Stickman's Weekly Column May 17th, 2020

Face Masks, Blood Tests, High Prices And The Michelin Man



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

I’m keen to get back to Bangkok, but it doesn’t look like it will happen any time soon. A travel ban on flights in and out of Thailand means there’s no chance of visiting and even if that travel ban is lifted, I’d face 14 days compulsory quarantine upon return to New Zealand. There has been much in the news about what the future of international travel might look like, and I have to say that I don’t like what I’m hearing.

I’m no fan of flying. No-one likes being cooped up in a tight space next to strangers for hours on end. I hate bureaucracy and at airports there are so many rules. And  who likes that feeling of disorientation and one’s body clock being horribly out of sync when you finally reach your destination having crossed multiple time-zones. From checking in for the flight to exiting the airport at your destination, international air travel is hardly a pleasant experience.

The Thai Airways flight departs Auckland at 1:50 PM but for me, Auckland Airport is almost 5 hours’ drive from home. That means waking up at 4:00 AM, in the car at 5:00 AM and after a stop for a much-needed coffee and the obligatory pit stop 30 – 45 minutes later, we arrive at Auckland Airport around 10:30 AM. Check in, make a beeline for the lounge and the one relaxing part of what is a very long day where we can relax and enjoy the buffet before the 11-hour flight. By the time the plane touches down around 8:00 PM Thai time, you’ve battled the queues at immigration and finally get through the airport, you have the dreaded Bangkok traffic to face, it is getting on for 10 PM local time / 22 hours since leaving home. I’m buggered that night, the next day and it’s not until 48 hours that I am starting to feel like myself. And in a few weeks you return home and get to do it all again.

I’m average height and slim so economy isn’t so bad. I’m fit and healthy so the effects of flying, lack of sleep and all that all shouldn’t be as harsh on me as it may be on someone less healthy. And as a regular traveller, I have my “good travel routines” which includes loading up on vitamin C, zinc and Manuka honey in the days before I travel. If these long flights mess me up, how does a tall, overweight, unhealthy dude manage?!

Long flights knock me about and as much as I look forward to getting to the destination, I dread the long flight. I am concerned that air travel might become even more unpleasant in the post Covid-19 era.

Air fares may jump as fewer passengers can fly on each plane due to social distancing. All things being equal, fewer passengers means ticket prices have to go up. By how much, no-one knows. Increases of 50% or more have been banded about, not a trivial amount.

The average airfare I have paid on Thai Airways in recent years is $NZ1,100. A 50% increase would be another $550, making the fare $NZ 1,650 (about 33,000 Thai baht). I could rationalise that if the price of hotel rooms drop, as I expect they will. But if hotel rates don’t drop? Hmm….that’s a lot to pay just to get to Thailand.

To prevent the spread of Covid-19, many aviation commentators predict facemasks will become compulsory on flights. I have never worn a facemask in my life. I just don’t like the idea of wearing a mask, especially when the jury is out on whether they protect you from Covid-19 or not. I could put up with wearing a facemask if it was compulsory.

One thing I wouldn’t accept is the mooted change to the rules regarding carry-on luggage. Some commentators say the carry-on limit might be reduced to just 3 kg. Others say carry-on might not be allowed at all. That would be a big problem.

Thai Airways has always had a very relaxed attitude towards carry-on. A couple of bags in economy has never been a problem. I have a laptop bag with my laptop, iPad, various documents, pens, chargers etc. and another with all my camera gear. It has never been an issue on Thai.

As a keen photographer, not being able to take my gear on a flight means travelling without my camera gear. That might just be a deal breaker. Having seen the way luggage is handled at airports, no way would I check any of that gear in.

There has been some out-there stuff talked about which could make international flying really unpleasant and you hope it is but speculation and nothing more.

Ryanair – admittedly, an airline I have never flown and almost certainly never will fly – has said passengers will have to ask for permission on flights to use the toilet. I guess there’s a good reason – so the loo can be cleaned between each passenger. It does rather remind you of being in class at school and asking for permission to leave the classroom and use the toilet.

