Stickman's Weekly Column January 26th, 2020

200 Baht Drinks Coming Soon?



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

It won’t be long until the price of a standard drink in most Bangkok gogo bars reaches 200 baht. It has reached that price in a few bars already. With bar industry facing challenges, how will punters feel about drinks running 200 baht (about $US7, £5, $AU10, €6)?

To be clear, by standard drink I mean a locally produced beer as well as popular top-shelf drinks + mixer; not imported beers or premium spirits. That said, the line has become kind of blurry between what are considered standard drinks and what are premium.

200 baht for a standard drink in some Bangkok gogo bars is not new. Some years ago The Arab increased prices of some standard drinks to 200 baht. It barely raised an eyebrow – not because no-one thought anything of it, but because few locals – and almost no serious players – frequent The Arab’s bars. But a good few bars are getting close to the 200 baht level now.

In a once uber popular Soi Cowboy gogo bar, local bottled beers and other standard drinks now run 190 baht.

In Bangkok gogo bars, 180 baht seems to be around the most common price for a standard drink.

 

s-pankee-bar-bangkok

Spanky’s Nana Plaza price-list, February 2019.

 

When I first moved to Bangkok, standard drinks in Nana Plaza gogo bars ran 70 – 80 baht. But that’s 22 years ago and you can’t compare prices with then and now. By 2000, most bars charged 90 baht until one day most bars in Nana Plaza – following a meeting amongst bar owners – jacked the price up to 110 baht. Bar owners had colluded on price and almost everyone agreed to raise prices to the same level. Nana Plaza was booming, Patpong was struggling and Soi Cowboy was a backwater so why not?

In explaining the hefty price increase, at least in percentage terms, the official word was that service staff expect a tip and if drinks were priced 100 baht it would be awkward for customers to tip when they change was made up of 100 baht notes.

Just like 100 baht, 200 baht is a round number so could prices somersault 200 baht and go up to 210 or even 220 baht?

Would bar owners throw caution to the wind and make such a large price increase when customers are already complaining about prices. And just how will punters respond to the next round of price increases, be they to 200 baht or higher?

My feeling is that price increases won’t affect visitors too much. I imagine they will see it as a very small increase in the total cost of their trip. It’s hard to see expats being quite so happy about it, especially when drinks generally cost much less in British pubs and the like than they do in gogo bars. It wasn’t always this way. Go back 10+ years and drinks prices weren’t much different between the likes of Nana and pubs on Sukhumvit.

If we go back 20 years, the price of a standard drink in Nana Plaza was around 90 baht. If they go up to 200 baht this year, that would equate with an annual inflation rate of a little over 4% over that time, a bit higher than the official inflation rate. That shouldn’t come as a surprise as prices in farang and tourist areas typically go up faster than the official rate of inflation.

But what about from the bars’ perspective? Drill down in to a bar’s numbers and you’ll find expenses have increased massively. Rents are up – in some areas hugely so. Some bars pay today monthly rent around 4 or 5 times what a bar in the same location was paying 20 years ago. Off the books expenses are a lot higher. Labour costs are much higher and have effectively doubled. Tax on alcohol has gone up. With all of this in mind, it’s easy to see why the price of a standard drink has jumped up.

Prices doubling over 20 years doesn’t sound that bad, but at the same time 200 baht for a standard drink does sound like a lot.

I guess part of the problem is that there is still an expectation that Thailand is cheap – and when a drink in Thailand costs about the same or more than it does at home, unless you’re in a high-end hotel or a rooftop bar, it just doesn’t seem right.

Some bars may have cheap draft beer on offer – usually a good deal – but I just can’t help but think that at 200 baht a drink it’s getting towards the limit of what many people will pay.

Or maybe it’s just me who isn’t willing to pay that much?

Speaking for myself, drinks over 150 baht in gogo bars just aren’t worth it. Unless it’s a really good bar and I am really in the mood. At this point in time I wouldn’t pay 200 baht for a standard drink in a gogo bar. I’ll happily pay more for a real drink in a hotel bar, but 200 baht in a gogo bar? To me, it’s just not worth it.

There will always be bars that are outliers with lower prices so it’s not like every bar will charge so much. And some bars have decent happy hours like Tilac and Shark on Soi Cowboy where most drinks are just 90 baht until 9:00 PM. And I doubt prices in Pattaya will follow Bangkok – expenses are lower and the local expat population are much more price-sensitive.

At the end of the day, bars want punters to buy drinks. High barfine prices is one thing – but high drinks prices is another. High barfines don’t keep punters out of the bar. High drinks prices might mean losing some customers completely.

