Stickman's Weekly Column September 22nd, 2019

Thoughts From The Frontlines, Part 2



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

The column opener for last week, this week and next week is presented in a trip report style with thoughts from and observations of what I have seen in Bangkok.

 

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A hazy morning at the park as pollution lingers over downtown Bangkok.

 

My first week in Bangkok was pleasant weather-wise with relatively clear skies. Venturing about was easy and I enjoyed visiting old haunts and catching up with friends. I should have considered that it was September and the good weather wouldn’t last. The past week has been horrible with heavy downfalls, flooded sois and temperatures a few degrees warmer making it sticky and uncomfortable. Getting out and about has been much more difficult so I’m glad I did a lot of important stuff in the first week.

Downtown took on a greyish blue hue this week. A light haze hung around and doing laps at the park I could feel it in the back of my throat. I didn’t need to check air quality levels online to know that the pollution had shot up to unhealthy levels. You don’t expect crappy air in September and I hate to think what it’s going to be like in November.

Filthy air mightn’t sound like a big deal to you, but it sure is a big deal to me. In New Zealand I never get sick. Not a single health issue of any sort, whatsoever. Not so in Bangkok. I was fine for the first week. Then the air went bad and just like clockwork, I was coughing. I don’t like feeling like I should stay inside to avoid the bad air (which doesn’t work anyway, unless you have good filtration devices) so bad air really takes the fun away. OK, so it’s not nearly as bad as it was in March, but it ain’t good either. So much for the idea of visiting in the rainy season to avoid the pollution. This week we had rain and pollution!

 

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The view from Stumble Inn on Soi Nana: lots of Chinese and Indians heading for Nana Plaza.

 

Between downpours and many cancelled plans, I still managed to catch up with a few friends this week. Dave The Rave and I spent a couple of hours at the railings at Stumble Inn, watching the world go by. We’ve known each other for nearly 20 years and Dave reminded me that our friendship is unusual in Bangkok……because we’ve never had a row. Friendships in Bangkok can be more fragile than elsewhere. I put that down to the pressures of life in Bangkok and the fact that so many Thailand farang are downtrodden and don’t have a great deal of control over their own life. That feeling of being unsettled and never knowing what drama could be thrust on you next spills over in to friendships where bickering and falling out is common.

I had a nice, albeit brief chat this week with Bangkok nightlife legend Bernard Trink who I bumped in to at Siam Square. At 88, Bernard has slowed down a bit but it’s nice to see him still enjoying his old routines with his devoted wife still right by his side. It’s great to see a couple at that age still doing everything together. I did think about asking him if we could do another interview and have more of a catch-up but I like him and respect him too much and decided after a quick hello, how are you, what are you up to that I should leave him in peace.

I have not been complimentary of Thailand farang in recent times, a term I use from time to time for foreigners who call Thailand home. At the same time I have to acknowledge that I have a lot of friends in this part of the world – and a lot of them are really good people. It was really reinforced towards the end of this week when I caught up with 3 friends, all who made a considerable effort to travel to Bangkok. I need to make an effort to be more positive….there are a lot of good foreigners in this part of the world.

Mega, a fellow Kiwi, and a contributor of many stories to this site, is one of my few genuine friends in Thailand. He doesn’t care for Bangkok these days and moved to Phuket a few years back. It was great to catch up this week and enjoy some Vietnamese coffee with him that he had just picked up from his latest trip there.

An American friend who prefers life across the border flew in to Bangkok while I was here and an English friend made the effort to take the bus up from Pattaya to Bangkok so we could grab lunch and hang out. Friendships require effort and it’s nice to have friends who have made such an effort to keep the friendship alive and strong.

 

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Overcast weather for the most part at this time of year.

 

I still very much enjoy roaming around the old part of the city, exploring sub-sois, hunting for interesting photo opportunities and old-style Thai eateries. The old part of the city is home to some of the longest-running restaurants in Bangkok – some of which have been around for as long as most Bangkokians can remember. In some the menu hasn’t changed in decades – and there’d probably be a backlash if it did. Some staff / family members have been working on the premises for most of their life, 40 years, 50 years and in some cases even longer. They are the restaurant equivalent of Scala Cinema, Bangkok’s oldest cinema, happily operating in very much the same way they always have.

I might rant about prices being high in Bangkok but it’s mainly a downtown / Sukhumvit & Silom thing and it isn’t nearly as bad in the old part of town. In the suburbs, prices in eateries are still reasonable for the most part.

