Looking Ahead To 2019
As 2018 draws to a close it’s that time of year when we look back over the year that was, and look ahead at what’s to come. I didn’t spend enough time in Thailand this year to comment on 2018 so instead I’ll take a stab at what the future may bring.
Welcome, Mr. India
The first prediction is such a certainty that you can bet the farm on it. There is going to be an explosion in the number of Indians visiting Thailand. While 2019 will no doubt see increases in the number of Indians visiting Thailand as airlines increase flight numbers and passenger capacity, I think the really big jump in the number of Indians visiting to the sort of levels we now see with the Chinese is still a few years away.
Indians are the 6th largest group of visitors to Thailand by nationality, a position they have held for a few years and given India’s proximity to Thailand, its population and the rapid economic growth the country is experiencing, to expect the number of Indian visitors to jump and likely leap up as the 2nd largest group of visitors, only outnumbered by the Chinese.
Comparisons between Indian and Chinese visitors are inevitable. Where Indians differ from the Chinese is that while Chinese visitors seem to be a fairly evenly split between males and females, Indian visitors seem to comprise more males.
Let’s consider that sex outside of marriage is not nearly as common in India as it is in developed countries and one imagines that some of these Indian gents are going to end up in the bar areas.
Fast forward a few years and soaring numbers of Indians descending on the bars could swamp the existing customer base. There’s an irrational concern amongst many white guys when it comes to Indian men which I have never been able to get my head around. Whatever your feeling towards our Indian friends, the number of Indian visitors will likely change the customer dynamic in the bars.
50 Million Visitors Coming
Perhaps 17 or 18 years ago, a friend mentioned to me that one day digital cameras would have 50 megapixel sensors. I stupidly dissed the idea and said no way, it would never happen. It has happened already.
At that time the number of visitors to Thailand was around 7 million. If he had said to me that Thailand would reach 50 million tourists a year within my lifetime I would have probably dissed that idea too! Next year the total number of foreigners visiting Thailand will be nudging 40 million. How long until 50 is reached?
Even the (seemingly temporary) hiccup of a boat accident killing 50 odd Chinese visitors causing an apparent drop in the number of Chinese visitors, won’t put a dent in the number of Chinese visitors and with their growth along with Thailand’s enduring popularity, how long will it be until Thailand is welcoming 50 million visitors a year? 2022, perhaps, which leads to the next prediction.
Bangkok To Feel More Touristy Than Ever
Parts of Bangkok are over-run with visitors and as I wrote in this column recently, the strip between Nana and Asoke now has a similar feel to the most heavily-touristed parts of the country like Patong Beach in Phuket and Pattaya. Prices are high, there’s little local flavour and attitudes of staff on businesses serving the tourism market aren’t always great.
Bangkok is so big that you don’t have to venture very far from tourist areas at all before English becomes sketchy and there’s not a Starbucks to be seen. The huge number of visitors spending time in Bangkok has made it feel more cosmopolitan than ever as there are more foreign faces and more international brand names.
It’s great that Bangkok is developing but the flip side is that it’s less exotic. Thais like shiny and new so expect Bangkok’s development to accelerate. More old buildings are pulled down and Thai-style neighbourhoods destroyed to be replaced by international brand names with the clichéd Starbucks on every corner.
This is nothing new, but every time I visit I find old Thai-style neighbourhoods have quite literally disappeared with a Starbucks in their place.
Chinatown To Thrive
And that leads on to the next prediction – that Chinatown will undergo serious development and a major transformation.
Nestled between the business district of Silom and Sathorn and the old part of the city, Chinatown is central and easy to get to, yet it never seems to have had great appeal with visitors from developed countries.
As Chinatown undergoes a transformation, partially fueled by better access with the underground train extension which runs past Chinatown due to open next year, I give it a few short years before Chinatown becomes a hot spot of new places to eat, dine and sleep.
No Expat Exodus
While the total number of expats residing in Bangkok continues to increase, there will be a steady stream of long-term expats moving away from the big smoke. But many won’t return to Farangland because many simple don’t have the money to do so.
