Welcome Back, Pattaya
She leans over and kisses her partner, one of those long, lingering kisses shared between those truly in love. She backs away a little and they gaze in to each other’s eyes. And then they are at it again, their lips locked together. The two pretty, Chinese, 20-somethings draw plenty of attention – such intimacy in public is not common in Thailand. I’m at the Pattaya Bus Station waiting for the 9:00 AM bus back to Bangkok and the lesbian lovebirds are distracting me as I reflect on my first visit to Pattaya in 18 months.
To me Pattaya means freedom, not so much the freedom to do anything you please, but the freedom to go about your day without others judging you. I love it for the freedom of being able to roam, to explore hidden sois, and to go up dark staircases and through poorly lit doorways if I so chose, confident that wherever I end up it won’t be a problem. And I love Pattaya for the photographic opportunities, and the comings and goings you just don’t see anywhere else.
I like Pattaya in small doses. To me, visiting Pattaya is kind of like eating a large tub of Haagen Dazs – Belgian chocolate flavour, of course – in one sitting. It’s good at the time but almost immediately afterwards you find yourself regretting it. Probably not that different from shagging a really fat chick, I guess. 2 or 3 days in Pattaya is enough for me.
I’d heard that business in Pattaya was bad. Friends in the Bangkok bar industry are never shy to tell me how miserable trade in Pattaya is – even if some of them haven’t stepped foot in the place since Trink stopped writing for the Post.
Even before the bus hit the Pattaya bus station I knew my Bangkok-based pals didn’t have a clue about what was going on. Hell, some of them don’t have a clue about what’s going on in Bangkok. Bangkok has long been known for snarled up traffic but today you can say the same about Pattaya. The roads were choked from the beach all the way to the bus station. The songtaew to the beach simply could not get out of the bus station on to the main road; instead it went out the back way and did a loop around back streets before coming out on Third Road. It would be some 45 minutes after the bus had arrived at the bus station when we rounded the bend past the Dusit Thani Hotel and got our first glimpse of the bay. I probably could have walked there faster. And when we finally made it to the beach, there were people everywhere. It was Tuesday, early afternoon in one of the quietest months of the year, but Beach Road was anything but quiet.
The first thing I like to do after being cooped up in a vehicle for a few hours is take a walk – and what better than a leisurely stroll along Beach Road, taking in the gently curving Pattaya Bay?
Few working girls were about, and even fewer Pattaya farangs. The dearth – or is that the death? – of small groups of older Western retirees milling around on the Beach Road, hanging out and generally enjoying one another’s company is all but complete. Once as much a fixture on the Beach Road as the working girls, Pattaya farangs lounging along the Beach Road by day are not the common sight they once were. Today on Beach Road crowd it’s more what I think of as the mainstream visitors of Pattaya today – think Chinese and Indians – and not that many Westerners at all.
The reasons for the decline in the number of Western retirees milling about on Beach Road most likely relate to bad planning. Quite simply, many retired too early and by definition, without enough money. Inflation and their currency weakening has turned the lives of many Westerners retired in Thailand upside down.
Walking around Pattaya, the impression was that the place hadn’t changed all that much. The mix of visitors had changed, but as for the bars and restaurants, most of the old haunts were still there, and in many cases with the very same staff as when I was last in town, some 18+ months ago.
But while Pattaya seemed busy, a lot of businesses were dead. Shops, bars and restaurants looked quiet for the most part while massage shops were doing a roaring trade. How can a place look so busy while so many businesses appear quiet? Best guess is that many of the Pattaya visitors today have purchased all-inclusive packages with food and excursions included.
Of the favourite haunts I stopped by, only Café Pitini was doing the sort of trade I remember it used to do. Even the budget-friendly Benjamit Coffee, the café / coffee roasters which for me does the best coffee I have had in all of Thailand, you had your choice of where to sit. It didn’t use to be that way.
Talking about Pattaya and not mentioning Walking Street would be like going to Paris and not seeing the Eiffel Tower, but at the same time Walking Street hardly feels like it deserves a mention.
