Stickman's Weekly Column July 5th, 2020

Two-Week Millionaires Needed!



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok

Thailand’s borders effectively remain closed. Those of us who want to visit the country cannot. Foreigners resident in Thailand can fly out, but may not be able to get back in. The bars reopened this week but trade wasn’t great. Bar owners are desperate for the return of the 2-week millionaires.

Thailand has eradicated the virus. The only people with the virus in Thailand today contracted it abroad, tested positive for the virus in quarantine and have been sent to hospital where they will remain until they have recovered. The system works well keeping the virus out. The problem is it also keeps tourists out.

Thailand’s tourism industry is huge, estimated at somewhere between 8% and 16% of GDP. (We’re talking Thailand hence it’s not that precise!) As keen as Thailand is for tourists to return, it does not want the virus to return.

When will foreign visitors be able to return to Thailand?

The borders could be opened up and foreigners willing to go in to quarantine allowed in. But few are willing to go through 14 days in quarantine at their own expense.

A vaccine has been talked about but will a safe, effective vaccine ever be produced? And if so, when? How long will it take to produce 7 billion doses? How long to distribute it? How long to administer it? Will it be effective? Will it be safe? Would you trust a vaccine that has been rushed to market? There are so many questions when it comes to a vaccine – and no guarantee one will ever come.

Travel bubbles looked like a great solution, especially for us here in New Zealand. We have eradicated the virus and could form travel bubbles with other countries which have also eradicated it such as Thailand. Both countries have eradicated the virus and both countries have the military controlling those in quarantine. It’s a perfect match….but I don’t think it will happen any time soon.

New Zealand’s preference is for a travel bubble with Australia. But that has been delayed after an outbreak of the virus in the Australian state of Victoria. Allegedly, a security guard at a quarantine facility allowed family members to visit people in quarantine, and he also allegedly had sex with two females in quarantine. The virus spread and there were more than 100 new cases in Melbourne yesterday where entire suburbs have been placed in lock-down. All it took was one randy Aussie to have put a possible travel bubble back by months.

The dream scenario would be if the virus just died out. One day you read an article where a doctor suggests this is happening; the next day you read an article saying that the virus has mutated and is more virulent than ever. As a layman all I see is the virus raging in various hotspots around the world and things – in terms of the total number worldwide – seem to be getting worse.

So how can visitors keen to visit Thailand get back? What about a series of tests both before departure and on arrival, not that dis-similar to what Cambodia has in place? That seems like a plan that would work.

Imagine if you had to take a Covid-19 test a couple of days before departure with the results automatically forwarded to the airline and the destination country. Assuming you test negative, you then get tested again on arrival at the airport in Bangkok where you wait for the results. Assuming you test negative again, you can enter Thailand and enjoy a holiday. It sounds simple and it is simple. Even if each test cost say $US100, that’s going to add $400 total to your airfare – assuming the country you’re returning to / your homeland also introduced a similar system.

Would it require all that much work to set up a lab and a holding area at airports where arrivals get tested? This is already happening at an airport in Germany and test results are available within 3 hours.

Ok, so it’s not fool-proof. Someone could test negative before departure and negative on arrival but still be carrying the virus. And no laboratory could process tests fast enough to cope with even a small percentage of Thailand’s usual international daily arrivals. It would mean a very limited capacity. But it would be a start.

Perhaps in time a highly accurate quick test which gives rapid results like say a pregnancy test will be developed and could be used without the need to send a sample to a lab. Tourism is such a big part of the global economy that a creative solution is needed. Tourism accounts for so many businesses in so many countries and these businesses will die if people can’t travel. And if enough businesses die, people will suffer…and some people will die too.

At some point even those countries terrified of the virus returning will face such pressing economic issues that they are going to be forced to reopen their borders.

The bars may have reopened this week, but as long as the border remains effectively closed to visitors, the bars will struggle. Thailand’s bar industry and the tourism industry at large desperately needs the two-week millionaires to return.


Billboard Bangkok
 

Mystery Photo

mysterypic103

Last week’s photo was taken of the branch of Starbucks at the Ramkhamhaeng station of the Airport Link station, basically across the road from the Nasa Vegas Hotel which in the old days was consistently the cheapest hotel listed on any online booking engines aside from rooms in Khao San Road. Only a few of you got it right. This week’s photo was taken this past Wednesday by my old partner in crime, the Dirty Doctor.


Nana Plaza
 

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

Will the girls be back?

