Stickman's Weekly Column January 10th, 2021

Bangkok Bloggers: Friendships, Rivalries & Destroyed Archives



Today there should be a good dozen or so websites chronicling the bar industry’s rich history. But there isn’t. Many Thailand nightlife websites that once had a strong following have been abandoned. Others have been removed from the Internet with little trace that they ever existed. What happened?

The bar industry had a following long before the Internet came along. But it was the Internet and websites about the nightlife industry that took things to the next level as those who stumbled on to such websites became excited about what they read and just had to visit Bangkok and see the bar industry first-hand.

As a long-time Bangkok blogger / columnist, there are few people I can talk shop with, other than those who run similar sites. Over the years I have met most of the people behind Thailand nightlife sites, some of whom I would become good friends with. But some of these people disappeared, just like their website.

In the late ‘90s a young Swiss guy totally enamoured with the bar scene ran a site called Joker. It didn’t last long but it was one of the first such websites and it had an almost cult-like following.

Joker’s website was like most sites back then with a basic design, lots of text and a few photos. Where Joker stood out from the crowd was recording himself talking with a microphone about his experiences with bargirls and posting those reports online. It was bizarre, this Teutonic Swiss guy with a very strong German accent and stilted English trying to contain his excitement about this new world he had discovered. He really was like an excited child. It sounds bizarre but his enthusiasm was infectious and it worked.

In person, Joker was ultra-shy and very concerned about his privacy, going so far as to wear a cap when out at night which was pulled down to cover parts of his face. He struck me more like a Cold War East European who had secrets galore and wouldn’t make eye contact. I remember wondering if he took that cap off when he had a girl back in his room. The Joker site didn’t last long and went offline a very long time ago which didn’t surprise me given how he craved privacy to the point of seeming almost paranoid. No-one knows whatever happened to Mr Joker.

Everyone got along with MekhongKurt, the friendly Texan who wrote about the comings and goings in Washington Square. Kurt chronicled life which was easy for him given that for a long time he lived there. Kurt passed away several years ago. Parts of his writings remain, even if some have become corrupted and don’t display as Kurt intended.

Another webmaster who passed away was Tim Randall, who wrote the excellent BaronBonk column, also known as Asia Bugle. Like Mekhong Kurt’s online presence known as “The Rounds”, there are remnants of Baron Bonk’s “Asia Bugle” out there. Tim struggled with the technical side of running a site and for periods his column was sent out by email and not posted to the web. Tim wrote about the bar industry off and on over a long period and the loss of those archives is more history gone.

Dean Barrett is better known for his works of fiction available in local bookstores than his writings about the bar scene. Dean’s Thailand website remains online but the archives of his column about bar life have been taken down, which is a real shame. Dean’s writings were a nice mix of news from the bars he frequented and stories of his own adventures.

All of us bloggers go off piste from time to time. For BaronBonk it was fine dining. For me it’s travel in New Zealand. For Dean Barrett, it was Muslim extremism. Whether some of his less than complimentary writings about Muslims had anything to do with much of the material being taken down from his site, I don’t know…but I imagine that it was. A shame, as his nightlife stuff was really good.

MangoSauce was hugely popular in the heyday of Bangkok nightlife websites. David wrote not just about the nightlife, but various topics of interest to expats. Written in a British tabloid style, reader numbers were very high. David stopped writing when Google cut him from the Google Ads program and he lost all of his advertising income. Unlike the rest of us, David didn’t do deals direct with bars, preferring the anonymity and convenience of an affiliate program.

MangoSauce remained online for a few years until either the hosting lapsed or, as I suspect, a decision was made to take it offline. A very private man, David maintained a low profile amongst expats. It’s several years since I spotted him anywhere in Bangkok and there’s not a trace of him online. I always thought preserving his anonymity was more important to him than keeping the site up for readers to stop by and enjoy the archives.

The Big Mango bar in Nana Plaza was a great place to hang out in the mid ’00s, and the bar had a website which gained in popularity when it started publishing contributions from readers. What struck me as a hobby bar, The Big Mango was known for its fantastic, super-cheap burgers and was a great place to start a night off in the plaza, or even hang out all night long. There was some good stuff on The Big Mango website but at the same time there often seemed to be a feud between the owners and someone, often another website, which detracted from things. The bar moved from the plaza to a sub-soi down Soi Nana, changed owners and then disappeared. The same happened to the website which is a shame as there was some quirky stuff on it. As an aside, every bar area is crying out for something like the original Big Mango Bar.

BangkokBadBoy was a contributor to Big Mango who had a short-lived blog in 2006. Written with genuine passion, it didn’t last long and was taken offline not long after it was created. It was a shame because it was well-written and unlike some of us who merely chronicled what was going on, BadBoy was out there actually doing it. He was living the life and he had passion to burn. I always thought he could have gone a long way with it. I would later learn that he was a real dark horse, that he had a lucrative job and running a website was something of a distraction. It’s a shame that he took it offline but like many, I got the feeling that he could see that in the future some of what he had written might come back to bite him so it was all better pushed off a cliff, so to speak.

