Stickman's Weekly Column January 3rd, 2021

2021, Another Year Of Covid



2020 may be behind us but the nightmare of Covid is far from over yet. Logic says that the year ahead will be better but that wouldn’t be hard, would it? Let’s put 2020 behind us and take a look at what 2021 might bring.

Covid will again be the story of the year. If the vaccines really do work as hoped, can be manufactured fast, and administered quickly, then with a bit of luck it should be game over for Covid. But the big question is, how long will it take and when can we get back to Thailand without the need for quarantine?

I wrote last week that I thought we should be able to get back to Thailand by late Q3 or early Q4 of this year. The latest outbreak in Thailand of Covid has me thinking that the timeline should be pushed out a little more. Perhaps it might be safer to simply say we will be able to start travelling to Thailand again before the end of 2021.

What about getting back to Thailand for those who refuse to be vaccinated? I won’t say “never”, but I think anyone not prepared to roll their sleeve up might find it very difficult. Thais trust medicine and trust their doctors, and they’re dumbfounded by anyone who is against the vaccine. Will it even be possible to get on an international flight without being vaccinated, post-pandemic?

Don’t snigger, smug expats. Before too long Thai Immigration will almost certainly require proof of Covid vaccination as a requirement when you go to extend your visa. And you just know that Thai hospitals are going to charge expats a pretty penny for it.

Will Thailand allow entry to vaccinated tourists before most Thais have themselves been vaccinated? That’s a tough, and very pertinent question – because it might be a long time before all Thais have received their jabs as manufacturers cannot make the vaccine fast enough.

According to the mainstream media, Thailand expects to receive 26 million vaccines (enough for 13 million people / less than 20% of the population) in May. When will enough vaccines arrive for the rest of the population to be vaccinated?

And when we are finally able to get back to Thailand, it isn’t going to be cheap. I expect airfares will shoot up due to light flight schedules and strong demand to travel. In my case, I can’t imagine I will be paying the usual $NZ1,100 – $1,200 (22,500 – 25,000 baht) to get back to Bangkok when flights resume. For several months at least, airfares will be considerably more expensive than they were pre-Covid. How much more? My best guess would be something like 50% – 75% higher.

But once you get to Thailand, some things should be cheaper. Fewer visitors should see hotel room rates come down. That 3,000 baht / night room should be more like 2,000 baht / night so what you lose on the airfare you should make up on the hotel.

What will we find when we get back?

Some of your favourite bars and restaurants will be history. Many businesses with a foreign customer base won’t make it. Some have closed already and plenty more will follow. Those venues which have a following amongst Thais, like Bourbon Street, should get through this.

For bars, it will be a mixed bag. British pubs seem to be faring ok. Naughty bars not so well.

As far as naughty bars go, not all bar areas will suffer the same.

In Patpong, don’t be surprised to see any bars which fail be replaced by a different type of business. A bar closes and a shop selling tourist trinkets opens in its place.

Patpong’s popularity has long been in decline. Those who favour Patpong for a night out tend to be expats who count their time in Bangkok not in years, but in decades. I’d hate to see Patpong deteriorate further as a bar area but the reality is that Patpong has fallen far behind Nana and Cowboy in popularity and the idea that Patpong will experience a renaissance is shared by few.

Soi Cowboy is a bit of a lottery and we wait with bated breath to see what happens to the 7 bars run by The Arab. If he manages to get through this and reopen (remember, his bars have been closed for 9 months and counting), it will only add to the legend of his bars. Regular bargoers would be delighted if Covid was the end of him, he exited the soi and all that space was freed up for new blood to enter the industry. But I don’t think that will happen. The Arab is the cockroach of the bar industry. I suspect that he will get through this.

Nana Plaza will ride Covid out. Firmly established as the premier bar area, any bars in the plaza that call it quits will be quickly snapped up. That’s exactly what happened when all bars were ordered closed back in April. A few Nana bars called it quits and there was a fight to secure the vacant spaces.

Over the coming months, more bar owners will call it quits. Some burned through their reserves last year and just don’t have the cash to sustain further monthly losses. That’s sad, but it means less competition for those venues that do stay open.

