The return rate for visitors to Thailand has plummeted. Where once those jetting out were thinking about how soon they could get back, that is no longer the case for many. What has caused such a turn-around?
I think for the average visitor, things haven’t changed that much. I really think the big issue Thailand’s tourism industry faces these days comes back to high prices.
Today in Bangkok, so many products and services are priced at a level suggesting they are premium. But the customer’s expectations are not always met.
It wasn’t always this way. It’s not that long ago that almost everything in Bangkok was cheap. So long as you avoided the New York Steakhouse which has always been expensive, and didn’t shop for high-end fashion items, pretty much everything else was good value – and often considerably cheaper than home.
But while things were cheap, what were they really like?
I can remember joking with friends about how things were cheap but at the same time how so many things were a bit average.
A regular massage might have been 150 or 200 baht – but the premises were often filthy.
A plate of fried rice might have been just 25 or 30 baht – but there was hardly any meat.
A decent hotel room could be had for around 1,000 baht – and while it was functional and pretty much what you expected for the price, you could probably make a list of things that really should have been better.
Stuff was cheap, but the truth is that often it just wasn’t that good.
And that’s where the problem lies today. Prices have increased – and in many cases they have gone up a lot, perhaps doubled or more – but in many cases the product / service hasn’t changed and there has been little or no improvement.
Customers expect a product or service to be commensurate with the price paid. Your expectations are very different between your 50 baht plate of Thai food on the street and the same dish at 400 baht in a name restaurant.
It’s not so much how much you pay, it’s what you get for the money. You know the price before you make the decision to purchase. If you drop several hundred baht on a Thai massage and it is delivered by someone who is untrained and doesn’t know what she’s doing or worse still, tries to sell you sex when all you wanted is a massage, you have every reason to be unhappy.
Back when pad Thai was 10 baht on the street on Khao San Road, everyone knew it was crap but no-one complained because the expectations were negligible.
So many products and services were very average back in the day, but the prices were low so you didn’t mind. When you pay so little and receive something average or even crap, it’s no big deal. Pay decent money and your expectations are much higher.
This is not to say that everything is crap in Thailand because that’s not the case at all, and not what I am saying. It’s simply that those operating in the tourism sector need to offer a product or service commensurate with the expectations at that price point, especially if they want repeat customers.
Paying premium prices should get you a premium product or service. Increasingly it seems Thailand is a place where the needs of those willing to pay big bucks aren’t met.
There’s nothing wrong with a bargirl asking 5,000 baht for short-time, a restaurant pricing burgers at 600++ baht or a 5-star hotel room running 10,000 baht / night. But it had better be worth it in this age of social media, TripAdvisor and the like otherwise the vendor is going to get canned online.
I think so many of the problems in the tourism industry come back to money. Some of what we complain about as being crap today was crap in the past too. But in the past so many things really were cheap and so our expectations were low. But when you’re paying Western prices and getting crap in return that’s a different story.
Charge whatever you wish for a product or service – just make sure that what you are offering is worth the asking price. I think that Thais (and many farangs in business in Thailand too) get the first part; not many seem to get the second.
Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 7/1. Rather than the typical view from the start of the soi looking up towards the end, it was shot the other way – from the end looking back towards the mouth. Many of you got it right – well done!
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
The sweetheart wouldn’t take payment.
Your column this week reminded me of my first trip to Bangkok. Long time was just the way it was back then. I always asked the lady of my immediate interest, “Long time or short time?” Almost always, instead of “up to you” the response was a smile and a quick response, “Long time!” Nothing could make me feel like she truly wanted to spend time with me more than telling me that she preferred to stay all night. That trip also saw my own free-bee. She didn’t stay all night, but we were together for at least 4 hours, walking around, feeding an elephant in the parking lot of Nana Hotel, giving each other massages and, of course, the main event. But afterward, I went to my pocket to take out a couple of thousand baht, and she put her hand on my chest and said, “You nice man. You come back Bangkok you see me.” That surprise was followed by a big hug. She would not take the cash! I was amazed. I had just turned 47 and put her at around 25 years old. She was a sweetheart.