The complaints you hear from long-term expats in Bangkok about how it is not what it used to be are largely due to prices, attitudes and congestion. Bangkok is much more expensive than it used to be, more congested and people are less friendly.
There is an easy solution – move to the provinces. The cost of living in provincial Thailand is much lower. People are friendlier and nowhere in Thailand is as congested as Bangkok. The provinces will be an option for some expats to escape Bangkok without having to leave Thailand.
The Bar Biz To Move Sideways
It’s really hard to read what’s going on in the bar industry given the very mixed messages we have had this year. The low season was reported by many in the industry as the worst in memory, while the high season has taken off early and looks like it could be the best in a long time.
Trying to look at what has happened this year and see where things are going next year, could this mean the bar biz becomes more seasonal again where the low season is quiet and the high season is busy? Or was this year’s low season an aberration – unusually low – and could the current high season be an indicator of things to come?
I just don’t know where things are going trade-wise, but what I would say is that the percentage of visitors who are not your typical expat / sex tourist is on the up. They’re still a distinct minority, but there are more females, couples, tour groups and yeah, even families visiting the bar areas all the time. There is no reason to expect that this won’t continue and over time, mainstream visitors will likely have a greater influence on the bar industry and the way the bars are run.
Bangkok Bar Biz Prices To Increase Further
There seems to be more emphasis on experiences these days than the acquiring of stuff. So long as you have a decent wardrobe and few gadgets to stay connected / the latest iPhone, people seem more concerned about what they do with their time rather than about the things they acquire.
This fear of missing out that the younger ones may mention is very real and taking that a step forward, today, many people are willing to pay more than they would like to or even over the odds because the fear of missing out on something outweighs the monetary cost.
With this in mind and also considering that many customers might only visit Bangkok / the bars once, I think bars can push prices up further, and I think the girls – especially the really attractive ladies – can request top dollar. They’re selling the fantasy of the Oriental nymph – and many punters are willing to pay the asking price.
Prices for something in the West should have no relevance to prices in Thailand but at the end of the day visitors, unlike many western expats, do compare prices in Thailand with prices at home and having a hot lady spend the night with you for about the same as you’d spend on a decent first date makes the asking prices of many bargirls seem like a bargain to many visitors.
I think the better bars (note, only the better bars and NOT all bars) could price standard drinks at 250 baht and I think pretty girls could easily ask for 6,000 – 10,000 baht long-time. Some ladies are asking for and getting this already.
For visitors, 6,000 – 10,000 baht is $200 – $300, which for many is not a huge part of their holiday budget. I’m not saying that this is a good deal, but living outside Thailand your perspective changes and you see how ridiculously cheap some things in Thailand are compared to home.
New Technology To Close Loopholes
The introduction of technology across a wide range of government departments is going to close many loopholes.
The big one I’d keep an eye on is the mooted electronic visa application system which it has been announced will come online in the first quarter of 2019. Will the system place a limit on the amount of time one can visit / stay in Thailand on tourist visas? With a central record that can check how much time someone is spent in Thailand, it could easily decline the application for anyone who had spent, say, more than 6 months in a year in Thailand as a visitor. (Note, there is no law currently saying that you can’t do this, but many people use tourist visas to stay in Thailand long-term, something the Thai authorities seem less tolerant of these days.) Could this system close the visa loophole and effectively be the digital nomad killer?
The linking of the police department traffic infringement notice records with the Ministry of Transport will mean that anyone issued with a speeding ticket, for example, will have to pay it otherwise they won’t be able to renew their car registration (and as such, won’t be able to get insurance).
Expect technology to be rolled out across a number of government departments and while there might be teething problems, expect loopholes will be closed. And I hate to say it, but I’d expect there to be more than a few privacy issues along the way, but let’s not go there now.
Thai Women To Fall Out Of Favour
Let’s throw this one out there and no, this is not me stirring things up here or trying to provoke. This is something I genuinely believe is going to happen.