Expect the big bar groups to survive, and some of the smaller players to bow out.

Down the road in Pattaya, a recent quote of the week said it all, “Pattaya is fucked.” From all accounts it’s carnage down there with for rent and for lease signs all over town.

Many businesses in Pattaya have already called it a day. Plenty more will follow.

Expect more bars to relocate from Walking Street as operators look to lower rent areas like Soi Buakhao and Soi LK Metro. There will still be plenty of bars on Walking Street but what was once the bar industry’s ground zero will become even more family-friendly. Covid will just accelerate the transition.

More and more bars in Bangkok are offering discounted drinks – but will this cut-throat pricing backfire? For expats, 90 baht beers, or 2 for the price of 1 on full-priced drinks is the new normal. This creates a dilemma for bar owners because when they revert back to regular prices some expats will baulk, having become used to low prices. These low prices aren’t sustainable and at some point they will revert back to what they were pre-Covid. How will expats respond to that?

I do wonder if Covid will have an effect on punters who may be concerned about contracting Covid, even if they’ve been vaccinated. Remember the Hillary cluster in March last year? There was the biggest (known) cluster of Covid cases in a farang bar.

The bar industry is rife for the rapid spread of Covid and I think there will be some nervousness – even from those who have been vaccinated – who may hold off travelling for a while just to see how things play out.

Putting Covid aside for a moment, what else can we expect 2021 to bring?

Customers are concerned about being captured on video in bar areas, especially with this crazy cancel culture. Could a Bangkok bar area ban photography in the area completely? I don’t actually believe that this will happen, but neither would I be entirely surprised if it did. It would be an easy sell, “We care about our customers’ privacy and this is for your protection.”

There will be ongoing protests from the student movement, but I do get the feeling that they may not have the wherewithal to see it through. Some of the leaders have shown signs of fatigue and the authorities picking off the leaders one by one and charging them with all manner of crimes has seen things stutter somewhat. Momentum has been lost and this latest Covid outbreak hasn’t helped. It wouldn’t surprise me if things petered out.

Downtown Bangkok will continue to move upmarket. Post-Covid, more high-end restaurants and bars will open, and there will be many more 4- and 5-star hotels. Postcards of downtown Bangkok will make it look more like just another Asian metropolis with lots of tall buildings and neon.

The cost of living in Bangkok will rise much faster than the national rate of inflation. Foreigners with a modest income – say less than 50,000 baht / month – will look to relocate outside of Bangkok. (This is not to say you can’t have a pleasant life in Bangkok on this amount of money, more that such an amount goes further elsewhere.)

2021 should be better than 2020, but at the same time it feels like it will be another year dominated by Covid. A better year than 2020, yes, but not a great one.

 


 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken in the branch of Big C at Rajadamri, opposite Central World. Only four readers got it right. Was it really that difficult?! This week’s photo might look challenging but for regular readers of this column familiar with the neighbourhoods I write about, it shouldn’t be difficult.


 

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

Crazy bar bosses.

About Bangkok’s crazy bar bosses, I don’t know if you will remember this bloke who ran a bar in the plaza or not. It was not so much that he was mad, more that he was different. He called himself the Bangkokney. As I remember, his bar was on the second floor on the far right-hand side. The name of the bar? The Bangkokney. He spoke with a pidgin London accent and supported Millwall F.C. I was told he had never been to Britain, let alone South-East London. I found him to be a nice bloke but the way he spoke used to have me in fits! This was back in the early ’90s. I do believe there still is a bar by the same name somewhere in the Sukhumvit area.

Postcard from Sukhumvit.

I went to the newly opened Hillary 11 on Sukhumvit Soi 11. By 10 PM all the tables were full, mostly Thais and a few Farangs with their wives or girlfriends. So at least that venue in the Hillary Group is doing some trade. After the second set I was starting to shiver from the air-con, so I walked to Soi Cowboy. Very few punters around. I trekked back along Sukhumvit to Soi 7, past a scattering of freelancers. The Biergarten was completely deserted, but the soi 7 bar area was busyish with a lot of girls and a few punters. Unless the landlords slash rents, I can’t see many businesses surviving another 12 months. It is catastrophic. Many will be forced to close. The buildings will remain, and once tourists begin to arrive they can be quickly reopened again. The girls will come back.