With the bar areas visited in week one and those boxes ticked, the plan this week was to visit favourite eateries and check out some new spots recommended by friends.

In the past I have been guilty of spending too much time in old favourites. Perhaps I was subconsciously trying to relive my old expat life? This time I sought out recommendations from friends and new places to try.

Bangkok has seemingly unlimited interesting dining options and for me Indian will always be near the top of the list.

 

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What were the back alleys of Little India have been cleaned up. It looks nice but…..

It’s a few years since I have eaten at Royal India, generally regarded as the best spot in Pahurat, AKA Little India. The area has undergone a major transformation with the back alleys torn up, decades old vendors turfed out, rickety old bridges ripped out and the area beautified. It doesn’t have the atmosphere of old and today feels more Bangkok than Bombay – and I guess you could say a little less authentic than before. It’s another part of old Bangkok that has gone – but the new version is a whole lot nicer than the old version which at times felt like the slums of Delhi.

The Royal India restaurant wasn’t as good as I remember it, and that’s about as positive as I can be…

My craving for Indian unsatisfied, the next day I headed for one of the city’s newest Indian eateries and the highest rated Indian restaurant in Bangkok on Trip Advisor, Kurries and Kebabs. It hit the spot! Kurries and Kebabs is fabulous with some of the best Indian food I ‘ve had in Bangkok.

Kurries and Kebabs is located some 800 or so metres up Sukhumvit soi 31. Staffed entirely by Indians, the food is great (the fish curry was the best I have ever had) and the service is much better than you get elsewhere in Bangkok – 5-star hotels included. The wait staff are fluent in English, very attentive and super helpful. Ask a question about a dish and they go in to detail about where in India it comes from, what it goes well with, how it is made etc. Kurries and Kebabs is on Eatigo so if you book via the app you can get a decent discount.

Speaking of which, Eatigo still works well and if you aren’t familiar with it, put that right. Eatigo is an app / website that allows you to make reservations at restaurants all over town including many popular with Westerners. Depending on the day and the time, you get a discount of between 10% and 50%. There isn’t a catch – it’s a great deal.

Another new place worth stopping by is Argo, a Georgian restaurant in the second sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 in what was previously the American Bar And Grill. I know little about Georgia other than the capital is Tbilisi, rugby is the second most popular sport and Georgian food is gaining in popularity worldwide. Georgian food shares similarities with Middle Eastern food, yet is nothing like say Lebanese or Turkish. You really have to try it for yourself to see what I mean. Most of the dishes on the menu sound simple enough, but they have complex flavours, are made with real finesse and are beautifully presented. It’s tapas style so order a few plates and share. Argo imports spices direct from Tbilisi that no other restaurant in Thailand uses. A great job has been done decking out the venue with beautifully decorated, romantic booths inside and a large, covered terrace with comfortable seating outside. Argo would be a great choice for a first date – high quality food to be shared and in all likelihood your Thai date won’t have had Georgian food before. There’s also a limited Georgian wine list – Georgian wine is said to be the oldest in the world. Argo is a great addition to the Bangkok dining scene.

 

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One of the many interesting, if a little unusual dishes at Argo.

 

A quick shout out to MEU Republic which has been around for a while now but which I only visited for the first time this week. MEU Republic is a 10-minute walk up the road towards Petchaburi Road, from Soi Cowboy and has really good Thai food. The tom kha gai I had was wonderfully flavourful and not merely coconut milk with hints of lemon. And it is not pricey given the quality food and its downtown location.

I can’t comment on the week that was without saying something about the bars. I hit the bars last week and while I stuck my head inside a few this week, I didn’t hang around long. It was more of the same – few white guys about / business slack in Cowboy and Patpong / decent trade in Nana Plaza, if variable from day to day.

It’s been an enjoyable week, even if the weather has been crap and the pollution worse than expected. I put myself first this week and did the things I like most. I spent less time in the bars, more time roaming the old part of town – and spent more time with the other half. I’ve not been taking the camera out all that much as it can get in the way. Sukhumvit might be the bustling heart of Bangkok where many expats live and party, but splitting my time between it and other parts of the city has made for an enjoyable trip so far.

 

More thoughts on visiting Bangkok in the final part of my trip report next week.

 


Billboard Bangkok

 

 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken of the sculpture outside the Hyatt Regency Hotel on Sukhumvit Road, the new hotel roughly half way between the Nana and Asoke intersections. Just 4 readers got it right. This week’s photo features a place that hasn’t been around all that long.


