Random Thoughts From The Cutting Room Floor
This week’s opener is a selection of images from the cutting room floor so to speak, photos from my recent trip that I didn’t plan to use in the column….and then I changed my mind. They are presented with a few random thoughts about my time in Bangkok last month.
Who would have thought the roof over Nana Plaza would have turned out to be such a huge success? There’s little doubt in my mind that the roof over the plaza is one of the main reasons the plaza has regained the mantle of best and most-happening bar area. This photo was taken last month but already it is dated with the awnings between the ground floor and the middle floor in the plaza having since been removed, which I am told has really added to the sense of space. In the bar areas, the best get better.
I still can’t get my head around what has happened at Soi Cowboy, and how the vibe has changed. What was once a vibrant soi just doesn’t have the same buzz it did. I thought it might be me, but a number of expats tell me they feel exactly the same. There are enough decent bars on the soi for the area to thrive but things on Cowboy just seem to be – for want of a better word – off. It’s swings and roundabouts and while Cowboy might not be the top of the pops this week, it’ll come back.
As I wrote a few weeks ago, the main reasons to go to Soi Cowboy these days are to take photos of the neon and to take advantage of the happy hour prices.
And then there’s Patpong. Where Nana is moving forward and Soi Cowboy feels like it’s going backwards, Patpong is reinventing itself. Patpong is going through a period of significant change with more new bars opening than the other bar areas combined – and there are other new venues opening such as the Museum of Patpong which opens its doors tomorrow. To some Patpong feels tired and like stepping in to the past, but I’d suggest that the future of Patpong is promising.
But it wasn’t the bar areas where I spent my evenings. A couple of my best nights out weren’t in the bars at all, but roaming around Chinatown.
Now that the underground train goes all the way to Chinatown it’s so much easier to get there and I took advantage of that, visiting a number of times, both day and night. Some friends sent me messages early evening keen to meet up for a drink. Sure, I said, hop on the underground and come down to Chinatown. No-one did.
I’m not especially fond of Chinese food but there’s some interesting stuff on offer. Chinatown has changed a lot in recent years with many new vendors having set up (while the old ones seem to mostly still be there too).
It’s not just the food (although that is a major reason to visit), there’s something about the vibe at Chinatown that drew me back. Bangkok has changed and it’s easy to get all romantic about the Bangkok of old and how it’s rapidly disappearing, but I’ll stick my neck out and say that Chinatown is better now than it used to be, at least in my humble opinion.
Back on Sukhumvit, one scratches their head at how much prime real estate remains undeveloped. Year after year, empty lots remain empty. While the value of prime real estate is soaring, it still feels like there’s money on the table that they are not collecting.
With more big hotels opening up between Asoke and Nana, there are hints that Bangkok is moving more upmarket. It’s not Orchard Road – and probably never will be – but things are changing rapidly. More than anything, it reinforces how much of a shit-hole downtown Sukhumvit was for so long.
I’ve still got a lot of favourite places on Sukhumvit, but I really think that next time I am in Bangkok I going to stay somewhere well away from the Sukhumvit area. The idea of trying somewhere new actually appeals, whereas until recently it didn’t. Chinatown, perhaps? Somewhere in the old part of the city? Is Rachada – where so many expats I know seem to be moving – an option? Maybe somewhere near Lumpini Park might be an idea?
Speaking of Lumpini Park, it’s as pleasant a spot as ever to hang out at and I made it there every other day. I guess it just goes to show how much I have changed. What appeals to me in Bangkok these days is very different to what appealed in the past.
Benjakit Park will be closed from February for a period of around 18 months. In Bangkok I like to be near a park so I can get my morning exercise – and wandering around the park and being surrounded by trees and greenery helps keep me sane amongst the disorganised chaos that is Bangkok.
This visit the traffic seemed worse than I remember it. It could well be that I am wrong about that, but the few times I used cabs were on routes I used to take in the past and I really don’t remember the traffic being quite that bad nor the journey taking nearly as long.
The underground and the skytrain extensions have opened up new parts of the city and helped to mitigate the bad traffic somewhat, but at peak hour (which can run until way after 9 PM on the Sukhumvit line) they’re not exactly what I’d call a pleasant way to travel either. And the security on the underground is even more of a laugh than on the skytrain. Why do they bother?
Wiring on Sukhumvit has being taken down with new trenches being dug and replacement lines being put underground. I guess one day this will be a thing of the past.
If there is one thing I would take out of my most recent trip to Bangkok, it’s that the city continues to change….and in some areas that change is at breakneck speed.
Last week’s photo was taken of the outside patio at BarSu on the ground floor of the Sheraton Grande Sukhumvit. This week’s photo is a bit more challenging. Let’s see how clever you are…
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
A throwback to the past.