Things are looking bleak for the Thai nightlife industry, with very few customers in sight for what could be months to come. Even when tourists are able to return, will they have the money and will to do so? The industry has struggled for some years due to much higher and often unrealistic prices and a general turndown in attitude by bar staff of all kinds. Now, this long closure could well be the final nail in its coffin. In recent times the girls have increasingly been turning to social media to meet ‘friends’, rather than spend many mind-numbing hours dancing in the bars hoping to catch someone’s eye. With bars closed, they have been forced to turn exclusively to their phones to find company, and one wonders how many will now return to the bars even when they are allowed to.

ArtBox review.

I visited ArtBox for the first time on Friday and I was stunned. It reminded me of an open-air version of the Biergarten from the 1990s. I haven’t seen so many attractive women in one place since…probably never. I was surprised at just how busy it was. It wasn’t packed but it was livelier than I imagined given Covid-19 and the relative quiet of the surrounding area. There were many legit couples having a perfectly respectable “dinner and a browse”. However, I strongly suspect that a third to a half of the younger women were there with short-time dates who I suspect were procured online. There were several groups of 2 – 3 dateless women hanging about at the seating area in front of the stage. To me, they had the look of someone who in another era would probably have been shuffling on a stage. This experience was the starkest manifestation of the modern era versus the past. These women were much more attractive and had more ‘spark’ than the dregs found in today’s bar scene. I suspect these are the ones who discovered their full value was better appreciated on the various online dating apps. For those who still moan about the lack of attractive women in the bars, the truth is they never went away – we simply stayed while they went elsewhere!

Where my 2020 travel budget went.

If it were not for Covid-19, we would have left New Zealand for Australia, then cherry blossoms in Japan, followed by a month in Thailand, a trip to see my daughter in Sydney, and then back to Thailand. Likely cost ~$17K. Instead, we came home to Singapore, I got a lung infection, became a Covid-19 suspect (was tested negative) and got a ~$17K hospital bill instead. Just love the year 2020.

Where to spend the travel budget.

With the money I’m saving by not traveling to the US, I’m fixing up my condo. When my sons were with me here in Pattaya for their summer vacation, I rented a room in this building from a friend. He made his condo so nice that I realized how crappy mine had become. I bought my condo and made it really nice, but that was 17 years ago! So tomorrow I’m putting in new inverter air-con units, ceiling fans, an induction stove top and a stove fan. I’ll replace my refrigerator, toilets and possibly the doors to the outside hallway. Even without travel restrictions I’d be doing all this anyway. It’s just nice to be able to fit this in to my self-imposed yearly budget.

All I want to do is visit Dad!

I was toying with visiting my father in Cambodia until I discovered the travel itinerary would be a nightmare. I would have to travel from Sydney to Auckland (as the Australian government probably wouldn’t give me permission to fly to Thailand), spend two weeks quarantine in Auckland and then fly to Singapore on Singapore Airlines. Transit there and then fly to Korea. From Korea, I would fly to Phnom Penh and go in to quarantine again for two weeks and be forced to deposit USD$3,000 for a hospital stay which would not be refunded if anyone on the flight had a positive Covid test. Then for the return flight, fly to Korea, then Singapore and Auckland again in the hopes of getting a trans-Tasman flight back to Sydney and going in to quarantine again. With these restrictions in place I’ll be the first in line for a vaccine.

Casualties of Covid-19.

On social media I see highly qualified former GMs of resorts in Thailand making pitches. They’ve settled in Thailand and perhaps started a family, not ever considering they may end up in this position. There are no favours from Immigration if you’re married with kids here. If you can’t prove your income stream, Thailand shows zero compassion when it comes to keeping families together. I’m seeing GM positions now advertised to local candidates for around 20% of the salary a qualified and experienced foreigner could once command. There are clear and obvious pitfalls in employing individuals who don’t possess the skills to be a GM. It appears employers are using the situation to cut back on staffing costs. It’s all well and good shedding your highest earners but if you’re going to replace them with unqualified, low-skilled staff the reputation of your business could nose dive.


Spankys Nana Plaza Bangkok
 

 

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The Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7, Wednesday night.

 

Wednesday was the day bar owners and bar staff had been waiting months for as the longest shutdown in the history of Bangkok’s bar industry ended, and bars were allowed to reopen. But not everywhere has reopened. Across Patpong, Nana and Cowboy, less than half the bars chose to reopen.

The Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7 reopened on Wednesday night but the owners must be wondering if it was all worth the effort. There were plenty of staff, hardly any girls and just a couple of customers.

It was slow going at Soi Cowboy with a small number of bars opening. Those that did were a shadow of their former selves with few staff and even fewer customers. You know it’s just not happening at Soi Cowboy when the cops who perch at either end of the soi didn’t even bother to show up on opening night.