Freebies still a thing.
I got a delightful freebie on my last trip with a girl from Butterflies. Nearly 40, I am not what you’d consider young but I work out and speak decent Thai, and this seems to go a long way. I also had a nice bed warmer from Hooters. I must be doing something right.
The freebie that isn’t free.
Freebies in the bars is an interesting one. On my first visit in 2003 one lad in the backpacker place I was staying was gifted one but only as he had no cash and the lass had been his regular bar-fine for a week’s worth of entertainment previously. Basically, a buy 7, get 1 free arrangement, we joked. More seriously, I once asked a bargirl of my acquaintance if she had ever gone for free. She replied that she and a friend had been bar-fined by 2 Spanish lads who after a night of drinking and dancing went back to their hotel. The problem was the lads didn’t think of the night as a business deal but believed the lasses liked them (she said they were handsome and fun) and didn’t pay her or her friend. After being dumped out of the hotel room she said she flirted with having someone come over to collect the debt but in the end let it slip. Incidentally, my first time with a bargirl was similar. After the bar closed she caught up with me and we ended up in a short-time room. Previously we had built up a fun relationship over the weeks so I was under the impression this was the next logical step. I was rather taken aback when she asked for money the following morning!
Soi new bar complex report.
I spent a couple of hours in the new complex on soi 7. I think it’s great. There were as many customers as one would find at Queen’s Park Plaza (soi 22). The only negative is that the toilets cost 10 baht per visit.
The Mexicans of Thailand.
I like Isaan girls. They have Khmer heritage and have been looked down upon by the rest of the population. They are the Mexicans of Thailand and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Mexicans have soul. They embrace their culture, know how to party and have rhythm. They also have nice brown skin and are pretty shapely.
Soon to be known as Soi India?
I had a ‘wow’ moment last Sunday night after returning from watching the Watford vs. Man Utd game at the Old German Beer House on Soi 13. On my way back to the hotel at about 23:00, I took the short cut next to the Ambassador Hotel that used to be populated by those low-end ’massage parlours’. It has been turned into Indian eateries; every single one of them was jammed with Indian families tucking into a late dinner. I then walked out on to Soi 11 by the 7 Eleven and as I said, WOW(!), it was like downtown Calcutta on a Friday night. Soi 11 has always been popular with Indian tour groups because of the Ambassador, but I have never seen anything on this scale previously. Masses of Indian families roaming up and down the soi with kids running about everywhere. I walked back to the Grand President and it was so noticeable that I mentioned it to the bell boys on my way in who laughed and told me that it had an occupancy rate of 95% Indian / Bangladeshi residents and Soi 11 would soon be known as ‘Soi India’. From what I have seen on this trip, this is very much the case for all the lower number sois on Sukhumvit, including to some extent Soi Nana.
Different crowd, different system?
I’ve been watching YouTube and various vloggers and the distinct impression I get is how many visitors there are from the Middle East & India. Not just along Soi 4, but all the way down to Terminal 21 and the Asoke intersection. Many can be seen wandering around Nana Plaza. This includes Indian couples. How this will play out is anyone’s guess but I wouldn’t be surprised if Nana Plaza is looking towards a ticket / redeemable voucher system against a bought drink inside.
Christmas has passed, New Year’s Eve is just around the corner and the peak of high season is now. Hotels should be full, bars and restaurants rammed and visitors and business owners alike sporting shit-eating grins. But that’s not what I’m hearing… Word on Sukhumvit is that it’s busy, but not that busy. One of the best indicators of how things are is hotel occupancy rates. At well-known 5-star hotel considered a landmark in the Nana area, the occupancy rate earlier this week was just 45%. That’s not a misprint – forty-five per cent! Sukhumvit hasn’t hit the heights expected at the peak of high season. As my partner in crime said, “If this is high season then 2020 is going to see quite a few bars boarded up.”
On a more positive note, the new bar area on Sukhumvit soi 7 has received the thumbs up from a couple of readers who each mentioned a fun vibe. One even commented that the atmosphere is a little like bars in the old days. High praise indeed.