Photos of air crew dressed in gear making them look like a doctor in an Ebola zone is really off-putting and would be a real mood killer. The air hostesses on Thai make the journey a little more bearable. If they were dressed like the Michelin Man I don’t think it would have quite the same effect!

What about all the crap you have to deal with before you even board the plane?

There has been talk that a blood test may be carried out at the airport before you get on a flight, or perhaps at your destination before you proceed to immigration control. I get it, BUT – and it’s a big BUT – with the numbers travelling it just doesn’t seem practical.

What is the atmosphere going to be like in the departure lounge? Will it feel like the waiting room of a cancer clinic where patients are waiting for their test results, wondering who has got it?

Flying is part of the trip. I would hate to see some of what is being talked about become the new normal.

There are limits to what some of us will put up with. If the impositions placed on passengers make the whole airport / flight experience truly unpleasant, sooner or later we’ll ask ourselves if it’s all really worth it.

I wonder when I’ll get back to Thailand. If airfares go up a little, I can live with that. If air hostesses look like the Michelin Man and we’re forced to wear masks, I can put up with that too. If blood tests are required and there are hours long waits for a negative result before you’re cleared to enter, I don’t know if I would risk it. (A false positive would be a nightmare.) If carry-on luggage isn’t allowed, forget it.

I really hope that air travel doesn’t start to feel like a trip to the dentist, something that costs a lot and can be anything from unpleasant to downright painful. I haven’t visited a dentist since 2005. I hope it isn’t that long until I visit Thailand again.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mystery-photo-95

Last week’s photo was taken of the riverfront promenade down at Paknam which is technically outside Bangkok, even if it is certainly within greater Bangkok. Only a few people got it right. This time we’re back in downtown Bangkok – but where?!


Nana Plaza
 

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

So many questions, so few answers.

When things return to normalcy, will Thailand be a destination of choice for North Americans? There will be a risk when international travel returns to ‘normal’. There are no direct flights to Thailand from North America. Taking two international flights is double the risk, in my book. I love Thailand but my two trips a year are now on hold. The Philippines has direct flights from LA, Toronto and NYC offering a safer (and quicker) alternative. People who still have a job can’t afford the risk of not making it back home after their vacation. The risk of losing your job and reduced income will keep vacations local, and the spending down. Thailand still has next year’s peak season, unless the virus makes a comeback. It will be interesting to compare visitor numbers when it’s all over. Will the Chinese flock back like they did before? Will they be welcomed with open arms? Will budget airlines survive? Too many uncertainties, not enough answers.

Can’t wait to get back to Thailand.

I can tell you when my next trip to Thailand will be – 2 days after Thailand tells me it’s okay to travel there! I’ve already emailed Majestic Suites. Welcome Khun ….. we plan on opening in July we look forward to seeing you. I’ve worked for an international airline and it will be as safe to fly as going to a restaurant. The cleaning process is / will be upgraded exponentially.

What happened in Korea is a worry.

South Korea has experienced some success in controlling the virus. But apparently there was a recent outbreak of coronavirus cases because someone who was infected visited a nightclub in Seoul and others were infected. Once the authorities determined the source — I believe through contact tracing — this incident led to the closure of all bars, pubs, and entertainment venues in the city. So those places are back to square one. One can easily see this type of situation developing in Bangkok and creating an even more daunting scenario to first get and then keep, clubs open. Despite the possibility of initial low air fares, it’s difficult to envision traveling to Bangkok (from the US) next winter if I have to self-quarantine for 14 days or if there are no entertainment venues open. What’s the point? The fun factor is gone.

Thermae not universally loved.

Been to Thermae once and I hated it. No vibe. 100% meat market. In a gogo bar there is a party atmosphere. It’s a totally different environment.

An ode to Cosmos.

Sad to hear of the passing of Cosmos in Patpong. I’ve been an on-and-off regular. The timing indicates Covid-19 was responsible but that’s only partly true. Like everywhere, business had slowed to the point where, on one recent occasion, I remember being the only customer at 7pm on a Friday! Cosmos was unique in at least one respect – it welcomed a mix of both Thai and expat businessmen in equal measure and on equal terms. I know of no other venue in Bangkok which has even attempted that, let alone succeeded. Venues in Bangkok are one or the other – you can go in but you’re likely to be greeted with mild suspicion more than a smile. Expats commonly express regret that even after many years in Thailand they still have few Thai male friends. I don’t know how far back Cosmos goes but it seemed a relic of the past that somehow managed to keep the party alive. Others in Patpong haven’t. So long, Cosmos. You will play an outsized role in my memories.

