Soi Cowboy & A New Mobile Phone
I really don’t like mobile phones. OK, so perhaps it’s not so much the phone itself, but the culture of mobile phone use that I don’t care for. I don’t like the way so many people have become so consumed with their mobile phone and how it seems to trump everything. Playing with a mobile phone while out for dinner with friends? Being constantly concerned about what people who you have never met, or have not seen in years are ranting about on Facebook? Really?! And feeling the need to immediately read and reply to every silly message, even when in the company of someone else? What’s that all about? I’ve written before about my distaste of mobile phone culture – and my thinking hasn’t changed. At the same time, I’ll be the first to admit that mobile phones have their uses.
I’d been using my trusty iPhone5 for 6 long years. It had been faithful and never skipped a beat. I could still get close to 2 days charge on the original battery (which goes to show how little I used it). But it wasn’t perfect. The port to connect the charger was knackered and some apps I use couldn’t be updated. And then there were some apps I wanted to use which couldn’t be installed because it was too old and the hardware didn’t support them. My iPhone was dying. It was time to upgrade. So I relented and picked up a new model.
I like routines. I like to go to bed at the same time, which means I wake up at the same time. I like my coffee before my muesli. I always put my left shoe on before my right. And when in Bangkok I always like my last night or second to last night in town, to be a couple of hours out in Soi Cowboy. Alone. I don’t tell friends where I’ll be and if I see friends or people I know while there, I’ll look the other way and hope they don’t see me. I spend most of the time sitting outside and watching the world go by. I start the night off early with the same meal and go back to my hotel before some of the happy hours have finished. I find it a nice way to reflect on the trip before heading back home.
The meal I have – let’s call it the last supper – is the same every time. Chicken and cashew nuts with rice at Sam’s 2000, accompanied by a Long Island Iced Tea. The food is ok – but plenty of places do the dish better, it has to be said. But it’s less about the food, and more about the location of Sam’s 2000 – roughly in the middle of Soi Cowboy. It’s a fantastic spot. And amazingly it seems like it’s hardly ever busy. Go early, and you have the whole outside area of Sam’s 2000 all to yourself. You can kick back with food, drinks and watch Soi Cowboy come to life.
There’s plenty of pretty views here in New Zealand, but there’s nothing like the fun and anticipation of Soi Cowboy early evening.
So there I was sitting alone on Soi Cowboy with not a lot going on. It’s relaxing at that time of night but with nothing going on, I realised I had caught the disease. I found myself incessantly fiddling with my new phone.
But I didn’t fiddle with it for long. There’s something about playing with a mobile phone for more than a few minutes that strikes me as, well, sad. Even if you’re alone, I think it’s sad. You don’t need to read the news every hour. I have discouraged friends from messaging me all the time and fortunately most respect that. And I’m not a social media sheep follower so what is there to do with a phone? And in Soi Cowboy, why would you look at your phone when you have free entertainment right in front of you. Rather than read the news or send an inane message to a friend, I play around with the camera on my new phone.
The first shot I take is of my drink. Stupid photo. But it surprises me because the glass is in focus and the background is not. I didn’t expect that. Nice.
I then take a couple of shots of the view from where I am sitting.
Hang about, what’s up with the photos from this phone? They’re good….really good!
Something is not right. I’ve been taking photos on Soi Cowboy for 20 years and I know when something’s not right.
The photos straight out of the camera are tack sharp. The colours are vibrant and well saturated. There is no image blur caused by camera shake. The images leap off the screen in a way that usually takes quite some effort in Photoshop with captures made with professional level photography gear.
I went in to the settings; everything was set to “normal”. There were no special settings dialed in, in fact I don’t even know how to, or even if it is possible to change the settings.
I step out on to the soi and take a few more photos. Back at my table at Sam’s 2000, I zoom in and examine them. Straight out of the camera on my mobile phone, these photos are better than what I could get out of my pro-level camera gear. Shot after shot is well-exposed with pleasing colours.
I test the phone camera, pointing it at scenes with bright light, at dark areas, composing scenes with both bright lights and very dark areas. Its performance blows my mind. Shot after shot captures the scene perfectly. OK, so I could get better shots with my pro gear but I’d have to fiddle about with the settings and be prepared to re-work them in Photoshop.
