Stickman's Weekly Column April 28th, 2019

The Girls Of Mandarin



This week Mr. Nana said in a message to me, “If guys fault Nana Plaza then they’re going to the wrong bars.” If we can describe some bars in Nana Plaza as the wrong bars, then just what are the so-called right bars?

 

 

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Regular visitors to Nana Plaza know that Billboard and Butterflies are the most popular bars in the plaza at this time – but the secret is out and you’ll battle the crowds in both of those bars, especially in Billboard where at times you might struggle to find an empty seat. Where to for those who prefer smaller bars without the crowds?

 

 

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Mandarin might not be such a bad choice.

 

 

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Many bars in Nana Plaza have changed hands in recent years, and some have changed names. Mandarin retains the same name, is run by the same people and has long had something of a following. That said, like most bars it has seen a high turnover of staff.

 

 

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There have been periods when Mandarin was up there with the best bars in the plaza and while it’s no longer up there, it’s still worth stopping by.

All of the girls featured in today’s column were working in Mandarin as at late March.

 

 

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Many punters have never stepped foot inside Mandarin and some don’t even know where it is. That’s because Mandarin is located in one of the worst spots in Nana Plaza.

 

 

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The small entranceway to Mandarin is on the middle floor, near the escalator that goes up on the right-hand side. You can’t see the bar proper from outside, only the entranceway and a set of stairs leading up to somewhere – so it’s not possible to stick your head inside and see what it’s like before going inside.

 

 

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It’s not the most appealing entranceway to a bar, it has to be said, especially if you have ever heard or read about “upstairs rip off bars” – which in fairness are a Patpong thing and nothing to do with Nana.

 

 

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And it’s not just the steps that are the problem. There’s often a melee right outside the entranceway and a cacophony of screaming and hollering from the hello teams of different bars trying to get punters inside. And with a ladyboy bar right there – and forceful ladyboys grabbing at passing punters, it can all be rather off-putting. I don’t doubt that many take the safe option and just head for another bar.

 

 

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The entrance to Mandarin may be on the middle floor of the plaza but the bar itself is located between the middle floor and the top floor.

 

 

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The steep staircase with the small steps is hardly Mt Everest, but if you’ve had a few drinks it could get interesting. I don’t recall reports of anyone coming a cropper but some must have taken a tumble. And it’s steep enough that a fall could mean serious injury. I am always very wary going in and out of Mandarin.

 

 

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At the top of the stairs, Mandarin opens out in to a medium-sized bar with a square-shaped dance floor against the back wall and seating on just two sides. The bar area from where drinks are served makes up the other side. I’ve always thought the design was kind of odd and could have been better thought out.

 

 

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Mandarin was once a big name bar, but size-wise it has always felt small. Not Sexy Night small, but somewhere between small and medium.

 

 

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Mandarin actually has two floors and if you look closely you’ll see that the ceiling above the dance floor is made of glass. The top dance floor has not been used for a very long time. Business doesn’t warrant its use, which is a shame as it would be a point of difference.

 

 

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Like a lot of bars in the plaza, Mandarin doesn’t have the dancer numbers that it once did.

 

 

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The Chinese-themed, French-owned and run bar is operated by the same people behind Shark who also happen to be partners in Lighthouse. That means decent pedigree and that is part of the reason Mandarin has a following.

 

 

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The lineup at Mandarin isn’t bad and in fairness to the bar, the most attractive ladies didn’t want to be photographed.

 

 

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I thought the current team had better attitudes than the last crew I featured when I last did a photo shoot in Mandarin, in 2017. There were more than a few fun-loving ladies who were fun to photograph and some came across as really quite playful.

 

 

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This mamasan has been around forever, approaching 10 years in the bar.

I’m not sure exactly what time the happy hour runs until but I think 90 baht drinks is the deal through until 9:00 PM.

 

 

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This lady was a character, bouncing around the bar with a cheeky grin, keen to be the centre of attention. She had just returned having been away for several months. The reason for her time away from the bar? She recently gave birth – not that you would know it by looking at her figure.

 

 

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Mandarin is one bar that has a few young ladies. Let me be clear here – I am talking young ladies of legal age i.e. 18, 19 and 20-year-olds. Personally, I think that’s too young but I know many disagree. In the old days there were a lot more ladies in their late teens. Such young ladies working in the bar industry are much less common in the bar industry these days.

 

 

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Perhaps the major complaint about Nana Plaza these days (as opposed to the bar biz in general) is that many bars in the plaza have ladyboys. An all-ladyboy bar is one thing but rather a few bars in the plaza have a mix of ladies and ladyboys – and it is not always clear that is the case which really bothers some punters. Mandarin is ladyboy-free.

