Bangkok gogo bars used to be the place for naughty boys to find a companion. With prices rising in the bars and attitudes souring, the good news is that the gogo bars were never the only game in town. There are alternatives.
Bangkok massage houses
While the number of gogo bars stays much the same, the same cannot be said for massage houses with their number growing rapidly year after year. By massage house, I mean the small – often single shophouse – massage outlets, many of which offer more than just traditional massage.
In downtown Bangkok and areas popular with tourists, many massage house girls will be disappointed if you are only looking for a massage. Some may even get stroppy if a customer does not want extras as they usually earn 100 baht from a massage but potentially a whole lot more if the customer wants a special. In fact many of these ladies aren’t trained in massage and will in all likelihood give a lousy massage.
Just what each masseuse is willing to do varies more by lady to lady than it does by venue to venue. Some massage houses say they don’t allow extras when in fact they do, while some massage shops strictly don’t allow a naughty on the premises but the odd girl will still try to convince you that a special massage is what you really want.
Personally, I can’t imagine that it’s a lot of fun in a small cubicle with a lady who wants to do the business with you while some joker and his masseuse is in the very next cubicle and can hear all of your ooohing and ahhing, but then perhaps I am a bit of a prude.
Rates for a bit of fun in a Bangkok massage house vary wildly. Shop around and full-service can be had for 1,000 baht but twice that is the norm. If you’re watching your baht, it might be worth avoiding Sukhumvit sois 22, 23 and 33 where prices quoted can make a gogo girl blush.
Massage houses open early so you can visit by day, get things attended to before having a leisurely dinner and heading out to enjoy a night in the gogo bars with no pressure to find a companion.
Thai-Style Massage Parlours AKA Soapies
Any multi-storey building in Bangkok with no windows, a large car park out front and flashing neon signs in Thai script may be one of the many Thai-style massage parlours, often referred to as “soapies”. This is where the Thai men go but don’t let that put you off. Foreigners are welcome.
Many white guys visiting Thailand avoid Thai massage parlours. Just why that is, I do not know, but my best guess is that it is due to historical reasons. My theory is that it goes back to the days when the gogo girls did long-time as the norm, staying all night and even well in to the next day with their customer. Contrast that with massage parlour girls who are all business – an hour and a half and it’s all over. A lady staying overnight felt like a girlfriend whereas a lady you left after 90 minutes felt like a hooker. What a white guy paid a lady to stay with him all night was about the same as what a Thai guy paid for 90 minutes.
While things have changed dramatically in the gogo bars – long-time is much less common these days and prices have soared – in Thai-style massage parlours it’s the same service standard and rates have only gone up by about the rate of inflation.
A massage parlour experience typically runs around 2,000 – 2,500 baht (on average / prices vary greatly) for 90 minutes. There’s no barfine, no short-time room and no BS. Prices can go as low as 1,500 baht in the less salubrious places. You could pay many times that if you end up in one of the fancy places with ladies with skin as white as snow, the way the local men like them.
The ladies in the large Thai-style massage parlours are typically more attractive than what you find in the bar scene and their attitudes are generally much better.
The one downside is that these are Thai-style entertainment places and geared up for Thai men. White guys are welcome, but English may be a problem. Many places have menus and signs in Thai only. Usually someone will speak enough English – and certainly they will try to accommodate you if you cannot speak Thai.
The Thai-style soapy massage experience is renowned for a reason. The Thai guys are on to a winner.
Freelancers have long polarised punters. Some swear by them while others won’t go near them.
Freelancers can be found in all the usual haunts from the late-night venues on soi 11 to the long-running freelancer hotspots like the Biergarten and Thermae. If you want to roll the dice, some linger on the main Sukhumvit Road around sois 3/1, 5 and 7 and Soi Nana usually has more than a few streetwalkers.
Rates typically start at around 1,500 baht for freelancers these days while ladies in clubs might ask for more – but as always, your mileage may vary.
Freelancers are often free spirits and may not be on the clock like ladies in a bar. At the same time, freelancers are the riskiest option. If you met a girl on the street or in a disco and not in her place of work, what can you do if there are dramas? Not a lot – but remember that no dalliance with a working girl irrespective of where you met her is 100% safe.