Baccara and Suzie Wong did their best to operate in a manner in which punters are accustomed. Suzie Wong was quiet. Baccara on the other hand was roaring with little difference to how things were pre-Covid-19.

Tilac was open – at least the outside section of the bar was. You could walk through the bar proper to use the toilets but nothing was going on inside. For now, Tilac the gogo bar has become Tilac the beer bar. It seemed to be only service staff and on the night my pal dropped by not one of the gogo troop were about.

 

tilac-covid19-reopening

Few lights on and few customers about. Soi Cowboy was described as depressing the night it reopened.

 

Tilac has seized the opportunity to adjust its drinks prices and in Bangkok that means one thing – onwards and upwards! A standard bottle of local beer like Chang, Singha or Leo will now set you back what I think is a rather steep 190 baht. Jack Daniels is 195 baht and for teetotallers, soft drinks run 160 baht. Interesting time to put prices up, especially when there have been comments that over the past couple of weeks the pubs doing well were those with reasonable drinks prices.

Outside Dollhouse, two girls perched on stools, sipped drinks and kept an eye on the soi. Dollhouse has yet to open which isn’t helped with the American manager stuck in the States and unable to get back to Thailand any time soon.

Word out of two bars on Cowboy is that they felt the pressured to reopen, lest their girls look for work elsewhere if they didn’t reopen.

My intrepid correspondent and my long-time partner in crime, the Dirty Doctor spent time on Soi Cowboy on opening night and said there was an air of nervousness . Not desperation, but nervousness. Girls and mamasans alike were unsure about what was ok and what wasn’t. The vibe was off, according to my pal, and it just wasn’t fun. He felt opening night was very much for the die-hards. He’s going to revisit again this coming Friday – hopefully more bars will have opened and the vibe improved.

After 3½ months in darkness, the consensus was that the grand reopening of Soi Cowboy was flat. That it was raining didn’t help. In a meeting of Soi Cowboy bar operators held last weekend, some bar operators indicated they would wait until after the long weekend to reopen. Expect more bars to reopen this coming Tuesday, July 7th.

 

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Nana Plaza reopened this week.

 

The first night back in Nana Plaza saw a good few bars making a real effort to get the party going again. Those who visited Cowboy said the vibe at Nana was much more lively than it was down the road. Each of the 3 Rainbow bars that opened – Rainbows 2, 4, and 5 – had over 100 girls. There were 100+ girls in Twister BKK too. Spanky’s was to Nana what Baccara was to Cowboy – back in the groove and humming.

It’s musical chairs in the plaza where Straps has taken over Erotica while the owners of Erotica are taking over Playskool. All staff and dancers from Erotica will move to the new location downstairs. Erotica will remain all-girl under Straps ownership.

The transformation of what was the plaza’s oldest ladyboy bar, Casanova, in to a more modern girly bar is underway with the bar gutted and ready for the construction crew to begin work next week.

All the available bar spaces in Nana Plaza have been rented out except Rainbow 3 / Chilli which will be leased as one bar.

This coming Tuesday, some of the bars in Nana Plaza which have yet to open are expected to reopen. Angelwitch and Lollipop will open Wednesday. Billboard and Butterflies will reopen on Wednesday, July 15th.

Outside Nana Plaza, reports from the beer bars of Soi Nana were mixed. One of the Hillary bars did well while readers and friends tell me that the other beer bars which opened hardly had any customers at all. One large, big-name beer bar near the top of the soi had went long periods throughout the day without a single customer. The problem Soi Nana beer bars face is that part of the fun is perching at the railings and watching the comings and goings out on the soi – and that’s a problem right now because Soi Nana is dead. There’s hardly any foot traffic at all with most of the hotels on the soi still closed.

 

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Outside XXX Lounge, Patpong soi 2, Wednesday night

 

Over in Patpong things were very slow with few bars reopening. Opening night was a wash and even at 8 PM this past Friday night, Shenanigans was the only bar in Patpong with more than two customers. (8 PM might sound early but remember, bars must close by midnight so punters are going out earlier.)

Things in Bangkok’s oldest bar area haven’t been helped by a disagreement between The King’s Group – operator of some of the classic Patpong gogo bars like King’s Castle – and the landlords. The issue is rent and word is there have been threats to hand back the keys.

Across Patpong, many bars have collectively agreed to halve the day rates paid to girls. The new day rate for girls will be 500 baht and not 1,000 baht as it was before the virus came along.

