Stickman's Weekly Column March 22nd, 2020

Where To From Here?



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

The pleasure of enjoying a beer with your mates in the front row at Billboard was taken away this week as all bars in Bangkok were ordered closed. Pattaya and Phuket soon followed as darkness fell across all the popular naughty nightlife areas. Bar closure orders are in force until the end of the month. Thailand is shutting down.

It may be disappointing for customers but consider how bar owners and their staff must feel. The closure is for 14 days but will almost certainly be extended. Days will become weeks. Weeks will become months. Punters are without a place to go. Bar staff, bar owners and by default landlords, are now without income.

The closure order wasn’t unexpected. Things had been terrible in the bars for weeks. Girls were complaining of going days without a single lady drink. It was so bad that some had to borrow money from friends to pay for a taxi home at the end of the night. If the bars hadn’t been ordered closed many would have voluntarily shut the doors.

The bar industry faces a lengthy disruption and it could be many months before bars reopen. Where will things go from here?

There are strong rumours that at least one landlord is working on a plan to help tenants with rent payments over the next few months. In Nana Plaza it would be simple – a single landlord handles the entire plaza. It’s the same for much of Patpong. Soi Cowboy, on the other hand, has a number of different landlords so whatever happens there likely won’t be universal.

Stressed bar operators have no idea when they will be able to reopen, and the longer this goes on, the less likely it is that some will ever reopen. Even rent deferrals may not save some who may be forced to find work elsewhere as they are desperate for income.

This will kill some bars. Almost certainly this is the end of some owners.

Based on what is happening elsewhere, the best guess is that infections will peak in Thailand several weeks from now. It could take another several weeks for things to be brought under control. Being optimistic, could bars reopen 4 months from now? That would be August. Is that possible? No-one knows.

Reopening is just one part of a complicated equation. Most customers in the bars these days are short-stay visitors. When will international travel ramp back up from Europe and North America? Will people from those parts of the world even have the money to travel?

What about the bar staff? Will the same staff return? There is no precedent for this.

A few years back, The Londoner Pub moved from Sukhumvit soi 33 out to Pattanakarn Road. While the beautiful custom-built premises were under construction, I understand that the successful English owner kept a number of key staff on the books. As a successful businessman with other businesses, he could afford to do that. Can (m)any gogo bar owners manage that?

If things go dark for a few months, some bar staff will find work elsewhere and be lost forever.

But then recruiting new staff shouldn’t be a problem. Many will be desperate for a job – any job – when the bars reopen. And if the baht crashes, who knows, maybe the masses will flood back to Thailand and the boom times will return.

We all hope that things return to normal as soon as possible, even if that won’t happen any time soon. The problem is that the very nature of the bar industry makes it a fertile breeding ground for the virus. Social distancing and the bars just don’t go together. I wasn’t exaggerating last week when I said that this is the bar industry’s darkest hour. But the question is….could this be the darkness before a new golden era for naughty boys?


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery photo

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Last week’s photo was taken in the foyer of Scala cinema. I thought it was easy but only a small number of people got it right. This week’s photo was kindly taken by Jack this past week. Where is it, clever readers?


Nana Plaza
 

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

So quiet, it’s surreal.

Bangkok is so quiet it’s surreal! My trip on the BTS at 4:45 PM was a first – I got a seat from Sala Daeng to Siam. Clear concourse and I managed to get a seat again from Siam to Nana, something that would normally only happen very early morning or very late at night.

Girls are hungry.

I got a message on LINE a couple of hours ago and was thinking, who the hell is this? It turned out it was some girl from years ago (well I think so, can hardly remember). Messaged me to say, “Hello!” So I asked how life was in Thailand with the virus, and the answer was, “Not good”, “I no have money to go home”. Very funny although it certainly has its sad side. When this virus thing finally passes I think there are going to be some hungry pooying around!

Hungry part 2.

I had a ‘can you help me’ request from my ‘friend’ at Tilac. I’m sure there’ll be many more such messages going out around the world in the coming days and weeks addressed to rich farangs. I didn’t respond.

Many will suffer.

