There are some things in life you just shouldn’t do. Some are obvious, others not so. Pouring tomato sauce on your fried rice is a no-no, ditto adding fish sauce to your pizza. You’ll soon know you’ve stuffed up if you fill your petrol engine with diesel. But one thing I really think you shouldn’t do, but rather a few people in Bangkok can’t help themselves from doing, is talking about the naughty nightlife in decent company.
It isn’t all that long ago that most Bangkok expats had more than a passing familiarity with the bar scene. Hottest gogo dancers? Best ping pong show? Best late night freelancer venue? Just about any expat could tell you the best place to go. The bar scene was where expats met up for a drink or two, and I’m not talking Bobby’s Arms or Shenanigans. But the days when the topic of discussion in expat pubs, chambers of commerce and teachers’ rooms was the naughty boy scene should be in the past. But some just don’t get it.
Is there anything more embarrassing in Bangkok than being in decent company when some klutz insists on bringing up bar biz?
It gets worse. I was out on a date with my better half when someone I vaguely knew came up to the table, butts straight in and asks which is currently the best bar in Soi Cowboy for naked dancers.
I understand the bar scene is a big part of some people’s lives but for most of us it isn’t. Unfortunately, some just don’t get that.
In my case, I’ve only got myself to blame. I’ve been writing about the bar scene – amongst other things – for so long that some get the idea that it’s important to me. It isn’t. I have very little interest in talking about it, even if you’ve got an exclusive story for me. The same way the dude who flips burgers at McDonald’s has zero interest in the differences between a Big Mac and a Whopper.
I’m not entrenched in the bar scene and, frankly, am not fussed about what happens. And I think most people, even those who still visit the bars often, feel the same. Few want to hear about what happened after you barfined Swallowing Sue last night.
It’s not that there’s anything wrong with spending all your time and money in the bars if that rocks your boat. Fill your boots! It’s simply that in decent company, it’s not a topic that should be raised.
It’s seriously uncool to raise the subject of nightlife – let’s call it what it is, Bangkok’s prostitution underworld – when any bloke is in the company of his Mrs (or his colleagues, or family or friends from home etc.)
The bars used to be a big part of the expat landscape. Take my first teaching gig, for example. Following an inter-branch staff meeting, 40-odd Westerners teaching English to Thais from predominately well-to-do backgrounds headed to a place none of our students would be seen dead in, Nana Plaza.
Attitudes have changed, even in Bangkok. Female expats might be keen for a quick look once, but after that most don’t want to hear about it. And today in Bangkok, neither do a lot of male expats for that matter.
I think many Thais still sort of expect that we’re all a bunch of depraved whoremongers but so long as they don’t know for sure, they’re ok with it. Thais place a high value on discretion and decorum.
In decent society in Bangkok today it’s about as cool to say that you spent the previous night with hookers as it would be to say it in New Zealand.
I’m no prude. Out in the bars, I expect the conversation will be about who has the best bust, who you’d barfine if you were single etc. But away from the bars and in decent company, no-one wants to hear about it. And in the company of my good lady, it’s the last thing she wants to hear about. She’s fine with me sitting next to her in our office editing photos from the bars, following up on leads and calling people in Bangkok to clarify what’s going on in the bars. But when we’re out and about, not a peep.
Some everyday Thai women are fascinated by the farang bar scene. They’ve heard stories but don’t know what it’s like for real. Once the initial fascination wears off – which happens in all of about 10 minutes – your typical Thai lady doesn’t want to hear about it again. And if people you know or are friendly with keep talking about the bar scene, it reflects on you.
There is a time and place for everything. Save the bar talk for when you’re in the bars. It all reminds me of the stuff we used to talk about in the school playground. Some little boys never grow up.
Last week’s photo was taken of the Thai-style house next to Sukhumvit soi 17, just behind the spot where the original Asia Books store stood. A farang restaurateur tells me that he once walked up to the front door in the hope he might be able to secure a lease and turn it in to his next restaurant location. They just laughed and said someone asks every week.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
What works in Farangland works in Thailand.