If safety is a concern, stick to massage houses or massage parlors.
Attractive – sometimes super attractive, almost modelesque – early 20-something Thai women are placing ads on some Thai language websites and across social media making themselves available. Many of these ladies are of university age, and I’d guess some are students by day and hookers by night. Probably some also have day jobs and do this on the side to pay for their newest iPhone, Gucci handbag etc.
The ads outline in detail what services the lady offers, along the same lines as escort websites do. Rates for the ads I have seen run anywhere from 1,700 baht up to 5,000+ baht for an all-nighter.
These are often very attractive ladies so if you want to meet super attractive ladies and are willing to pay, this is the way to go.
Like the massage parlours, this is the scene for the local men and the challenge is the language. These ladies are geared up for the local market. I imagine most would go with farangs but I am making an assumption here.
This is all relatively new and I don’t know anyone who has used these ladies’ services. I have only seen the ads.
Where do you find these ads? Search online….
And then there’s Pattaya. The impression I got from two days in Pattaya earlier this year was that in terms of value for money, Pattaya has it all over Bangkok.
Walk past any of the hundreds of massage houses in Pattaya and unlike Bangkok, the girls won’t call out “massage” but will often be quite frank about what they offer – and it seems that 1,000 baht gets you everything.
And then there’s infamous soi 6, many an expat resident’s favourite afternoon sneak-away place. 1,000 baht is the standard fee on top of a room charge, although some ladies are said to be asking for a bit more. Soi 6 has long been known for afternoon delight but do note if you have not been to Pattaya’s infamous soi 6 for a while there does actually seem to be more drinking there these days.
While it would be a stretch to say that Bangkok’s gogo bar dancers have priced themselves out of the market, at the same time they are no longer a bargain. There are alternatives and you don’t have to look very far at all. And it seems the most attractive ladies about are those who in the local market. Thai men have much better taste than Westerners! Venture where the Thai guys go and will find attractive ladies who are not just more pleasant and more attractive than anything on Sukhumvit, the whole experience will cost you less.
Last week’s photo was taken inside Vasu Exchange on Sukhumvit Road, one of the two money changers I recommend you use to exchange your foreign currency in to baht. Great to see a number of readers got it right. Half a dozen of you thought it was the Nana Hotel lobby. What about this week’s photo? This week is the last week you can win a copy of Hardship Posting volume 5, Stu Lloyd’s compilation of expat tales of misadventure. The first person in Asia to get this week’s photo right wins a copy of the book!
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
The changing bar scene.
Generation GI, I can relate to that one. Though the younger ones are in their 60s, I think the majority of the prime time GIs are on the cusp of 70 and beyond. I follow a lot of FB groups from GIs who were based in Thailand during the war. Some sound like they are happily settled with the one they found from that time whether it be in Thailand or back in the USA. Others have made trips back, but none have spoken much of the pay for play they knew back in their day. I think a lot of guys just toss in the towel as they forget what being active is about and they don’t have a scene readily available so they moved on to other substitutes. It was a sad day when TVs moved into the gogos and I thought WTF, who comes to a gogo bar to watch a soccer match. It’s just wrong. Drinking instead of barfining? The older bunch is wiser with their pennies. I am that drinker. Gone are the days when a beer bar barfine was 100 – 150 baht and the gogos were 200 – 300. Anything more than that is ludicrous.
The demise is real.
Have to agree with you about the demise of the gogo bar scene in Bangkok. As a long time resident here, I’ve seen the talent and the service fall through the floor while prices gave gone through the roof. My friends & I hit gogos for happy hour beers and to check out any new eye candy. Rarely do we barfine anymore. If we want full service it’s time to take the subway to Rachada massage parlors for at least 90 minutes of attention. More bang for the buck. Really do miss the old days though. Scotty, beam me back to Patpong in the early 1990s!
USA gentlemen’s clubs mirror Bangkok gogo bars.