The bars have been ordered closed for two weeks. I have little doubt that it will be extended ad nauseum. This is incredibly bad. The bargirls send money back home to the parents and kids for motorcycle loans, schooling, food. That won’t happen now. Even if COVID-19 was declared eliminated, who is going to book holidays and trips this year. Maybe Christmas / New Year people might start venturing forth, enticed by low hotel rates and flights. Maybe. It is calamitous.

Enjoying a free pee.

You mentioned that it may be hard for larger gentleman drinkers to squeeze through the turnstile at the beer bar area on Sukhumvit soi 7. My drinking buddy and I get a kick out of watching girls shimmy through the bars to get in for a free piss. I asked a couple of girls if they didn’t have 10 baht. They did, but they didn’t want to pay that much to use the toilet when they could just slip by for free!

Quiet Bangkok.

I spent a few hours in Bangkok. Traffic was light, making it really relaxing and pleasant. Leaving Central World at 1:00 PM, the car park was 3/4 empty. Walking on the elevated walkway under the train lines on Sukhumvit was also easy. While Bangkok is not a ghost town, the coronavirus has scared a lot of people out of the city.

Bum gun converted.

Makes me laugh how people in the West are stockpiling toilet roll. I converted to the bum gun many years ago, and I see the practice of using toilet paper as disgusting. It is the single worst thing about going back home for a few days, the lack of a bum gun.

Why is the count so low?

I don’t get it. If we look at Pattaya, for example, where a huge number of tourists from China and Korea came, if this virus is so virulent, and coupled with all the massages and sex workers, plus the Chinese often go out in groups and trough away at the buffets, sneezing, coughing, spitting, dribbling, heaving up wads of mucous from the lungs, where are all the infected cases? Total in Thailand is about 200 with one death. Mostly in Bangkok. I would have expected Pattaya to be under martial law, quarantined and hotels being turned into emergency hospitals, with thousands of cases. Or Phuket or Chiang Mai, where a lot of Chinese visit. Nada. Why not?

Will this change the bar biz?

With the stupid lady drink prices and mental beer prices, there won’t be much sympathy for bars closing down. In stock market terms, maybe we are due a “correction”. Close them all down, then they can re-open with 100 baht beers (and 70 baht at happy hour). Then after a global recession, the baht goes back to 75 to the £. I know, I am getting carried away.

It might best to don a facemask.

90 – 100% of Thais in downtown Bangkok are wearing facemasks. Thais are reluctant to say so, but they very much DO NOT appreciate tourists not-wearing facemasks. Regardless, it shows courtesy to wear a facemask in public areas in Thailand right now, so if farang in-country wear them, Thais will feel better about interacting with them. These are not ordinary times, a farang backlash is already underway, so if foreigners take the trouble to wear a facemask while walking around Thai cities, it will reflect well on all farang in the Kingdom.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

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Soi Cowboy, Monday night. The bar areas were dead before they were ordered closed the next day. Photo credits: a kind reader.

 

At the start of this week the bars were dead. Even the biggest fans of the bar biz, those who never utter so much as a single negative word, admitted it was dead. Some girls complained they were skint and didn’t have money to take a taxi home at the end of the shift. And then the hammer blow came on Tuesday as bars were ordered shut for 14 days. It was always going to happen and it was simply a matter of whether the bars were ordered closed or whether they closed voluntarily. Bars have been ordered closed until the end of the month but like I said in the opener, don’t expect them to reopen any time soon.

And bars really had to be closed because there are reports that at least two farang bars had cases of Covid-19 confirmed. In the first case, last weekend an employee in a popular Soi Nana bar tested positive for Covid-19. It was no secret in expat circles – many knew about it and several emailed me about it. It was 100% confirmed and absolutely not a rumour. The lady was taken away for treatment and the bar underwent a “deep cleaning”. This was in a big name bar on Soi Nana popular with farang. Note, the bar was not in Nana Plaza. The second farang bar with confirmed Covid-19 infections is Moonshine Bar on Sukhumvit soi 7 which relocated there from soi 22. 4 staff have been confirmed as contracting the virus.

