Stickman's Weekly Column November 18th, 2018

What’s Going On At Patpong?


Something is going on at Patpong and some business owners in Bangkok’s oldest bar area are worried. And it’s not just in Patpong where business owners are concerned, but the wider area. What is going on in Patpong and its surrounds?

 

 

patpong-bangkok

Soi Patpong, no longer the most famous street in Thailand.

The first sign that something was up came a few years ago when word leaked from the Patpong Group about a so-called new development. That was all anyone knew – two words: new development. No details, not much of anything, everything pure conjecture, but worrying nonetheless.

The worry was magnified when word got out that bars were being offered just one-year leases. Landlords typically prefer tenants to sign long-term leases and the longer the lease agreement, generally the happier a landlord is. The only time landlords don’t wish to offer long-term leases is when they have plans for their property. Plans to develop it, or plans to sell it.

The usual story with leases in Thailand is a 3-year lease with an option for a 3-year renewal, or a 3-year leases with 2 x 3-year renewals. These are often called a 3 x 3 x 3 lease which is essentially a 9-year lease with two break points, where the lessee could get out of the lease without penalty if they so chose.

But in Patpong, bars were being offered 1-year leases. Something was up.

Finding out what was going on would prove difficult. The Patpong Group – or more succinctly, the Patpong family – is famously private.

 

 

hooters-silom-bangkok

Hooters, on the corner of Silom & Thaniya.

But it was not just Patpong. Across the wider area, other business owners reported that they too had only been offered one-year leases. The rumour mill went in to overdrive.

The next soi up Silom Road from Patpong is Silom soi 4. It has long been known as a gay soi – though these days it is more a dining soi than a gay pickup area. All the bars and restaurants in Silom soi 4 are now on one-year leases too. And it is believed these are one-year leases with no extension clause. So what that means is that as it currently stands, businesses in Silom soi 4 have leases through until December 31st, 2019 with no guarantee that they will be able to run their business from their current location beyond then.

 

 

silom-soi4

A quiet night on Silom soi 4.

One-year leases aren’t great for business confidence, and are terrible for the value of a business. And these one-year leases are having an effect on the value of some businesses in the area.

One Silom soi 4 restaurant changed hands in the last month for just a million baht. Based on the numbers it was doing, you would have been expected it to go for several times that. Both the seller and the buyer are well aware of the short leases and the shadow hanging over the area – and that is attributed as the reason for the low price it changed hands for.

Some bar and restaurant owners in Silom soi 4 are actively looking for new locations well away from Silom with flourishing Sathorn sois 9 and 12 currently being looked at.

 

 

patpong-soi2-bangkok

At Patpong soi 2, bar signs and entrances are almost hidden by vendors selling bags and suitcases.

So what is the reason for these one-year leases?

The rumour mill – and let me stress here that it is that, rumour and nothing more – has it that a massive development is planned for a large expanse of land from the top of Silom Road, all the way down to Bangkok Christian Hospital. And presumably from Suriwong Road across to Silom Road. This area takes in a swathe of prime land where there are many venues known to foreigners including both Patpong sois, Soi Thaniya (the soi with bars for the Japanese and a heap of golf shops), Silom Soi 4 (known  as the gay soi), as well as many other businesses popular with foreigners such as the Hooters on the corner of Soi Thaniya and Silom Road.

But is it plausible that this whole area could be acquired by developers? The rumour mill has it that the new development would include office towers, shopping malls and high-end accommodation, all of which sounds very similar to the massive OneBangkok development underway at the corner of Rama 4 and Wittayu Roads.

 

 

safari-bangkok

Could classic old bars like Safari be lost?

But what about Patpong and its rich history. Could it really be demolished? Of course it could! There is no room for sentimentality in business, especially in Thailand.

Just look at the top of Silom Road where the long-running Dusit Thani Hotel will close its doors at the end of this year. The Dusit Thani was once a regular fixture in the top 10 hotels in the world lists, a property which encapsulates so much that is charming about Thailand. It will soon be dust.

 

 

washington-square-bangkok

Progress is very slow in what was Washington Square, and what is to be Emisphere.

Sceptics can cite the rumours that surrounded Nana Plaza forever which some maintained would be levelled to make way for the construction of a car park for the adjacent Landmark Hotel. That never happened – and almost certainly never will.

There is precedent for a large area with bars being levelled to make way for a major development. Washington Square, the ramshackle bar area spread across a wide plot on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 22, was levelled with major plans for a commercial development called Emisphere. It is progressing at a snail’s pace.

 

 

nana-plaza-bangkok

Other bar areas would be the beneficiaries of Patpong’s demise.