Shooting in the bar areas is one of the biggest challenges a photographer can face, yet the camera in a mobile phone is producing amazing results with no need for any photographic knowledge or post-processing whatsoever. And with just a little tweaking in Photoshop the shots could be enhanced.
As crazy as it sounds, if you wish to get great captures of the beautiful lights of Soi Cowboy – or any of the bar areas – you might actually be better off using the camera in your mobile phone than investing heavily in expensive photography equipment.
I did briefly stop by the usual trio of bars I like to visit on my last night in town, but in between those bars I had my new iPhone out and was snapping away, constantly amazed at the results that it produced. I actually feel like I have a good enough camera with me now wherever I go. Maybe mobile phones aren’t so bad after all?
Last week’s photo was taken a couple of hundred metres in to Sukhumvit soi 22 on the left-hand side, of the hoardings behind which Emisphere, the new shopping centre in that huge shopping district, is being built. So what about this week’s photo?
Stick’s Inbox – best emails from the past week.
The Thais in the UK I encountered never fully integrate. I was always surprised that no matter how long they lived there, they would always compare everything to Thailand, like they were endlessly surprised that things could be different. Like tourists on a short visit for the first time. It was as if they couldn’t quite wrap their heads around the fact that other countries neither want to be nor are the same as Thailand. The world and Thailand seem to be one and the same thing to them. Big generalisation I know. All nationalities are guilty of not fully integrating, and there is no shortage of expats in Thailand living like that. You mentioned that most Thais in New Zealand don’t plan to stay permanently, so maybe they don’t feel it worth the time and effort to fully integrate, only to find out later they’re kind of stuck there in a low-paid job. Motivation at that stage to integrate must be close to zero. I wonder how much the feeling of boredom and “mai sanuk” drags them down, and drives them to the comfort of things and people more familiar? Something else I’ve considered is coming from a culture based on Thainess, how well-equipped are they to deal with starkly different foreign lands and cultures?
Thais in Sweden.
It’s a different group of Thais in Sweden to what you have found in New Zealand. The Thais here are well-adjusted, often with a good education. I worked with a Thai doctor at a small hospital a couple of years ago. Then there is the massage (and cooking) community. Since Swedes are horny and like foreign food, this group of Thais often do quite well financially. But their hearts are still in Thailand. And at least the massage ladies – there are close to 300 dirty shops just in Stockholm – look down on life in Sweden. They often send money home and travel to Thailand frequently on holiday. The imported wives who resent massage may end up cleaning toilets in hospitals. They are often unhappy with their situation.
Being prepared at Immigration.
On Immigration officers asking for proof of your accommodation in Thailand, this is something that is done all over the world. When one flies into Thailand they are given an Immigration form on the aircraft to complete and on the form it clearly asks for the name and address of the visitor’s hotel or accommodation in Thailand. I can only assume that some people are not completing the form fully and correctly and are ignoring or missing out that part of the form. On a number of occasions I have queued up at Immigration waiting in line to be processed and there are some who have not completed their forms correctly or fully and they hold up the process much to the annoyance of others as they are either stuck at the desk filling in the missing parts of the form or are sent away to complete the form fully and have to rejoin the end of the queue. My advice is to take the time to complete the form on the aircraft, and if in doubt ask a fellow passenger to help you. Always keep your essential travel documents, passport, hotel reservation form etc on you in a safe place to produce to Immigration when asked. Be organised or expect to be turned away.
What’s up, doc?
With regard to the subject of themed bars, a friend and I used to joke about buying a bar in Bangkok and what we would do. It was never going to happen of course but it was fun to imagine it over a few beers. The theme was to be doctors and nurses with the girls in full on nurse uniforms with stethoscopes and other assorted hospital equipment. Others, such as the mamasan and bar staff, would be in long white coats like doctors. We were going to call it “What’s Up Doc” Bar. Using an idea from one little bar on Soi Cowboy, there would have been a “Naughty Boys’ Corner” where the girls would have snapped on surgical gloves to take any customers / patients in hand. I think the idea we laughed about most was getting framed photos around the walls of film stars, celebrities and world leaders as though they were signed by them after visiting and adding things such as “thanks for a great night” and “best bar in Bangkok” etc. We probably would have been closed down within a week but I think the basic theme would be interesting. A proper bar with a doctor and nurses theme I think is a good one.
The bar theme challenge.