PPE is being worn in the bar areas. Outside Black Pagoda, a welcome girl was wearing a full face-shield. I get it that the government insists bar staff take precautions, while at the same time insisting they wear face shields when Thailand has had no community transmission of Covid-19 in over a month is curious. Thailand boasts that the country is free of Covid-19 – the only known cases are those who contracted the virus abroad, flew in and are now in hospital. Is there really any need for face shields or face masks or social distancing when Thailand is essentially free of the virus?

Still at Black Pagoda, frosted glass has now made it impossible to see what is happening in the bar from street level….and I guess it means those inside don’t have such a great view looking out either.

Surrounded by darkness on the main Patpong soi, Madrid has a “We’re Open” sign on the door. Speaking of Madrid, don’t make the mistake I did of waiting 10 years before visiting. Madrid has decent food, a pleasant vibe and a heap of history.

 

madrid-bangkok-reopens

Madrid, Patpong soi 1, this week.

 

The Red Lion is the newest English pub on Sukhumvit, and finally opened its doors on Friday night. It was packed on opening night and first impressions were very positive. There are screens all around the bar to watch live sport and expats recognised many of the service staff from The Kiwi and The Royal Oak. I expect The Red Lion to cause waves with its very reasonably priced drinks. Bottles of Singha / Tiger / Tiger Light are just 70 baht. Bottles of Heineken / Asahi / San Miguel Light are just 75 baht. Pints of Singha and Tiger are 79 baht which has to be close to the lowest prices in town. These prices feel more like Bangkok in the late 1990s than 2020. The Red Lion is not far up Sukhumvit soi 13 from Margarita Storm on the corner of Sukhumvit Road.

For those who like to party and dance late in to the night, you’re going to have to wait a bit before nightclubs reopen. Midnight closing has essentially ruled out the reopening of nightclubs for the time being. Popular spots like Levels, Sugar and Insanity on Sukhumvit soi 11 are unlikely to open this month. It is hoped that midnight closing will be relaxed before too long at which point it may be worth their while to reopen. Of the 3 aforementioned clubs, expect Sugar to be the first to reopen.

On Sukhumvit soi 11 it’s not just nightclubs which have yet to reopen, even some of the big franchised outlets like Burger King and Taco Bell remain closed.

Bully’s Pub between Sukhumvit sois 2 and 4 will reopen this coming Wednesday, July 8th, with revised opening hours of 3:00 – 11:00 PM.

Expect many more bars to open this coming week. On the one hand it is welcomed, but on the other hand I can’t shake the feeling that it is going to spread a small number of customers even thinner.

Fetishists can resume toe-sucking, cross-dressing or whatever activities you enjoy at Demonia (Sukhumvit soi 33) and The Castle (Pattaya), both of which reopened this week. Two drinks are included in the entry fee as a welcome back special.

 

promo-bb2-july12

 

Down in Pattaya, Crystal Club on Soi LK Metro has confirmed that it will reopen this coming Friday, July 10. Customers will be given a free mask on entry.

In an unusual twist, management from one Soi LK Metro gogo bar has encouraged the girls to go on social media and invite Thais into the bar. Every bit of income counts.

Some bars reopened on Soi LK Metro this week but trade was described as dire. Alex, the long-time publican of The Rockhouse, did a walk-through of the bars open on Soi LK Metro and reported on the numbers in each bar. There were so few customers that those bars which did reopen must be wondering if it was worth their while.

Things were better on soi 6 where a small number of bars opened, but trade in those bars which did open was ok.

The gentleman’s clubs which opened apparently did ok too. Over the hill from Pattaya in Jomtien, Passion opened up on Wednesday and was well attended. One reader was quick to point out that Passion has taken the opportunity to increase prices with his favourite beer up from 95 baht to 120 baht. Gentleman’s clubs are very much the domain of expats and if there is any one type of venue that should do ok, it is gentleman’s clubs.

More Soi LK Metro bars will reopen this coming week while most bars on Walking Street are expected to remain closed. It makes sense – LK Metro has become the area for expats whereas Walking Street is very much for tourists. Dire times for bar owners on Walking Street with no sign of light at the end of the tunnel.

 

crystal-club-pattaya-reopening

 

For the 3½  months (mid-March until end of June) that the bars weren’t allowed to open, many negotiated a revised rental agreement with their landlord. In most cases the deal was that as soon as they reopen, rent goes back to what it was before the virus. Some bars worry about reopening, and some have chosen to refrain from reopening, because they aren’t confident that trade will be sufficient to cover the full rent. And it’s not just rent; there are other / off the books expenses that all bars pay. It’s a headache for bar owners trying to decide when to reopen.