There is a clear pattern where a website is built and over time gains popularity. The owner makes some money from it, perhaps even makes a living from it. And then something happens where things spill over in to real life and the owner makes the difficult to decision to kill it, and the website is gone forever.

While there are remnants of these websites out there and there are patchy versions of them at Internet archival websites like the Wayback Machine, it’s not the same as  viewing the site at its original domain name with it displaying as the creator intended it to be seen. It seems so sad that all of these records of the bar scene have been lost.

What will happen to this website and others that are still operating? In the case of Stickman, I no longer own it so whatever happens to it is entirely up to the owners.

It’s a real shame that so many Thailand websites no longer exist, and it’s especially disappointing that some website owners felt they had no option but to kill their website. So many venues, so many buildings and so many places with so many memories have disappeared from Bangkok. The loss of a dozen or so farang nightlife websites pales in comparison, but it still represents the loss of a small part of the expat community nonetheless. Some like to say that the Internet is forever but in the case of many Thailand-centric websites it most certainly is not.


 

Mystery Photo

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Last week’s photo was taken at the top of Soi Nana where the wall between the soi itself and the petrol station has had a fresh coat of paint. The photo was taken from Morning Night Bar, when it was still open. This week’s photo was taken recently – as in a couple of weeks ago – and that is the only clue I’m giving you!


Nana Plaza
 

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

Another year of Covid.

Covid isn’t going to end for a long time, if at all. Too much ignorance around, and in the modern world social media spreads ignorance like wildfire. There is far too much of how people want things to be rather than how they actually are. You can’t wish away a pandemic or end it by closing pubs at 10:00 PM instead of midnight. We go into a new year arguably in an even worse situation, the only positive being that vaccines have been produced in record time. I said a few months ago that I believed we are only at the beginning of this, and the mutations and surges seem to support that. Meanwhile, there are countless cases of people ignoring the rules, governments dithering, constant U-turns being made by many of those in charge, something like 50% of people saying they will not accept the vaccine. Let’s not fool ourselves, saying it’ll all work out in the end. We still have a very, very long way to go and we haven’t even started to make an impact against the virus yet. All we’ve done is try to control it, and that has been unsuccessful. At the very best, we’ve managed to contain it for a short period. Overcoming it is still a long way off, and might be impossible unless more people take it seriously.

Regulars putting things on hold.

I believe mass tourism won’t take off 100% until at least early 2022. It will take a good year for punters to regain confidence and get their finances together. Some may have found other places to go, not to mention the rise in airfares. No-one I know is planning a trip in the near future – and they are all regulars.

Wait and see.

I’m going to wait and see how the bar areas cope with Covid before hurrying back. I suppose I’m not getting any younger and my immune system is not getting any stronger. So why take an unnecessary risk? I mean I’m not that hard up…..am I?

I don’t want to be a lab rat.

I’m really getting tired of all these shutdowns. If people were dropping dead all over the place I could understand it, but almost everyone who is healthy survives. And if a vaccine is required to stay in the country I’m not sure what I’ll do as this is experimental technology rushed through to approval. I’d prefer not to be a lab rat.

From damage limitation to damaging liquidation.

With regards to the vaccine, I don’t reckon Thailand will get its ass in to gear until the second half of the year. They simply haven’t placed either enough orders or backed the right horses. I doubt critical mass of the Thai public will be reached by Q4 and therefore it will be 2022 before tourism returns. I think 2021 will be the year businesses go from damage limitation to damaging liquidation. In 2022, new businesses and ideas will come along and hopefully we can be optimistic about what follows. With all the talk of foreigners not being able to return to Thailand for their annual 2 weeks of whore-chasing, spare a thought for Thais throughout the world. 1 year without being able to visit family becomes 2.

Remaining incognito.

I am a very casual and infrequent participant in the bar scene with a family and business life outside of it, worlds away from it. The idea of my ugly mug ending up on a YouTube channel while relaxing in a bar for all to see is a deal-breaker. I will not step foot in any bar that has cameras rolling or has the potential for them to be rolling or a bar which allows people to use their cameras inside. I would imagine there are many people like me out there and a few switched on business owners will end up catering to us, banning all forms of cameras, live feeds etc. and doing well out of that business decision.

The confusing More Chana app.

I got the new Mor Chana app which has your picture and asks questions to evaluate your risk of infection (I am “very low” so have a green QR code). One of the questions in poorly written English asks: “Do you have an occupation that need to be closed to Foreigner(s) frequently?” I wonder what it says in Thai… The app allows you to see people who I guess might be “high-risk” nearby and I wonder what good that does. Someone sent me a message saying she “is near people with COVID” and I wondered what that was all about until I signed up for the app myself.

Different entry point, different policy.

It beggars belief that with all the efforts put into quarantine for those arriving by air to Bangkok, that on the other hand they can’t be bothered with the land border. It CAN be tightly monitored if they had the will to do so. But, hey, it is Thailand and Thai logic!

 

 

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From the archives, TQ, Beach Road, Pattaya, photo taken in better times, 2014.

 

 

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Tahitian Queen (TQ), on Beach Road, Pattaya, with the green roof, left side of the photo. This photo was taken late afternoon Monday, January 4th, the day its permanent closure was announced.

