Stickman's Weekly Column December 1st, 2019

Where Is Stick Going?



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

When I resumed writing this column last year, I didn’t know what the future held. And with all the uncertainty in Thailand these days, I still don’t. As keen as I am to keep this column going, a bar industry in the doldrums and expat numbers tipped to decline make me wonder what the future is for those of us who chronicle the spicier side of expat life.

It has been a funny old year for Thailand. The profile of visitors is changing. Expats are complaining more than usual. That all has an impact on this column.

I signed a contract last year to write the column for 2 years. There was a clause to renegotiate at the end of that term in good faith, with a view to continuing. And as things currently stand I’m happy to continue. Those in charge don’t meddle. They just let me do my thing – my thoughts, my writing – and it all seems to work.

I have nothing to do with the advertising / monetary side of things. I don’t have to hunt for new advertisers, or chase up payments. Whether the site is jammed with advertisements or bereft of them, I still get paid the same each month.

A year off was a long time away and we lost a lot of readers. Seldom does a week go by without someone emailing to say they have just discovered the column is back. While word spread on the forums and social media, plenty of old readers still don’t know. I have a feeling that many have moved on, not just from this column, but from Thailand.

It’s not easy to do the column really well while living in New Zealand, and it’s getting harder. A quieter bar industry, naughty boy expats in decline and fewer sex tourists means less to write about. Less people about means less money being spent in the bars about and fewer bars opening or existing businesses changing hands. Characters are disappearing, and more than a few have passed away.

Not only is there less to write about, there are fewer sources to get info from. Friends and acquaintances who used to go out to the bars have for the most part moved on. There are fewer people to tap up for news and gossip. Even bar owners have little to say these days and when they do, many are very measured and anxious to control the narrative. Less going on means less to write about.

Reader numbers are steady, in fact they are actually creeping up a little. I think that’s probably due to readers from the past rediscovering that we’re back in business. I do wonder though how many readers actually make it out to the bars these days. I get the feeling that a lot of readers who once enjoyed the scene now read the column to remind them of the good times, or perhaps to live the life vicariously. Some tell me they haven’t stepped foot in a bar area in ages – but they still read the column religiously. Others haven’t stepped foot in Thailand in years. They can still get their taste of Thailand every Sunday – and for many that seems to be enough.

I try hard to put out a decent column every week despite the seemingly never-ending stream of bad news coming out of the country. And I probably do my bit to perpetrate the bad news, even if it is not intentional. I’d like nothing more than to report that the bars are bustling and better than ever….but no-one would be fooled by that.

Of course if I was to spend more time in Thailand I’d have more to write about. But I find Thailand kind of stressful these days and a lot of the crap wears me down. The young fellow who arrived in Thailand seeking new experiences is now a middle-aged man who places much more importance on creature comforts than fun and adventure.

So what does the future hold?

Today the other half mentioned she wants to go to Bangkok in February. I suggested July – which is cold in New Zealand and the pollution not so bad in Bangkok. I guess that shows where I am at….in no hurry to get back to Bangkok.

I still enjoy writing the column and do my best to produce a decent column each week. That alone means it’s likely I’ll be back well before July. At the same time I can’t shake the feeling that the market is getting smaller and smaller and there is only so much you can say about the bars and the bar scene before you’ve just about said it all. Where the bar industry is going and just what the future holds for this column, who knows?


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken of the character outside Spritz bar on Soi Cowboy. Funny, most of the relatively few people who got it right didn’t know the name of the bar and simply said something along the lines of “the new bar on Soi Cowboy” which suggests the name has not caught on. Where was this week’s photo taken from…NOT what is the building in the background!


Nana Plaza
 

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

Police checkpoints no big deal.

I have been pulled over in taxis more than a few times. Spoke a little polite Thai and English. Never an issue. Police actually friendly and seemed like they were going through the motions.

Police checkpoints part of the reason for leaving.

I wanted to say how much your writing about police stops rang true. In Chiang Mai they have checkpoints every day at 4 or 5 locations, checking for helmets and  license – I have both and have never had a ticket. In 2018 I figured that on at least 70 occasions I had to stop and show a license. It continued in 2019 and after 7 years, enough was enough. Back to the USA for 11 months, then it will be on to Danang, Vietnam, long-term next year. Air pollution, checkpoints, and Immigration hassles – it’s not worth it.

Don’t leave Thailand, get out of Bangkok.

You say the police checkpoints in Bangkok are getting worse; so much so that some expats are leaving the country. Here in the central provinces, it is just the opposite. When I come to a police checkpoint where each and every Thai is getting stopped, once they see a Westerner they just smile and wave me through. I find the Thai Immigration officials to be extremely polite and professional too. They even helped me download the TM30 app and helped me set it up. I live in one of the central provinces and my wife and I would never dream of living in Bangkok. Don’t leave the country if you are getting hassled; leave Bangkok.

