Looking Ahead To 2020, and Beyond
The end of the year is just around the corner – and that’s great news because this has been a year to forget. So let’s put 2019 behind us and look ahead at what the future holds.
What follows are a few thoughts on what 2020 (and beyond) might have in store for us, starting with the bar industry, moving on to expat life and then some thoughts on the future for Thailand in general.
The Bar Area Pecking Order Won’t Change
There will be no change in the pecking order of the bar areas as Nana Plaza continues its reign as Bangkok’s premier gogo bar area.
Nana Plaza has a huge advantage in that one company owns and operates the entire complex and has invested in improvements. It also helps that Nana Plaza is the only pure nightlife area – where every bar has staff who can be barfined. That’s not the case at Patpong and Soi Cowboy, which just drift along aimlessly.
It’s no coincidence that Nana Plaza has the best 2 gogo bars, Billboard and Butterflies. And I wouldn’t bet against them being the best come this time next year. It’s not like it’s without precedent – Billboard has been arguably the best gogo bar in Bangkok for the last 3 years. The best bars attract the punters and help Nana retain the bragging rights as the most popular bar area.
The Future Of Soi Cowboy Is Not All Gogo
Oasis is the model for the future of Soi Cowboy. The Stumble Inn Group showed great vision in taking over the lease of a gogo bar and stripping it back to the concrete shell, and fitting it out as a regular bar. It’s been a roaring success and it’s not even been open for 2 months. This hasn’t gone unnoticed; expect other bars to follow.
The gogo bar model isn’t broken. At the same time, customer numbers these days just don’t support so many gogo bars. Gogo bar customer numbers are in decline, and visitors today like the idea of perching in a regular bar and watching the comings and goings.
Opening up Soi Cowboy with more bars where you can perch and watch the world go by is a sustainable business model, free of the many hassles and headaches inherent in running a gogo bar.
A few open air bars with decent food will transform Soi Cowboy, widen its appeal and make it a great place to hang out, almost like a Khao San Road for adults.
Long-Time On The Way Out
Bargirls today have little interest in entertaining customers these days, be it in the bar or the bedroom. The so-called girlfriend experience – where a customer takes a lady not just for the night, but for many days, maybe a week or longer – is all but a memory.
Long-time is on the way out. Throw silly money at a lady today and you might get a whole night of adult fun entertainment with some ladies. Might. But it’s on the way out so enjoy it while it lasts.
And expect short-time to get even shorter. Short-time hotels used to offer rooms in for one hours. Now it’s one. What’s next? 45 minutes, or less?
Old Ladies Are Us
The average age of bar staff will creep up. Young Thais have options and for those who make the decision to sell themselves, there are many apps and websites where they can promote themselves online. There is absolutely no need to work in a bar unless that is what they want – and most don’t.
Remember, for many girls, dancing in a bikini – or less – while being ogled by men is a bigger deal than the exchange of sex for cash.
There will always be some bars where the average age of staff is in the low 20s, but expect most bars to have older crews than they do today.
Bye-Bye, No-Name (And Lazy) Nightlife Bloggers
The number of naughty bars in Bangkok these days isn’t that different to 10+ years ago. But there are fewer punters about these days than a decade ago. There are still a good few nightlife-centric websites, but fewer punters means fewer readers. Deep down all Bangkok nightlife bloggers know that there is only room for so many operators to make a living from blogging – so something has to give.
As more bars close / change format, I expect some Bangkok nightlife websites will fade away. The model has always been for bloggers to write about what is going on, attract as many readers as possible and then leverage that readership by selling ads to bar owners. The model still works, but these days few bars are willing to pay for advertising.
Competition is fierce in the blogosphere. Readers expect up-to-date, accurate information that is well-written, presented with attractive photos, and integrated with social media. It’s a big ask for website operators to tick every box, and when they’re fighting for their piece of an ever-shrinking advertising pie some are asking themselves if it’s all worth it.
Enjoy your favourite nightlife-centric websites while they last because my best guess is that by this time next year about half that are currently operating will be no longer.
Bye-Bye, Retirees Living On A Shoestring
More long-term Western residents will leave Thailand for all the same reasons that some of their peers have already left. Visa problems. Health problems. Both of which are usually due to the big problem so many retirees face, money problems.
Welcome, Foreign Visitors
There will be plenty of foreign faces about as visitor numbers continue to rise. Visitor numbers will continue to grow, primarily because Thailand offers so much for first-time visitors. So long as there is population growth around the world, Thailand will see growth in visitor numbers. Thailand is one of those countries everyone should visit at least once.
The mix of visitors might change and the yield per visitor might slip a little, but I still expect the total number of visitors will continue to rise. How long until Thailand welcomes 50 million visitors per year? 2024, perhaps?