Be careful who you share a cab with.

I remember in the ‘80s standing in the Nana Hotel reception with a friend from back home. We were having a problem getting a taxi to take us to Pattaya when an unsavoury guy standing near us offered to share his taxi. Just like you, we had never shared a taxi with a stranger before. The guy seemed okay on the journey but we never did meet up with him later on as we had become wary of him. He kept on talking about military stuff and that was definitely not what we were in to. We carried on with our holiday and didn’t think about him again. Back in the UK a few weeks later, I was watching a programme on Channel 4 about mercenaries and a picture of this guy was shown. Apparently, he was wanted in the UK as he had committed atrocities in Indochina. We had a lucky escape that day!


Demonia Bangkok
 

Things started to open up in Thailand this week with the curfew hours reduced by an hour and are now just 11 PM until 4 AM. Shopping malls can open from today. However, the travel ban has been extended another month so there are no regular passenger flights in or out of Thailand until at least the end of June. If you feel disappointed about this because you cannot visit Thailand, spare a thought for the many Thais stranded abroad who cannot get home.

The team behind Shenanigans are opening a new Irish Bar in Phrakhanong called PJ O’Brien’s in the spot that was the very short-lived Strykes bar on Sukhumvit Road.

One of the rumours heard over and over again is that the Biergarten on Sukhumvit soi 7 is to close. This rumour is doing the rounds again. I am reluctant to even mention it because we have heard this so many times before and I feel like a fool for mentioning it when it has been said so many times before. The thing is, this time it really could be for real. Business was lousy before it closed and Covid-19 has shattered what little confidence many bar owners had left. What a sad way it would be for the Biergarten to end, with no chance of a goodbye and no closing down party. Most who have been around the Bangkok bar scene for a while will have memories from Biergarten, and a closing down party would have been a great way to say goodbye. It hardly seems fitting that the Biergarten might never open again….so let’s hope this is but a rumour.

And there is more terrible news from Sukhumvit soi 7 this week with reports that two ladies who worked out of the Biergarten succumbing to the complications of Covid-19. The funeral for one was held this week and in photos supplied of her, she looked young. Sad.

With much speculation about the future of chrome pole bars and the industry generally comes word of another closure at Patpong. The very long-running hostess bar on soi 2, Cosmos, will not reopen. It had been on the market for years. This week long-time operator Vinai finally handed in the keys.

It is not known if Glamour on Patpong soi 2 will reopen after this ad for the bar appeared on Craigslist: Bangkok gogo bar for sale. The asking price is 5,500,000 baht. I only stopped by Glamour a couple of times, but I thought it was particularly good and a touch above most other bars. It’s a real shame the owners are looking to get out as they knew what they were doing. One can’t imagine a worse time to sell! For anyone willing to take a punt, I’d simply offer to take the lease over with no $$ changing hands. If the owner insisted on payment, offer to pay for the book value of the stock.

I note another two gogo bars in Bangkok are listed for sale on Craigslist, one in Nana Plaza and the other in Patpong soi 2. Each has an asking price of 2,000,000 baht. It would appear that they are XXX Lounge and London Calling.

And strong rumours have it that the operators of legendary Patpong soi 1 gogo bar Superstar are on the verge of giving it up.

With Cosmos in Patpong 2 closed i.e. finished forever, Glamour for sale, XXX Lounge closed and The Strip a shadow of its former self, the vibe of Patpong soi 2 will surely change. Empty spaces won’t remain vacant forever and one wonders if Patpong soi 2 will become predominately a soi of gay bars. A number of gay bars have relocated from the old Soi Twilight to the Suriwong Road end of Patpong soi 2. Could more gay bars open up at the Silom Road end of Patpong soi 2? In a relatively short space of time Patpong 2 could become, unofficially at least, a gay soi.