Making friends with the locals.

I lived in South Korea for 8 years, and made no male friends. I tried, but at the end of the day they all seemed to want something. Be it English lessons, a trophy to show off to friends or even to help them pick up girls. I have been spending the last few summers in the Philippines. If you get in with the right group, relationships can develop. The exposure to American culture probably has a lot to do with it. North Asia is still hanging on to the age-based and status relationship structure. Expats just don’t fit into the categories making friendships quite difficult.

Easy to make friends in the Philippines.

I have many local friends and am invited to birthdays, fiestas, baptisms and other excuses for a drinking session – which I enjoy in moderation. I am naturally optimistic and cheerful and make casual friendships easily. I value a sense of community and this was the primary reason for choosing the Philippines to retire. The locals are outward-looking and welcome Westerners while English is (almost) universally spoken as a second language. Perhaps because there are not many of us in the provinces, we get unearned respect.

Friendships with Japanese men are very real.

I spent several years in Japan, and had many friendships with male Japanese. In fact I just returned from a trip to Japan, during which I visited a male friend I have known since 1992. Other expats I knew also had such friendships. But we didn’t live in Tokyo. Most Western expats who live in Japan are concentrated in the greater Tokyo area, and they form distorted views of life in Japan due to their Tokyo perspective. They extrapolate their Tokyo experience to the rest of the country, quite incorrectly in many cases. I’m not familiar with the movie you referred to, but I imagine something similar is going on with the script writer – they are expressing a “life in Tokyo” perspective. And I suspect the reason why western males in Tokyo don’t commonly have friendships with male Japanese in Tokyo is because of the work culture there. Most Japanese “salarymen” work insane hours. They don’t have time for their own families, let alone time to form true friendships with Westerners, male or female.

Dodged a bullet.

I must have visited Thailand in excess or 50 times since I first arrived in Bangkok way back in 1984. In the early years I took full advantage of what was on offer and didn’t pay any attention to ‘best practice’. In later years (mid ’90s onward) I saw the light and religiously covered up every time without fail. I must have been exceptionally lucky as I have never caught anything from a Thai girl or any other girl for that matter, God knows I deserved to!

Butterflies hits it out of the park.

I was at the Butterflies party in Nana. Awesome! Free beer, free food and the most energetic dancers I’ve seen in a long time. Actually, I’d say that overall it was my best gogo bar experience in 10 years. I’ve been pretty bored with the scene for several years and a case in point was Rainbow 4 last week. Previously a good bar, I went in on Sunday and the girls had given up, all of the dancers had their fxxxxxx mobiles with them. Total low point. I just wanted to say how much I appreciated the Butterflies event. The plan was to pop in and see if I could score a T-shirt (I didn’t) but I did end up staying for 4 hours.

Still going strong 20 years on.

I still hang out in the truly-bloody-awful Biergarten in soi 7, the only place left in Sukhumvit where my demigod status has not yet been revoked. Probably because the same ladies who bestowed it on me 20 years ago haven’t the heart to take it back. Every time I am still confronted by the same question, “20 year, you not take lady?” And I reply, “And every year it only gets harder, honey!”


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

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The Nana area, with the new beer bar complex about 30 metres up soi 7.

Workmen say the new bar area on Sukhumvit soi 7 is scheduled to open over the next week. The sign for Rumours Bar went up a couple of weeks ago and this week a sign went up for a new bar called Our Place. Lucky Bar is to open Monday. I’ve marked the location / roofing of the new bar area crudely in the photo above which was kindly provided by long-term reader Rolando.

Readers are in agreement – Butterflies has overtaken Billboard as the most popular gogo bar in Bangkok, at least amongst Stickman readers. This is not a scientific survey and no-one has said that Billboard has gone downhill or anything like that, it is simply that email after email has Butterflies (top floor, Nana Plaza) on top.

Another bar that consistently gets the thumbs up from readers is Spanky’s, one floor down from Butterflies, in Nana Plaza. Recent reports paint a similar picture in terms of visitor numbers – it’s packed, but there is a proviso. The customer base at Spanky’s is changing and some nights there are many female customers – both Asian and white. And it has also been observed that Spanky’s is attracting men with immaculately trimmed beards, round spectacles and berets. Hipster alert! No doubt they’re visiting for bucket list reasons. They might fancy themselves as being worldly but do they know what a barfine is? And do they dare take a selfie and post it online? What would their peers think about that? I can just imagine responses using words like degrading and exploitation and goodness knows what else. Perhaps the importance they place on being inclusive is faux after all? Back to Spanky’s, it’s a goldmine. Spanky’s has been booming for 10 years and some nights it’s so busy they won’t let more people in until customers leave. But 10 years of success for the bar doesn’t mean continued happiness for the girls who won’t be making money from this sort of crowd. Things change and Nana Plaza may look much the same from the outside….but step inside the bars on the lower level and to a lesser extent the middle level, and you’ll see a lot of mainstream visitors about. As someone said about the crowd at Spanky’s one night this past week, it almost looked like an Apple conference was in town.