I expect to see a subset of foreign men going off Thai women. You don’t believe me, do you?, or you think I have really lost the plot this time, so let me explain.
The attraction to Thailand for many Western men has been the local women. Slim, sweet and easy to meet, they have drawn foreign men to the country. But many foreign men have a long history of failed relationships with Thai women.
Sometimes you can see the string of disasters is due to the man, but many men who have plenty going for themselves have come to realise it’s not they who are at fault. It’s simply that the differences are so great between Western men and Thai women that it can be very hard to make things work without major compromise – and if you’re living in Thailand it is, frankly, you as the outsider, who generally has to compromise.
And so I believe there is going to be a drop in interest of Thai females by some foreign men. To be clear, I am not in any way disparaging Thai women here, I am simply saying that there is a not insignificant number of Western men who have tried numerous times with Thai women and failed. The differences between Western men and Thai women are so different that forging a mutually beneficial and satisfying relationship across the great cultural divide is a challenge. Meeting a Thai woman and developing a relationship is very easy, but keeping both parties happy can be very difficult.
And so some foreigners with a long history in Thailand are looking at women from other cultures, often from other parts of South-East Asia, and in some cases, looking back at their own culture.
Thai women will never go out of favour, but I do think theee will be the emergence of a group of Western men with time in Thailand who perhaps don’t look at Thai women as relationship material, but more as fun. Let’s leave it at that until I look at this topic in more detail later.
That’s my list of Thailand-related predictions for 2019 and beyond. I’d love to hear some of yours.
Last week’s photo was taken at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 7, the soi with the classiest of all Bangkok bars, the Biergarten. Where was this week’s photo taken from?
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
Meeting Western women in the most unlikely places.
In regards to your mention of Western females, last Christmas I went out to Nana to meet up a friend of mine in town from Singapore. I was in one of the bars opposite Hooters, I think one of the Hillary bars. I walked in and there was a Western woman at the railings drinking a glass of wine. By herself. She gave me the eye. She would have been about my age (late 30s). It took me off-guard as 1. I ain’t that good-looking and 2. I wonder what that was all about. I haven’t had attention like that since my early 20s. Anyway, inside the bar, about half an hour later my phone rings and I couldn’t hear a thing so I excused myself to my friends and went outside. When I walked back in, the same Western woman eye-balled me and smiled. I felt I had to say something as this was getting weird. It was almost like she knew me so I started with, ‘Hello’. Her response was, and I am not making this up, “Hi, would you fancy having some company right now? I’m paying for your drinks.” I was a little surprised and responded that I’d already found someone for the night but appreciate the offer and would have to pass. Truth be told, I didn’t have anyone. I have a Thai partner and I definitely wasn’t going to start cheating on her with a random Western woman. This hasn’t happened since I was in my early 20’s, I was a lot younger and maybe mildly handsome at that age. I have a theory. The single Western females are most likely working in Bangkok. It’s possible that they know they have much competition from their Thai sisters so where else is there to find a single man to mingle with? The girl was blonde, spoke English well (at a guess, her accent was British). I don’t think it was a scam but who knows? I was reasonably well-dressed, being late 30’s on the younger side of the demographic of people in the area and my mate from Singapore was the same so it’s possible she was simply on the lookout for a man? It’s not out of the question that if you’re average looking and present yourself well, you could have some real chances with Western women in Bangkok who, let’s face it, really don’t stand much chance against their Thai sisters.
Indians not always popular.
Following on from one of the emails featured this week, Indians are a problem in the bars and bar owners are going to have to deal with this because I for one don’t want to sit in a bar with them. It’s not a racist issue, it’s the way they behave. I don’t even want to stay in hotels where they stay because of the thoughtless way in which they act.
What happened to the AEC?