Ground zero of Pattaya nightlife has lost any sense of character and is just now a single strip of gaudy neon, just another tourist hot spot not that much different to so many other places. Walking Street used to have personality, the various side sois and different areas had their own character and flavour. Soi Diamond, the area under Marine Disco, Soi BJ, the Arab quarter, Covent Garden – each had its own character and attracted a certain sub-set of visitors. Not today. Walking Street feels like it has merged in to one. With many Walking Street businesses aimed at mainstream visitors, single male visitors have largely turned their back on the area.
That’s not to say that there aren’t more gogo bars on Walking Street than anywhere else in Pattaya – but that doesn’t mean trade is good. Inside many of the bars of Walking Street, business is dire. Not a lot of customers and little interest from the girls.
Today, Walking Street is to Pattaya what Patpong is to Bangkok – an overpriced bar area long past its best where shysters prey on first-time visitors, where upstairs bars with drinks scams abound and where mainstream visitors vastly outnumber naughty boys.
So many of the former big name bars are a shadow of their former selves with few customers and sullen, sometimes even miserable looking girls.
One bar that was doing well was the perennial Pattaya farang favourite, Windmill. The scene was just bizarre with a few girls sitting on the stage starkers, all in the same pose with their legs crossed to preserve their dignity. They are just sitting there – not standing and most certainly not dancing, but sitting – conducting a conversation amongst themselves at what feels like 1000 decibels – it has to be loud to be heard above the music. Each girl sitting somewhere on the stage is in the very same pose. There is zero eye contact with customers, let alone any interaction. And then there was this one lass who was perched in that very pose at the stage with a small pouch beside her. From that small pouch she would remove certain implements and attend to personal matters. Very carefully, she trimmed each of her toenails. She started with a set of clippers and took an eternity to clip each of her toenails. And once she had clipped them all, she carefully set about filing each and every one of them. I expect that the final step was to polish them but I didn’t wait around for that. But what was most bizarre of all was the way these Pattaya farangs sat there staring at this lady, transformed by her cutting her toenails. Maybe it was foot fetish night and I was the only one in there who didn’t know?
It’s hard to recommend any bars in Walking Street but if forced to make a recommendation, Wild Cats might hold your interest.
But all is not lost for the stereotypical Pattaya visitor. What you used to enjoy on Walking Street can now be found on Soi LK Metro which has successfully recaptured the vibe and atmosphere of the Pattaya of old. Think late ’90s / early ’00s Walking Street and that’s how things are at LK Metro. Good bars, good vibe and the crowd is almost entirely single, middle-aged white guys. Soi LK Metro offers a much more compelling product for the naughty boy, especially if fair value is an important part of the equation.
The pick of the bars in Soi LK Metro was probably Lady Love A Gogo – good music, and a really good vibe. The dancers had energy and a degree of enthusiasm. But why doesn’t Lady Love have drinks price lists? It’s not that drinks in that bar are particularly pricey, but in Thailand it does pay to check the price first, especially in Bangkok.
For those on a budget, there are massage houses everywhere. That’s nothing new, yet every visit it feels like even more massage houses have set up shop (the same can be said of Bangkok, but that’s a story for next week). And many of these massage shops have very accommodating ladies. For naughty boys on a budget, massage houses are where the action is.
From a business owner’s perspective, massage houses and paragliding looks like it’s where the money is. The number of paragliders in the bay was as impressive as it was scary. At any one time there were dozens in the sky. Find a young, scrawny punk with lots of tats and a pair of fake Ray Bans, put him behind the controls of a speedboat and tell him to pretend he’s on his motorbike, being pursued by angry traffic cops and he has to try and get away – and that’s how it looks to the untrained eye these speedboat captains operate.
Pattaya Beach looked better than ever and the rejuvenation project is coming along very nicely. Sand has been brought in and the shoreline extended making the beach look much more inviting.
It isn’t Phuket or Samui, but the beach opposite and to the north of Central Festival is a large white expanse and nothing like the Pattaya Beach of old.
Various condominiums have gone up in recent years as the skyline of Pattaya changes. There’s a surplus of condos over in Jomtien and the impression I got is that there will be a surplus in Pattaya proper too if there isn’t already.
I’ve often referred to Pattaya as Sin City. A gay friend tells me that in his circles they call it Sperm City. But just how sinful, sexy or even seedy is Pattaya these days?