Over at Patpong, King’s Castle 2 has set about refurbishing the bar with the inside looking like a building site. Never a better time to do it and no need to rush!

A few kind readers have sent photos of what it’s like in downtown Bangkok at the moment and it’s dead! Dead almost doesn’t seem a strong enough word.

With that said, today, Sunday, I am reliably informed that plenty of Thai restaurants along Sukhumvit remain open. Putting money ahead of health does feel kind of irresponsible at this time.

And it was not only the bars that were quiet. A couple of restaurant owners told me business was miserable – but they too were ordered closed yesterday (although restaurant kitchens could stay open for food to be delivered). A tailor on busy Sukhumvit reported that not one customer stepped in to his store all day. Not one! He has been in business for over 50 years and has never seen it like this before.

Things had been downright miserable in the bars before they were ordered closed. Take the horseshoe of minge, the Thermae, for example. It had been decimated with a regular reader saying girl numbers were down about 90%.

 

thermae-dead

The Thermae on Tuesday night / Wednesday morning @ 12:50 AM. 5 minutes later it closed.

 

This week former bar manager and nightlife blogger Dave The Rave announced that this would probably the end of the road for him in Thailand. Bar manager positions are few and far between and Dave has been out of work for a while. There isn’t the money in blogging there once was. I thought this might be the chance for Dave to do what he has long threatened – get back home and finally write his kiss and tell memoirs. In a last minute reprieve, Dave has secured a new gig. Dave The Rave is a survivor.

Secrets Bar in Pattaya was a favourite for many, me included. It closed a while back but the hotel upstairs continued to operate. I never stayed there as the idea of staying above a noisy bar didn’t appeal but I know it was popular and was often be booked out months ahead. Citing Covid-19, Secrets Hotel announced this week that it would close at the end of March.

The Grand President Hotel on Sukhumvit soi 11 will close in April for a major renovation. Many long-serving staff will be laid off.

Bar Su, the very nice bar on the ground floor of the Sheraton Grande, is closing for 40 days.

Songkran has been cancelled and April 13 – 15 will be regular work days – or as close as you can get to regular in these unusual times. Songkran will be rescheduled for later in the year.

 

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Sukhumvit BTS, just after midday on Thursday. Amazingly quiet. Photo credits: reader David.

Word from Pattaya earlier in the week was that Beach Road was packed to the gills with some very hungry girls. And word is that some iBar types’ (take that to mean attractive freelancers who usually command a premium) opening pitch was 700 baht. Prices like that are really turning back the clock.

I was going to report that temperature guns had become common at the entrance to Pattaya gogo bars this past week, that is until all of Sin City’s bars were ordered closed.

Spare a thought for the gogo dancers who work with agencies – which these days is many of them as they prefer the relative freedom it gives them. It works a little differently from agency to agency and between Bangkok and Pattaya. In Pattaya, generally the way it works is that the girls do 10 days straight in a bar, then take a few days off before doing another 10 days, usually in the same bar but it could just as well be elsewhere. These girls are essentially contractors. They are not employees of any single bar nor are they employees of the agency. The upside is that they largely have the freedom to work when they please, but they don’t get the benefits of being an employee of one company, in this case a bar. If the shit hits the fan – as it did this week – they’re on their own. Contrast that with girls who are employees of a bar. They don’t have the same freedoms but they do get certain benefits, afforded by Thai employment law. If the bar should close, they are entitled to a redundancy payout, the amount of which is set out in Thai law. The longer they have worked with that employer, the more they get. Many girls are aware of this. Whether bars continue to pay the girls while bars are closed will come down to individual bar owners, but I suspect in many cases they simply won’t have the money to pay them, even if they have the best intention of doing so.

 

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All quiet on Sukhumvit soi 11, yesterday. Photo credits: Jack.

 

Some bar owners may be reluctant to pay their girls but most will realise they need to continue to pay managers and mamasans. Lose a mamasan and you can lose many of your girls.

And before the bars were ordered closed, bar staff were willingly handing out their phone number and LINE contact details as they scrambled to secure a customer. Making private arrangements outside the bar which circumvents the barfine system is grounds for dismissal in most bars. But many girls were so desperate they just didn’t care.