You mentioned the higher cost of Beer Lao perhaps attributable to import taxes and the increased Thai excise tax on alcoholic beverages. I have to wonder what happened to the oft-touted (with billboards in some places) Asian Economic Community that was going to eradicate import tariffs, come up with an ASEAN common visa and numerous other pie in the sky goals. ASEAN pays a lot of lip service as a collective to AEC but it appears to me that the individual countries are all stuck in ensuring their own individual markets are protected. I believe some tariffs have come down on cars making, say, Suzuki cars / trucks built in Malaysia perhaps more competitive deals in Thailand. But the beer thing has been dragging on for at least 11 years. The Beer Lao company built a massive brewery in Savannakhet in 2006 in anticipation of early AEC deals to drop import taxes. The Thais dragged their feet claiming that they didn’t want to open up the “beer market” since Thai brews would “overwhelm” the Lao market. Yeah, sure! Since then you can at least get Beer Lao in Thailand, albeit at ridiculous prices. When I was in Vientiane in 2002, a big bottle of Beer Lao cost less than 20 baht.
Retirement to Thailand is pure Darwinism.
Your closing comments made me think about the never-ending discussion of whether to move to Thailand or stay in our respective home countries. I still wonder why so many people from around the globe seem so eager to move to Thailand / South-East Asia. The net is flooded with blogs and forums with posts like “what is the best country in South-East Asia to move to”, “which South-East Asian city to choose”, “is Saigon better than Phnom Penh” etc. My point is, who tells us that we HAVE to move? Who tells us that we’re even welcome there (as more than tourists) in the first place? And why do we have to move? These questions lead me to my candidate for quote of the week: ‘Just because you had a nice holiday doesn’t mean you have to move there.’ I understand why people aged 65+ may want to retire in a warmer country and get more for their saved pennies, even if it means leaving grown-up kids and grandchildren back home. But I don’t understand the younger generations not near retirement age. I would need a really lousy life to even consider that. I have a feeling that it’s not about climate or good food, but down to where in the world we feel important, where in the world the girls seems interested in us, and where can we get easy and cheap sex. It’s pure Darwinism. When the price gets too high and nobody gives a damn about you anymore we move on. Or put it this way, we want to be loved. If we can’t be loved we want to be respected. If we can’t be respected we want to be noticed and that is where Thailand and South-East Asia comes into the picture, up until the point we find out that we are nothing more than a big fat zero there as well!
For another opinion on the newest bar in Nana Plaza, Geisha, a gogo guru told me it looks fantastic from the outside, but step inside and it’s another story. Apparently, little has been done to the interior other than the installation of a shower unit and it’s the same old, run-down interior. Said friend who loves his gogo bars didn’t even bother to stick around for a drink.
You’d think that Billboard’s success would be good for Nana Plaza in general and other bars in the complex but dancers in the bar next door, Enter, don’t see it that way. This week ladies at Enter were complaining, “Everybody goes to Billboard Bar but we are very quiet.” Perhaps said punters are aware that Enter has a mix of ladyboys along with real gogo girls and are voting with their feet and going to bars where all the dancers were born female? Billboard and Butterflies are killing it on the top floor. I thought that would bode well for other spots on the top floor, Enter and Geisha, with more foot traffic – but perhaps that’s not the case?
It may be a week after the event, but the party thrown in Billboard and Butterflies last weekend deserves comment. These two bars really know how to throw a party. Dancers were dressed up as playmates and hundreds of pizzas were given away along with thousands of chicken wings. Apparently there were 300 girls across the two bars. I will stop going on and on about Billboard and Butterflies as I have been in recent weeks. I can just hear everyone’s old friend Jerry Hopkins who was a fan of this column, but also a vocal critic – ranting, as he did whenever I mentioned any venue more than a couple of weeks in a row.
I don’t like Crazy House – as, again, you’re probably fed up with me saying – but at the same time I am fascinated by a bar that does so well and is (was?) so popular with the expat crowd. Some readers have mentioned the action in Crazy House is downstairs these days which surprised me as things used to get particularly spicy upstairs. And then I heard the upstairs section was closed which was even more of a surprise. Conversations overheard between customers and mamasans suggest that arrangements can be made to take girls upstairs where mating cradles are said to be available.