I don’t have any predictions regarding visas and staying in Thailand long-term – frankly, anything could happen. Things could tighten up further, or we might be surprised and things might be relaxed. If I was betting man I’d say the former is more likely. Figure on more uncertainty.
The real estate market is getting interesting and feels like a bubble (but then where in the world doesn’t?). Again, no predictions from me. I am notoriously bad at predicting anything to do with real estate and have come to realise that all of the traditional ratios used to measure real estate affordability are essentially no longer valid. Will there be a crash? Probably only if there is some sort of external shock that has a direct effect on the economy in Thailand and even then, I wouldn’t be so sure. A lot of wealthy Thais plough cash in to real estate and a lot of property in Thailand is owned freehold. That makes a crash much less likely than a market where debt is high.
A Bright Future For Thailand
Looking beyond 2020, I really do believe that Thailand has a bright future – and that’s entirely due to the country’s young people.
Young Thais are much more outward-looking and global in their way of thinking. As more young Thais – those aged below 40 – get in to positions of power in business and politics, I think we will see changes that will lay the foundations for a better Thailand. The future of a country is in the hands of its young and in Thailand’s young I am optimistic.
The rise of the younger generation in Thailand is exciting. The difference in attitudes and mindset – of what is important and what is not – between Thais aged over 40 and those aged under 40, is huge. Thailand battles on with dinosaurs at the helm, but that won’t last forever. When the younger generation get in to positions of power in numbers, I believe things will change for the better.
The younger generation have a very different attitude to the old dinosaurs. The younger generation eschew so many of the antiquated ideas we associate with Thais in power. The younger Thais want to improve the environment, want to see corruption stamped out and want transparency. They want to build things that last. Young Thais in business want all parties (investors / staff / customers) to be happy. Dare I say it, they are more Western in their outlook (though that should not be misinterpreted as being pro-West which they are not). Democracy is very important to them, as is freedom of thought and the ability to say what they think.
There are some very impressive young Thais and with a bit of luck it won’t be long before we see Thailand as a country, and Thais as individuals, holding their own on the world stage. It might not happen in 2020, but it will happen.
Last week’s photo showed the staircase leading down to the Thermae Coffee Shop, a misnomer of a name if ever there was one. I have a sneaky feeling that not many will get this week’s photo right. Care to prove me wrong? The only thing I will say is that it’s not some obscure soi in the middle of nowhere.
Stick’s Inbox – the best emails from the past week.
When has Beach Road not been worked on?
I had to laugh at the Pattaya sidewalk photo. When hasn’t the Beach Road walk been torn up? It has been in renovation since its existence!
Report from the Pattaya frontlines.
I’m on the ground in Pattaya now, having arrived on the 18th. I’m surprised how slow it is. There’s very little foot traffic on sois 6, 7, and 8. It’s not just slow by high season standards, it’s slow for low season. The one exception is Soi LK Metro. It’s packed. I think people are tired of Walking Street, and Soi LK Metro is on its way to replacing it as the go-to place.
New Pattaya bar area not realistic.
With regards to the proposed new Indian-run bar area on Pattaya’s Second Road in what is now The Avenue, as has been mentioned before, expansion of the industry is only going to dilute the product. It would need a wholesale shift from one area to the other. Even if this project proceeds as planned, it’ll take at least a couple of years to eventuate. I was there last month and The Avenue was still operating as a shopping mall. They’d have to wait for all the existing leases to expire (some big businesses there that won’t be stuffed around e.g. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Villa), then knock it down, and build the new venue. It’d be a person of rare foresight and trust who’d be willing to commit now to having a bar there.
Bye-bye, Queens Park Plaza.
Myself and three chums decided to have a last visit to Queens Plaza for old times’ sake. It’s a place that holds good memories for us all (one of our mates found his wife there (sadly now his ex)). We started early, around 5:30 PM, so obviously a bit quiet then but later….it was still quiet. We had a good time playing pool with a group of girls in one of the indoor bars. The girls are a lot more engaged at Queens Plaza and younger; happy to hang around and chat and play pool. A lot less mileage, I’m guessing. Buying them a drink gets a proper drink. A bottle of Heineken and not a tiny thimble of Tequila before they scurry off to another customer as per some of the busy bars in Nana. One lady drink cost a whopping ฿240 but as my beer was ฿120 it really works out the same as some of the Nana bars. We had a great time and wandered off for a curry around 9 PM. It’s a shame it’s closing as it offers a genuine alternative to the gogo bar model, but it’s understandable as it just doesn’t attract enough customers to justify the large space.
Impressions of the new bar complex on Sukhumvit soi 7.
I had a look at the beer bar complex on Sukhumvit soi 7, at 8:30 PM. There are two bars open on soi 7. Maybe a third but that one may have already been there. If you walk down the short, dark alley there are 5 more bars and 4 food stalls open. The bars are small but nice. There were 3 or 4 girls in each bar and essentially no customers at that time of night. I would say the complex is about 40% done. There is no indication from the street that there are any open bars in the interior. You would think they would station a few girls on the street or at least put a few sidewalk signs up to entice customers.