What I noticed about your Miss Thailand to Farangland column was the way it could be applied to Farangs moving to Thailand. It’s better to learn the language. It’s easier to get a Thai to deal with bureaucrats. Cultural differences are common (I remember my first Thai girlfriend constantly reminding me to add ‘khrap‘ to sentences… I was talking with a Thai guy recently and he commented that I was always polite, even when arguing). Dealing with police and neighbours needs a Thai introduction. And I think most farangs need to spend some time out of the western ghettos. I was lucky that my first job was in Hat Yai – not many white people there and very few English speakers.
Bad experience taking a woman out of Thailand.
I have seen how bad taking a Thai woman abroad can go. Young woman get bored at home while the husband is slaving away to pay for them both (and often her extended family). Off she goes, and soon the gambling starts, inevitably leading to selling her pussy during the day in one of the Thai brothels to pay the debts. Or she finds one or more younger giks who are able to find time during the day to meet her for some fun. And the temples. Suddenly it’s not 20 baht or 50 baht, but 50 Euros or more that has to be donated. And the more that is donated, the more “face” she feels she has. You didn’t mention the Thai festivals, which are imperative to attend. They start out with the Thai Isaan dances and end up in a melee of drunken screeching women, a total mess on the floor and tables and often a cat fight or two, and a couple of women vomiting outside. They are not happy outside of Thailand. I won’t ever take a Thai woman out of Thailand again. Too much headache. <I am loathe to comment in the emails section but in the interests of balance I feel this time I must say something: In my part of Farangland I haven’t seen anything quite like what you describe – Stick>
Adapting to and enjoying life in the UK.
My wife has lived in the UK now for almost 30 years. For most of that time we have returned to Thailand 2 or 3 times every year. Nowadays, she is not that bothered as she feels it is too expensive and there are so many other countries out there to visit. She has been to most countries in Europe and quite a few places further afield. One of the main problems we had at the beginning was that she missed her family so much and it cost us a fortune in phone calls in the pre-Internet days. As far as the Thai community here is concerned, we had terrible problems to start with as she accepted every Thai as being her friend and didn’t realise their ulterior motives. In fact, it got so bad at one stage that it ended up in the courts. She didn’t understand at that time that these were people that I wouldn’t normally mix with. Now she has a small group of Thai friends she has been friendly with for many years and has no interest of expanding the group at all and would be extremely wary of anybody else. When she first got here we made the mistake of just speaking Thai together as her English language skills were limited. We still speak Thai a lot but mostly converse in English. Thai food has never been a problem for her as there are many good Thai restaurants nearby and virtually all Thai ingredients are available locally and we eat Thai food at home most days. All in all, the experience has been very fruitful and fulfilling for both of us and I wouldn’t change anything as she is the most loyal, kind and trustworthy person I have ever met.
Successful transition to a new life in Arizona.
I could really relate to this week’s column as I had similar experiences 11 years ago. Like you suggested, my Thai wife and I visited the US several times. Then, when Phuket felt too crowded we decided to move to the US. My wife’s English is very good. The small town where we live in Northern Arizona gets 10 feet of snow per year. It doesn’t get very cold (although obviously it gets below freezing). The first thing we did was to get some good quality winter wear with fur lining. My wife loves the winters. She cooks at a local Thai restaurant where the staff are mostly Thai so she gets her Thai community and real Thai food. Phoenix is a 2.5 hour drive away and has some large, well-stocked Asian markets. The Thai folks at the restaurant are not at all like the Thais you describe in NZ. Getting an Arizona drivers licensee is a problem as the Arizona written drivers license test is only in English. In other states, like California, you can take the test in your native language.
I can confirm that freelancers are now spread down Soi Nana all the way to the Woraburi and, as the talent has declined in the bars, it has certainly picked up on the street. Except for Angels 4 bar where Hillary’s has done some great recruiting there.
Regarding your comments of surprise about Nana doing better than Cowboy, a few friends and I are so over Cowboy! The biggest problem with Cowboy? All the coyotes! None of us are young studs anymore. We do not struggle anywhere in Thailand, except Cowboy. “Sorry, I don’t go with customers,” was all I heard the last time I went to Cowboy, no matter which bar I went in. I would think that would hurt business, if it truly is happening all over Cowboy. Have any other readers had this problem?