Word from Patpong is that this past week has been quiet and Bangkok’s oldest bar area has not been experiencing the sort of high season crowds being seen in the bar areas on Sukhumvit.
Stumble Inn on Soi Nana will party long in to the night on Xmas Eve with live music from up and coming local band The Nowhere Man. And on Christmas Day, when the sun goes down there’ll be a free finger food buffet, plus the usual fun and frolics. Girls will be in sexy red dresses to celebrate Christmas and Liverpool being top of the Premier League. And when Santa visits at midnight he will empty his sack in the bar. And the party doesn’t end then, more live music will feature on new Year’s Eve – often the busiest night of the year in the bars – and there will be another free finger food buffet and free shots at midnight to see in 2019.
You don’t hear so much about The Arab and his bars these days so an update is long overdue. The Arab’s bars are still in business but nothing much has changed and they don’t seem particularly busy. For newer readers, The Arab is an Iranian who set about buying up bars en masse on Soi Cowboy some 10+ years ago and managed to acquire – and some would say ruin – 7 bars. Much effort and investment was put in to decorating them and making them look great but almost no effort was put in to running them. It was almost like he didn’t care whether his bars did well or not. And word was that he paid over the odds for leases. When someone pays over the odds for a business, throws silly money at it and then seems totally unconcerned whether it turns a profit – or even if it breaks even – it prompts much speculation. The latest from the Arab’s bars is that ladyboys have been added to the respective lineups at a few of his bars. There is no more perplexing figure in the bar industry than The Arab (and yes, I do know that Persians aren’t Arabs….it’s a nickname coined by BaronBonk – and it stuck).
The bar industry can make or break you. Millionaires have been made and even today, some do very well in the bar biz. But at the same time, high costs – particularly rent and salaries – mean that it only needs a quiet month or two and you can be in the hole. From Pattaya comes word that things have been so bad at a once uber popular bar that come the end of the month there was not enough money to pay the girls which – it should be pointed out – is actually a very serious issue in Thailand. In this particular bar which has a new partner who is soon to be outright owner, there was a shortfall at the end of the month when it was time to pay salaries. The new partner was not willing to finance the shortfall himself and the founder / part owner wasn’t prepared to pay his share. The unpaid staff (I imagine they must have been paid eventually) moved to New Living Dolls Showcase while those who remain have low morale which has killed the bar’s atmosphere. The bar industry is unpredictable and while you can make a fortune, you can lose one too.
Sisters is a fantasy for many, but how about not just 2 sisters, but 3 sisters all at once? I would seem that is a possibility at Patpong after a reader emailed me about a recent night out at Kings Corner bar. He got chatting to a couple of ladies who claimed to be sisters. He would learn there was a third girl working in the bar who they also claimed was their sister. Said reader was skeptical as these girls have all sorts of tricks and ruses to mooch drinks – but he maintains they really were sisters, aged 20, 21 and 23. The mamasan got involved and said all 3 could go – apparently they are happy to work together – at a price of 3,800 baht each including the barfine which would have made for a total outlay of 11,400 baht. Short-time only, of course. Said reader declined the offer but thought others may be interested in the sort of opportunity that doesn’t come along every day. * It should be noted this is not without precedence. I can remember many years ago when 3 sisters all operated at the Thermae together, but unlike the Patpong sisters, they had a strict no-go together policy.
I have never stepped inside the popular Craft on Sukhumvit soi 23 which claims to have Bangkok’s largest selection of craft beer. There are 40 brands on tap with many more available in bottles. Craft and Smiling Mad Dog beer are celebrating Christmas with special discounts and free gifts. From 5 PM until late, it’s buy-1-get-1-free on three Ballast Point-label American craft beers – Grapefruit, Sculpin and Victory at Sea. If you (or your group) buy six large-size pints you’ll receive a free Ballast Point holiday gift from Smiling Mad Dog. Craft has an extensive food menu too.