Many of the issues that face the gogo bar business mirror what is going on with the gentlemen’s club business in the United States right now. Business is down because of a number of factors: Economy (despite what the media says – cost of living is gaining faster than income), outside options (including media), lower quality women coming into the business, a decline in younger customers coming into the business, and poor ownership / management! Having worked in the business here in the U.S. for 22 years (and now ready to come to Thailand to work in the business), I’m amazed at what I’ve seen as truly lazy and uncreative means to make the business work by adapting to the changes going on. (In the U.S. AND Thailand) 10 – 15 years ago when people were just throwing money around, it was easy. Many of these club owners figured they were some kind of business genius because of how easy it seemed. But with growing competition, we can see who the real business-minded owners are. Those factors that are pulling down income numbers can be overcome, but it takes a certain skill set that most of these owners don’t have. I was brainstorming to a strip club owner the other day, and I brought up the idea of video chat – within the club, utilizing entertainers who would otherwise be standing around doing nothing on a slow night – and his first response was, “Well, we don’t want the girls to get the idea to do that on their own…” As I looked around the club on a slow Monday night with 23 girls working and 4 customers in the club, I thought, “Yeah, as if they haven’t already. Just let someone else take that business away from us…” Blockbuster in hindsight wishes it had jumped faster at the Netflix idea…
Where is the next utopia?
I agree with most of the assessment that the bar industry is slowly rotting. Then I had a thought, what would be the destination to go to today, to recreate what the Bangkok bar industry was at its height? Does that place even exist? What would the place need to have to be a good copy? Is the Thai culture so unique that you couldn’t just mix in a tropical destination with a liberal dose of beverages, a truckload of girls and more neon than you can shake a fist at something that exists today somewhere else?
Yearning for the old days.
As a regular patron of the Thai bar industry for 20+ years I’ve noticed its slow change and decline over the last decade. And I’ve predicted a far more sanitised mainstream tourist friendly Western version for quite some time. As you mention, I believe these changes are being hastened by the stagnation in many Western men’s incomes over the last decade and poor current exchange rates. As an old school monger in my late 50’s, rather like those you describe, I would personally hate the model you predict. And can only hope the old / current version manages to hang on in there in some places until I either pop my clogs or diminishing testosterone levels require me to hang up my gun belt!
American expat Dean Pioli is hoping for a long and happy relationship after getting married in a Nana Plaza gogo bar this week. He and bride On said “I do” in an official ceremony attended by friends and family members at Erotica on the second floor of an area that advertises itself as the world’s largest adult playground. The wedding party attracted some surprised looks from plaza customers as the happy couple posed for photos near the steps leading to Erotica on Thursday evening. The bar was closed to customers from 7 – 9 PM while Dean and On made their vows, but then some of the female guests slipped out of their evening dresses, changed into bikinis and started their regular shifts as dancers around Erotica’s chrome poles. Dean and On provided a free bar for guests and handed out small presents to thank them for attending as is customary at Thai wedding ceremonies.
Halloween falls on Wednesday of this coming week and marks the start of the party season. Angelwitch in Nana Plaza is known for its Halloween party and the great effort which goes in to decorating the bar. In the past the staff would be done up in makeup to look like witches, ghouls, murder victims and monsters – and they really went to town with some incredible makeup work. If you have never visited Angelwitch at Halloween, it really is worth stopping by. Halloween runs for 3 days at Angelwitch from Monday 29th – Wednesday 31st.
And right next door to Angelwitch, Spanky’s is throwing a Halloween party on the 31st with special prizes. * As a side note – and I am not picking on Spanky’s here but talking about bars in general – why do so many bars throwing parties include the words “special prizes” but not actually say what the prizes are?! If the prizes are something decent then why not provide more details? It might be sufficient reason for some to stop by. Sometimes these so-called special prizes are something ill-thought or corny like a bar-themed coaster which you just know will end up discarded or lost before the night is over.
Another popular spot at Halloween is Patpong soi 2 fetish bar, Bar Bar with its dungeon theme which is particularly well suited to Halloween. Stop by Bar Bar on Wednesday 31st if you dare!
