2 Weeks In Bangkok
I may have been gone only 3 months but the difference in Bangkok between July and November was clear. Where July was quiet, this November the bars were busier, the streets full of visitors and Bangkok felt like it was thriving. Here are a few thoughts on another 2 weeks spent hanging out with old friends and visiting my favourite spots in Bangkok.
I know it’s not really possible that the skyline should spring up in just a few months, but Bangkok somehow felt like it was even more built up in November than it had been mid-year. I’d only been away a short while but buildings sure go up fast and the city’s landscape is like a garden in Spring. All over the city new buildings are going up, many of them condos and there are sales offices galore. And, wow, look at those asking prices!
Amongst the many new buildings going up are some really cool-looking buildings. Thais have always had a creative flair and the architects of today have come up with some really intriguing designs that are pleasing on the eye.
The asking price for units in Q House Sukhumvit, pictured above, wasn’t far short of a million greenbacks. Bangkok real estate is reaching for the stratosphere and buildings in prime locations have asking prices that look like phone numbers – with the area code attached!
I used to live in Sukhumvit soi 16 and liked it – but it has to be said that the top half of the soi is a lot better than the bottom half which backs on to slums. At the bottom end of Sukhumvit soi 16 a new condo development has huge banners draped over the side advertising units for sale @ 179,000 baht / square metre. The general location of soi 16 is good, but the specific location towards the bottom of soi 16 is not. 179,000 baht / square metre for a property where your neighbours are slumdwellers – where a 55 square metre apartment – which is still rather on the small side – would cost about 10 million baht? That strikes me as just crazy.
And who is going to buy all of these units? They’re going up EVERYWHERE and prices are, well, more than you’d pay in many developed economies. I am scratching my head trying to work it out…
It’s clichéd to talk about the traffic in Bangkok but it seemed worse. In fact just getting around Bangkok – by whatever means you can think of – is not a lot of fun these days.
Leaving The Londoner on Pattanakarn around 9:30 PM in a taxi on Saturday with a couple of mates, we head over to Sukhumvit. It’s not far, perhaps 7 or 8 kilometres, but on a Saturday night (when you’d hardly expect traffic to be that bad) it still took a whole hour & 20 minutes. The weather was fine, there were no accidents along the way and no special events along the way which could explain the congestion.
The traffic was often at a standstill – and way, way, way out in the suburbs, traffic actually seemed to be even worse than it was on Sukhumvit. Bangkok taxis may be cheap, but the amount of time wasted in traffic is just crazy.
Yes, there are alternatives like the skytrain and the underground, but they are decidedly uncomfortable these days, especially at peak hour.
So the solution is easy, Stick, walk! If only that were a viable solution… Alas, at this time of year it is not – at least if you value your health.
When buildings not even a kilometre away appear hazy, you know it’s not a good sign. The air was filthy in Bangkok some days. One of the downsides to visiting Bangkok at this time of year with the rainy season over is that some days the air is thick with particle matter and pollution. It’s not that way every day, but some days the view from the hotel was of a thick, grey layer of shit hanging over the city, blue skies replaced by grey despite there being very little cloud.
The air quality index showed how bad things were – and some days Bangkok made the list of the 10 major cities in the world with the worst air quality. And sure enough, with the amount of time I spent outside, I developed a cough. You could literally feel the crap in your throat.
The pollution will only get worse through the cool season until it reaches a peak in February and March when the (illegal) burning season starts. You don’t often hear people who move to (or leave) Thailand cite the pollution, but at this time of year it really can be bad. Sure, you can wear a facemask when you’re outside, install special filters in your air-conditioning unit or limit your time outside, but is that really how you want to live?
I went for a walk around the park with Father T of Nanapong fame who explained that the air pollution is so bad these days that whereas he used to walk almost every day, now he prefers to exercise at the gym. And a friend whose son goes to an international school said that a couple of days the kids had not been allowed to go outside and play because the pollution was so bad and the school was concerned for the kids’ well-being. Generally, pollution is not something the Thais give a lot of thought to and the only people you hear talking about / concerned about it are foreigners.
Traffic is worse than ever. The underground and skytrain are horribly congested. Walking is not a real option. Getting around Bangkok is not fun.