If you want to party with your own kind, in Nana Plaza it should be noted that naughty boys tend to gravitate to the bars above ground level while the mainstream visitors tend to be mill around on the ground floor and favour the Beer Garden in the middle.

Word is that customer numbers in the Bangkok bars areas weren’t stellar this week. It has been noted that the crowd seemed to have a higher percentage of visitors with fewer expats about, generally. This follows on from something Dave The Rave and I were talking about not so long ago – how he used to recognise most customers in the plaza but these days he recognises few.

Sexy Night, the oldest gogo bar in Nana Plaza, has lost staff and the replacements have been described as less than attractive….which is a worry as Sexy Night has never really attracted the hotties. This notwithstanding, Sexy Night consistently gets very favourable reviews.

Nestled in between Spanky’s and Sexy Night, Angelwitch isn’t that busy. It hasn’t quite gone the way of Tilac, but trade isn’t anything like it used to be.

From one of the smaller gogo bars in Nana Plaza (which I have deliberately not named) comes word that on the Friday before last, just one lady was barfined from the bar all night. That is just one lady barfined on what is traditionally the busiest night of the week. In fairness, it’s not a bar known for lookers but it is another indicator of how things are changing.

Prices in the new beer bar near the start of Sukhumvit soi 8 elicited comments after I posted the menu from Today @ Soi8 last week. What wasn’t mentioned was that bottled beer is 80 baht at happy hour which runs from before lunch time all the way through until 8 PM – good deal.

Gogo bars relying on agencies for dancers are taking a risk and one long-running Soi Cowboy gogo bar has found itself exposed to what can happen when the relationship between the bar and the agency breaks down. A couple of weeks back I wrote that if you were looking for your favourite dancer in Dollhouse you might like to try Lighthouse, a few doors along. I wanted to wait a little bit before filling in the details….because bars these days are increasingly sensitive about this sort of thing. Basically, there was an argument between the agency and the foreign manager of Dollhouse which resulted in a bunch of girls being removed from Dollhouse and placed in Lighthouse. Given how hard it is to get girls these days, that’s sort of like a shop losing half its stock and its supplier at the same time. All it takes is a few harsh words between the bar and the agency and a bar could lose a bunch of staff. Agencies have the power – and they know it! Remember, the word agency is something of a misnomer and a gogo dancer placement agency is little more than a middle-aged lady with a mobile phone who knows a lot of young, pretty, girls….and some of these ladies running so-called agencies can be awfully fickle!

 

butterflies-playmates-poster

 

Nanapong has built up a reputation for outrageous dance parties said to be the best night you can have in a gogo bar. Now they have a challenger. The anniversary parties at Billboard and Butterflies have punters raving. Where Nanapong is all raunch, the Billboard and Butterflies party are about high energy and lots of giveaways. And the next big party is just around the corner as arguably the two best gogo bars in the country host the Playmates Double Party. On Saturday, December 14, Billboard and Butterflies will be wilder than usual with the return of the Playmates Party. More than 250 lovely ladies will be shaking their bunny tails on five stages, across two different bars, decked out in stockings, high heels, bowties, bunny ears and tails, along with sexy, choreographed shows. And there will be a free buffet of 100 pizzas, chicken wings and potato wedges. This is a special event held just once-a-year. The Billboard and Butterflies anniversary parties had the respective bars packed by 9:00 PM, so get there early – doors open at 8:00 PM.

What is it with the odd Pattaya bar posting photos of incredibly unattractive women to forums and social media in a misguided attempt to promote the bar. Are the standards really that low these days? You don’t get bars in Bangkok doing that. That’s not to say that bars in Bangkok necessarily have more attractive staff – but they do seem to have a much better idea of when you should post photos of girls to promote the bar and when it may be best advised not to!

And if photos posted to social media are anything to go by, Sapphire is one bar in Pattaya that is worth visiting. Some really stunning looking ladies can be found there…check out their social media presence for more fantastic photos of some stunning ladies.

 

sapphire-pattaya

Photo by Sapphire Bar.

 

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way to the Kiwi Pub! This Christmas, The Kiwi Pub in Sukhumvit soi 8 offers you a hearty roast buffet for 999 baht. That gets you a free course Christmas spread AND includes 2 hours free-flow on house bottled beers, wines & soft drinks. Christmas meal will be served from 11 AM until 11 PM with last reservations at 9 PM. Children under 13 will be charged 600 baht – and please note, to all aged under 20 it’s served soft drinks only!