There is one bit of good news from Patpong this week. The Patpong Museum reopens today and the new opening hours are 11:00 AM – 8:00 PM, daily. While the entrance fee remains 350 baht, you can bring a friend with you who gets in free of charge, so it’s essentially “buy one, get one free”.

 

patpong-museum-covid-19

 

Two bars most certainly not for sale are Billboard and Butterflies. During the down time the owners have spruced up the bars and invested in websites for the respective bars – and they look great. There are plans to add to the content of the sites with more photo galleries, both of the current crew as well as some from the past with photos taken by yours truly. Check them out at : Butterflies and Billboard.

It appears there are more than a few places taking their chances and selling booze on the sly. One soi 22 establishment was shut down by police on Friday having been open for at least a week selling beer and babes.

Could contact tracing become a thing in Bangkok bars when they reopen? Contact tracing has some regulars concerned – and why wouldn’t they be. What happens if someone tests positive for Covid-19 in a bar you have been in? You are, apparently, able to get tested for Covid-19 free – which is a good thing. Do you have to self-isolate until you get the result? When you enter a venue you may be required to leave your details so the authorities contact you if someone in the bar tests positive. How seriously will this managed by bar staff, I wonder.

The new Texas Chicken branch mentioned in last week’s column opened on Silom Road this past Thursday. Texas Chicken is known in the USA as Church’s Chicken, but has been rebranded in Asia. I am told that Texas Chicken has actually been established in South-East Asia for a few years already with a branch at Changi Airport amongst other places.

 

gai-texas

Digging their grave with their teeth at Texas Chicken.

 

I heard again this week from some restaurateurs in Bangkok that delivery orders are great, while dine in is anything but. It seems like people just do not want to eat out in restaurants right now, even if it feels like things are picking up with more people out and about generally.

I know some aren’t keen to eat out because of the alcohol ban but do note that some restaurants are serving diners a very stiff coffee with their meal – and some diners obviously aren’t concerned about not being able to get any sleep as they order coffee after coffee after coffee…..well in to the night. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink.

It feels like there have been more news reports of suicide in Thailand than usual over the past few weeks. In some particularly sad cases, some left a note saying they ended their life was because they didn’t get the 5,000 baht payout from the government they had expected as part as part of the compensation / assistance package for those suffering through Covid-19. OK, so there’s probably more to it than that, but it is a reminder of how 5,000 baht – which is what some guys happily hand over to a lady of the night for services rendered – is still a lot of money to many people in Thailand.

What’s happening with online dating in Thailand at the moment? I’m not talking about money girls, but about actual dating on whatever the popular apps / websites are these days. Has it ground to a halt due to Covid-19 or has it, as I suspect, largely continued as per normal? Enquiring minds would like to know.

 

vitamin-iv-booster

 

Quote of the week is a hoot, “These days I carry a ball-gown around with me when visiting Bangkok just in case I’m stopped by the boys in brown and asked to provide proof of a dress.”

Chatuchak’s Playground Flea Market sounds like it is worth a visit.

Survivors of Covid-19 are being told to refrain from sex for 30 days.

Thailand’s booze policy in lockdown has the public confused.

The ban on flights in and out of Thailand is extended until the end of June.

A foreigner in Bangkok is caught stealing food….but there is a twist!

Cosmos in Patpong is the latest casualty in the bar industry of Covid-19.

A Spaniard stabs a Chilean to death down on Koh Phangnan.

 

chicken-korma

Chicken korma, I rushed to the local curry house for my first post-lockdown meal.

This week the lock-down ended in New Zealand as shops, cafes, restaurants and most businesses reopened. Bars can reopen this coming week. Things are opening up in Thailand too. Restaurants have been open for dine in for more than a week and shopping malls reopen today. Bars cannot open yet but I imagine it won’t be that long before red-light bars get the green light. How long? One imagines it’s a matter of weeks. Pure speculation on my part but given there are so few active cases of Covid-19 in Thailand, there seems little reason to keep bars closed for much longer. A semblance of normality is returning that will be welcomed by expats who like to venture out after dark.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]