The last supper.

I had planned on staying in but when I heard the bars might be closed I went out. Staff are just sunk emotionally. Heads hanging, smiles few and far between. Most staff went through whatever nest egg they had in the March – July period when bars were closed, so they have nothing to fall back on. They voiced fear of another lengthy closure, and they are probably correct in worrying about that. Clusters are popping up everywhere, and with New Year’s travel, it’s going to be spread far and wide. Some ladies have spent the last month or two giving out their LINE ID, just in case something like this happened. Any woman who sat with me and for whom I bought a drink, discreetly handed me a piece of paper with her LINE ID details. Of course all bars ostensibly prohibit ladies doing that, but must know every woman does it.

Worried in Pattaya.

This week is normally the biggest earner for the girls in the bars. There are kids and parents to support back in Isaan, but the girls are having a hard time just paying the rent and food for themselves. Behind the smiles and laughter, ask about their kids or their own life and there is real concern. This is not a happy place. “I don’t have money to buy a present for my son / daughter”, has cropped up a few times. Yes, it’s a good time to be in Pattaya, but not if you need to earn money from tourists. If they close the bars, I don’t know what that will lead to. Or better said, I don’t like to think about it.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in 2020.

Total cost of New Year’s Eve 2020 was 250 baht. Two take-aways cos restaurants were shut and three beers from 7 Eleven bought before 10 PM cos it shuts at that time. A novel experience which I hope will never be repeated.

Pattaya, same same.

For news from Pattaya….last week, this week, next week, next year, 10, 15, 20 years ago and to come, Beach Road is being dug up somewhere.

Cursing the arbitrary liquor ban.

Restaurateurs in Bangkok are cursing the latest alcohol ban. It seems not to serve any purpose. Supermarkets can sell alcohol, but restaurants can’t. It’s the same logic that allows people to ride with 50 strangers on the sky train, but need a plastic screen between diners when having dinner.

Another knee-jerk reaction.

Because of the recent resurgence of Covid-19 in several Thai provinces, the Thai authorities are not taking any chances. My wife and I, and four other couples went to Hua Hin for a 4-day Christmas / golf holiday. We all live in the central region. Upon returning home, we were informed by our respective kamnans (village chiefs) that we must self-quarantine for 14 days and inform the Thai Immigration offices of our whereabouts. Based on this latest knee-jerk reaction, Thailand opening to tourists in 2021 might be wishful thinking.

No ASQ for me.

It looks like ASQ in Thailand has less value when it turns out there is sudden outbreak and spread of Covid. Since so much Thai industry is in the black and they rely on getting things done quietly with tea money, I wonder how much untested transmission there is. And given how Uncle P tends to have a knee-jerk reaction and blame foreigners for many things, I get the impression that if this really flares up there is a risk of foreigners being told to leave. So I’m paddling back my previous comments about heading for ASQ in Thailand, and I’ll take a few weeks of darkness and rain here in Europe instead.

 

Girl Of The Week

Sky, 32, Erotica Playskool, Nana Plaza

Badge number #44, Sky hails from Buriram.
She likes playing mobile games, and listening to music.
She’s a great model, very natural and enjoys posing.

 

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sky-8

 

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Nana Plaza, late Tuesday night, just the beer garden open; all other bars were closed.

 

It’s been a right shit show in Thailand this week with bad news story after bad news story. The virus is back with a vengeance, spreading far and wide and with each new day came more bad news. At the time of writing, around 3/4 of the provinces in Thailand have reported Covid cases and with that, many businesses have been ordered shut.

On Monday the BMA (Bangkok Metropolitan Administration) ordered bars and pubs closed for a week. The next day, each of the 3 major bar areas had interpreted the closure order differently. Nana Plaza was closed except for the beer garden in the centre of the ground floor. On Soi Nana itself, Stumble Inn, Big Dogs and the outside bars, which ostensibly have restaurant licenses, were open. They could open as they serve food, but they had to close by midnight.