Your column about Scala served as a poignant reminder to me about how much things have changed. “Back in the old days” (late 90’s, first half of 2000’s) I used to think of barfining as “renting a girlfriend for the evening.” Whenever I found girls who were fun and enjoyable to be with, I liked to take them out on dates and treat them like a girlfriend. A standard evening would be to get to the bars at around 7:00 PM (a common opening time back in those days), pay the barfine, then take her to dinner, followed by a movie, before heading back to the room for the nightcap (and in those days they frequently stayed all night). Many of these date nights found us ensconced at Scala, Lido or Siam Cinema. So for me, your column was a throwback to the old days in more ways than one, as things like date nights, movies, and long-time are all things of the past when it comes to the contemporary bar scene in Bangkok.
Hooters future still uncertain?
If you were wrong about Hooters a few weeks ago, my guess is you likely soon won’t be. I visited Soi 4 last night and it is apparent that Hooters is stripping the place of costs, cutting products and focusing on margin – all signs of chasing decline. They have plugged all tapped beer except for Guinness (including their own Hooters house draft) and now sell only bottles. This suggests they’re sacrificing scale and volume for high-margins – often a sign of short-term focus. The traditional Hooters girls are now fewer in number; perhaps 3 – 4 versus 5 – 8 previously. And their once-tight hiring policies have…err…shall we say “loosened”. A lot! They have also employed a Chang beergirl to flog the unpopular lager and replace the once-famous Hooters service offering. No offense to her personally but let’s suggest she is “unflattering”. In my view, it won’t be long before the spiral ends in a hard floor.
Shift the bar scene further out?
About the gloomy picture painted of the nightlife industry, there needs to be more affordable alternatives. Since the BTS network has expanded a lot, can they open new venues away from tourist spots? I believe expats and regular visitors with some Thai language skills won’t mind spending a few extra bucks on late night taxi fares to spots away from lower Sukhumvit. Do places like these already exist?
I got bounced back from Don Meuang Airport. They cited several reasons – 1. Too many multi-entry tourist visas. 2. I didn’t have 20K baht in my wallet. 3. No onward ticket – I live down south and do a boat crossing from Satun to Langkawi. They kept asking if I was married and I had to say no. Maybe if I had said yes, they would have relented. If they put you in the detention room, the cost is 200 baht / hour, so no point in waiting a few days for a cheaper ticket back to Australia. I had to pay Air Asia $AUD 500 and was put on same flight back to Brisbane.
Leaving for good.
I lived in Thailand for 5 years, mainly in Bangkok with a year in Hua Hin. I have decided to leave for good. I just got totally sick of the attitude and ignorance of Thai Immigration and their ridiculous rules around the retirement visa. How stupid can they be to drive well-behaved, honest people like me out of the country? Throw in the madness of TM30, include the veil of secrecy they like to operate under, and just for good measure, let’s go to that dreadful place called Chaeng Wattana every 90 days. It all got too much for me so I packed up and buggered off 3 weeks ago. The bar scene has become lame which is unfortunate, and as prices rise fewer people will go, so the owners create a vicious circle for themselves which doesn’t make sense. It’s getting really hard for the girls to make a living and in turn, they become fed up which is openly displayed in their attitude. The police can’t control motorcycles riders, you struggle to breathe fresh air, pavements are oil slicks, traffic lights on red mean nothing and shrill whistles are heard all day. I would always promote Thailand as a wonderful holiday destination, but don’t consider it for a comfy & relaxed retirement. All you get is a bloody big headache. As a seasoned campaigner in Thailand, Stick, I’m sure you’re well aware of the situation.
Bar promotion in 2019.
Website advertising is down is due to social media and the attitude some bosses have adopted in believing that letting their underlings splatter the various platforms with photos / content is all marketing takes. It is worse if they do not have a website of their own as many do not use social media.
Motivating the girls.
The pay and cuts you mention in the bar in Pattaya is a play on an old motivational method. Show an individual a cash sum up front and put it in a clear bag for them to see. Tell them it’s theirs if they hit the extended target set but also how you will remove a sum of cash each time they fail to do so. The thought of losing something you believe is yours is far greater than that of attaining something you can only hope to gain and haven’t seen. Ergo, enhanced effort. (In some projects this is not bad as the individual can throw their efforts and hours into this reward. However, the women in the bar are at the mercy of many factors such as weather, slow season lack of customers, etc. and may lose patience if too much is lost.)
A new gogo bar will open on Patpong soi 2 this week with XXX Lounge to have a soft opening this coming Friday, November 1st. XXX Lounge can be found in the space what was Steakhouse Co for the last 18 months, and for the previous 15 odd years was Club Electric Blue.