Who is the Terminal 21 hottie?
I found a new liking for Terminal 21 after not only finding that they have a branch of Asia Books within, but also a shop owner I can only describe as the bonniest lass I have seen in Thailand for many a trip. She made favourite go-go dancers look like they had been hit with the ugly stick. Buggered if I could point out her shop though.
Why do prices remain stubbornly high?
With a numbers game this great, how can people leave the house at night pretty much knowing they won’t make any cash or knowing it’s like 100/1 odds of it happening? I don’t and have NEVER got it. I don’t get why prices aren’t rock bottom because of the ENDLESS supply of brass here. Defies basic economics and logic to me. I don’t partake so this isn’t me complaining by the way!
Free Vodka for the birthday boy.
Was sat in Hillary 3 last night and there was a menu on the table showing drinks promotions etc. I noticed it said “free bottle of vodka on your birthday”. I never take any notice of stuff like that, but it happened to be my birthday and I happened to have a Hong Kong ID in my wallet so I decided to give it a go. Sure enough, they deliver a full bottle of Smirnoff and I was told I need to buy some mixers. Here is where the cost comes, I thought, but it was not so bad. About 400 baht for the mixers. You really cannot grumble!
Admiring Thai women.
Thai women are the strongest in the world. It would be fantastic if they could use some of this strength to change the political landscape in Thailand. You had a relevant comment about the fact that fewer farangs can meet the demands of an educated Thai girl. Thai women have an aura of self-confidence. That’s why they look so good in photos. That strength is highly sexy.
More Stickman readers have been over to Sukhumvit soi 7 to check out the new bar complex. It’s still early days…..but impressions aren’t great so far. The one positive is that for anyone who wishes to work there, ageism isn’t an issue and at least one bar appears to have a policy of only hiring ladies 35 years old up. It feels like the area hasn’t gained traction yet. Like I say, it’s early days and it’s only fair to give them another month and check back in then and see how things are going.
Popular Soi Cowboy bar Crazy House has reintroduced a 100 baht cover charge. Word is that everyone is being charged – Caucasians and Asians, locals and visitors. The 100 baht goes straight in to the doorman’s pocket and no, it doesn’t get you a free drink or 100 baht off your first drink. Crazy House had a 100 baht entry fee for a while. It was scrapped, but has made a comeback. Whether this is a holiday period thing or not, no-one seems to know for sure. And maybe, just maybe, it is having an effect as Crazy House – for the last few years one of the busiest bars in town – has not been quite as busy as it was.
Word on the street is a well-known Westerner who has managed several big-name bars on Sukhumvit has fled the country leaving a trail of debts behind him.
The Last Drop opened this past week down Sukhumvit Soi 22 with a soft launch. It’s looking the part despite not being 100% finished to the owner’s liking. The Last Drop is set over 3 floors with a rooftop bar to come in the new year.
At the Thermae, the price for some local beers has gone up from 100 to 120 baht – still a great deal. They must have been 100 baht for a very long time. Now that’s something you don’t hear often in Thermae, long time.
Bangkok Expats, part of Stick Media Ltd, and GC Partners have teamed up to provide preferential foreign currency exchange rates to its members and would like to extend this offer to readers of Stickman. Here is the link to sign up to get preferential exchange rates from GC Partners.
If you happen to be over Rama 9 way, why not pop in to a little local bar called Proper Job located just around the corner on Rachadapisek soi 3 for something different to the usual. Run by an Englishman and his wife, this off the beaten track bar does good cheap food with plenty of bargain beers. And you might just pop in to a Bangkok blogger or two there, from time to time.
Are there still some (usually younger) guys these days who have found that if they hit it off with a girl in a gogo bar they are offered a freebie? It wasn’t uncommon in the past for some younger guys who connected with a lady who just wanted to have some good adult fun to spend the night together without payment, at her suggestion. It wasn’t uncommon in the past but I have not heard much about this happening in a long time. Fun was had, no money changed hands and like I say it wasn’t that uncommon. With the ladies generally more business-like these days, do some still get a freebie? I’m not talking about a lady having a regular on the side, like a gig – which is a somewhat different situation – but a guy in the bar she meets and ends up spending the night with, with no thought of money. Anyone had an experience like that recently? I remember back in the day how some sanctimonious sex tourists got quite angry when they heard about this, almost abusing anyone who mentioned they had had a freebie.
In some bars, at certain times of the night, mainstream visitors may make up the majority of customers, outnumbering naughty boys. The traditional gogo bar punter should stop complaining that the profile of customers is changing and really should be happy to see money being spent. So long as there are people in the bars, there won’t be any existential crisis. The likes of Billboard, Butterflies, Bacarra and Crazy House might be packed with punters, but it’s hardly the case in a lot of other bars these days.