I have been told that the 100 baht entry fee at Crazy House – which was mentioned in last week’s column – is charged at Christmas / New Year’s and Songkran. With your 100-baht you get a can of Silly String which you can shoot over girls on stage or other customers, if that’s your thing.
An ad popped online for a new Bangkok bar that sounded kind of cool. It’s called The Shot and it sounds genuinely quirky – in this case that word might even be an understatement. The Shot has free miniature golf in the bar which specialises in creative cocktails. What was even more intriguing is that the bar’s location was not stated in the ad! It was a real tease, asking if you would be able to find it! Photos showed the Chinatown area and my best guess is that it is in, or near Soi Nana (that is Soi Nana in Chinatown, and not the better known Soi Nana which is soi 4, off Sukhumvit). Whatever the case, full marks to the team behind The Shot for creating intrigue and generating interest like that.
The skywalk mentioned in last week’s column will not connect Asoke and Nana BTS stations after all – which means it won’t be possible to walk most of the way between the Plaza and Cowboy under cover. There is a gap in the skywalk between sois 8 and 10 and the skywalk extension from the Asoke BTS station will only go as far as providing access to the Sofitel. Feels like a huge missed opportunity.
Down in Pattaya, Christmas was a fizzer on Walking Street with a report this week from my number one man in Sin City along with photos showing Pattaya looking rather quiet. This was Walking Street and a few blocks away the party was in full swing at Soi Buakhao which was doing well and the Made in Thailand Bar Complex which also attracted the punters. What is worth commenting on is that Walking Street is generally considered to be pricey these days whereas the Soi Buakhao area is known as the Cheap Charlies haven. More evidence, as if it was needed, that for many visitors to Thailand it’s all about the price.
And the rumours continue to swirl about a new bar complex to be built where The Avenue is on Second Road. The Indian group behind it is REALLY talking it up and those rumours went to the next level (gotta throw that term in keep the few Millennial readers happy) this week when it was said that two of the biggest name gogo bars in Bangkok have agreed to terms. Not signed up as such, but agreed to terms. Very, very interesting if there is any truth in it.
And still in Pattaya, the fetish house out on Third Road, The Castle, will celebrate the new year with a party this coming Thursday, January 2nd. There will be a free buffet and a pig will be sacrificed and roasted (sacrificing to be done offsite, fortunately).
I often talk of the changes in the bars and the bar industry – and many have not been for the better. But there have been plenty of changes on the positive side too. Bars these days are generally much nicer – they’re more comfortable, and cleaner. There is a much wider selection of drinks available in the bars these days, and my feeling is that there is less drink scamming generally. (Plenty of bars used to sell crap locally-made top-shelf and make out it was Jack or Black or something that it wasn’t.) And I don’t recall seeing many fights in the bars in recent years. In the past it you’d seldom go a few weeks without seeing things kick off – and some fights were really vicious with some people messed up badly.
Plenty of Thailand residents / former Thailand residents have posted to the forums or social media about how they had enough of Thailand and they are going to move / have already moved to Vietnam. That has been happening for a while, and now the inevitable has happened – these same people are posting to say that anyone thinking of doing the same should think twice as they have become (very quickly) disenchanted with Vietnam. Many who moved to Thailand had visited the country for years, or in some cases decades, before they made the move whereas I find some who moved to Vietnam hardly knew the place so with this in mind I’m not that surprised it hasn’t worked out for some.
Another homeless foreigner has been spotted on Sukhumvit. Many of Bangkok’s homeless Caucasians end up on Sukhumvit between Nana and Asoke…..because that’s where their problems started and, I suspect, it’s the one part of Bangkok they know. Here’s hoping this fellow gets the help he needs.