On Sukhumvit Road, progress is slow in the space between sois 5 and 7. This massage shop on the main Sukhumvit Road near soi 5 shows what was The Tunnel in the background. Work on what was The Tunnel and the vacant space on corner of Sukhumvit soi 7 next to the Nana skytrain station has not started.
And pretty much directly across the road is the vacant space at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 6. Not that many weeks ago I asked in this column about that space. Work is underway so I guess in less than a couple of years another building will be casting shadows across Sukhumvit Road.
Chinatown is coming along and some sois are becoming gentrified as developers move in with chic eateries and bars opening up.
The building in the photo above has featured as a mystery photo a couple of times, back when it was a derelict building covered in graffiti. It has been gutted, fitted out, tastefully decorated and today is a swanky and thriving bar. A bit further along is Soi Nana which has more interesting venues. NO, not thatSoi Nana, but the new Soi Nana in Chinatown, or new at least in terms of its development in to a soi with chilled bars.
Speaking of Soi Nana, as the sun goes down and the alcohol starts flowing, the busiest part of Sukhumvit Road turns in to a playground. And that playground is much busier than it was a few months ago. Both Nana and Cowboy seemed to be doing a nice trade while Patpong felt like it was still stuck in the high season. Sukhumvit felt like the low season had come early.
Visitors are everywhere. Sukhumvit is rammed – and it’s not even December! Wait until January and it’s going to be bedlam. Sukhumvit feels busier and more touristy than ever, to the extent that between Nana and Asoke it feels like a tourist trap.
To me, the busiest part of Sukhumvit no longer feels like a “working city”. By that, what I mean is I don’t see the sorts of shops and services that you typically see for local people, but rather most businesses are targeting tourists – which is no surprise given that the majority of people aren’t Thai. Up until just a few years ago I still thought of prime Sukhumvit as a Thai area with nightlife for foreigners. Not any more. It’s a tourist trap and any charms that part of the city once had are largely gone. In fairness, you don’t have to head very far in any direction from that area and you’ll see few tourists.
And what is it with all of these visitors walking to or from their hotel, wheeling their luggage. Why not just grab a cab? Taxis are still one of Bangkok’s true bargains. Even if money is tight, surely spending 50 baht is better than battling the heat and building up a sweat dragging your suitcase up and down Bangkok’s congested and uneven pavements searching for your hotel? But perhaps it’s not about money. 90% of the suitcase draggers seem to be Chinese so I wonder if it’s a language issue and they’re unable to communicate to the cabbie where they want to go?
Sukhumvit by night was very busy with lots of people everywhere – and a higher percentage of Westerners than the middle of the year.
And in the nightlife areas the crowds are more diverse. There are so many Western females visiting Soi Cowboy that some nights it felt like a just another tourist attraction on the circuit – which is what I guess it has become. A good few Western females make it to Nana Plaza too – but Cowboy seemed more popular with the female lookyloos. I saw grey-haired lesbian couples in their ’70s, packs of Indian females, many groups of young females, Western couples of all ages and more and more are sticking around for a drink – and some are actually going inside the bars.
Out on the soi, they’re taking lots of photos and if that makes you nervous, you have every reason to be so. The photo above is not Photoshopped and nor was it taken with a proper camera. That shot is straight from my mobile phone and has not been edited or enhanced in any way. I took a few to see what sort of results you can get with a mobile phone – and given how bright Soi Cowboy is, you get heaps of detail and can clearly make out people’s faces. Have you ever wondered how many Facebook videos might you be an unwitting star in?
Speaking of Western women, who would have guessed that – according to Google – this site’s readership is 14% female? I get emails from females, perhaps one a month on average. For sure, there are plenty of female readers out there. Whether the typical female reader sticks around for a long time or merely stumbles on to the site by accident, I really do not know.
Let’s finish with a shot from what many agree is Bangkok’s best gogo bar. It was great to see the bars thriving and an upbeat, fun vibe. Not every bar was booming but many were.
From what I saw this trip, if the high season (which I think of these days as starting early December) could be a good one – at least in the places we farangs hang out. I know the number of Chinese visiting Bangkok is said to be down but the number of white visitors in town was a revelation. The bars were doing great and all indicators are that this high season could be one to celebrate.