Nana Plaza

 

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

The unlikely airport where luggage disappears.

About people stealing luggage at the airport carousel, I fly in and out of many places, Africa included, and it is a surprise for many when I tell them the one place I have had repeated issues with people attempting to take my luggage. Singapore. Mainlanders all 4 times. The second part that really got me about this was that the airport police don’t want to touch this issue, and defer to airline representatives. Very strange that it is Singapore, and that the authorities are hands off.

Thailand ethics and the world’s oldest profession.

In a culture where it seems anyone is willing to metaphorically screw anyone over to get ahead, and owners try to keep hands off by having middle management made up from locals literally given the job to manage the girls, then you can take a simple rule from general business management: if your management won’t stand up for rules and screw you over, so will everyone else. And that’s before there has been any screwing of customers. I don’t have any moral issues with prostitution as long as it is just that, but I have yet to find a case where it can be separated from all the issues that tend to come with it in all the forms it happens. One of the least conflicting ways I see it is actually the new trend of using the Internet and apps, be it Tinder or Smooci. This way most of the intermediaries that are part of the problems are eliminated, but then it opens up the whole other front of the physical safety of those involved.

Bangkok inconsistencies.

A few months ago I was out near Wong Wian Yai, and needed to top up my BTS Rabbit card. No way without a passport, absolutely firm about it, not even 50 baht to get home, pretty please; not even after I insisted on talking to the manager. I had to buy a single-use ticket. Half an hour later at Phaya Thai I topped up the card, no passport needed or asked for.

Expat fiction.

On expat fiction, I would say that the lack of new publications is due to Thailand not being so inspiring anymore, as it becomes more western. It is no longer a dream for many, but often a nightmare.

The Internet has replaced books.

You made an interesting observation regarding the lack of ‘new’ titles from Thai expats. After my first trip to Thailand nearly 20 years ago, I remember immersing myself in several books. “Hello, My Big Big Honey”, “A Woman of Bangkok”, etc. Everything seemed exotic and very  different from my humdrum Western life. Perhaps, however, with the decline of Western expats (as you have noted) there is simply less interest in ‘exotic’ Thailand? The LOS is simply ‘another’ country lacking in mystery. Also, the Internet is full of information regarding every nook and cranny pertaining to Thailand thus ‘no need’ for books?

TM30 changing travel plans.

I have been having discussions with my Thai wife for several years now about how I wanted to travel to other countries and not just Thailand on my annual leave. However, my wife is very happy for us to travel around Thailand and for me to catch up with the family. As they say, ‘happy wife, happy life’. However, the TM30 has come to my rescue. My wife and her family now agree that the restrictions the TM30 places on us for internal travel in Thailand is silly so agreement has been reached by all that the smart thing to do is for the good wife to come to Australia. This year we will travel to New Zealand’s South Island and then on to Tonga before returning to Australia for some local travel. I may return to Thailand for Loy Krathong in 2020 to catch up with the family, but if the TM30 is still in place it will be a very short visit, in and out, pick up the wife, and then move on to a more tourist-friendly destination.

Bangkok neon and the rainy season.

Regarding no neon in the alley, I don’t know why but it seems venues with neon, even the Plaza, get shut off in the big rains. Cowboy particularly. I guess the owners play it safe. Must be shoddy workmanship / electrics / installations as there is a shit-load of images on Google of neon in the rain.

Business class trumps noise-cancelling headphones.

You know what works better than noise-cancelling headphones? Business class. I am spoiled rotten and have taken my last 6 trips over the pond in business. Costly but my net worth is at the same peak it hit two years ago and that is after building my own apartment. All I can say is don’t ever fly business class as you won’t ever want to go back to economy, especially for long haul.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok

 

When I first arrived in Bangkok two weeks ago it seemed busy. Last week I said it was quiet. And then this week it felt busy again. How can that be?! I must sound like a clown saying it’s busy one week and quiet the next – but that is exactly what I have seen with my own eyes. Some days are busy, some are quiet. Some nights are very busy, others are quiet – with no obvious reason as to why that is. All I can say with certainty is that most visitors are from East Asia and South Asia.

On a similar theme, Nana Plaza was rather quiet on Friday and positively hopping last night. Usually Friday is the busiest night of the week (expats tend to go out on Friday) with Saturday the next busiest. The only explanation I can think of is that regulars stayed home or went elsewhere on Friday night and headed to the plaza on Saturday for the Billboard party.