Patpong doesn’t have the following of Cowboy and Nana today, but those who prefer Patpong over the other bar areas are fiercely loyal – and some who drink at Patpong refuse to visit Sukhumvit. Some die-hard Patpong fans are worried that this is real and potentially the end of Asia’s most famous red-light district and, once upon a time, its most famous street.

 

 

patpong-bangkok

Patpong soi 2, very quiet.

But just how plausible is it? While some are convinced something is going on, the logistics make me think it’s highly unlikely.

The first thing to consider is that Patpong is prime land and one imagines that more efficient (read: profitable) use could be made of the land. The area is also very well served by the skytrain and underground which makes it attractive to develop.

Silom does not have a large shopping mall and neither does it have a cinema complex. There’s demand for those as well as more quality hotels in the area and I imagine there would be plenty of demand for prime office space too.

The one-year leases are real and one of my sources on this story, a business owner with hospitality businesses in the affected area, is planning to relocate.

The biggest challenge I see is that the area of land is so large that and divided up in to many parcels with many different landowners, *all* of which would have to be acquired before a development could go ahead. Surely there would be some holdouts who, for whatever reason, would refuse to sell at any price. For some, the land has been owned and the business sitting on it operated by previous generations of the family. This has been handed down to them and is as much a family heirloom as a valuable plot of land. Land like that will not be let go of easily.

The area has some large, established buildings such as the Charn Isara and Crowne Hotel as well as the Thaniya Building which is owned by a very, very wealthy (meaning very, very powerful) old Chinese-Thai family. People with that sort of wealth simply cannot be bullied in to or forced to do something they don’t want, no matter who you are.

And then there are all of the people living in the area. Take the end of Silom soi 4 , for example, where there is an established well-to-do family who presumably own the land on which the family home sits. They’ve lived there for decades – why would they sell?

Acquiring every last one of these pieces of land would require the deepest of deep pockets but even then, surely there would be holdouts – and not just one or two, but many. It’s a large area and it’s hard to see everyone agreeing to sell. Mathematically it simply doesn’t seem possible. For some of these landowners, money wouldn’t come in to it as they already have more than they will ever need.

And then there’s the issue of the Patpong Group themselves. Why would they have spent so much money sprucing up King’s Castle & Camelot Castle in the last year only to let them go now? That doesn’t make sense.

At least one foreign business owner claims most of the area has been sold already and the few holdouts are facing enormous pressure to sell. I’m a cynic and I just don’t believe this.

 

 

thanon-patpong

Once Bangkok’s – and for that matter, Asia most (in)famous road.

If Patpong were to go, Bangkok would lose a big slice of the history of the farang bar industry. There’s more history in Patpong than all the other farang bars and bar areas combined.

On the other hand, I have long said that consolidation of the three major Bangkok bar areas in to two would bring life to the remaining areas. In this respect, if one bar area were to disappear it would be a good thing for the bar industry as a whole.

 

 

kiss-bar-bangkok

Current prices on Patpong soi 1.

And from a bar industry perspective, there is the issue of Patpong being a designated entertainment area. What that means is that new gogo bars can open at Patpong. Set up a new bar in the area and you can apply for a gogo bar licence and assuming all criteria is met, it will be issued. This is not possible in Nana Plaza or Soi Cowboy, neither of which are designated entertainment areas. This is why there have been no new gogo bars (Crazy House the one curious exception) opening up in Nana or Cowboy in many years. Sure, bars change hands and bar names change, but no *new* gogo bars have been built where once where was a restaurant or a minimart, for example.

 

 

central-silom

Central Silom. The Silom area lacks a large shopping centre and modern cinema complex.

I really am cynical about this supposed new development. At the same time let’s not forget that Patpong and the top of Silom is some of the primest, most expensive real estate in all of Thailand. The way it’s currently developed is horribly inefficient and the relatively low rents paid by bars in the area is a fraction of what similar bars pay on lower Sukhumvit.

 

 

bar-bar-patpong

Iconic bar frontages on Patpong soi 2.

There are business owners in Patpong and Silom soi 4 very concerned. I don’t think they have reason to worry. I cannot see anything happening and the plans all sound a bit too grandiose to be plausible.

 


Billboard Bangkok
 

 

Mystery photo

bangkok-mystery-photo3

Last week’s photo was taken at the intersection of Silom and Rama 4 roads. This week’s is away from the downtown area, but still in a part of the city known well by foreigners. Drop me an email if you think you know where it is!

 


Lighthouse Soi Cowboy
 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.

Bars turning Indian customers away.