I think the challenge with themed bars is customers often go to bars in groups and as individuals have different tastes. For example, a group of six of us went out last week. One guy likes larger women. Another small short ones (he’s short himself!) And I like taller, lighter-skinned, no-tattoos types. So a bar needs some variety in this case to appeal to punters in groups, otherwise we wouldn’t have stayed.
Mind the gap.
A themed gogo bar called The Gap featuring only girls with a thigh gap would be the winner for me. Haha, older man fantasies, ya know. It may be impossible to stock…but, that is not my problem.
Who decided that now would be a good time to dig up parts of prime Sukhumvit Road and work on the footpath? If tourism really is such a big deal to Thailand, why would you choose the peak of high season to dig the pavements up? The pavement on Sukhumvit Road around soi 11/1 is a mess.
Lucky Shot Bar on Sukhumvit soi 11/1 being closed for renovations.
Down in Pattaya, the end is near for what was once my favourite bar, Secrets. It will close around the 11th of March and is expected to reopen at the end of March, during which it will undergo a refit. When it reopens it will not be as Secrets, but Scooters number 4. The Scooters chain has three open-air beer bars in Pattaya, each of which is themed with UK scooters. There’s one branch on Soi LK Metro, another on soi 6 and the last one is on Soi Buakhao. Those 3 locations have lots of foot traffic which is the one thing Secrets has never had. One assumes the hotel will remain above Secrets, but what about the restaurant? For lovers of Secrets, it is not dead per se – the founder opened a branch of Secrets in Phnom Penh not so long ago.
And even further south down in Phuket, Sugar Phuket is the newest venue in the Panthera Group’s ever-expanding business empire. The term grand opening is not being overstated in this case and is scheduled for January 22nd and may feature big name hip hop duo Rae Sremmurd, who reached #1 on the US Billboard Hot 100. No doubt, Panthera Group will be hoping that rumours hot off the press that the duo might be about to split up are not true! Tickets for the grand opening can be obtained from Ticket Melon.
I know plenty of readers don’t like it that mainstream Western visitors are now a common sight in the naughty bars. And amongst these mainstream visitors are groups of young Western females. This particular subset has a propensity to leap up on stage in gogo bars and start dancing, uninvited. Why do they do it? Is it attention-seeking? More often than not the gogo dancers are fine with it – but bar managers and punters aren’t. With more mainstream visitors in the naughty bar areas these days, can we expect more of this going forward?
And speaking of Western females in the bars, a certain Spanish lady who may well have a following amongst some bargoers has been spending time in Soi Nana. The photo below features the manager from popular Soi Nana beer bar, Stumble Inn, dressed up as Santa Claus. And the lady in the photo is Lara Duro. You don’t know who Lara Duro is? She’s a Spanish porn star. Lara has been hanging about Stumble Inn where it is said she has a bit of a thing for one of the barmen. Lara drops by with a crowd of backpacker types – you know the type – bearded, Fedora hats and ridiculous elephant pants. You just never know who you might come across in the spicier parts of Bangkok – some long-term bar managers can rattle off lists of celebrities who have visited the bars including big name movie stars & directors, pop singers and sportsmen.
The bar industry does not come with guarantees and many a customer has felt he has been cheated at one time or another. It could be something as minor as a barlady leading a punter on by feigning interest, asking for a lady drink, downing it in 10 seconds and disappearing. Or at the more serious end of the scale it could be that a drink is spiked and a punter wakes up to find everything of value has gone. But don’t think customers are the only ones being ripped off. These girls are just the same amongst themselves. From stealing from one another’s lockers to promises of lucrative investments (!!! yes, really!) to the borrowing of not insignificant sums of money with no intention of returning it etc. Don’t think that they just target their foreign customers. Some of these girls they will take money from anyone and will use whatever means they think will be effective. Remember, plenty of bargirls have addiction issues (gambling / drugs) and some have debts / family members / a Thai partner who exert pressure on them for more and more money.
The general consensus is that Pattaya just doesn’t feel that busy at what should be the busiest time of year, although no doubt some bars are doing very well. Word from a couple of trusted sources is that the peak of high season has passed in Sin City. And when the bars aren’t doing as well as had been hoped, pity not just the bar staff who are making less money but the farang manager whose salary may take a hit as well. Not all farang bar bosses are on a fixed salary and some are on a commission / revenue share deal. Take the advertisement below, which appeared on Craigslist this week. An unnamed Pattaya bar is searching for a bar manager with a salary offered of just 22K baht a month, plus 4% of the revenue. The impression I get is that bar manager positions in Thailand are like English language school jobs – the salaries offered these days are the same as, or in some cases lower than, what was being paid 10+ years ago.