Last week’s photo was taken of Pra Sumen Fort at the corner of Phra Athit Road, out in the Khao San Road area, near the river. This week’s mystery photo might look tricky at first glance but it really is not that difficult if you’re reasonably familiar with downtown Bangkok.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Your Patpong column gives a first-hand view of the transformation happening on the ground in Bangkok, and different aspects of it, which I find very interesting. The need for expansion and the transformation of Bangkok is understandable as it is one of the most visited cities in the world. However, a changing city sometimes takes away sweet memories with that change. Let me share a story which might be somehow related. There was a popular music store in our city back in India where I used to hang out with my teenage buddies. A few years ago someone called me up saying that the music store was going to shut down to make way for a brand new restaurant. I was in town and I rushed to the store to visit one last time. The mood inside was sombre. The usual smiles had evaporated from the faces of the ever helpful staffers. Walking past the shelves of CDs, I realized I hadn’t visited the store in over a decade. The world had moved to music streaming and so had I. It was no longer necessary for me to go to a store to buy music. Time changes and so do we, as do our surroundings. But anticipating the changes, witnessing some of those as they happen and then reminiscing from a distance has its own charm, doesn’t it? In that respect, I sometimes browse your past columns to relive the “golden days”. I was seriously concerned about losing access to the Stickman Weekly archives when you stopped writing. I’m really glad that things are back to normal.
The massage option.
It occurred to me to suggest that you do a feature piece on the massage scene in Bangkok (and other naughty areas) but I notice that there have already been several contributions that almost address the topic piecemeal. For my tuppence worth, I would endorse the recent post(er) that was bigging up the places near Phrom Pong such as Mango and Snow White. There is usually a good selection of ladies but if nobody tickles your fancy you can just move along to the next place until you hit the jackpot. The ‘service’ standards are usually good / excellent with a mamasan on site in the unlikely event of any issues. A lot of places have their own websites and a lady can be booked in advance (although I’ve never tried that). Alcohol is not a feature so you don’t get girls too drunk to perform or any of the issues that can come with bargirls and their baggage. Prices are very reasonable for what’s on offer and as a recent poster pointed out, if you prefer a step up in quality / surrounds then you can head for Rachadapisek Road (where the prices are almost double).
Protecting their establishments.
I want to comment on the issue of Indians being rejected in various establishments in Thailand. I am not PC at all so I’ll say it as I see it: good for the owners of the establishments for protecting their interests. The behavior of Indians in business has long disgusted me. A member of my family is a very accomplished craftsman in the Midwest of the USA and he refuses to take them as clients as he never is able to get the last 1/3 of payment from them. I know a pizza shop in Bangkok where they come in and split a slice of pizza and always want a discount on a 50 baht slice. The working girls of Thailand seem to know guys’ personalities rather well and if they don’t like them, that’s all the confirmation I need. <Note to reader, you’re going to absolutely hate an opening piece I am working on, “Chinese and Indians, The Future of Thailand Tourism” – Stick>
“Hello, hansum man”, Spanky’s style.
When are the management at Spanky’s in Nana Plaza going to understand that 2 ugly Thai guys shouting SPANKAYYYY SPANKAYY while clapping their hands is not going to get customers into the bar! I am sitting in Big Dogs right now and all the people coming in to the plaza are avoiding them. In the meantime 2 hot chicks promoting another bar have guys flocking to them.
More police stops.
Regarding police searches, I have been searched twice in the alleyway between Khao San Road and Rachadamnoen. On one encounter two policemen on a motorbike pulled up in front of me and asked for my passport. One of them kept hold of it but did not even look inside so clearly this was to stop me running off. They said I should not worry about the Bangkok police and asked me where I was going and then proceeded to go through my pockets. When one of them took my wallet and saw some baht inside he carefully and deliberately handed the wallet back to me. I had a small pouch with a compact camera in it and the officer sort of nodded when he opened it and saw the camera and gave like a noise of approval when he opened a flap which had spare batteries in it. They seemed interested in a packet of Fisherman’s Friends but it was obvious what they were. They asked me where I was staying and where I was going a couple more times but in the end they said they thought I was a good man and left. I think this was a random stop to look for drugs. I wear a shirt and long trousers and have short hair and no tattoos, so I don’t really stick out. At no time were they patronising but even so it was a bit unnerving. When I mentioned the encounter to my guesthouse lady she said that sometimes guests have to come back to the guesthouse to get money for the police. (I guess the police must have found something.) She also said the police like dark alleyways, to which I replied I do not like dark alleyways anymore.