It’s the holiday season and people are happy, on holiday and enjoying life. If only that’s how it was for everyone. The other half directed me to a Thai language post on Facebook on Christmas Day where the pressure got to a Thai fellow. He was to visit family in the provinces at New Year as is customary, but he didn’t have enough money to make the trip. The pressure he felt to visit home when he didn’t have the money to do so was so great that he decided to end his life. For many Thais from rural / poorer / provincial backgrounds, working in Bangkok or other major centres comes with expectations. They are expected to visit the family home, enduring a long journey on congested roads – assuming they were able to get a bus ticket in the first place. They are expected to bring gifts from Bangkok and also gift money to family members back home who are less well off. With the cost of living these days, it’s not easy. The other half told me how a colleague of hers ate bananas every meal for several days before she visited her family in the provinces – so she could save every baht possible for the trip home. And then there was the horrible story from some years ago of one fellow whose ageing mother waited patiently for him to visit her at New Year. She was living somewhere out in the boonies and he could not contact her to let her know that he would not be able to make it. When he did not go home at New Year – he didn’t have the money – she took her own life. They’re holidays and are supposed to be happy times spent with family, but New Year and Songkran come with a heap of pressure for Thais from less privileged backgrounds.
Hillary 1 will celebrate New Year and the bar’s 20th anniversary with a fun party this Tuesday, December 31st. A lot of folks have had a lot of good times in that bar – and it’s one of those bars readers still talk up. So if you’re stuck for somewhere to party on New Year’s Eve, you could do a lot worse than Hillary.
Speaking of the other half, she had a moan this past week at me for making the same old food and requested something new. She found a recipe online for a Thai shrimp and apple salad. It sounded appalling but she really wanted to try it so I gave it a go. Super simple and easy to make and it was actually quite interesting. I’ll definitely make it again. (15 x shrimps, 1 x green apple sliced small, sliced red onions, a few crushed chillis, squeezed lime juice, fish sauce, spring onion, a couple of sliced garlic cloves).
A news story broke this week which I thought really gave an insight in to Thailand, Thai people and the general attitudes of Thais. Video leaked online from inside a prison in Thailand. The leaked video showed stuffy over-crowded cells as well as the common areas and the conditions the prisoners live in. The cells where prisoners sleep really were the cliched can of sardines with prisoners sleeping so close together that many slept with their arm draped over the person next to them. There was outrage in Thailand about the leaked video, not about the conditions but simply that someone would leak this! The general consensus was that these were criminals and they deserved whatever they got. Few Thais commented on the terrible conditions and I guess none of them want to give any thought to the matter that if luck was against them they could end up there themselves. I really thought that the angle the Thai press put on the story told you so much about attitudes in Thailand.
Thanks for all the Christmas well wishes. A good few readers asked if 2020 would be the year I moved back to Bangkok. No, I don’t have any plans to move back to Thailand any time soon. If I had a baht for every time someone asked me if I am going to move back to Bangkok, well, I wouldn’t be rich, but there’d be enough for a plate of mango and sticky rice for sure. A couple of people even said that they had heard I was moving back. Funny, but there’s no truth to it. Visit from time to time, yes. Visit more than I have? Probably. Move back to Thailand? No.
Quote of the week comes from an old friend, “Bangkok has become more and more an intellectual desert, so I just keep in contact with the few people that have some brain cells left.”
Reader’s story of the week “Thailand Nowadays“, reflects on how things have changed.
The South China Morning Post looks at the gentrification of Khao San Road.
Coppers in Sin City are on the lookout for 4 Russians who went in to a bar, asked for glasses to pour beer in that they had bought outside and ended up assaulting the owner.
A Brit dies in a bizarre death in Phuket, wedged down the side of a house.
Leaked footage shows chronic over-crowding inside a Thai prison.
Apparently 3 coppers from the ThongLor Police station have been fired for conducting an unlawful search of a French businessman.
A Japanese expat is stabbed in a robbery in the popular Ekamai area.
Visitors to Thailand this year will top 39 million.
A Kiwi Olympic cyclist spends a few nights in jail in Thailand after being caught working without a work permit.
I’m looking forward to 2020 and a better year for the column. It wasn’t that 2019 was a bad year, but I admit a few more mistakes slipped in than I was ok with. It’s inevitable there will be the odd mistake from time to time and while I do everything I can to minimise them, I have to accept that geography means there will always be the odd one that slips through. I need to spend more time in Thailand in 2020. That’s the best way to keep on top of things and get things right. I guess I should go and check the airfares….
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]