Last week’s column featured a reader’s email which mentioned lasses loitering at Artbox expected 3K baht for a good time. A few readers commented, with the general consensus that over the Covid lockdown period the going rate on ThaiFriendly and Tinder was 2K baht for home delivery.

Speaking of ArtBox, it went from busy last week to dead this past Thursday night. Did the crowds ditch ArtBox in favour of the bars which had reopened?

Finding available space on the main Sukhumvit Road between Nana and Asoke is like finding a hundred dollar note on the ground. For some business owners it would be like finding a large envelope of Benjamin Franklins. Vacant space on prime Sukhumvit has long been sought after – and such space is available now. The empty shophouse pictured below is between sois 10 and 12. Even at this time, I don’t expect it will stay vacant for long. On this note, there are quite a few for lease signs up on Sukhumvit soi 11 where various businesses have pulled the plug.

 

sukhumvit-road-free-space

Available space on the main Sukhumvit Road. Photo provided by a friend.

 

And I’d expect there will be even more vacant spaces with word that a few eateries popular with farangs have called it a day. Amongst them are the US Steakhouse on Sukhumvit soi 16, Cali Mex on soi 22 and GAIA, the nicely done out Italian eatery on the same sub-soi off soi 8 as The Kiwi.

Language schools have reopened and the owner of one mentioned to me that they had been inundated with enquiries from foreigners. It’s not that they actually want to learn a language, rather that they are keen to get an ED visa so they can stay in Thailand. Apparently more than a few foreigners in Thailand aren’t keen to go home due to worries about Covid 19 raging out of control in their homeland.

There are some fantastic discounts being offered by 5-star hotels in Thailand at this time and for those of you there on the ground, now is a chance to treat yourself. A regular reader stayed at Plaza Athenee for just 1500 baht / night this past weekend. The Mandarin Oriental, regarded in the very top tier of hotels worldwide, has a promotion at 18K baht with early check-in at 8 AM, check out the next day at 8 PM, and includes a bottle of champagne and 9,000 THB credit to use in the hotel.

If your budget doesn’t stretch that far, plenty of businesses are dropping prices, like the massage shop pictured below.

 

lotus-massage

 

Thailand’s borders still effectively remain closed for visitors, but they did open up to more foreigners this week including the spouses of Thai nationals and the spouses and family of work permit holders. But there remain two conspicuous groups who still cannot enter Thailand: retirement visa holders and Elite visa holders. The latter surprised me, given the significant outlay an Elite visa holder made buying the visa in the first place. If I had paid for an Elite visa (price is between 500,000 baht and 2,000,000 baht) and I couldn’t return, I’d be pretty hacked off.

According to a friend who I always grab an Indian buffet with when I am in town, the Sunday buffet brunch at Maya (top floor of Holiday Inn on Sukhumvit soi 22) blows the old favourite Indus out of the water. Maya is on my to-do list when I am back in town….whenever that may be.

On this note, it should be pointed out that the idea that buffets might become a casualty of Covid-19 and a thing of the past does not seem to be the case in Bangkok. Many venues still have a buffet although at this time some of the big hotels don’t.

Today is the last day of Bangkok’s best cinema, Scala in Siam Square. If I were in Bangkok right now, that’s where I’d be.

 

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Today is the very last day for Scala.

 

 

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Quote of the week comes from a reader, “Being in an age gap relationship is like going to the 7 Eleven, you are waiting at the checkout counter and she has her hands in the till.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Bangkok Byron, “P4P in Singapore“.

A new Facebook group provides support for expats in Thailand doing it tough.

It’s amazing how the lock-down has seriously improved Bangkok’s air quality.

The Bangkok Post said goodbye to the classic Scala cinema.

Police warn bar owners to obey the law.

Opening night at Nana Plaza this week was a blast!

O’Malley’s Irish Pub on Silom Road is back.

Video shows just how much clearer the air is in Bangkok between now and few months ago.

 

cowboy-covid-reopens

A Soi Cowboy beauty. The neon jungle reopened this past Wednesday.

What a difference a week makes. With nothing going on it was getting kind of difficult to fill the column with interesting material. Now that the bars have reopened and the entertainment industry has resumed, there is much more to write about. While it’s good news that things are opening up, getting back to anything remotely normal feels like it’s still a long time away. The worry is that even with things opening up, a few venues aside it remains very quiet. It had been suggested that punters who missed the bars over the last few months would rush out and for a week or two the bars would boom. That didn’t happen. Most bars that reopened this week could hardly be described as busy. How will things play out over the next few months?

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]