Not one big happy family.
You wrote, “There is one Pattaya go-go bar where staff act as ushers, putting westerners on one side of the bar and North Asians (Chinese / Japanese / Koreans) on the other. That’s got to create an odd dynamic.” For real! Given how much the Japanese, Koreans, and Chinese all hate each other. Asia isn’t all one big happy family!
This week, Soi Nana was described as happening. Much better than merely alive, but not what you’d call vibrant. Adding up what people have been saying, it seems that the busy time on Soi Nana is earlier in the evening than it used to be. Things used to get going from around 10:30 PM onwards but these days 10:00 PM seems to be rather busier than midnight by which time some venues are tapering off. The consensus from various sources is that Soi Nana has been trucking along nicely the last few days. Has the doom and gloom been overdone?
Increasing numbers of freelancers seen on Soi Nana have also been reported on the strip of Sukhumvit from Asoke to soi 11. Best of all, those on the ground tell there’s not an African drug dealer to be seen.
Following on from recent columns where construction on the exterior at the Nana Hotel has been featured, word is that a new glass facade is under construction.
Down in Pattaya, a new gogo bar opened in Soi Diamond called The Bat. The Bat has an odd menu which is also in Korean which may explain some of the unuusal offerings. First, the standard stuff: lady drinks run 200 baht, the short-time barfine is 800 baht and the long-time barfine is 1,000 baht. But then it gets kinda weird and the menu offerings include, “Play with Lady for 30 minutes” 500 baht, “Remove bra 100 baht tip for Lady”, “Naked 300 baht tip for Lady”. Have you ever seen a menu like that in a bar before?
If you find yourself in Pattaya this coming week, Crystal Club A Gogo on Soi LK Metro is throwing a party for popular dancer Tikky on Friday evening. All are welcome.
Back in Bangkok, renovations are being carried out at Mandarin in Nana Plaza where the ceiling is being raised with a view to using the third floor again. Bench-style seating will replace the tables and stools in the back rows on the second floor. Mandarin has a new manager and word from the bar recently has been all positive.
Billboard’s popularity shows no sign of waning. Lots of customers in Billboard can mean competition for the girls. With some of the lovelies getting barfined real early in the evening, no wonder Soi Nana feels busier earlier these days. With Billboard heaving, some are wandering across to the other side of the plaza to check out Billboard’s sister bar Butterflies which was popular before but is even more popular now. The owners of these two bars know what they are doing and are killing it. I don’t think anyone would be upset if they expanded their empire and took on some more bars (No, I’m not suggesting that will happen but if it did, it would be no bad thing!)
But as popular as Butterflies is, it can sound like an echo chamber. Maybe it needs the ceiling redone like its sister bar, Billboard? Something as simple as egg foam on the ceiling would work wonders for the acoustics.
Good grief, it’s taking a long time for the Pickled Liver’s refit to be completed. I’m expecting one mighty fine-looking bar when it eventually reopens.
A new bar has opened on the main Sukhumvit Road, between sois 11 and 11/1. It opens out on to Farang Boulevard and is a great spot for people watching. The location right there on the main Sukhumvit Road with an open frontage pretty much guarantees that filling seats will never be a problem. There was no sign posted on Friday night so the name of the new bar is not known.
The Korean behind Geisha in Nana Plaza has struggled to gain traction in what is still largely a bar area popular with farangs. And the Japanese fellow behind The Strip in Patpong soi 2 is also struggling to attract the crowds The Strip once drew. Bar bosses need to be tuned in to their customer base – and word is that neither of these characters are. That may be a big part of why each is struggling.
More massage shops are asking for customers to pay up-front and in full before the massage is given, which has irked readers. Traditionally, small massage shops charge after the massage. Some say that the massage shops which charge you before the massage are more likely to deliver a sub-par massage / you will be short-changed and not receive a massage for the full hour you paid for. If you’re asked to pay beforehand and don’t like the idea, hold your ground and say you’ll pay at the end. If they don’t go for it, tell them you’re going to the massage shop next door / the next place along the soi. Odds are they will relent and allow you to pay at the end.