Just after last week’s column was published word came from Angeles City in the Philippines that all bars had been ordered closed – and with that the only reason anyone had to visit Angeles City was gone.

The same thing happened mid-week in Cambodia, all bars were ordered shut there too.

It’s a region wide thing. Dan of SaigonExpatServices let me know that on Monday, all bars in Ho Chi Minh’s District 1 (essentially the main area where foreign tourists stay / hang out) were ordered closed. He followed up the next day to say that the Vietnamese government had ordered all bars and nightclubs in most of the districts in HCMC and Danang closed.

Still in Vietnam, it is mandatory to wear a face mask when out in public. And most visas for Vietnam issued but not yet used were deemed invalid as Vietnam closed its borders to all but Vietnamese nationals. Even Visa Exemption Certificates – known as VEC – which are granted to Vietnamese overseas and foreign spouses and children of Vietnamese were also suspended.

 

vill-soi33-panic-buying

Long, queues at Villa, Sukhumvit soi 33, on Wednesday as people panic-buy. Photo credits: Big Greg.

 

Amongst the many places in Bangkok closing, Artbox, the increasingly popular night market / food and bar area in Chuwit Park between Sukhumvit sois 8 and 10, officially closed. It then reopened after some operators pleaded that they were without an income, and then closed again. It was one of those weeks where places closed, reopened and then closed again.

The day after bars and massage shops were ordered closed saw some massage shops in darkness. But a rub and a tug was still on the menu as girls inside beckoned to passersby. One imagines that won’t last. This time things really are serious. And besides, who in their right mind would want to get a massage from a stranger at this time?

On Wednesday, restaurants in Bangkok were ordered to take precautions including undergoing a thorough cleaning. All customers’ temperature had to be checked before they were allowed to enter. There had to be bottles of hand sanitizer available for customers to use. Staff had to wear masks. Tables had to be spaced at least a metre apart so social distancing could be practiced. Just a day later, health personnel and police officers were out inspecting. It seemed that Thailand was not dealing with this in its usual half-hearted way. And then on Saturday restaurants were ordered closed – for dine in, at least.

The bars who stayed open using the restaurant license workaround rang for last orders at various times between Wednesday and Saturday before the governor’s closure order was announced. Bangkok officials made checks and liaised with police to close several down while others chose to call it a day off their own backs. There was a lot of negative publicity targeting those who did stay open with one viral news website running an article naming all the bars in Thonglor flouting the government order.

Bars closing was one thing, but restaurants closing is a biggie for many expats, especially those who live alone / don’t have a kitchen / can’t cook. You can only tolerate instant noodles for so long.

 

dtr-hand-sanitiser-foodland-pharmacy

No have!!! Photo credits: Dave The Rave

 

I am a loyal customer of Thai Airways. Flying between Auckland and Bangkok reasonably often, I could save a few $$$ if I used another airline like QANTAS, Malaysia Airlines or Singapore Airlines, all of which are cheaper. But I choose to fly Thai primarily because it’s the only airline which flies non-stop between New Zealand and Thailand. But I have to admit that if I was travelling at this time (which is a moot point because most airlines are about to be grounded) I would consider using Singapore Airlines. It would mean a stop on the way but – and this is a big but – I figure Singapore Airlines would be a whole lot better to deal with in terms of flight changes etc.

In the past, naughty boys would often talk about the dreaded countdown to flying out of Bangkok and returning home. They would joke that if they somehow missed their flight and got stuck in Thailand it would be like a dream come true. I wonder if anyone feels that way now?! Some must be stuck in Thailand – and I know of at least a couple of readers who made visa runs and are stuck outside of Thailand. All over, borders have been closing this week. That’s a problem because it means visa run options are greatly diminished. Further, anyone who wants a new visa / to re-enter Thailand will find that very difficult. Any foreigner flying in to Thailand must have a certificate issued within the last 72 hours stating they are free of Covid-19, along with a travel insurance policy with a minimum $US100,000 coverage. There won’t be many foreigners arriving in Thailand until this regulation is lifted. What of those foreigners whose visa expires over the coming days and weeks? Within a few days I think anyone still in Thailand will essentially be stuck there for months. I wouldn’t worry too much about visa extensions / overstay – Immigration will work something out.

