of The Strip took a cab home and left his mobile phone in the cab. It wasn’t until the next morning that he realised it was missing and he thought that would be the end of it and he would need to buy a new one. That next morning he was having brunch at The Landmark as he does most days when the taxi driver from the previous night walked in to the lobby cafe, went straight up to him and handed him his mobile phone with a big grin. It turns out the driver had returned to the bar owner’s condo the next morning and the staff had said that he was not there but that he is a regular at the Landmark so the cabbie drove there, going well out of his way, to return the phone. Yeah, some Bangkok cabbies are ratbags but there are a lot of really good sorts too!
The Thai embassy in Wellington, New Zealand, is closed until further notice as it’s in a precinct that has been red-taped due to a nearby building having to be demolished due to earthquake damage. It appears if you have business with them you need to email them directly in the first instance.
Why do Thais so often misspell the unit for the currency baht, as bath?
I find it utterly distasteful when someone dobs in another person for doing something illegal unless it is something really bad like kiddy fiddling, or if it is a last resort to stop someone doing something illegal which has a direct negative effect on them and they have already made a reasonable effort to try to resolve the issue. But in the case of landlords in Thailand who fail to return deposits on rental properties for no good reason – especially those who cite damage that doesn’t exist for the reason of not returning the deposit – there is a solution. Make noises to the landlord about going to the Revenue Department. Basically, very few landlords (Thai or foreign) pay the flat rate 15% tax due on property they rent out. If anyone refuses to return your deposit for no good reason, simply ask them if the Revenue Department is the place to complain to get your deposit on your rental back. (It isn’t, but the hint should be enough to prompt them to return your money). Landlords doing everything legally usually have a contract which breaks down the amount you pay per month to rent, furniture and security (or something similar). The reason for this is that the 15% tax is only payable on the rent and on security / furniture the rate is lower so they do this to lessen their tax bill. For instance, you might pay 10,000 baht a month in rent and the contract might break this down as 4,000 baht for rent, 3,000 for furniture and 3,000 for security. If you have a rental contract that outlines a flat rate for rent each month and you deposit said money in to owner’s personal bank account, there’s a very high chance they are shirking their tax obligations (and that they will wish to avoid any Revenue Department dealings and will refund what they owe you promptly).
I get chastised by the other half for using hot water when I shower in Thailand. It is only at the very peak of the hot season when I might turn down the temperature a little – but it’s still not what you’d call cold. The other half runs a warm water shower in New Zealand but it’s always cold water for her in Thailand, even in the cool season. What about you?
Records are broken as Thailand welcomes 30 million plus visitors this year – and the final total will be higher.
The authorities are looking in to the Thai language arm of the BBC.
From the Chicago Bulletin, a US court ruling compels an American man to financially support three children he had with a Thai lady in Thailand.
Three Frenchmen confess to killing a fellow countryman on Ko Samui.
Sunbelt Asia Legal Advisors is here to answer all of your legal questions related to Thailand. Please feel free to send any questions to me and I will put them to Sunbelt and run their response in the next column.
Question 1: I have been living with my Cambodian girlfriend in Thailand for 5 years and now would like to get married. The problem I face is that a Cambodian woman is not allowed by law in Cambodia to marry a foreign man who is over 50 years old. Can I legally marry her in Thailand?
Sunbelt Legal Advisors responds: Legally, Thai law allows you to marry. However, the law in Thailand requires that both foreign parties obtain an “affirmation of freedom to marry” from your respective embassies. So, you would need to get one from your embassy and have it translated to Thai and then certified at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and she would need to do the same. Given the law in Cambodia, it is unlikely the Cambodian embassy would issue such a letter.
Question 2: My question is not regarding a particular legal issue but is more to do with the legal and court system in Thailand. Am I right in thinking that vexatious litigation is not unusual in the Thai legal system? Cases considered vexatious are often thrown out of court here in my country but I often read online about the way some people use multiple legal filings to tie someone up in the court system in Thailand and it seems rife. It strikes me as a little scary. Any thoughts on vexatious litigation in Thailand would interest me.
Sunbelt Legal Advisors responds: Actually people filing these types of claims are rare unless it’s a tenant trying to stay on the land of a landlord and the lease is up. There has been a number of cases like that to tie it up and stay on the land while legal proceedings get dragged out. Other than that it really is quite rare in Thailand.
Question 3: I have a crazy friend who reckons you can bring in up to 10 kg of illegal drugs and the maximum fine in Thailand is 100,000 baht. He says he read this on the Internet. I reckon he’s crazy and he’s going straight to the electric chair. Can you please tell me which one of us is right?
Sunbelt Legal Advisors responds: The penalties depend on the type of drug being trafficked. Thai law is severe for trafficking and ten kilograms would most definitely be defined as trafficking and not for personal use. Fines range up to one million baht and penalties from five years to life in prison. Cannabis, for instance, has fines up to 200,000 baht depending on whether or not the person is trafficking. Other drugs such as MDMA, heroin and methamphetamine have even steeper fines and prison terms.
I was in and out of Bangkok a number of times this year. I was never that open about where I was at any given time. Presently I am in Auckland and it’s summer here. It’s a great place at this time of year and from now through until April the weather will be great – warm, but not too hot and with a bit of luck, mostly sunny. Putting together the column for much of the year has been relatively easy as I used my time passing through Bangkok to gather news, take photos and generally build up content that was not time-sensitive to use when I’m back here in Kiwiland. I think it will be some time before I am back in Bangkok so things will become more challenging. Add to that the fact that I really do enjoy Auckland at this time of year and banging away in front of a keyboard when I could be out and about doesn’t hold quite the same appeal as it does on a rainy Bangkok day when the condo windows are being lashed by rain. I’ll do my best to produce a readable column every week as I always do, but at the same time I’ll be the first to admit it’s never quite the same when I am not there on the ground.
Your Bangkok commentator,