And as the column deadline drew closer, other bars got in contact with info about what they have planned for Halloween. Check out the posters scattered throughout this column for more on the many Halloween parties taking place this week.
Bar legend Ricky celebrated his birthday last week in Sin City with a huge bash in Pandora’s where it was standing room only. Ricky’s popularity endures – the legend has been running bars for, what, more than 20 years?
Word from Pattaya is that business in Soi LK Metro is more than decent. I really enjoyed LK Metro when I was there in July and felt the vibe captured the glory days of old. It’s always good to hear of a bar area thriving in the low season.
Lady Love on Soi LK Metro is another bar doing well. Plenty of silicone-enhanced lasses in there if that is your thing.
Even die-hard Pattaya bar fans are describing the Walking Street of today as awful. It’s one thing having girls in bikinis and playing loud music but the hustling for drinks, the lack of any attention, to say nothing of what little is on display has naughty boys in the know making a beeline for Soi LK Metro.
And on soi 15 off Walking Street (I notice the bar bosses in that soi like to make that distinction that it is not Walking Street) there’s plenty to be seen. Dollhouse’s upstairs area is becoming a favourite spot for locals and Club Electric Blue continues to do well.
Heaven Above in Soi Diamond is still going strong after 14 years. They have installed a new play sofawhere the girls interact with each other and customers. And they have introduced some specialty cocktails at a bargain 99 baht including mango / strawberry Daiquiris, Bloody Mary / Oyster Shooters, Espresso Martinis and more. It’s not what you expect in a gogo bar so good on Heaven Above for trying something new. The bar has revived its drink card. At 1,195 baht, it does not expire and is good for 10 drinks which represents, give or take, a 25% savings on standard priced bottled beers and spirits outside of happy hour prices. And with the party season upon us, Heaven Above has a heap of parties planned starting this week through until New Year.
October 29 – 31: 3 days of Halloween with the sexiest little ghouls in Pattaya.
November 22: An American Thanksgiving feast with ham and turkey sandwiches and finger food.
December 15: Boss’s Christmas party.
December 25: Christmas celebration party.
December 31: New Year’s blowout party.
Adding a little bit to last week’s opener about the state of the bar industry and where it’s going, one issue I did not touch on is that one or two large bar groups could acquire bar after bar as they come up for sale until it reaches a point that the industry is dominated by just one or two major groups with few independent operators remaining. All the bars would be similar in style and I guess it would be kind of like 20 branches of McDonald’s right next to one another….that is another possibility for where things could go. Diversity in the bar area is a good thing.
Many bars used to sell bar-themed memorabilia like T-shirts and polo shirts and caps with the bar’s name, logo and location. Do (m)any bars sell this sort of thing these days? I for one would probably grab a couple of polo shirts and would be quite happy to wear them here in New Zealand where they’d be a bit of a talking point. But I wouldn’t dream of wearing them when I visit Thailand!
A popular Bangkok restaurant was visited by soldiers and police this week. Some say it is because the bar has many staff from Myanmar. With many restaurants struggling to recruit, some hire staff from Myanmar. One of the advantages of staff from across the border is that generally their English is better than locals so they might be better suited to service positions in restaurants with a foreign customer base. If you are in the hospitality business and have staff from Myanmar, it might be an idea to make sure their paperwork is in order.
Bangkok has many rooftop bars, almost too many to count. One I had not heard about before is atop the Radisson Blu Plaza Hotel on the main Sukhumvit Road, roughly opposite soi 20. A friend tells me it is a fantastic roof-top bar, 30 floors up in the sky. They have a “beer of the day” promotion featuring their very own brew which is just 200 baht – very reasonable for a rooftop bar. Said friend and his Mrs. had a couple of drinks each and the total bill was less than 900 baht. Some of these rooftop bars are swanky and can be seriously expensive so that’s a pretty good deal. Rooftop bars are an ideal spot for a first date, I reckon.