 

 

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The night I visited there were fewer Japanese visitors than I remember which to be frank, isn’t a good sign. The Japanese know their bars and lots of Japanese customers in a bar usually means one of two things: either lots of pretty girls, or filthy goings on. Mandarin has never been known for filth so fewer Japanese is a sign that there aren’t as many lookers in Mandarin as there used to be.

 

 

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Mandarin wouldn’t be first choice of bar to visit in the plaza and if I only had an hour or so, I’d head for Billboard and / or Butterflies. But if you were spending the whole night in the plaza or aren’t so keen on large bars, Mandarin is definitely worth stopping by.

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 11 looking at the entranceway to late-night party spot, Levels. I thought it was easy but only a handful of people got it right. Just like last week’s photo, this week’s is somewhere in downtown Bangkok.

Zach Brodksy has donated a copy of his novel Bangkok Delusions as a prize for the first person in Thailand to get the photo right. If you would like to claim the prize you MUST state in your email that you would like the prize, and you MUST be able to provide a postal address in Thailand.

 

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Nana Plaza

 

 

Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week ….. NONE!

I know this is the quietest time of the year for the bar biz but I didn’t expect my email inbox to be similarly quiet. Few interesting emails came in this week and for the first time ever, I just didn’t feel any were worth including. That’s a rather inauspicious first.

 


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok

 

 

On Thursday night, the doors on Nana Plaza’s newest bar Geisha were closed, only to reopen the next night. Just what that was about nobody knows. It’s no exaggeration that it could be just about anything given the unpopularity of the owner, his previously reported issues with debts and with having bad guys waiting outside the bar for him. If you were a betting man, Geisha is the bar you’d put some $$ on to be the next to close.

And down the road in Soi Cowboy’s newest bar Kazy Kozy, business is very much hit and miss. Upstairs is open some nights, closed others.

On the main Patpong soi, I had expected that the new gogo bar in the spot that was Radio City would have opened weeks ago, but it hasn’t. When I was in town I stuck my head in and had a nosey around. Word looked like it was mostly done and the friendly builders said construction should be finished within a week or so. That was about 6 weeks ago so I imagine it is due to open any day.

And after a long period of nothingness on Patpong soi 1, things are happening with news that another new bar will open. At the Suriwong Road end of the soi, a new sports bar will open above Shenanigans in a couple of months time.

In the next soi over, on Patpong soi 2 the atmosphere is changing. Gay bars are more visible – and even more gay bars are expected to open as venues from the closed Soi Twilight relocate to Patpong. Groups of guys out front of the gay bars invite passersby inside. But don’t get your knickers in a twist if you’re not attracted to the same sex, they mostly know who to target. Mostly.

It’s quiet and there are fewer punters around, but Hillary 2 is still a hit with the late night crowd. Hillary 2 has been a goldmine for a long time, largely thanks to an operator who knows what her customers want and delivers.

Talking of late-night crowds on Soi Nana, what is going on at EQ – the late-night bar on the ground floor of Nana Hotel that many of us still think of as “Nana Disco”? Is it open or is it closed? With no promotion and no publicity, who knows?

The name Duncan Stearn might not ring a bell but the affable Aussie had quite a following in Pattaya in the ’00s. Duncan was better known by his pen name Nightmarch and was the guy behind On The Tiles, a light and breezy column covering Sin City’s nightlife. Duncan had been battling cancer for a few years and sadly, he lost the battle this week. Duncan really was one of the good guys. He is survived by his wife and two kids. May he rest in peace.

 

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The price of a journey on a red bus increased 6.50 baht to 8 baht this week – and will go up to 10 baht next year. For me, there’s still a certain romance riding the red buses, even in their current (read: poor) state. There has been talk that the red buses will be phased out completely over the next 4 years so do jump on one if you get the chance, even if it is just a quick run up and down Sukhumvit. Those days of taking the red bus to work in my early days in Bangkok for the princely sum of 3.50 baht are oh so long ago.

The underground train line extension beyond Hualumpong will open in a few months’ time making a trip to Chinatown and the old part of the city so much easier. I notice more properties in Chinatown are being restored. I don’t know if these are upgrades by individual property owners or part of a grand plan for the area. Whichever, upgrading Chinatown and renovating some of the old properties while retaining their original character has the potential to turn the area in to something really quite special. Soi Nana (in Chinatown, not soi 4, Sukhumvit) is a good start with many old shophouses renovated and developed in to fancy bars. The area is full of buildings with character and I imagine as some properties are renovated, others won’t want to be left behind. The river, Chinatown and the old historical district have the potential to showcase the best of Bangkok. The area may have fallen behind other neighbourhoods across the city which have seen major development, but give it a few years and the old part of the city and Chinatown could be the next area to see really major development. As I say, I really do believe it has the potential to become something special.