Soi Cowboy was really quiet again this week. I would include some photos I took of the soi on Friday night but they look much the same as the photo I included last week where Soi Cowboy was dead. Yes, September is one of the quietest months of the year but Friday night was so quiet it felt more like a mid-week low season night 20 years ago than a Friday in 2019. I chatted with a mamasan on Cowboy I have known for years who said from the girls to the service staff to the bosses, no-one is happy at how quiet it is – and how little money is being made. Could some girls look for a new bar to work at the end of the month?

Two friends who have been in Pattaya this past week reiterated what others are saying – low season in Sin City this year has been dire.

Have you wondered why there are so many freelancers on Soi Nana, and why the price of action is down? I’ll give you a clue: talk Thai to the girls and they won’t understand what you’re saying. That’s because some of the freelancers on Soi Nana aren’t Thai, but Vietnamese. They loiter further down Soi Nana, away from the prime spot outside the Nana Hotel. They look better than the local lasses, to my eyes at least.

The name of the bar in Patpong soi 2 which will replace Steakhouse Co is not going to be Hookers Bangkok after all, but xXx Lounge.

The Museum of Patpong on Patpong soi 2 is set to have a soft opening in early October. It was to be this week but it has been pushed back a little.

Speaking of Patpong and the bar area’s rich history, there are negotiations behind the scenes to secure the lease to Safari so the legendary bar isn’t lost to those who would level it and redevelop it in to just another modern bar. The lady who has run Safari since 1976 has been keen to get out for some time and has fielded various offers. Most who have approached her would like to turn it in to another modern bar. But there are those who don’t like that idea and efforts are being made by someone with a passion for Patpong to secure the lease and keep Safari just the way it is.

 

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Safari, Patpong soi 1. The word “disco” on the sign is something of an anomaly.

 

The Rugby World Cup kicked off in Japan 2 days ago and will build to a crescendo over the next 6 weeks with the final on November 2nd. Many rugby fans in Thailand aren’t happy that they cannot easily watch the matches. Local cable TV provider True Visions and the Setanta channel which shows a lot of rugby is NOT showing the Rugby World Cup. In Bangkok, many sports bars and British / Aussie / Kiwi pubs will show the matches and I imagine it will be much the same around the country. In popular rugby pub The Kiwi on Sukhumvit soi 8, yesterday’s match between New Zealand and South Africa was fully booked the day before.

Hogsbar is a recently opened biker / sports bar located on Rama IX Road, next to the Harley dealership. It is described as Bangkok’s first real biker bar, a ‘home’ for bikers and bike lovers. You can find out more at their Facebook page: HogsBangkok.

The latest on soi 22 bar area Queen’s Park Plaza is that it has until the end of January. QPP is very much a second tier bar area, but there are some who prefer it to the bigger, more popular bar areas. Those who do tell me it’s not because it’s cheaper, more that they feel it is the last bar area not afflicted by mainstream tourism. It’s a bar area for traditional bargoers. Queen’s Park Plaza feels much like its former soi 22 neighbour, Washington Square – the writing is on the wall and it’s just a matter of time.

Speaking of soi 22, there are more beer bars near the start of the soi than when I was last in town earlier in the year. I am not sure how long they have been there and all I can say is that there are more bars there now than there were then. I’m talking small single-shophouse bars with just a few staff.

I haven’t seen the Soi Nana watch seller with the large cancerous growth inside his mouth this trip. He is known as Peter but his Thai name is actually Yoi. He used to be a fixture on Soi Nana but like I say, I haven’t see him – and I don’t remember seeing him last time I was in town either. I asked Dave The Rave about him – Dave knows the Nana neighbourhood better than most – and he hasn’t seen him in ages either. One friend thinks he may have seen Peter peddling his wares on Sukhumvit soi 11 but that has not been confirmed. Here’s hoping he’s ok.

Nana Plaza has TwisterBKK, Twister and Twister Bar, 3 bars with very similar names. TwsterBKK and Twister are owned by the same people – in fact it is largely the same bar but with 2 different entrances, while Twister Bar is one floor up and has different owners altogether. Just what the history is with these similar-sounding bar names, I do not know. I’m a little surprised there’s not a covenant in the Nana Plaza lease agreements preventing this sort of thing from happening.