Thanks for highlighting the customer service issues at Crazy House and Rainbow 4. I’ve had similar experience at both of these establishments. A few years ago, I dropped in to Crazy House where I had to cough up 500 baht at the gate whereas the gatekeeper was asking 100 baht from white customers. That was my first and last visit to Crazy House. At Nana Plaza, I had visited Rainbow 4 several times in the past till one fine evening when I was stopped at the gate politely intimating me about their “Members Only” policy. I never went back to Rainbow 4. Again at Nana Plaza, I was stopped at Spanky’s by a girl. Since then I also struck Spanky’s from my list. Personally I don’t give importance to a couple of odd gogo bars’ welcoming policy, because these incidents are not more than a minor mood spoiler. However, it is always good to be aware of this kind of establishments so that the target customers can peacefully avoid these mood spoilers.

Indians not welcome.

I took this pic in Pattaya in February this year. When I took the pic the staff shouted at me so I moved along. Every nation has its Cheap Charlies but talking to bargirls, Indians do seem top of the list. However, it’s the new middle class of Indians and Chinese that behave badly because they are new to disposable income and international travel. Mind you, the demographic that travels to red-light hot spots includes a large percentage of unlikable people. <Note, I removed the name of the restaurant from the photo and also from the reader’s email due to Thailand’s extreme defamation lawsStick>

pattaya-restaurant

The strong lure of Thailand.

The baht to Canadian dollar has no bearing for me on whether to vacation in Thailand because my decision for the end of the year happens 10 or 11 months earlier. I do however pay attention to the ups and downs of my precious Canadian dollar throughout the year, but only for curiosity. Though I get less bang for my buck, it hasn’t changed that much in the last few years and is unlikely to change much in the next few. It’s still Bangkok and the pull is much too strong, the food still reasonably cheap and delicious, the drinks unfortunately expensive, and the ladies expensive too. That last part is a game changer as the internet opens up an avenue that is much better than the bars for the past decade and though more expensive, the value from sites like Smooci is high regardless of the crappy exchange rate.

Postcard from Pattaya.

I arrived in Pattaya on November 8th and this marks 51 years of my Thai experience. I haven’t been getting out much at night until last night. What a mind-blowing awakening! I dropped down past Hooters to the McDonald’s at Beach Road and Soi Post Office. I couldn’t believe the number of freelancers lined up between soi 13 and Soi Post Office. It is interesting especially since on the opposite side of Beach Road is the Thai police aid shelter which was unmanned, of course. A friend of mine had remarked about the difficulty staffing his bar and from the looks of things, independent contractors are the most likely cause. Beach Road has the full inventory with old, young, fat, skinny, ladyboy etc.

An uplifting Bangkok taxi story.

We often have less than satisfactory experiences taking a taxi in Bangkok. Perhaps they don’t pick us up or if they do they demand a set fee (no meter), have the radio on too loud or whatever. I even lost an iPad in a Bangkok taxi one time. That said, don’t forget the good guys who deserve recognition. That happened yesterday to me. I get in near Nana station to go to the Silom area. The fare is typically about 80 baht depending on traffic. No demand from this driver to go off-meter despite it being rush hour. He welcomed me (a nice gesture) when I got in and then said he was very happy. It’s seems his wife just gave birth to their first baby the evening before. She lives with her parents in Chang Mai. Anyway, to make matters interesting she gave birth to the little girl in the back seat of grandpa’s car as they were rushing to the hospital. About a kilometer out from the hospital, baby wanted to join the world. Proud father showed me a photo of his exhausted wife and new daughter resting in the back seat. I’ll say the joy in the cab was clearly palpable. Having congratulated him upon reaching my destination I gave him a nice “good luck” tip. That taxi ride experience made up for some of the poor ones I’ve had over the years. It’s the way the world should be.

 


Nana Plaza
 

the-old-dutch-soi-cowboy

The Old Dutch is on the ground floor of the orange building, with Crazy House next door.

After years of rumours about its supposedly imminent demise, The Old Dutch at the soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy really is about to pop its clogs. On Friday of next week, November 30th, The Old Dutch will close its doors for the last time. The space will be taken over by the owners of Crazy House who plan to build a new gogo bar in its place.

Is it really as difficult to find a gogo dancer to go long time as some say it is? From mid morning onwards, the strip between Nana and Asoke is crawling with couples who look like they met in a bar the night before. There’s enough such couples wandering around to make me believe the difficulty in finding ladies willing to go long-time is exaggerated. Of course, these ladies might not be gogo dancers but from the way they dress and the way they parade, they’re certainly on the game.