Just a kilometre down the road in Soi Cowboy – a different police district – it was total confusion. Some chrome pole bars were open and had dancers on stage, and it was very much business as normal. Other gogo bars had dancers present but there was no dancing. In bars without dancing, the dancers who turned up to work but were told they couldn’t dance weren’t at all happy seeing dancers in neighbouring bars on stage which attracted the few punters who had ventured out.

Come Wednesday and things changed again on Soi Cowboy as only venues with a food licence which could open. In the middle of the soi, Oasis brightened up the soi while The Corner on one end and Country Road at the other were also open. One chrome pole bar shirked the authorities’ orders and girls entertained men inside, without music or dancing. Is it crazy to push the rules at a time like this?

Across town in Patpong, XXX Lounge has a restaurant license and was open but there was no dancing. The Strip 2.0 was also open but again, no dancing. Also in Patpong soi 2, Bada Bing complied with the BMA order and was closed.

Metropolitan Police – a different branch to the Bangrak Police who oversee Patpong – showed up on Tuesday night and gave the King’s Group a bollocking after one of their bars was open.

Disappointing news from Patpong soi 2 this week where Glamour, a bar I genuinely enjoyed on each and every visit, has called it a day. The keys have been handed back to the landlord.

Legendary soi 7/1 house of fun Eden Club is closing in its current location. It will reopen in a new location when the airport reopens and tourists return.

Tiger Bar at the soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy is closing for a month due to – you guessed it – a lack of customers.

By the end of the week, various types of businesses had been ordered closed in Bangkok, amongst them bars and pubs. At the time of writing, restaurants and eateries have not been ordered closed. This is not a lockdown per se and neither is there a curfew nor any restriction on movement within Bangkok. Just how long bars and the wider entertainment industry will be closed isn’t known. I’d guess it’s likely to be a few weeks. Schools in Bangkok have been ordered closed until January 17th. Many businesses have asked staff to work from home. When businesses can resume normal operations all depends on how quickly the spread of Covid in the community can be brought to a stop.

 

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Walking Street, Pattaya, dead even before it was ordered closed.

 

Down in Pattaya, at the start of the week midnight closing was ordered for all bars and nightspots. Come Wednesday, just two days before New Year’s Eve, Pattaya business owners got the news they were dreading – all bars and pubs were ordered closed. Venues selling food could do takeaway only – and then the authorities flip-flopped and a day later they were told they could allow customers to dine in. Chonburi province has seen a spike in Covid cases and they are said to be centred in Banglamung district. Where’s that?, I hear you ask. Banglamung is the name of the administrative district that you and I know as Pattaya. In other words, Covid was spreading in Pattaya and the only way to get it under control was by shutting things down.

Bars in Pattaya had seen the writing on the wall and on Tuesday night – less than 24 hours before the closure order came through – many bars along Walking Street had reverted back to Covid precautions. Temperature checks were being taken at bars with an entrance. In some beer bars and bars with live music, hand sanitiser was made available and girls would come to the table as customers arrived and insist on recording customers’ name and telephone number. One wonders how many dead sports stars, celebrities or mates back home’s names were given.

Over in Phnom Penh, another popular Bangkok bar has had its name copied. Baccara is the name of the newest hostess bar in Phnom Penh. The owners will be hoping for better fortune than the last hostess bar that copied a successful Bangkok bar’s name. Tilac hostess bar in Phnom Penh was built without planning permission back around 2015 and was soon demolished.

 

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Sukhumvit soi 7/1, early evening and no-one is about.

 

It’s little surprise that there were few people wandering around lower Sukhumvit this week. As the number of Covid cases shot up and Thais became glued to the TV (or the Internet) at 11:30 AM each day when the daily Covid numbers are announced, many chose to stay home and only venture out when necessary. Even the perennially popular Terminal 21 was said to be deserted.

One bar which was doing well until this week and which I heard consistently good things about is Today @ Soi 8 Bar, the smallish bar near the start of Sukhumvit soi 8, next to Dee Money. Various businesses had come and gone from that location in recent years. Today @ Soi 8 Bar had been doing consistently well. In some ways, soi 8 is almost like the new soi 11. It may have a completely different vibe and it is not nearly as long but there’s a good vibe and a good choice of mid-range bars and eateries with open frontages out on to the soi – a format which is always popular. Despite no footpath per se, soi 8 has much less traffic and is more pedestrian-friendly than many sois on lower Sukhumvit. It’s a generalisation but I always thought soi 8 was good for early evenings and soi 11 the place for later at night.