Taking photos of the general craziness on the streets of Bangkok is something I enjoy immensely, and in the farang ghettos there are opportunities to capture stuff you just don’t get anywhere else. But you do have to be a little careful as with the Internet and social media, increasingly people aren’t comfortable being photographed by strangers – especially in naughty bar areas. And in Bangkok there is one particular group of people who go crazy if they see you photographing them, even if you’re some distance away. Africans in the Sukhumvit area are ultra sensitive about being photographed. Whether this is some sort of religious thing or they simply don’t want to be photographed because they’re up to no good – as Africans on Sukhumvit tend to be stereotyped – I don’t know. Africans in Bangkok can become very aggressive very quickly if you point a camera at them.
Notices in the lobby, lifts and public areas of condominium buildings stating that AirBnB is not allowed in the building / illegal in Thailand have become commonplace in recent years. Some buildings are posting a reminder about the requirement for foreign residents to report themselves to Immigration along with any foreign guests who may be staying with them. The notice below was sent to me by a reader who lives in a high-end building at Asoke. Has Immigration requested condominium offices get the word out to foreign residents that they need to report themselves? Or has perhaps the condo office taken it upon themselves to inform the building’s residents of the current requirements? It is a useful public service by the condo to post these notices up and get the message out. At the same time, all of these new requirements feel like one big hassle.
On the subject of visas, dealings with the Immigration Department and the general worries and angst this is all causing for expat residents, a petition has been organised by some expats in the hope it might see immigration reformed. The plan is to deliver the petition to the Prime Minister and the Minister of Immigration (I didn’t know there was one / perhaps they mean the Immigration Bureau Chief?) once the petition has 10,000 signatures. Quite some effort has been put in to this and Reform-Thai-Immigration.com has been created with information about the current situation and changes they’d like to see. Good luck to them.
Has the avocado craze hit Thailand? From a Stickman reader who visits Petchabun province often, there was a time when strawberry farms were the main draw but now there are avocado farms / sellers everywhere. For what it’s worth, if you are an avocado fan I’d suggest sticking with the imported variety – the texture and flavour is so much better.
A reminder that it is a really bad idea to use the F-word in Thailand – and it is taken to be a very aggressive gesture and things can escalate quickly. The average Thai knows the F-word and it’s not well received. The nuances of Fxxx off, Fxxx you and mother fxxxer may not be grasped but the general idea is. Curse a Thai with the F-word and things could get nasty. Funnily enough, the C-word isn’t known by many – but I don’t suggest you use that either!
Reader’s story of the week comes from Mega, “Around the Traps in South-East Asia Part 17” is the latest in a series many Stickman readers enjoy.
Quote of the week, “Just because they say, “It’s Thai culture” doesn’t mean that it is, and even if it is, it doesn’t mean you have to accept it!”
Thailand is attracting fewer visitors because of the strong baht.
Road accidents are still the main cause of death in Thailand, accounting for 20,000+ souls per year.
The backpacker ghetto Khao San Road is to undergo a $1.6 million makeover.
The chief of the Thonglor Police Station has denied reports from expats and visitors who claim to have been stopped and illegally searched by officers in the Thonglor district.
The Daily Mail features some of the gems of Thailand off the beaten track.
Thailand needs fresh thinking to stop once loyal visitors heading elsewhere.
This week’s closing comments refer primarily to comments made in the latest article in the Around The Traps South-East Asia series by my good friend Mega who talks a bit about Vietnam and how it is changing. He feels that Vietnam is getting busy with more foreign visitors and with construction taking place around downtown it is more congested than ever – and that’s saying something. He feels prices in the areas you find foreigners have shot up. Mega came very close to moving to Vietnam not so long ago but decided against it. And now, on reflection, he feels that choosing not to up sticks and to remain in Phuket was the right decision. This is all worth mentioning given the number of foreigners who call Thailand home who are talking about moving on, many of whom have talked about Vietnam as a possible destination. Where once those leaving Thailand tended to head to the Philippines, Cambodia or back to their homeland, now it seems like every other person thinking of leaving is looking at Vietnam. If you have thought Vietnam might feature in your future, Mega’s latest and his comments and views on Vietnam today are worth checking out. Just be careful what you wish for, it might be a case of out of the frying pan and in to the fire.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]