And just 25 metres away on the other side of Patpong soi 2, they are working furiously to get the Museum of Patpong ready to open tomorrow, Monday, October 28th. This week there will be 3 tour guides taking visitors through the museum, one of whom is the author of the e-book Five Crazy Years: Memoirs Of A Gogo Bar Owner. From 2:00 PM – 6:00 PM, he will lead you through the museum providing commentary on this history of Patpong and share some personal anecdotes of what it’s like to be in the biz. The print version of the book Five Crazy Years will be available for sale in the gift shop. Any Stickman readers who stop by and give the code word “Stickman” will receive a discounted ticket at 295 baht instead of the usual 350 baht plus a free drink coupon on top. The Museum Of Patpong will be open daily from 10 AM through to 10 PM.
In Nana Plaza, it has been suggested that since the awnings have been removed, bikini-wearing dancers are not hanging around nor grazing out on the balconies as much as they used to as they can be more easily seen (and also recorded).
Lollipop in Nana Plaza is expanding its happy hour. Now, in addition to the 499-baht all-you-can-drink buffet, individual beers and house well drinks are just 80 baht from 4 until 8 PM.
This coming Thursday, October 31st, is Halloween Night which can be a fun night in the bar areas. If it’s anything like previous years, around the bars of Soi Nana you will probably see some partygoers dressed up. Stumble Inn will be in the Halloween mood with a special Hellfire Halloween Burger and beer set for just 299 baht. The staff of Stumble Inn will be dressed for the occasion and customers making the effort will be rewarded with free prizes of the liquid variety. Talking of free booze, there will be a cauldron of witches brew punch concocted by Gav the gaffer to get you in the mood.
The Kiwi in the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 has joined what is a very long list of bars this year that have something special lined up for Halloween. Details below.
There are few bars in Bangkok or Pattaya as busy as Pin-Up, meaning gogo dancers at other bars may have it even worse. Things are so slow in Pattaya – and have been this low season – that girls are leaving the bars entirely to strike out on their own. Their venue of choice? Tinder. Swiping through the mobile app reveals no shortage of attractive 18 – 29-year-olds on the game (along with an overwhelming number of ladyboys). Contacted – for research purposes only of course – one Tinder lass said she quit her gogo job earlier this year because there simply were no customers (and because she hated the high heels). Marketing herself on Tinder, she now gets one or two paid hotel visits a day, but her schedule is her own. And, unlike dating sites like ThaiCupid, Tinder shows her if the man soliciting her is actually in Pattaya, and not overseas wasting her time. Rates on Tinder also appear to be very favourable to the Pattaya naughty boys, with the going rate for an hour or so being 1,200 baht.
Away from Walking Street, there is plenty of evidence that Pattaya is slower than any time since the Red Shirt riots, a decade ago. Sure, you could check occupancy rates or traffic or how many are at the beach, but there are more telling ways to measure.
The other must visit bar that has opened this year in Pattaya isn’t on Walking Street at all, but on Soi LK Metro, which has grown into a valid Walking Street competitor.
Called Kink, the bar is impossible to miss thanks to its huge, white-lettered sign that illuminates half the soi. And when you enter the bar, it looks nothing special, even boring. Until you head upstairs.
The owner, who also operates Baccara on Soi Cowboy and first wanted to plant Kink in the middle of Walking Street, but couldn’t find any bars willing to sell, apparently saves money on Kink by not supplying uniforms to the upstairs crew.
There are a couple of pedestals for dancers and the requisite Windmill-esque “play bed”, but the real attraction is a padded section of flooring ringed by waist-high walls, surrounded by sofas. Here eight or so apparel-challenged women entertain the gawkers by sitting spread-eagle on the walls or joining them on the sofas. Hands aren’t the only thing “on” in this over-the-top play area.
But Kink’s real standout feature is that the padded section of floor is actually an elevator. Once an hour, all the girls climb into the ring and the floor drops to the ground floor where the showgirls put on an eight-way show. By the end of the show, several thousand baht in tips have floated down. But the performers don’t get to keep it all: All the tip money is evenly divided between ALL of Kink’s dancers, even those who retain their knickers.
The Pattaya Bus Station on Sundays or the day after the holiday can be a bruising experience. You cannot pre-book tickets, so those looking to head back to Bangkok on the Sexpat Express must turn up at the Roong Ruang depot on North Pattaya Road and take the next available coach. For more than a decade, many have reported waiting no less than 30 – 40 minutes and commonly as much as 2 – 3 hours. So how slow is Pattaya? My mate turned up on a Sunday at 12:30 PM and was told the next bus was at 12:40.
Speaking of buses, tourist coaches generally drop off their Asian and Indian passengers on Beach Road or Bali Hai for the morning journey to Koh Larn and then spend the day parked or double-parked in a lot on Phetrakul Road behind Central Marina. Last weekend, around high-noon, there were three buses in the lot. Three.