The nightlife in Pattaya today is being drowned out by hordes of mainstream visitors for who the sight of a few bikini-clad girls standing outside bars with sexy names in neon is quite the thrill. I stand by what I said earlier about Pattaya feeling like it is going the way of Patpong in Bangkok – the nightlife is still there but it’s no longer the main event.
I have had something of a love : hate relationship with Pattaya – not unlike a lot of Bangkok-based expats, I guess. I have always enjoyed myself in Pattaya for a couple of days but then felt I had to get the hell out of there. Yet within a few weeks I would find myself back in Pattaya again for another round. It would have been fun to have a longer stint in Pattaya, spend a few months there and get to know it as only someone living there can. But the time to do that has passed – and not only because I no longer live in Thailand. Back then, Pattaya was Pattaya. Today it just doesn’t feel like the Pattaya I used to know. On the surface it looks much the same, but things have changed. That’s not to say that Pattaya is any worse today than it was when I first visited, almost exactly 20 years ago to the day. But it is different, very different.
You know things aren’t what they used to be when the sexiest thing you saw in Pattaya was two hot Chinese 20-something lesbians with their tongues down each other’s throat at the bus station.
Where was this photo taken? Drop me an email if you think you know where it is and I’ll let you know if you’re right. I don’t have any prizes to offer this week but I would like to offer a prize each week so if you’re in business in Bangkok and would be interested in putting a prize up in return for some exposure in this column, drop me an email.
Stick’s Inbox – a selection of emails received in the last month.
The station in life thing still persists.
One of the Bangkok bar things I have been pondering is the girls’ pricing and attitudes. I took this girl out of Nana Plaza, paid barfine etc. and gave her a generous fee. I was hoping to hook up again outside of the bar but had trouble trying to set that up on the phone so I jumped through that same hoop again and told her I would be cutting her lady drinks off of the salary. In the room I told her I wasn’t a rich tourist and that things were expensive. She had an odd look on her face when I said that. She is younger and I imagine she gets some business, but what hit me as I thought about all of the girls I know on Facebook who whine about how they don’t have boyfriends and how they have one life on Facebook and a separate one in the bar can’t seem to somehow merge the two and get what they want. Here is where the light bulb went off. The station in life thing still persists. I thought about it more and more and it seems that regardless of how much they might pull in, they don’t leave that station and move into a different status or higher living standard (social groups). They are still country bumpkins with just more money to maybe pay off a loan, add a new room to the house in the village, maybe buy some nicer things at the mall, but at the end of the day they will go home to the room they rent for cheap and eat off a mat on the floor with more money in their pocket.
Trends in expat society.
Here are some themes you might want to touch on in your column:
* The ex-pat exodus continues. I’m making plans to leave within the next 12 months. Mixed feelings but the time is right. I’ve seen this theme play out within my circle of friends as the cost of living in Thailand has gone up considerably and the sanook is not what it used to be. I rarely venture to Sukhumvit these days as the heart and soul has been ripped out with the place becoming an overgrown concrete jungle.
* It’s getting harder to stay here long-term. I just completed a visa run to Savanakhet, likely my last for a long time. Couldn’t help but think this final ‘soft-touch’ will end (as everything does) and cause chaos to many who like me can’t show 400K baht in financials to stay in the kingdom. On crossing back in to Thailand the female Immigration officer spent a good 5 minutes looking at all the stamps in my nearly full passport as if she was just itching for a reason to reject me, even though I had a freshly minted visa and not a single day of overstay.
* When the money runs out it’s no fun. I got sick last year and with no medical insurance had to borrow AUD 10K to pay the hospital bill for a 5-day stay. Took me 7 months to pay that off.
Feminazis infiltrating the Mothership.
You made a great point about the groups of western women joining the lookers at the naughty areas, taking pics etc. Really sucks, and in my opinion that is when the place really started to decline….when all the lookers, including Chinese, couples, and of course western feminazis started crashing what was a good cheap drink and sex scene. But now they have assaulted a sacred place, the Nana car park. They have gone too far! My idea: have a contest for best photo of feminazis taking photos of western men in the hunt. And you probably know this, but if you actually see a good-looking one around there it is simply a Russian prossie.
Funeral compulsory, crying optional.