It’s only a matter of time before 200 baht is the price for a standard drink in Bangkok gogo bars. Maybe I’m just cheap, but in all but a few very good bars, 200 baht for a standard drink seems a bit much, and for me personally, it’s more than I am willing to pay.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-photo-75

Despite being shot on Soi Cowboy, last week’s photo was difficult and just three people got it right. The strange neon characters in the photo are Japanese and say “Bangkok New-Half.” New-half is a Japanese term for ladyboy – which means the photo is of the frontage of a ladyboy bar and in this case, Cockatoo on Soi Cowboy. This week’s photo was kindly provided by a reader and was taken a few days ago. It’s in downtown Bangkok….but precisely where?


Nana Plaza
 

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

Expats or deathpats?

Good column on the meaningless life of expats or for some, deathpats. I just flew out of Vientiane where I spent 8 days. Too often without anything meaningful day to day, and nothing to do, the local expats get sucked into an alcoholic vortex. It’s a bad daily habit usually reinforced by other expats. There is a drinking spot near the riverfront where these poor souls gather. You see them nightly at the same spot, stacking up beer bottles. It’s sad that some of them use the price of cheap beer and cheap pussy as a determinant of where they will reside.

When all you’ve got is the bottle and the babes.

In my opinion, the guys that have a minimalist abode are guys who’ve given up. Those staying in 5,000 baht Pattaya apartments are guys who have nothing to live for but the bottle and the babes.

Change the music!

Occasionally I visit some Walking Street gogo bars to see how they are nowadays. Overall, my assessment would paint a pretty grim picture. We all know that standards have dropped over the years. It is hard to find more than a few decent-looking dollies among the line-ups but it is not just the looks. Most have lost their ability to dance. But is it all their fault? The music may be the culprit. The music played in gogo bars can be mind-numbingly repetitive and too loud. The hip hop / rap / funk / R&B music revolution has produced some of the best dance music in decades and there is a variety you can draw on, but the DJs don’t play enough variety. Wouldn’t it be great to hear some Gorillaz, Britsynth or Daft Punk for a change? It’s wonderful boppy dance music, and easier on the ears. I am sure the girls would love it too and it would give them a rest from the crap that they are subjected to all night. It would give the customers a break also and make the gogo bar experience more enjoyable. But is it asking too much of a young Thai DJ who doesn’t have the taste or passion for finding the best dance music from the past decades? If I was in a gogo bar and really enjoyed the music I would go back for that reason alone. And if a bar tried to change things and think outside the box (or rather DJ booth), maybe takings would increase.

Bogans Busted in Bangkok.

I watched Busted in Bangkok. As with most programmes like this, they target the idiots. When filming in Pattaya, why did they only shoot in the Walking Street area? It’s where you find drunk, first-time visitors. They could have filmed in Soi Buakhao, Soi LK Metro or New Plaza and they would have come across older, more sober, sensible expats / frequent visitors. It’s all about viewing figures I suppose.

Ashamed by fellow countrymen.

I clicked on the link for Channel 5 and started to watch Busted in Bangkok. After about 10 minutes I switched it off after seeing so many morons made me ashamed of my countrymen. Even in my young mad days in the 1970s in Bangkok, never did I behave like that.

By comparison, Soi Cowboy is not so bad.

I found the guy’s comments about the kids on Cowboy pretty funny. Imagine how many parents try to obscure the view of the giant dildos on display on Sukhumvit and Silom.

Thumbs up for the Ruskies.

I am staying in Jomtien. I took a couple of trips to Pattaya but the madness of high season in Soi Buakhao is really off-putting. It seems quite busy here with large numbers of Russians wandering around. I really don’t get why people complain about them as they seem quite polite and for the most part don’t engage in binge-drinking, public profanity and violence like some other nationalities.

Visas on the ground.

This visa crackdown is working. I’m one of the under 50s “fall through the crack“ guys. The Elite Visa is a crazy outlay if you’re not sure about a 5-year tenure. I have to leave on Monday and I’m not sure how I’m going to get back in. I’ve tried a few avenues to get a visa here.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

 

soi11-temp-open-air-restaurant

Large outdoor bar and restaurant on Sukhumvit soi 11. Photo kindly provided by reader Rich.

 

Since the New York Gardens closed some years ago, is there anywhere in downtown Bangkok where you can enjoy dinner and drinks at reasonable prices under the stars? There is. A good-sized outdoor eatery has set up on Sukhumvit soi 11, across the road from the new Burger King. This space will be developed in to another large hotel which means this eatery is only temporary – so you should get down there and enjoy it while it lasts. I know the pollution in Bangkok is really bad at the moment, but al fresco dining in the tropics is still hard to beat.