Where can you find the best burger in Bangkok these days? There are so many choices. I don’t think you can definitively say one stands out from the rest. But one spot burger fans really should stop by is Daniel Thaiger at the top of Sukhumvit soi 11. What started off as a food truck and quickly developed a strong following now has a full sit-down outlet. Burgers run around 250 baht and are amongst the best in Bangkok. I have to say that burgers in Bangkok compare well to what we get here in New Zealand. Kiwi burger outlets have this dreadful habit of loading burgers with salad and unusual fillings including beetroot (which many Kiwis have this crazy idea is essential in a burger). Fortunately, burger outlets in Bangkok tend to be more American in style where the onus is on the burger / meat than the fillings – which is preferable, in my opinion. Anyway, I am going off topic here; the point is that Daniel Thaiger is hard to beat for a great, inexpensive burger. Other spots with very good burgers are Margarita Storm (Sukhumvit soi 13), Bad Burger (near Sukhumvit soi 20) and Firehouse (Sukhumvit soi 11).
If you wanted to eat at the Suk 11 restaurant, you’d head to Sukhumvit soi 11, right? Wrong! Once upon a time you would have but today you wouldn’t find the Suk 11 restaurant on Sukhumvit soi 11. The popular Thai restaurant in an old Thai-style house relocated to Sukhumvit soi 22 a while ago. It’s about 600 or 700 metres down the soi, past the Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park, on that side of the road. Decent Thai food and if the atmosphere is the same as it was in soi 11, it’s a pleasant spot to enjoy a nice meal. Despite its new location it has retained the Suk 11 name and has not been renamed Suk 22.
The departure of the street vendors from Sukhumvit soi 38 was a real loss. Soi 38 was perhaps the best known street food scene amongst foreigners before a combination of the soi being redeveloped and laws outlawing street vendors came in to effect. So what happened to the vendors who used to operate on soi 38? Many are actually still there! Today, some of the food vendors who were so well-known on soi 38 operate from what was the car park area / the ground floor of the Sutti Mansion apartment building on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 38. And a few vendors still operate in the soi. It’s not quite the same vibrant scene that it was, but the food is still good. If you’re in the mood for street food and in the area, you can still head to soi 38 for a bite.
There’s nothing worse than falling ill on holiday, even if it is something minor like picking up a cold, coming down with a scratchy throat or something like that. I do everything I can to avoid falling ill on holiday and the last few trips to Thailand I have taken precautions. I take a vitamin C / Zinc tablet every day, starting from the day before I depart New Zealand until the day I arrive back home. And I take a tub of medical grade Manuka honey with me and have a teaspoon of it straight every morning. I don’t know if the effects of this are psychological or whether the medicinal properties are doing their thing, but the last three trips to Bangkok I have not had a problem despite the crap air quality and my healthy diet kind of falling apart when I’m in Thailand. What about you? Do you have any routines or products you take or tricks to avoid falling ill when visiting Thailand?
Quote of the week comes from a reader who spent a night at Stumble Inn in Soi Nana where he said there were many beautiful ladies, but he left without barfining. As he was walking back to his hotel room alone, he thought to himself, “I don’t go to Thailand for the beautiful ladies I can get but for the beautiful ladies I can reject!”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “La Stagiare“.
The air quality in Bangkok has been appalling recently.
A Thai man reports he is scammed in a bar in a nightlife area in Paris, in what sounds like a similar scam many foreigners have faced in Patpong.
Did a Caucasian who laid down on the road right in front of a bus in the Khao San Road area choose to die suicide by bus?
I still get email every day from once long-time readers who have only just discovered that the column is back. While this column is one of many sites with a Thailand focus and there is a lot of overlap with the respective readerships of Thailand-centric websites and forums, a lot of Stickman readers only read Stickman – and don’t read any other Thailand sites. While the return of this column has been picked up on various Thailand-centric sites and social media, as many long-time readers don’t read those other sites, they are not aware that the column has resumed. From the site statistics it is clear that many readers don’t know we’re back. If you have any friends or acquaintances who used to read this column, it would be great if you could mention to them that it’s back. Thanks.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org