I knew a girl aged 20 who is a friend of a friend. Saw her a couple of times with my friend. Yesterday her funeral was held as she had killed herself with pills. She tried before a couple of times but this time she actually did it. She was fascinated with being dead. Anyway, at the funeral not one person cried. Everyone was in fact almost cheerful and smiles. I asked why and was told that she is going to the next life in her journey. Is this normal? I went to another funeral and it was sad but don’t remember anybody the same as at a western funeral.
One of the longest running gogo bars in Bangkok is Safari in Patpong soi 1. The classic gogo bar is a favourite of many long-timers and used to be known (perhaps still is?) for the music. It’s years since I have stepped inside Safari but count me amongst those who liked it that they tended to play old classics, and on vinyl no less. Anyway, word is that the owner, who has been there since 1976, is in negotiations to sell Safari and finally say goodbye to the Pong. At least one of the parties in discussions would like to get hold of the Safari location and completely redo it in a new theme which would mean ripping the interior of the classic bar out, some of which dates back many, many decades. But it’s only a bar, right, it’s no big deal? Safari is much more than just a bar! Some of the oldest and longest running bars in all of Thailand are in Patpong soi 1 and Safari is one of a small group of bars that should, in all truth and honesty, be given some sort of heritage status and protected.
Which ties in nicely with the idea of a Patpong museum. For many years the owner / operator of Patpong fetish venue Bar Bar has talked about creating a museum about Patpong, with the provisional name of Patpong Secrets. It’s still being talked about – I’d like nothing more than to report that something is actually going to happen. Said fellow operates a number of venues in Patpong and is passionate about Bangkok’s oldest bar area and I am sure he would be a great person to lead the project to create something worthwhile. It would be a great tourist attraction and it could also contribute towards saving some of the classic old timeless venues in Patpong which without some sort of intervention could be lost as developers destroy much of the city’s heritage to erect what is ultimately just another condo, office tower or shopping mall.
The French former owner of Kiss Bar on Patpong 1 has moved to Thigh Bar and taken that over.
The lords of Black Pagoda, the cool gogo bar in what was once a bridge connecting buildings on either side of Patpong soi 2, have been at it again, tearing out the back – the area off to the right of the entrance – and not for the first time. The space that was at one time a lounge, at another time short-time rooms, is to become a late night disco club called Club Black. Interesting choice given they hardly have the best track record of success in Bangkok. Just think EQ and all its guises. A new Russian partner is involved in Club Black which had its soft opening this past Friday.
If you’re going to be anywhere near Soi Cowboy over the next week or so, mark Wednesday 5th and Tuesday 11th in your diary. This coming Wednesday, September 5th, is owner Frank’s birthday at Lighthouse which just happens to be 100 baht drink night at Lighthouse. And the following Tuesday, September 11th, will see Shark bar celebrate its 16th anniversary. All are welcome.
In next week’s column I take a closer look at the bar areas of Bangkok and comment on what I saw on my recent trip, in much the same way I did with Pattaya this week. But let me say the one thing that stood out about Bangkok’s farang-centric naughty nightlife this trip is that it’s more expensive than ever. To give you an idea of what I mean, Mandarin and some other Nana Plaza bars recently raised their barfine to 1,000 baht.
Former dancer, showgirl and later mamasan, Nina, formerly of The Strip, is now the boss of her very own bar, La Luna, on Sukhumvit soi 22. La Luna sets itself apart from most of the other venues on soi 22, with fancy cocktails and a fridge full of Champagne. While much of soi 22 is still fairly low-end and popular with those on a budget, La Luna offers something a little different and a degree of class. Drop by for a look if you like the sound of something a little different.
And still on soi 22, I note it has more massage shops than ever and new outlets must be opening at about the rate of one a month. The general rule of thumb – and admittedly this is getting looser these days – is that if you want a good massage, stay on the main soi whereas if you want something a little spicier, duck down a side soi…..but like I say, the line is becoming increasingly blurred.