And for Thai nationals flying back to Thailand, there is a totally dumbfounding policy whereby they need a form from the local Thai embassy / consulate stating that they are, get this, a Thai citizen! They also need a fit to fly certificate, all of which makes it unnecessarily difficult for many to get home. It’s baffling.

 

It’s probably a moot point because few foreigners will be getting to Thailand any time soon, but there were some big currency movements this week. The US dollar is higher against the baht this week than it has been in quite a while. The Aussie and Kiwi dollars had a roller coaster ride this week and they along with the pound took a beating. I cannot imagine how Aussie and Kiwi expats living in Thailand reliant on funds from home must be feeling. Mid-week, your Aussie and Kiwi dollars – which are now almost at parity – were buying around 17.7 Thai baht in major banks. Ouch!

One of the curiosities of Thais is that when they feel even a little under the weather they feel compelled to go to hospital where they expect, at the very least, be given a truckload of pills – and maybe even be admitted and spend a night or two – all for what most Westerners would consider the most innocuous things. A Thai with a case of the trots? Spend the night in hospital! Headache? Ditto. OK, not everyone and not all the time – but it’s common enough. Related to this, of the 52 cases of Covid-19 here in New Zealand, a total of 4 have been admitted to hospital. Of the 300+ cases in Thailand, almost all have been admitted to hospital!

Our world has been turned upside down. And it’s going to be rough for a while. If you are in Bangkok and feel lost, unsure of your next step, or simply need a professional to talk to, get in touch with : Bangkok-counseling.com. Dr John plans to remain open throughout this difficult time. Help is available on Skype too.

Looking to make new friends while you’re stuck in your Bangkok shoebox for the next few months? Tahug.com is a new dating and chat messenger app which is 100% free to sign up with and there are no restrictions on chats and messaging.

This will be the end of the road for some foreigners who have called Thailand home. As I wrote earlier, Dave The Rave wrote that it looked like it was all over for him until getting another last-minute reprieve. Plenty of foreigners in Thailand are teetering on the edge. Some expats will lose their jobs. Some have seen their savings / pension take an almighty great hit. And with bars, restaurants and all the fun parts of Thailand essentially shut down for what is likely to be months, some will no doubt decide that they would rather be back home.

 

vitamin-iv-booster

 

Quote of the week comes from Dave The Rave. Walking along Sukhumvit Road, Dave said, “Desperate street hookers were calling out to me!

Reader’s story of the week comes from Bangkok Byron, “I Have A Dream“.

Some hospitals have implemented dual-pricing on Covid-19 virus testing, where foreigners pay more than Thais.

The province of Buriram was locked down to help prevent the Covid-19 virus.

Foreigners who test positive for Covid-19 in Thailand are supposed to get free treatment, but there is some question about what happened to the funds.

Thais are being stranded overseas by new crazy rules from their own government.

Visitors from China are just about ready to resume visiting Thailand.

4 Covid-19 cases are confirmed in a Sukhumvit soi 7 beer bar.

There was a shootout at a bar on Ko Samui caused by punters bringing beer in to a bar.

A Bangkok massage parlour is believed to be the first in the world to screen customers for Covid-19.

 

Red-Shirts-Bangkok59

The Red Shirts protests from 2010. What’s happening now is so much worse.

 

This week’s column was one of the hardest to write. Everything is changing so fast and I felt like I was forever editing and making changes to try and keep up with the latest. That’s why this week’s might feel a bit disjointed, bitsy and not flow well. For that you have my apologies. I know that the bar scene really isn’t that important with everything that is going on around us, but I wanted to get this one out there, done and dusted – and then I can talk about other stuff next week. From all accounts these are crazy times in Bangkok, much more so than they were in 2010 with the red shirt protests, with the 2011 floods or the various coups and ongoing political problems of the past decade and a half. What happens from here is anyone’s guess. Stay safe!

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]