Terminal 21 opened in Pattaya last week and from all accounts it was bedlam and the mall was mobbed. Terminal 21’s arrival had been eagerly awaited by locals. And the big attraction at Terminal 21 and what many expats had been looking forward to? The food court! One of the curiosities of Terminal 21 in Bangkok is the way so many foreigners rave about the food court. I don’t get it. Well, actually, I do….and it’s a throwback to the Bangkok of old – the food court at Terminal 21 in Bangkok is super cheap, even by food court standards. There have been claims from other mall operators that the food in Terminal 21 is so cheap that it must be subsidized by the shopping centre operator. Cheap food gets more people to the mall, after all. But as a shopping centre goes, Terminal 21 falls in to limbo. There’s not a lot of cheap stuff like you get at MBK and neither do you have the high-end stuff like say Em Quartier or Paragon. Ok, so it’s mid-range with a lot of popular brand names, right? Not really. I just don’t get the Terminal 21 concept! Sure, it’s spacious, easy to walk around and the themed floors is neat, but is that enough to get you there more than once? The cinema is good, but then it’s just another cinema multiplex and I think the appeal is more that it’s a convenient location – right next to the Sukhumvit underground / Asoke skytrain stations – rather than it being a great cinema. I guess in Pattaya the appeal of the new Terminal 21 for Thais is that it’s new – a place to be seen and to take selfies and get them up on Facebook before everyone else does. And for Pattaya expats it’s the cheap food court!
The law in Thailand says that foreigners must register their address within 24 hours of arriving in the country – and every time you overnight somewhere new – be it a friend’s place, girlfriend’s place, work-related stay etc. Whenever you go to a new place and overnight there, Immigration must be notified. Registration can be done with the local Immigration office or, I believe, at a police station if there is no Immigration branch nearby. If you stay in a hotel, the hotel does this for you automatically so you don’t need to worry about it. If you stay in a private residence then the owner is responsible for doing it – and if you live in your own condo then you must do it yourself. If you’re stopped by Immigration at any time and it is discovered that the registration has not been done then you can be fined 1,600 baht. My understanding is that while this law has long been on the books, enforcement wasn’t common. That has changed, particularly in Chiang Mai and Chonburi it seems, where some people report being fined for not registering their address with Immigration. At a time when the government is trying to promote tourism and get visitor numbers up even further, I find it curious that this law is being enforced.
There are more reports from people being turned away at the border – with the most common reason being that they are unable to show adequate funds to support their stay. When entering Thailand, you need to prove that you are a bona fide visitor and have the money to fund your stay. That means you need to be able to show cash (Thai baht or equivalent in a major currency) or travellers cheques if you are asked. A bank statement or a credit card is not accepted! The onus is on you to show that you have the money if asked. Saying you have a condo in Thailand is not enough – you need to show you have money on you! Depending on the type of visa you have, you might also be asked to show a ticket out of the country and perhaps even produce a confirmed hotel booking. There are more reports of people being turned away at the border. In many cases they claim to have ATM cards, credit cards or access to funds. If they had been able to show funds, they probably would have been allowed to enter. Generally speaking you need to be able to show 10,000 baht if you’re arriving without a visa or 20,000 baht if you have a visa.
First it was the Brits and now it is some Yanks who are in panic mode after the US Embassy in Bangkok announced on its website that from the start of January it will not issue letters certifying a citizen’s income. This letter has been used by many Americans as part of their annual retirement visa extension. Those applying for an extension of stay based on retirement (commonly referred to as a retirement visa) will now have to show that they have at least 800,000 baht deposited in to a local Thai bank account – and that it has been there for at least 3 months before they apply for the visa extension. Let me repeat what I have already said about this issue: The respective American and British embassies are NOT at fault here. This situation has come about because of widespread gaming of the system, lies and fraud on the part of some who claimed they had an income which met the financial requirements of Thai Immigration when in fact they did not.
A Dutchman reported missing on Ko Tao is found…….in Pattaya.
A Brit posts a video talking about how he was fined 1,600 baht for not registering his address with Immigration.
A Canadian is accused of scamming Thais with offers of bogus jobs in the USA.
Four Scottish lasses are visited by police at their Phi Phi Island hotel and forced to pay for a broken toilet they say they did not break.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org