Congratulations to Thailand travel blogger Richard Barrow who made the Queen’s Honours list this year. Richard was awarded the British Empire Medal for services to British nationals abroad. Richard has selflessly served the expat community for a very long time and the award was richly deserved.

 

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Wednesday, December 30th, 6:00 PM, Siam BTS station, usually one of the busiest places in all of Bangkok.

 

If, like me, you find yourself comparing the Covid numbers in Thailand with other countries, keep a couple of things in mind. For a country of its size (almost 70 million people), Thailand has carried out a relatively small number of Covid tests. To put this in perspective, New Zealand – a country of just 5 million – has carried out more Covid tests than Thailand (and New Zealand hasn’t carried out anywhere near as many tests per capita as most other Western countries). Another thing to consider in Thailand is that everyone who tests positive for Covid – be they symptomatic or otherwise – is hospitalised. This is something I find disturbing but that’s a whole other story.

The nightmare scenario I mooted in last week’s column where those in quarantine found themselves in a country where things were shutting down has come to pass. There must be a few thousand foreigners in ASQ (alternative state quarantine) in Thailand at present. Some are expats returning to be with their Thai wife and children. Some are employed in Thailand and are returning to work. No doubt, some are tourists willing to jump through all the hoops and return for the nightlife and no doubt some feel is a better bet because at the time they decided to go to Thailand it was free of Covid and life was largely normal. Unfortunately it all turned to shit this week. Spare a thought for those guys who went through all the hassle and expense of getting back to Thailand, only to find things aren’t much different to how they are back home.

 

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Pattaya soi 6 on Monday of this week, smiles all around. Little did they know what was coming…

 

 

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On Monday night, girls in a Tree Town bar, Pattaya, surround and salute a bellringer.

 

 

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Pattaya soi 6, early evening on New Year’s Eve, not a person to be seen.

 

 

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New Year’s Eve 2020 on Walking Street in Pattaya was like no other New Year’s Eve.

 

For me personally, the idea of spending two weeks in quarantine to be able to enter Thailand (or return to my homeland, as is required for us Kiwis) sounds like a nightmare. I couldn’t do it. I like to spend at least a couple of hours outside every day and in ASQ (Alternative State Quarantine) that is not possible. An ASQ group on Facebook shows that there are plenty of people willing to do the two weeks in ASQ required before you can freely travel in the country. One amusing anecdote is that there are people from one particular country who are looking for the cheapest possible ASQ option. Presently, the odd ASQ hotel package runs around 32,000 baht. Some folks from one particular country have enquired if they can opt to eat just once or twice a day instead of three times – and get a discount on ASQ. I’ll leave it up to you guess which country these folks come from.

It really sounds like ASQ has the potential to get really quite complicated – and that is a great shame given the huge effort that many have gone through to get there in the first place. The concern being expressed now in the ASQ groups is “When I get out, will I even be able to travel to the provinces?” Travel is not restricted – yet – but who’s to say that won’t happen? And the other question some are asking is, “When quarantine is finished and I travel to my home province, will I be forced to do another 15 days home quarantine there under local province rules?” It all sounds like a nightmare.

 

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Reader’s story of the week comes from Kloth, “Butcher, Baker, Builder“.

A teacher in provincial Thailand beats students in a dare to parents to report the abuse to the authorities.

Khao Sod looks at some of the long-running street food vendors in Bangkok.

The majority of staff in a Bangkok karaoke outlet test positive for Covid.

A Norwegian brute pays 30,000 baht to settle a case after he assaulted an innocent Thai lady in a supermarket who accidentally took his trolley.

 

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Earlier this week, girls wait for customers outside their bar on Soi Cowboy.

What a shit show things have turned out to be in Thailand this past week. What should be a happy time of year has turned out to be anything but. Welcome to 2021. Buckle yourself in. I suspect it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]