Butterflies, on the top floor of Nana Plaza, got new signage this week with the name in English and two Asian scripts which I guess shows where the industry is going. And if the signage looks somehow familar, that’s because it’s in the same font and style as the signage for Billboard. What’s that all about? Butterflies and Billboard have the same owners.
Twister BKK, the old Bangkok Bunnies on the ground floor of Nana Plaza, is the largest farang gogo bar in Bangkok. But it’s much too big and just doesn’t work. It desperately needs to be divided up in to two, or preferably three different spaces i.e. how it used to be. It is said that Twister BKK is a result of the my dick is bigger than yours syndrome, and was created when the expanded Pretty Lady and Voodoo were acquired, the walls knocked out and a huge cavernous space created. But it’s so big that it feels more like a large nightclub early in the evening and there is no atmosphere whatsoever. Giant gogo bars work when the industry is booming and the bar can be filled with a couple of hundred girls. Is there any gogo bar in Bangkok that gets anywhere near that number of girls? Billboard can get 130+ on a good night but even that wouldn’t be enough to fill Twister BKK. Here’s hoping commonsense prevails and the bar is divided up in to 3 smaller bars. It would be good for both the bar owner – who could sell of one or two of the bars – and the plaza in general. And by the way, Twister BKK on the ground floor is different to the similar-sounding Twister Bar on the middle floor (the bar in the space that was once Rainbow 4).
I’m not sure what to make of the atmosphere at Nana Plaza at night now that the complex has a roof. It is an improvement, I guess, but I think it’s more about keeping the rain away in the rainy season than anything else. One thing I don’t really care for at Nana Plaza is all of the plain vanilla signs, especially those on the ground floor. They lack style and pale in comparison to the fantastic bar signage and bar frontages at Soi Cowboy. Why do bars like Playskool, Obsession and Twister BKK have such boring, single-colour, basic font signs that look like they belong in the 1980s? On the ground floor, Rainbow 1 stands out and has a more colourful and stylish sign. The best bar signage in Nana Plaza? Billboard and Butterflies.
Oh, and on the subject of the Nana Plaza roof, a few months ago I mentioned that there had been a problem with the design – when it rained heavily water came cascading right over the steps on the left-hand side leading up to the middle floor. What I neglected to later mention was that this was fixed quickly and is no longer an issue.
There are many differences between Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy. Nana Plaza has a large contingent of security whereas Soi Cowboy does not. Nana Plaza has several ladyboy bars whereas Soi Cowboy has just one. Soi Cowboy attracts more mainstream visitors whereas Nana is still more an expat / sex tourist crowd. One big difference that can be a clincher for some on where to go is that most of Soi Cowboy does not allow smoking while most (all?) of the bars in Nana Plaza (and Patpong too) do. For those of us not keen on a return to the days when smoky bars was the norm, Soi Cowboy bars are a reprieve.
The beer bars of Soi Nana seem to be doing well with good customer numbers day and night. And pricing has to be part of the equation. Standard drinks in Bangkok gogo bars now average around 170 baht, lady drinks are 200 baht or more in some bars and more than a few bars charge 180 or 190 baht for a small tumbler of Johnny Walker Black or Jack Daniel’s. Prices in the gogo bars march on…
Down in Pattaya, Babydolls (yes, the bar spells it this way – just one word) will celebrate mamasan Nut’s birthday this coming Friday, November 30th. There will be free food and rumour has it that Larry the legend might make an appearance.
Lighthouse is the hot-spot on Soi Cowboy every Wednesday night with 100 baht drinks all night long. Apparently some backpackers were passing the bar, saw the sign for 100 baht drinks all night long, stopped in the bar, drank up large and then asked at the end of the night why their total bill wasn’t 100 baht. These fools thought 100 baht all night long meant you could order unlimited drinks all night for a total of just 100 baht. Idiots! The bar has added the word “each” to the promotion boards. Given how popular Lighthouse’s Wednesday night special is, perhaps the question that should be asked is why other bars haven’t copied Lighthouse’s special? It’s not like it would be hard to do. I’ve always said bars aren’t run by geniuses (but clearly Lighthouse is because they came up with a brilliant promotion that really works). * A photo feature on Lighthouse featuring some of the bar’s hotties is coming soon.