The owners of Big Dogs in Nana Plaza have done a great job expanding and redecorating the bar. The new Big Dogs is how the bar should have been all along. The seating area has been expanded and the railing is longer – providing more prime people watching spots to take in the comings and goings in the plaza. The whole look and feel is more modern and nothing like the tired old bar Big Dogs had become. It’s a great improvement for both the bar itself and the plaza overall.

Does anything go better with a cold beer than BBQ? Beer and BBQ were made for one another, right? Not in Soi Nana, it would seem, where one of the most popular beer bars on the soi is refusing entry to anyone who brings in any food from outside. This policy goes against the general laid-back attitude most venues in Thailand have towards customers ordering food from nearby vendors or eateries and eating it in another venue. The policy is quite understandable when you consider that unlike most beer bars, this particular bar has its own kitchen. But there’s rather more to it. If you’re sitting in this well-known and popular beer bar at the front railings, right in front of you are vendors selling tasty, inexpensive BBQ. So there you are with a beer in one hand and tasty looking BBQ right in front of you – but you cannot bring it in to the bar. What the owners of this beer bar don’t appear to get is that sometimes you just want a snack – and buying BBQ doesn’t mean the bar will miss out on a food sale. If you want fish and chips, you order fish and chips. If you want some 20 baht BBQ meat on a stick to go with your beer that’s something altogether different. Hopefully common sense will prevail.

If you’re on a budget, Shadow Bar in Soi Cowboy is worth checking out. The open-fronted sports / beer bar changed hands recently and the new owners have done something most unusual in this day and age – they have dropped the prices of some beers. 90 baht house spirits and bottled beers and 100 baht draft Tiger pints all day, all night is a great deal.

 

shadow-bar-soi-cowboy

Great deals at Shadow Bar on Soi Cowboy.

 

The dancer from The Strip featured back in 2016, Mauy, who suffered severe scarring after being the victim of a knife attack in the bar by another dancer is still dancing at The Strip. A couple of ownership and management changes later has seen the bulk of the dancers from The Strip move on with many now to be found at bars in Soi Cowboy but Mauy, who left the industry for a while to have a baby, is back at The Strip.

Over the years some bar ladies have gained something of a celebrity notoriety online. #33 from Dollhouse in Clinton Plaza was best known for her massive mammaries at a time when there was much less plastic in the bars. In more recent times, the spectacled dancer at Tilac nicknamed “the secretary” by some had quite a following. For those who were fans of “the secretary”, she can be found these days at Five Star, just a few doors along from Tilac.

As mainstream visitors and tour groups descend on Soi Cowboy after dark in ever greater numbers, it can at times be difficult to get in or out of the soi at the Asoke / Terminal 21 end. For these visitors, much of the appeal of visiting Soi Cowboy is getting photos of all the neon and a selfie or two. When you get a group of (usually) Chinese tourists lining up next to each other from one side of the narrow soi to the other, it is almost impossible to get in or out.

The levels of foot traffic that Soi Cowboy gets at night is now so great that it can be hard to move. But Soi Cowboy was not always this narrow. Several years ago the bars extended out in to the soi and created outdoor areas for customers – and then some bars went even further and started setting up tables in the soi itself. It gets real congested now and I cannot imagine how busy it will be at the peak of high season, from Christmas through to the second week of January.

On the subject of mainstream visitors, bar owners face a real dilemma in how to accommodate them. In Soi Cowboy, my best guess is that early evening probably more than half the people strolling up and down the soi are mainstream visitors there for a gawk – and nothing more. And that’s where the problem lies. While some do park up and order a drink, that is often all they order. One drink. And there is no chance they’ll buy a lady drink – the whole concept of which is completely lost on them. So they sit there in prime seats outside the bars, nursing their drink and watching the world go by.

 

bada-bing-patpong

 

Bada Bing in Patpong soi 2 will celebrate its anniversary with a party tomorrow, Monday, November 19th. Bada Bing is the latest bar to use that term I really dislike, “special” shows. What is it with these special shows bars talk of and who is the plonker who came up with this term?!

And following on from today’s opener about the future of Patpong / Silom, on the other side of Silom Road / the corner of Soi Convent and Silom, a 38-storey building is about to go up.

And while investigating today’s opener and getting background info on Patpong from some old hands, I learned something interesting about the history of the Patpong night market. The night market first appeared in Patpong in 1989. It is generally agreed that was the turning point for Patpong and it opened the door for Nana Plaza which by the mid ’90s was generally considered to be the best bar area. But back to Patpong, and that blasted night market. So the story goes, Patpong soi 1 is private land – but is open for public use. However, if a private road is open to the public to use for an extended period of time without closing, there comes a point at which it is no longer deemed a private road and ownership of it is essentially forfeited to the crown. This is, so I was told, the reason that the Patpong Night Market started in the first place. By closing the road every night and setting up a night market in that space, it meant that the road is not a permanently open public road and therefore its ownership will not cede.