A new bar is coming to Sukhumvit soi 13 – believed to be called The Red Lion – from the people behind Shenanigans, O’Shea’s and The Royal Oak. Expect the same format – live sports, cheap drinks and decent pub grub.

The rumour mill has been going in to overdrive about a possible takeover bid of Dollhouse by the best in the business, the team behind Billboard and Butterflies. Now let me state very clearly that this is a rumour and I have not had a chance to chat with any of the parties mentioned. It could be complete nonsense so I reiterate, this is simply a rumour that is doing the rounds.

Mandarin in Nana Plaza is simplifying the barfine process with a system in place to ensure that everyone pays the same price for the main event. Mandarins gang of mamasans have a laminated sheet outlining prices which is flapped at customers. It lists all the prices: Barfine 1,200 baht. Short-time 3,000 baht. Long-time 5,000 baht. When mamasans quote prices up front like this there is often an expectation that payment is made up front (as the mamasan clips the ticket and wants her commission there and then). All I can say is that at those prices, I’m glad I’m not a player.

Bar owners in Bangkok are already full of doom and gloom as the end of the not-so “high season” approaches with predictions of a woeful 2020 rolling off the tongues of many.

Down in Soi LK Metro in Pattaya, popular British-run gogo bar Crystal Club will celebrate the good news this coming Friday, January 31st, with a Brexit Party in the bar!

Word is that boxing legend Ricky Hatton will be at Robin Hood Tavern in Pattaya tomorrow night for their 3rd anniversary party. He was also spotted at Sapphire in Pattaya.

Word from some gogo bars in Pattaya is that weekend trade is much better than numbers during the week. This suggests fewer tourists are hitting the bars. Expats tend to go out on Friday and / or Saturday night, hence those nights are better. This has long been the case in Bangkok gogo bars where Friday and Saturday nights are noticeably busier than weeknights. Pattaya bars have always had a small influx of naughty boys from Bangkok heading down at the weekend, but a couple of Sin City bar operators tell me it’s more noticeable these days how Fridays and Saturdays have become the busiest nights of the week.


 

If you’re on a budget, draft beer at XXX Lounge (previously Club Electric Blue) in Patpong soi 2 is just 115 baht for a big 475 ml glass. That’s the price every night, all night long.

Today is Australia Day and most Aussie-themed bars will have something on to celebrate. In recent years, the favourite spot for Aussies has been The Australian Pub on Sukhumvit soi 11.

Across the border in Cambodia, a friend in Phnom Penh tells me that things have been quiet in the bar district. I note that a few years ago plenty of Bangkok retirees saw Cambodia as an alternative to Thailand but these days hardly anyone mentions it. It’s all Vietnam these days, as well as a few talking of moving to the Philippines. And no doubt the mood will change again before too long – where will disgruntled expats be talking about next when they realise that Vietnam has just as many problems as Thailand?

A quick reminder that the first Nanapong dance contest of 2020 will be held at XXX Lounge in Patpong soi 2 this coming Saturday, February 1st. Get there early to make sure you get a good seat – Nanapong dance contests fill up fast. And a tip from someone who has experienced plenty of dance contests, if you are going to sit next to the stage, don’t be wearing your best threads…

 

nanapong2020

 

If you get stopped by police in Thailand, you might be asked to show your passport – and your visa status might be checked. Did you know that if you make a transfer by Western Union, you need to provide your passport – and staff in some downtown Western Union offices check the visa status of foreigners using the service. This week a reader went to one of the best-known private hospitals on Sukhumvit Road – a favourite for farangs – and not only did they require his passport before he could register, they checked his visa, all before they asked to see his medical insurance card. What would they have done if his visa was no longer valid? This is not to say that this is happening at all hospitals – but it is at one big-name private hospital. It’s yet another reason to make sure you don’t remain in the country beyond your permission to stay. Imagine being on overstay but being too scared to go for medical treatment lest the hospital call Immigration to report that you had overstayed.

Since making a comeback, one of the columns I most enjoyed writing was the photo essay on Benjakit Park.  I spent a lot of time in that park when I was living in Bangkok and I go there every day when I am in town visiting. At the north-eastern corner of the park is a lane with ramshackle old Thai-style houses on either side. It’s like a traditional Thai village slap in the middle of a big city. Despite its location, it’s very quiet, almost tranquil, and feels very much like a small upcountry village. There’s a short-cut known by locals and used by some expats that uses this lane to connect Rachadapisek Road with Sukhumvit soi 10 and the walkway to Lumpini Park. As I wrote when I was in town a few months back, Benjakit Park is being redeveloped and part of that overhaul is the removal of this lane, the housing and essentially, this little village will be wiped off the map as the houses are being dismantled by a crew with hand tools. Another part of the charming Bangkok of old is about to disappear.