With each passing month, it seems, “old Pattaya” is disappearing, replaced by hotels, condos, shopping malls and chain restaurants. More evidence of that has popped up, with the long-running Diana Inn and its Green Bottle Pub on Second Road now bulldozed and walled off (along with everything for a block up Soi Diana) to make way for a condo tower. Likewise, an open-air “tourist crap” market on Beach Road near Walking Street is now rubble and being replaced with a mall or hotel.
The destruction of Beach Road continues on Thai time. Work has not even progressed a block in the past three weeks with everything from Soi 12 south a gaping wound. Traffic is, as you’d expect, nightmarish but, oddly, once the three lanes merge into two, it speeds right along!
As Pattaya is paved over and sanitised, it is still possible to find reminders of the former extreme city, such as this sign at a beer bar on Soi Diana.
Thinking about photography in the bars, if you really want a photo or two inside the naughty bars, there is an easy way to get them despite all the no photo signs. Just hand your mobile phone to one of the girls and ask them to take a shot or two for you. Build a rapport with her first, of course, and a drink or two will help. Most girls are happy to snap a shot or two for you.
It’s been a long time since I was in a gogo bar at the end of the night. The house lights would come on and the girls left in the bar would get off stage, change out of their bikini in to their streetwear, and transform from sexy dancers in to everyday ladies ready for a late-night snack and the journey home. You could linger in the bar for half an hour or so after the music had been turned off and seldom was anyone in a hurry. You could joke with the girls and it was all light fun. But apparently the fun police don’t like that sort of carry on these days and the minute the clock strikes 2:00 AM (or 3:00 AM, depending on the bar and the mood of the constabulary), when the house lights come on, remaining customers are sent packing. Bar closed, you go! is the message in some bars. Things used to be so chilled but not these days. Bar staff are paranoid that the boys in brown will fine them, or worse, for being open late so staff kick out punters quick smart when the music stops.
Plenty of English words are adopted by Thais and eventually become so commonplace in Thai that many Thais don’t realise they came from another language. One word I notice which has recently been adopted by Thais – and which I hear used frequently – is “bully”. Interesting, given that Thais with money / in power have long been real bullies.
I note more long-term Bangkok expats who once lived on Sukhumvit are moving to Rachada. About half a dozen people I know have moved from Sukhumvit to Rachada in the last few years. It seems to be a combination of being keen to get away from Sukhumvit and also a need to save money with, all things being equal, rent on Rachada lower than on Sukhumvit. Could this part of a wider trend of expats moving away from central areas in to less expensive digs elsewhere? I don’t know…so you tell me,
I see the baht continues to strengthen against the US dollar and today a crisp, mint Benjamin Franklin won’t get you 3,000 baht at a bank in Thailand. The only places you can still get over 30 baht to the US dollar now are at the best money exchangers like Super Rich and Vasu. How long until the US dollar falls to 29.xx to the baht? Best guess would have to be real soon!
A light local New Zealand TV show called Border Patrol shows Immigration and Customs officers going about their duties at international airports and other border points. A Thai woman starred in this week’s episode, something she might have come to regret. Said Thai woman was stopped by a Customs officer who found that not only had she brought in prohibited food items, she had also made a false declaration. When caught, said Thai woman really went off at the Customs officer who happened to be an ethnic Indian. She started abusing him before ranting about Indians generally and even dropped the F-bomb. He tried to cool her down before she refused to speak with him. She was eventually fined $400 for making a false declaration and the prohibited food items were confiscated. The incident was picked up by Thais in the local New Zealand Thai Facebook group and she was savaged! Many Thais were very vocal in what they thought about her along with the usual calls to identify her, out her and shame her further. The usual calls to cancel her visa followed and some said she should be tossed out of the country. I’m not sure quite what to make of it, but what I will say is that there’s something disturbing in the Thai psyche whereby many feel that when someone does something wrong (or simply what that person deems to be wrong) then said wrongdoer needs to be punished as harshly as possible.
Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, About A Bargirl.
Quote of the week comes from a friend across the border and really resonated with me, “I keep thinking I want to visit, but each time it’s more of the same but worse.”
Thailand’s large current account surplus could see the baht strengthen below 30 to the US dollar.
Thai Airways’ President admits the company is in a precarious financial situation.
Halloween may traditionally mark the end of summer, the harvest and the start of a long cold winter, but on Sukhumvit Road Halloween is a fun night to venture out and about. The rainy season is coming to an end and the mood may be brightening with the high season getting closer. Halloween doesn’t mark the end of the low season as such, but it is the first party of many in the lead up to New Year’s. A lot of bars along Sukhumvit are throwing Halloween parties this year, making an effort and giving punters a reason to head out. If you’re in town, Halloween is often a good night out. Will we look back in a few months’ time and say that Halloween 2019 marked the time when the bars picked up? Time will tell….
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org