 

nanapong-december1-2018

 

The next Nanapong dance contest is scheduled for the weekend after next, Saturday December 1st and will feature girls from the host bar, Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy as well as dancers from Lighthouse for whom I have the suspicion a Nanapong event is a first. There is now some conjecture about whether a team from Angelwitch will also be involved.

Lighthouse in Soi Cowboy was inundated with Indian customers one night this week. Just why so many Indians hit the bar is unknown, but there were zero discrimination issues of the sort that Indians face at some other bars and the Indians were very welcome. Like a lot of bars these days, Lighthouse has a few chubby girls at present and it is my observation that plenty of Indian men love a fuller figured lady so perhaps that’s part of the reason they hit Lighthouse?

There is a small booth immediately out front of Korea Town, beside Sukhumvit soi 12, which is manned by the tessakit, municipal city officers known by some as the rubbish police. And these officers are doing their darndest to impress their boss, actively watching for people foreigners who drop anything on the ground. Be aware, there are a number of officers, some of who hide behind lampposts and other structures while in contact with one another by walkie-talkie. These guys have eyes like hawks and if you don’t dispose of your litter thoughtfully, they will stop you, take you back to their booth and fine you 2,000 baht.

What is it with Thais and lack of self-control? I know a good few Thais in New Zealand who have a driver’s licence, who used to drive in Thailand but they refuse to drive in Kiwiland. The reason is that they just cannot control themselves and drive well above the speed limit. And speeding tickets in New Zealand aren’t 500 or 1,000 baht but real money. 30 km/h over the limit, for example, and you’re looking at something like a $300 fine.  Tell a Thai behind the wheel to slow down and they will – for all of about 10 seconds, before they resume speeding again. Thai females in New Zealand drive a car like they just stole it. But it’s not just when they’re behind the wheel, a lack of self-control seems to be a big thing with Thais in many aspects of life.

A reminder that the Ploenchit Fair will be held next Saturday, November 24th, on the grounds of what is currently the British Embassy. This is the first time it has been held there since 2000 and is also the last time it will be held there. That makes this the last chance to drop by and check out / experience the grounds of the British Embassy. Call it a selfie opportunity for all you social media fans.

 

sunrise-holidays

 

If you prefer to avoid the crowds and have Thanksgiving Day at home this year, you don’t have to cook the turkey yourself (and you’ll find it hard to come by a turkey in Bangkok if you do try to source one yourself). Sunrise Tacos is selling Thanksgiving Day dinner sets featuring genuine US Butterball turkeys that will make for a great Thanksgiving celebration. Details above.

I note that this year Thanksgiving and Loy Krathong both fall on the same day. I don’t ever recall that happening before, at least it hasn’t in the last 20 years.

Scruffy Murphy’s on Sukhumvit soi 23 is putting on a special for Thanksgiving Day on Thursday, November 22nd. And at Scruffy Murphy’s, kids eat free. Details on the poster below.

And then there’s the perennial Thanksgiving Day favourite in Bangkok, Bourbon Street’s Thanksgiving buffet. This is probably the best selection you’ll find this Thanksgiving Day and odds are you’ll bump in to a few folks you know as everyone seems to make it there. You can enjoy turkey from Australia and France. Apparently American turkeys are hard to come by in Bangkok so if you want the genuine article, get in touch with Sunrise Tacos.

 

bourbon-street-bangkok

 

scruffy-murphys-bangkok

 

Quote of the week comes from a friend, “Pattaya feels like Isaan by the sea.”

The suicide of a Norwegian in Pattaya this week was one of the most grisly seen in a while.

A Swede previously deported from Thailand and blacklisted from returning is found in Phuket and deported, again.

Another romance scammer is arrested in Thailand and whadya know, it’s another African.

A prominent writer exposes a Hua Hin restaurant rip-off.

Bloomberg suggests both exports and tourism in Thailand are sputtering.

A proposed cyber-security law would give the Thai government even greater power to spy on Internet traffic.

 

spicy-bangkok

Does this spicy Thai lass get your juices flowing?

 

I thought this week’s column was a lot better than last week’s light edition and I hope you agree. There haven’t been a lot of photos in recent weeks nor have there been any photo essays but that is next on my list of things to put right – I plan to publish a few photo essays soon. In the meantime, what do you make of the lovely in the photo here? Rather than send you all running to her bar, if she takes your fancy let me know by email and I’ll let you know where she can be found.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]