 

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For Americans in Thailand, you can now get your social security monthly payment paid directly in to your bank account in Thailand, rather than in to an American bank from which you must then transfer it to Thailand or use an ATM machine in Thailand to make a withdrawal and incur fees at each end. To get your social security paid in to a Thai bank, you need to contact Social Security Administration at the US Embassy in Manila. The email address is : [email protected]

If like me you’re not impressed with The Bangkok Post’s coverage of all things Thai, you could try The Nation. No, thanks, these days I don’t think it’s any better. The Thai newspaper Khao Sod has  an online version in English and it is a decent alternative. With that said, Khao Sod is much like the two aforementioned rags and mainly covers stories and issues of interest to Thais. You don’t get the sense that the large expat population is their primary target demographic, the odd article aside. That said, I think they do a decent enough job. Khao Sod English online can be found at : KhaoSodEnglish.com.

With the number of Western / English-speaking expats in Thailand so great now, it’s kind of surprising that there isn’t a daily newspaper for them. I guess time has marched on and it’s all online now. In terms of print publications covering expat affairs, The Big Chilli stands out and is decent. It’s a monthly magazine, not a daily newspaper but it’s pretty good – and if you’re not in Thailand the whole magazine is posted on the site free to read every month.

 

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What’s the big difference between restaurants popular with foreigners in Thailand and restaurants popular with Thais? No, it’s not that Thai-oriented restaurants sometimes don’t have menus with English and no, it’s not that the staff in restaurants for Thais might not speak English – because that’s just as possible in a foreigner-oriented venue to have staff who hardly speak English either! To me, the big difference – and one reason I often find often myself preferring Thai venues – is that foreign restaurants (and by this I mean places with a predominately foreigner customer base) often allow smoking, even though it is illegal. Smoking in a restaurant – or even within a few metres of the outdoor area of a restaurant – is against the law. Contrast this with venues popular with Thais and it’s much less likely you will find Thais smoking. I don’t think it’s so much about the percentage of people who smoke, but more that Thais “get it” that smoking around people eating who don’t smoke can ruin the dining experience for them. Too often, the attitude of foreign smokers seems to be, “I’ll do what I want and to hell with the rest of you” while Thais are more considerate, in this instance.

I was walking through Lumpini Park one day last month photographing the monitor lizards and the crows when I was approached by a group of young Thai women who introduced themselves as nursing students. They had a sheet of questions to ask foreigners, part of a university project. After establishing where I was from, I was asked if I could teach them some words in my language. How do you say hello, I was asked. “Hello”, I said. Puzzled looks all around from these 6 female university students who would have studied English for at least 12 years at school and likely a little at university also. No, can you say it in the language you speak in New Zealand, they asked. “We speak English in New Zealand”, I responded. Puzzled looks all around before they quickly apologised and scuttled off looking all confused. 6 university students and not one of them knew that English is the official language in New Zealand. In Thailand I still have moments when I despair.

 

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Buildings going up just north of Lumpini Park.

 

Quote of the week comes from a reader, “Say what you want about the girls outside the Nana Hotel, one never needs to sleep alone.”

Reader’s story of the week comes from Jimmy, “Returning to Farangland Part 3“.

A Brit gets a lesson the hard way in what not to do with an object you don’t own in Thailand.

An interesting cafe / quasi sex museum has opened close to the Thonglor BTS station.

A visitor to Thailand’s credit card is cancelled by his bank in Scotland causing him all sorts of problems on his trip.

A young American is arrested by Immigration at the main Bangkok Airport after an arrest warrant was issued in his name for theft of and damage to a boat.

A Russian tries to open the emergency door mid-flight between Bangkok and Moscow.

Somchai messes up completely when servicing a pickup truck in Phuket!

 

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Wellington, my place of birth, New Zealand’s capital and possibly my favourite city in the world.

Last week we went to Wellington for the day. We did some shopping, caught up with an old friend and ate some great food. We enjoyed it so much we’ll probably go again this coming week. It’s the best part of a 4-hour drive each way which makes it a long day out, but it’s worth it. I really like Wellington and I’d consider moving there. (The reason I don’t live there now is due to the weather which is much better where we are, and house prices which are much more reasonable outside the capital.) I was telling my mother about how much I enjoyed visiting Wellington to which she said that it is not the city it was. Many of the places my mother used to enjoy hanging out in have long gone. Traffic in Wellington is much worse and it’s not as easy to get around. And many of the characters she used to know have either moved on, or passed away. Wellington is not what it once was, in her eyes. That all made me think about Bangkok – and how I say similar things. I guess it just goes to show that while places change and we may feel that they’re not what they once were, that doesn’t mean others won’t enjoy them immensely.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

 

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]