When I first visited Thailand the impression I had of Phuket was that it was over-run with Scandinavians. It felt like there were more Danes, Norwegians and especially Swedes than there were of all other nationalities combined. That is going back to the ’90s, mind you. In a sign of the times, Norwegian, the big Scandinavian budget carrier which flies to Bangkok, is to end routes from Sweden and Denmark to Bangkok as it adapts to changing demand. That comes on the back of comments from a long-term Swedish reader who advises that in 2009, 427,000 Swedes visited Thailand. In 2018 there were just 190,000.

Those applying for a non-immigrant OA visa are required to have approved health insurance. Be careful when seeking health insurance in Thailand because some dodgy firms have jumped in on the act and are selling fake health insurance policies that not only are not accepted by Thailand Immigration, you actually get nothing for your money more than a few PDF files. Yep, some errant foreigners are selling health insurance policies that don’t exist to expats. This is the latest in a long line of scams being operated in Thailand by foreigners and are a variant of the old call centre scams. Expats are contacted by email or cold-called by fellow expats selling health insurance. But what they are really selling is thin air. This one is nasty. Imagine you (thought you) had paid for a health insurance policy and you later fell ill. There you are at the hospital, they ask for your health insurance and you tell them the firm and the details. They don’t know this outfit, attempt to contact them and the policy is knocked back for spurious reasons – because the firm quite simply doesn’t make payouts for any reason whatsoever. If you are in the market for health insurance, be very careful about buying anything offered from anyone cold-calling.

 

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Amongst the many suggestions of topics to cover in the column is doing something on the many Thailand YouTubers. The latest in a long line of emails came in this week: “Perhaps, an idea for a column would be the rise and fall of YouTubers. I cannot see making videos as a sustainable way to live your life. However, this new way of making money is not only a Thailand expat thing, got a feeling it’s all going to crash soon.” I seldom look at other Thailand sites and I never look at Thailand YouTubers. I have found that many YouTubers (in the Thailand sphere and beyond) talk way too much and seem to be more about themselves than the topic they’re presenting. You can watch for 20 minutes and get almost nothing out of it. With this in mind, it’s not something I plan to look at. I encourage them all to do their thing and I hope they do well from it, but YouTube is not for me, as either a producer or a viewer.

I know no Stickman readers would dream of doing it, but if you were to change US dollars at Bangkok Airport for baht the current rate on offer is around 28.50. You still get a touch over 30 baht to the dollar downtown….but enjoy that while it lasts because the Bank of Thailand says the baht is going to get stronger still over the next 12 months.

One positive side effect of prices in Bangkok going up and exchange rates against the baht deteriorating is that there is none of the bravado you used to get from those who boasted about how much they paid for things – which invariably meant how much money they gave to ladies of the night. It’s entirely up to someone what they wish to pay for something that does not have a fixed price, but it always struck me as rather unseemly the way some used to brag about how they paid more than anyone else. I still remember clearly how some would pay double the going rates for girls and make a really big deal of it, almost like they were berating those who paid less. I could never understand it. Pay what you want but gloating about paying so much is just tacky. Do it because you want to, not because you want to gloat about it. Anyway, I haven’t heard anyone boasting about paying over the odds for quite some time.

 

he-clinic-new2

 

Reader’s story of the week comes from Jimmy who was bitten by a soi dog, “Who Let The Dogs Out?

Quote of the week comes from a regular reader, “An Asian woman could be a PHD in astrophysics and a world expert to boot but as soon as she is described as Thai the minds of many place her in the gutter, such is the country’s reputation.”

The Bangkok Post reports an economic slowdown has hit Pattaya hoteliers.

A new armed police unit has been created in the style of SWAT to deal with special situations and officers will be sent to the USA for training with the FBI.

A major Thai bank sees the Thai baht appreciating another 3% against the US dollar (and by default, the currencies of other Western countries) over the next 12 months.

4 Chinese have been arrested for begging in Bangkok.

An airline industry website comments on why Thai Airways is floundering.

 

soi-cowboy-july-2019-12

I’ll write my usual annual round-up of 2019 and predictions for 2020 columns in the coming weeks, but in the meantime – and in light of my opener – I’m always interested in your thoughts on where things are going. Will the bar industry surprise us with a renaissance this high season? Will visa rules be softened and the worries of the past year acknowledged by the authorities giving expats a free pass to stay long-term without hassles? And what of the future of Thailand blogs, vlogs and forums? The cyber world replicates the real world with cracks appearing all over the place as some bloggers reliant on website income are really struggling. I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you think the future holds.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : s[email protected]