 

bangkok-park22

A ramshackle but charming village on a dusty soi ….. right in the heart of Bangkok.

 

Friends and readers on the ground are telling me how bad the pollution is in Bangkok at the moment. My partner in crime said to me this past week, “Bangkok isn’t somewhere you want to be right now, the pollution is unbearable.” The worry is that if previous years are anything to go by, it’s only going to get worse come February and March.

Not Thailand but close enough, popular Cambodia expat forum K440 has changed hands again. I hope the buyer didn’t pay too much because it’s getting more and more difficult to make money with sites in the Southeast Asia expat sphere. Best of luck to them.

Speaking of pollution, which city is the most followed on the excellent AirVisual website and app which shows the current air quality index (AQI) in cities all around the world? Bangkok, of course! It’s encouraging that Thais are aware of the pollution problem and many follow it daily. In recent weeks the topic of pollution levels has been the lead item on the popular morning Channel 3 TV news. Here’s hoping that something is actually done about the problem – specifically that laws on the books are enforced to stop the farmers burning scrub to clear their land which is the main reason pollution is so bad at this time of year.

On Monday of next week, Americans in Bangkok will set their alarm clocks for an ungodly hour and head out to their favourite American-themed bar to watch Super Bowl LIV. Traditionally the popular spots to watch Super Bowl are Bourbon Street and Margarita Storm. Many American-themed venues will open early – kick-off is at 6:30 AM, Bangkok time.

 

super-bowl-2020

 

superbowl2020-poster

 

bourbon-street-superbowl-2020

 

Sometimes the Americans contingent in the readership (close to a third of all readers) makes me laugh. A bunch of Americans – including some who have known me personally for years – thought I’d changed when I suggested that retirees need something meaningful in their lives, no matter how small – and one of my suggestions was pot plants. Pot plants is what we in New Zealand call plants we keep indoors i.e. they are in a pot. In America, it would seem that the term pot plants has a rather different meaning. I had no idea. Some American readers went so far to tell me that I had got it wrong and they are potted plants. So to clear up any confusion, I am not suggesting anyone grow pot in their condo and like it or not, I speak and write in this column in Kiwi English!

One of the curiosities of Thailand is the re-enactments of crimes. In cases where the accused pleads guilty, they may return to the scene of the crime and re-enact it. In some cases, particularly those where a high-profile / serious crime has yet to be solved, police officers or civilians carry out a re-enactment so the public can see what happened. Earlier this week news broke of a porn clip circulating in Thailand that had been filmed in the grounds of one of the country’s top universities. The Thai police photographed a re-enactment of the crime and the shot went viral. It showed two coppers groping the tree where the clip was filmed, the two of them embraced in a sexual position. Check out this photo from the re-enactment. What a hoot!

 

he-clinic-new2

 

Quote of the week comes from a 21-year-old’s TF profile, “No grandpa please!

Reader’s story of the week from Bangkok Byron is part 1 in his series looking at Angeles City, the closest thing the Philippines has to Pattaya.

A Thai woman showing someone she met on Tinder around the sights in Bangkok gets fined 2,000 baht for operating as an unlicenced tour guide.

Thailand has been captivated by the tale of a serial killer who is the son of a convicted murderer.

A Belgian prison escapee sends a “Greetings from Thailand” postcard to his former captors.

Some big Kiwi women discover business class seats on Thai Airways are designed more with the Thai size in mind, not the Kiwi super size.

Thai officials accidentally auction off a car loaded with amphetamine.

Sex video stars surrender to police.

A drug dealer kept meth stashed in a haunted house because scared locals wouldn’t go inside!

A neighbour complains about loud music and partygoers pelt him with bottles!

 

tilac-soi-cowboy-may-2016

From the archives, the drinks price-list in a popular Soi Cowboy bar from May, 2016.  Standard drinks were 140 baht back then.  Today many standard drinks in this bar are 190 baht.

 

 

Thinking about my opener today on the price of standard drinks in Bangkok gogo bars heading for 200 baht, am I an el cheapo thinking that is too much? Do you think 200 baht for a standard drink in a gogo bar is reasonable? As I said in the opener, for me 200 baht is just not worth it. I’d love to know what you think about the prices of drinks in Bangkok gogo bars. Drop me a line and I might just run your email in next week’s column.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]