A popular Bangkok farang / former bar boss has serious problems and is going to have to pull a rabbit out of a hat – or come up with a lot of money – if he wants to stay in Thailand, or stay out of jail for that matter. Said fellow was involved with a young lady, or to be more precise, a lady mooted to not yet be of legal age. It is alleged that he broke the most basic of expat rules and partied without a party hat. She fell pregnant, an outcome neither of them wanted and it was decided she would have an abortion. Things were bad already, but they would go from bad to downright horrible. Whilst undergoing the abortion, the young lady died. The word about town is that the young lady’s parents are looking for said former bar boss and they want blood. It is understood that they have reported the situation to police and a game of cat and mouse is being played as he avoids the authorities. If it hasn’t already, an arrest warrant will be issued in his name and then he will not be able to leave Thailand without being arrested. It’s really rather complicated because an arrest warrant would prevent him from extending his visa because if he goes to the local Immigration Department they will see the arrest warrant in the system and he would be arrested. So, sooner or later, his visa will expire – and at the point he will be on overstay. And with the new overstay rules that came in to effect a couple of years ago, anyone who remains in the country for more than 90 days beyond their permission to stay is automatically blacklisted from the country for a period. Whether a suitcase of cash will resolve things – and whether that is even an option – is not known.
If you fancy a quality carvery pig-out on a Sunday, head over to The Steakhouse Co on Patpong soi 2. If 899 baht sounds like a little more than your usual Bangkok carvery that’s because this is not your usual Bangkok carvery. This is not everyday beef – the Sunday carvery at Steakhouse Co serves Black Angus prime rib, and a great selection of quality meats and interesting sides, appetisers and desserts. If Steakhouse Co is not on your radar, head for Patpong soi 2 and the spot that was once Club Electric Blue where the legendary bar has morphed in to a steakhouse. The Sunday carvery starts at midday and runs through until around 7:00 PM. If you pre-book and take a screen-shot of this mention and save it on your mobile phone, you will get a 100 baht discount.
The Old English Pub is the newest English pub in Bangkok. The Old English Pub is about a 5-minute walk up Soi Thonglor from Sukhumvit Road on the right-hand side.
And if Irish pubs are more your thing, Bangkok’s newest Irish pub, O’Malley’s, opened this past Friday in the spot on Silom Road that used to be the Pintsman. It’s just a bit further down Silom from Patpong, on the other side of the road.
G’s wonderful German restaurant in Silom soi 4 is to open a sports lounge upstairs. Food from the kitchen will be available. The upstairs area will offer a nice vantage point to watch the comings and goings on the colourful soi below.
The New Yorker Café has moved to Sukhumvit soi 22 from its previous location a stone’s throw from the Asoke intersection. Run by an Italian New Yorker with an interesting background, the New Yorker Café can be found tucked away on the second sub soi on Sukhumvit soi 22 after the new Marriott Marquis. The new New Yorker is on a small alley known for its rub n tug shops. It has been decked out nice – no surprise given that owner Guido was at one time a designer for movie sets. A friend says the food is great with fantastic chicken wings, Sicilian pizza (rectangular with pieces cut in to squares) and an excellent potato salad, the latter of which has long been hard to find in Bangkok.
Unverified reports have it that the high-profile case from last year when an American who allegedly stomped on the head of an Aussie in a soi 6 bar in Pattaya causing his death was sentenced to two years in jail, with the sentence suspended. If true, he must have one hell of a lawyer.
The number of Indian restaurants that have sprung up in Pattaya since my last visit is unreal. On Second Road near Central Festival are five different Indian restaurants slap bang next to each other – with new Indian restaurants all over town. There are so many new Indian restaurants in Pattaya you wonder how they can all make a buck. Granted, there appeared to be more new Indian restaurants in the tourist areas of Bangkok too, but in Pattaya the concentration of Indian eateries is at another level.
Still down Pattaya way, back in the middle of the first decade of this century – what do you call that period, the noughties(??) – it was not uncommon for a fellow foreigner to pull up next to you on a motorbike and try to engage you in conversation. He’d usually start out by asking if you speak English, before attempting to convince you to accompany him to what would be a high-pressure timeshare sales session with the promise that you would win a (I believe, totally crummy) prize. That’s happening again. In Pattaya I was approached by two ragged looking, middle-aged foreigners on a scooter – a Brit and a Dutchman. These two dodgy geezers – never has that term seemed more appropriate – pulled up next to me and tried it on. They were pleasant enough and took off when I said I wasn’t interested, zooming a hundred or so metres down the road and attempting to accost the next fellow. These two fellows were friendly enough, but at the same time they were both unshaven, both had rotten teeth and looked sloppy – the complete opposite of what anyone in sales should be.