What’s the deal with the characters walking up and down Soi Nana, approaching punters enjoying a beer & the view at the railings of the beer bars, and offering them a mobile phone. Are these phones stolen? Do they even work? What’s the deal with them? It all feels rather dodgy.
When you hear expats in Thailand saying they have had enough and that they’re going to relocate somewhere else in the region, there are three countries that tend to come up: Vietnam, Cambodia and the Philippines. Here in New Zealand there have been a lot of reports in the mainstream media about Kiwis – some high-profile personalities and others complete nobodies – relocating and / or retiring to South-East Asia. And it’s not to any of the aforementioned countries. Apparently, masses of Kiwis are relocating to Bali. A few are retiring while many are starting up businesses / looking for a new start. Age-wise, many seem to be in the 35 – 50 bracket. Bali is lovely, but I guess it doesn’t appeal to Bangkok expats looking for a new adventure.
Super Rich is widely regarded by many Thais as the best place to exchange money. The company has branches everywhere. So why would you queue in the midday Bangkok heat as many do at the Super Rich exchange booth at the Asoke skytrain station? It’s like there is a permanent queue there and I cannot imagine how many transactions and how much cash passes through that booth every day. I personally would be nervous about changing money there, with the potential for prying eyes to see who is changing large amounts of cash – and who would make a good target. Just a few minutes walk up Sukhumvit is the main branch of Vasu, on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 7/1. It has similarly good rates, is air-conditioned and is more private and secure. In the busy section of Sukhumvit, the main Vasu branch is the place to change money. Super Rich has great rates, but I personally would give the Asoke BTS branch a miss.
A note for any of you with a Thai girlfriend / wife / partner / mia noi / husband etc. who may be considering a trip to New Zealand. The processing time for visitor visas to New Zealand has blown out and even a simple tourist visa may take a month to process. It used to only take a few days. And there is this new, screwed up system whereby a visa application lodged in Bangkok could be processed at any branch of Immigration NZ worldwide. What that means is that the officer processing the visa application probably doesn’t know much, if anything, about the idiosyncracies of Thailand and applications made by Thais. I mention this because a Thai friend of a friend applied for a visitor visa to visit New Zealand 3 weeks before her trip. It should have been a simple case and approved in minutes as she had previously spent years in Australia, but hopeless NZ Immigration did not process it in time so she missed out on her trip. Actually, “hopeless” doesn’t seem a strong enough word to describe Immigration NZ.
A friend sent a photo from Bangkok this week of something that continues to make me chuckle, the suitcase draggers. While most of those dragging suitcases are Chinese, there are more than a few Caucasians too.
Quote of the week is a question from a reader, “If I spent time with a girl in Bangkok and gave her one million baht, when the time came to part would she still ask for 100 baht for a taxi?”
A young Brit father of two is found dead in his hotel room just hours after arriving in Thailand.
A foreign tourist is badly injured in Pattaya after being hit by an out of control motorbike.
A Brit in Bali who received a package from Thailand containing cannabis oil is facing time behind bars.
Bangkok suffered from terrible pollution this week, so bad it was said to be hazardous to health.
With Christmas just around the corner, I’d like to wish all readers a very Merry Christmas. I hope you have an enjoyable festive season and get to spend time with loved ones. I decided to treat myself this Christmas and bought something I have long wanted, a gun. Actually, not just one gun, I bought the other half one too. There’s something about the power of a gun in your hand, the feel of the cold stainless steel, the power, and knowing that when you squeeze the trigger all hell breaks loose. Guns are not popular in New Zealand in the way they are in Thailand so having two guns in the house is a talking point. I invited a couple of friends who dropped by to fire my gun, but I couldn’t convince them that they should join the gun ownership club. For those of you in to guns, here’s a link to a photo of the guns I bought. I don’t doubt some of you are anti-gun hence I haven’t included the photo here, lest your soft ass can’t take it. Guns aside, Merry Christmas, everyone!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org