The Thermae used to be referred to as the Star Wars bar due to all of the freaky guys in there. It really was the place to see some of the characters of Bangkok. The Thermae has changed and where once it was Western men and Isaan ladies, now it’s mainly Asian men (predominately Japanese) and a small percentage of Western men along with Thai ladies. And it is still a freak show these days, but not in the way it used to be. The Thermae is the place to find some of those most appalling examples of thoughtless plastic surgery . Think over-sized boob jobs, the worst nose jobs in Bangkok and other supposed enhancements which just don’t work. So the Thermae is still the Star Wars bar of Bangkok, but for different reasons than it used to be.
In Titanium on Sukhumvit soi 22 it is recommended that you check your bill regularly. And if you’re sensitive to price, it is highly recommended that you ask the price of drinks before you order. And it is also recommended that you settle your bill after each and every round. Let’s just leave it at that.
Only two readers accepted my invitation at the end of the last column to be pointed in the direction of the lovely featured. But when I explained that she was in fact a he, said readers lost interest. A dozen or so of you sent email saying that you thought she was in fact a ladyboy – well done to those readers!
There are a few late-night nightclubs in Bangkok – some very popular – which can only be entered (and presumably exited) by lift. Levels is but one example. This begs the question: what would happen if a fire broke out? You really wouldn’t want to find yourself inside a nightclub if it started filling up with smoke. And let’s be frank, fires in Bangkok nightclubs are hardly something new – remember Santika?! It makes you wonder about the licences for these premises…
The Hardship Posting team will be in Pattaya next weekend to promote volume 5 of their excellent series of tales of expat misadventure in Asia. The Saigon, Singapore and Bangkok launches all went well so expect a lot of fun in Pattaya. If you find yourself in Pattaya next Saturday, December 1st, drop by Fletcher’s Folly between 6 and 8 PM.
PAUL HAYWARD & PANTHERA GROUP ANNOUNCE THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH PARTY LEVEL UP FRIDAYS BANGKOK INVADERS | Friday, 30 November 2018
Get ready to join us for the official launch party of LEVEL UP Fridays with Bangkok Invaders founder Club & Radio DJ ONO (Met 107), MC Dandee & DJ DoubleB taking over the club with the best commercial, pop and open format mix set.
FREE FLOW Sparkling Wine for all the ladies from 9pm – 11pm!
DOORS OPEN AT 9PM – late
* Free entrance before midnight
* Entrance fee after midnight 400baht for men ; 300baht for women (* incl. 1 standard drink)
Table reservations book direct www.levelsclub.com/events
There is this weird dynamic amongst some younger male farang / female Thai couples in Bangkok where she earns more than he does. It’s 2018 and a sign of the times, I guess.
And of all the trends I noticed this trip, the one that really stood out is the continued increase in the number of female farangs living and working in Bangkok. Heaps of pretty white women in their 20s and 30s were exercising daily at the park. They’re out and about in the party sois like Sukhumvit soi 11 and Thonglor and from the looks of things they’re doing well for themselves. Their presence should act as something of a foil for the bullshit from some of the misogynistic expats who blame all of the ills of the world on Western women. The more white women in Bangkok, the better, I say.
I am told that the mad scientist – the one-man graffiti machine who I often mention in this column – goes by the name Pete. And apparently he speaks English quite well.
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “A country with female bathroom attendants in men’s restrooms is a country with a liberal attitude towards sex and the role of women generally.”
The ghost tower of Bangkok is featured in an international travel article.
The Telegraph lists what it considers the best nightlife spots in Bangkok.
A former Russian consul is charged with forging fake visas for Thailand.
Two Brits are arrested in Pattaya and will be deported back to the UK to face drugs charges.
Why don’t I say I am in town and only talk about my time in Bangkok after I have left? If I say I am in town, people email me keen to meet up. I only have a limited amount of time – and often I have plenty to do – so it’s not possible to meet up with everyone. And when I say that as much as I’d like to meet up but I am unable to, some don’t always respond well. That’s why I don’t tell that many people when I am in town and I never talk about it in the column when I am there, until I have left.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com