Congratulations to Secrets, once my favourite bar in Pattaya, which celebrated its 12th anniversary yesterday.
And if 12 years and still going in the bar trade is impressive, what about a bar that has recently celebrated 40 years in operation? Yep, TQ2 on Beach Road celebrated its 40th anniversary on August 18. Amazing, a gogo bar in business for 40 years!
If you’re really missing Thailand you could always watch one of the many movies set in Thailand. I recently watched “A Prayer Before Dawn“, the biography of Englishman Billy Moore who ended up behind bars in Thailand after being caught with drugs. It features many real-life prisoners and was filmed almost entirely inside Nakhon Pathom prison. It is, however, not a heartwarming or uplifting story, but rather highlights the horror show that is life behind bars in a Thai prison.
With changing lifestyles and better healthcare they say that 50 is the new 40. But for Brits in Thailand, when it comes to the pound : baht exchange rate, it is the other way around and 40 is the new 50. For many years the Brits expected to get around 50 baht, give or take, for each pound. Now it’s not much more than 40.
While Bangkok and most of the other heavily touristed parts of the country have managed to shake off their reputation for being cheap destinations / places to live, spare a thought for English teachers who may be working for the same salary as those who performed the same job at the same place a decade earlier – back when prices for most everything were considerably less. A friend teaching in Bangkok told me about a language institute which shall remain nameless which offers the same salary today that it offered way back in 2005. Salaries have gone up, of course – but some language schools have not moved with the times. I guess it’s basic economics – why increase salaries when there are still many people who want to live in Thailand badly and are willing to work for a mediocre salary.
Previously, you could convert a tourist visa or a visa waiver stamp to a Non-Immigrant B visa or an ED visa in one day at the main Bangkok Immigration office at Chaeng Wattana i.e. same day service. But since the start of August they now make you wait 2 weeks. A friend went out there to convert his visa with all of the required paperwork expecting to convert his visa but instead received a receipt stamped: “Result 17 September” as did everyone else who applied. The day said friend applied, there were more than 120 people in the queue ahead of him – and perhaps not surprisingly, most of them were Chinese (students).
If you’re an electrician / generator mechanic and have dreamed of working on a tropical island, here is the job for you. The successful applicant will have a minimum of 5 years experience in operations and maintenance of a large plant, facility, base or municipality; with specific experience in the maintenance and repair of diesel engines. Applicants must have certification as a Diesel Powered Generator Technician with a rating up to 1600kW. Must be able to repair large 350kva generators and main power systems. A work permit will be provided if the successful applicant is a foreigner. The salary offered is between 40,000 to 60,000 per month, depending on experience. Room and board is provided. You could be living the dream on a beautiful, white sand beach, with gentle turquoise water and a tropical breeze. Apply to email@example.com
Quote of the week comes from a forum, “Why pay more for a crappy bottle of lager than a decent pint in the UK just to look at girls playing on Facebook.”
Reader’s story of the week is one of the old-style drama-with-a-bargirl tales which I do rather enjoy, “Pattaya Bargirl, Total Madness“.
A recent law change means that under certain conditions, Americans in Thailand may be able to work without a work permit.
The Isaan Record profiles a Brit who has gone native in Isaan.
6 people involved in the procurement of underage girls for a large Thai massage parlour get lengthy prison sentences.
Thai Police seek an arrest warrant for the editor of a news site that published accounts of an alleged sexual assault on Koh Tao.
It’s good to be back in the saddle and I have really enjoyed writing this week’s column and putting it together. It might take a little time to get up to speed, re-establish contact with old friends & contacts and generally get back in to the groove so for the first few weeks news might not exactly be hot off the press. The plan is to produce the same sort of weekly column that I used to write, covering the same sort of stuff – what’s going on in expat circles, bar news and gossip, my thoughts on life in Thailand for foreigners along with general opinions, observations, commentary as well as a small dose of what is happening here in New Zealand. I’ll comment more in time about why I have returned but that can wait for now. It’s good to be back.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be reached at : firstname.lastname@example.org