 

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Nana Plaza has 3 bars with very similar names – Twister, TwisterBar, TwisterBKK.

 

The impression I have is that the number of lady drinks being bought for the girls by customers is way down. Where once many bar customers had a lady cuddling up next to them, these days many customers drink alone in gogo bars, and seemingly prefer to watch the girls dance while sitting alone, listening to the music and enjoying the entertainment. Given the price of lady drinks these days, the lack of clarity of lady drink pricing and the nonsense – some would say scams – with special lady drinks and double lady drinks, who can blame them?

Thais have long bad-mouthed Indians and plenty of working girls in the farang bar areas claim they don’t go with Indians. In most cases it’s just another bargirl lie. When bills have to be paid and family has to be supported, many girls will do just about anything. It might be that some didn’t go with Indians in the past but these days most see Indians as just another customer. They really don’t have a lot of choice given Indians make up more and more customers in the bars and that trend is almost sure to continue. It should be noted that for what ever reason, Patpong doesn’t seem to be getting Indian customers in big numbers….yet. And it should also be noted that Bangkok today attracts some very wealthy Indian visitors willing to spend up large to have a good time.

Curiously, the mistrust of and ill-feeling towards Indians isn’t just a bargirl thing. Many Western customers have what I will call the Japanese disease. Bargoers know that some Japanese are not keen on – and may even refuse to go with – a girl who goes with white guys. Well now it seems some white guys aren’t keen on the idea of bargirls who go with Indian men! What’s that all about?

The small convenience store on the ground floor of Nana Plaza doesn’t sell to customers because the fear is that some cheap Charlies would buy a bottle of water or Coke for 10 / 15 baht and just slowly walk around the plaza without going in to any bars and spending any money. The days of being able to walk in to Nana Plaza with a beer you bought at 7 Eleven are over. Security won’t let you in. It still happens a lot at Soi Cowboy.

 

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It’s most unlike Thais in business to limit their customer base.

 

A farang-owned gogo bar in Bangkok which cannot be named recorded its first ever monthly loss last month, the first time that has happened in more than 10 years of business. Times are tough for some.

I heard this week that senior teachers at one Bangkok international school are paid up to 230,000 baht per month, with a 40,000 baht housing allowance on top. International school salaries in Thailand are generally very good – but is this accurate and are they really this good? I always thought senior teachers in international schools earned  around 180,000 baht / month but I am way out of touch. Is anyone in the industry able to verify these numbers? Curious minds are keen to know!

If you have been following the news from Thailand over the past week you will have seen the terrible flooding in parts of lower Isaan with Ubon Rachathani badly hit. Many people have donated money / food / necessities. But why oh why do they have to make a big song and dance about it. Is it really necessary to pose for photos handing over a cheque or whatever it is they’re donating? If you’re going to give to charity, just give to charity! Do it because it’s a good thing to do, not because you want to gain face from it. Posting photos or videos online of yourself making donations strikes me as tacky.

An American resident of Thailand has started a YouTube channel called Bangkok Bad Taxis, featuring videos of his encounters with taxi drivers who don’t always deliver the sort of service customers expect. He has a library of bad experiences which will be published over the coming weeks.

 

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Quote of the week comes from a friend I met this week who used to live in the big city but left after it wore him down, “Bangkok is absolutely not a city for retirees.”

A horror report from a tiger temple not far from Bangkok shows 86 of the magnificent cats have died.

The Sydney Morning Herald is enjoying putting the microscope on a Thai minister of parliament who did jail time for drug offences in Australia.

A European trade body is lobbying for the end to the onerous TM30 requirements.

Thailand is to join other countries in scrapping arrival and departure forms.

A 25-year old model is found dead in the lobby of a Bangkok condo building.

A sexy Scottish model who flew in to Thailand with pages missing from her passport is locked up in what she described as a filthy police cell over-run with cockroaches.

A Norwegian accused of killing a Brit in Phuket who was on bail had fled and an Interpol red notice has been issued.

A Frenchman is the latest in a very long list of foreigners who can say they have been attacked in Pattaya by a ladyboy.

A Phuket bar owner is sentenced to life in prison for killing a coyote dancer and her friend.

 

billboard-gogo-bar-bangkok-2019

Thanks for the very nice feedback to last week’s column. Obviously when I am on the ground in Bangkok I have a much better feel for what is going on and it’s so much easier to gather news and gossip myself. I hope this week’s column is also well-received.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]