Billboard and Butterflies will host a New Year’s Eve party. There will be the usual pizza buffet, as well as 99 baht glasses of bubbly.
There is something of an anything goes attitude in the bars, but don’t think you have freedom to behave how you please. Even the naughty bars have rules and over the years some customers have been banned from certain bars. Back when Naughty Nigel was starring in locally made porn movies, he was banned from a few bars in Nana Plaza as management of those bars made an effort to protect their staff. A well-known Pattaya bar boss has banned people from every bar he was worked in due to their history of aggression towards other customers. Most bars give customers way more latitude than you’d get in bars back home, but there are limits. And if you do misbehave in bars in Thailand, count yourself lucky if the only thing that happens is getting banned. That’s usually what happens in a foreign-owned bar. In a Thai-run bar you’re more likely to be set upon by security.
Word is that the large vacant plot on Sukhumvit soi 11 is eventually going to see a new 300-room, 5-star hotel go up. However, some of the food vendors in the area report that they have signed new 6-month contracts to operate their street-food style eateries there so it seems construction won’t start any time soon.
In last week’s column I mentioned that the Beach Road in Pattaya was being torn up again, and the promenade walk is currently something of an obstacle course. Word is that some days this past week the pollution in Pattaya got so bad that from the Beach Road you could hardly make out the large Pattaya City sign on the hill.
What is it with foreigners always asking regular Thai folk about Isaan girls? The other half mentioned this to me this week and suggested I include something in the column about it. She and her friends find it creepy how some many foreign men seem fixated on women from Isaan. It’s not the women or where they’re from, it’s the way foreign guys seem to her to be so fixated on them and talk about Isaan women so lustfully.
I tend to avoid politics but there is something loosely related to politics which I think is worth commenting on. If you do follow politics and the current political situation in Thailand, you will know all about the Future Forward Party. Briefly, its young leader is a breath of fresh air and nothing like the curmudgeons who have traditionally run Thailand. Future Forward appealed to younger voters and the party got 18% of votes at the election earlier this year, a fantastic performance for a brand-new political party. Word is that some in the establishment are so threatened by this new party and its momentum that they have been going to great lengths to get the party and its leader disqualified from politics. Last weekend there was a demonstration at the Patumwan intersection (Siam Square / MBK) where supporters came out in a show of support for Future Forward. OK, that’s enough political background for the point I wish to make, and already way too much talk of politics for this column. What I find interesting – and the point I want to comment on – is the reaction by some supporters of the party who didn’t go out to protest. When asked why she didn’t go out to protest, one supporter was quoted as saying, “The middle-class tend to not want to participate because we can afford to live normally no matter who the government is.” This is yet another example of how increasing prosperity of the middle class, particularly in Bangkok, is changing attitudes. I’ve joked more than a few times about how many foreign men in Thailand might not appeal to a decent, middle-class, urban Thai women because they don’t have the means to offer her the sort of lifestyle a local man could. The middle class’s increasing wealth is having an effect on life in Thailand and the landscape in general. Could be an idea to expand on in a column opener in the new year.
There have been heaps of stories this year of retired expats struggling. A lack of planning and unexpected exchange rate movements have left some with a reduced income that doesn’t stretch very far. But it’s not just foreign retirees in Thailand who are struggling, or those who didn’t plan well. Some foreign professionals have found things tough too. Two foreign counsellors / psychologists who operated a counselling / mental health practice in Bangkok recently called it quits and returned home to the United States. The sad part is that there is huge demand for mental health services for Westerners in Thailand, but the number actually seeking counselling and / or mental health services has largely dried up.
I like to take the sky-walk, the elevated walkway that runs from the Siam skytrain station to the Rachaprasong intersection / Ploenchit skytrain station. You get a nice view of the nearby temple, and a better view of the general neighbourhood than if you’re walking on the footpath at ground level. And it’s covered, so when it rains you don’t get wet. So I think it’s great that a similar walkway is currently under construction between the Nana and Asoke BTS stations. Once finished you will be able to walk most of the way between Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza under cover.
Ko Samui hotels are feeling the pinch as an oversupply of hotels has seen room occupancy rates plunge.
Police are hunting for a serial killer dubbed Thailand’s Jack The Ripper.
An American arrested in Phuket who was being transferred to the police station when he escaped from the police and fled in to the jungle, while still handcuffed.
Two old Brits in Phuket are caught nicking a smartwatch.
Shortly after arriving in Thailand with his wife, a Swede goes AWOL.
I would like to wish all readers a fantastic Christmas. I hope that you get to spend lots of time with your nearest and dearest. Whether you find yourselves in Thailand, Farangland or somewhere in between, I wish you all the best for a very Merry Christmas.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org