 

 

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Tahitian Queen, aka TQ, will be missed by many.

 

Which bar is the oldest and longest running gogo bar in all of Pattaya? Today, I don’t know the answer to that question. Until Monday of this past week, it was Tahitian Queen – also known as TQ. It was the oldest, until its permanent closure was announced this past week. TQ has operated on Beach Road between sois 12 and 13 since 1978 and has boasted being Pattaya’s oldest bar for what feels like, well, forever. It was the last remaining gogo bar on Beach Road. The closure of any long-running bar is sad but especially so in the case of TQ which even after all these years had a loyal following.

Up the road in Bangkok, on Monday evening all the staff were called to an urgent meeting at Corner Bar in Soi Cowboy where the owners announced they are considering closing for 3 months.

Live-streaming is associated with bars in Pattaya, but that’s not to say it’s confined to Sin City. In Patpong soi 2, XXX Lounge is doing live-streaming nightly, behind closed doors. With the bar closed and no customers around, it keeps the girls busy and gives them a chance to make some money from guys around the world willing to buy them drinks online.

Less than a stone’s throw away, the Patpong Museum will open just one day per week for the time being. For those expats who have yet to visit, Saturday is the day. Do stop by – the Patpong Museum is really excellent!

Shenanigans on Patpong soi 1 was one bar that could honestly boast it was doing genuinely well before Covid came along and fxxxed everything up. With things very much stop / start at the moment, Shenanigans will remain closed until things get back to a semblance of normality.

 

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Terminal 21, 7:30 PM Thursday evening.

 

Everyone commented how things were very quiet out and about in Bangkok this week with 99.9% of bars closed and restaurants open limited hours. Malls are open but it seems like most people are avoiding them. The photo above was taken by a reader in Terminal 21 at 7:30 PM, on Thursday.

So if 99.9% of bars are closed, where are the .1% that are open? I don’t wish to drop any bars in it but if you venture out after dark around one of the second-tier bar sois and look and listen closely, you should find the odd spot open. To the untrained eye they are not, so you might have to knock or even lift the shutters yourself.

And if you are craving a naughty, the same neighbourhood which has a number of massage houses along the main soi is the place to go. Walk very slowly along the soi after dark and you will be invited inside. Be it a beer or a rub-down, it is available.

It’s getting really tough for those in business. I received more emails from bar and restaurant bosses this past week than any other weeks since Covid broke out and some sounded desperate. Business owners are worried they could lose their business. That’s not just their livelihood, it might also mean their ability (in terms of money) and their permission (work permit and visa) to stay in Thailand. Some acknowledge they could be forced to leave Thailand and return to a country they haven’t lived in for many years with little money in their pocket, a country where Covid may be out of control. Making it worse is all the flip-flopping of recent weeks. Business owners are trying to be flexible, but things have just gotten ridiculous. Last week, Pattaya restaurants were told they could not allow diners to eat in and only takeaway was allowed. Following this announcement many venues closed and sent staff home when just hours later a new announcement was made and eateries could allow customers to dine in! Similar happened in Bangkok this week. On Monday, an announcement was made that all food outlets in Bangkok could only allow customers to dine in from 6 AM – 7 PM. Then late on Monday night the Prime Minister intervened and 7 PM became 9PM! All of this flip-flopping is doing business owners’ heads in.

Speaking of food, not for the first time during this pandemic, the operators of Nana Plaza distributed free food to those who work in the Sukhumvit entertainment industry. A massive amount of food was given out including over 1,000 food boxes, 30,000 eggs, 15,000 packs of noodles, 6,000 tins of food, 5,000 kg of rice, 1,000 bottles of cooking oil, baby powder and much more.

 

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Preparing to hand out food in Nana Plaza..

 

 

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Bags of food are given out on Thursday, in Nana Plaza.

 

 

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Showing off the goodies!

 

Bar owners have been doing it tough since March of last year. Desperate to get punters in the door and get some money coming in, many bars have 2 for 1 drink offers. Others have standard drinks priced at 90 or 100 baht, all night long. The yield per customer has dropped and some bars are looking at ways to increase it. In a meeting held in one big-name gogo bar just before the bars were ordered closed, staff were told to encourage punters to buy 2 lady drinks at a time, not “just” one. Requesting 2 lady drinks at once – or simply returning to the customer with 2 lady drinks when he had expected she would get one – has become an issue of contention for punters. Of course bars are in business to make money, as are the girls – but is this the way to do it? Some girls don’t encourage, they tell customers that it is mandatory to buy two lady drinks. This is not what the bar owner intended and this seldom goes down well. Treat customers well and offer a good experience in the bar and they will stick about, and buy more drinks. The reason a customer leaves one bar to go to another is because he thinks the other bar might be better. If the bar is good then he’s much less likely to leave. Bars need to get back to the basics. This 2 lady drink idea is bad news and will backfire.

I was surprised to hear that booze booths – the carts which operate as street-side drinking spots – had become a fixture along lower Sukhumvit again over the last month or so. They were doing ok until everything was ordered closed again.

Some weeks I find myself running out of real estate in the column and I have to choose which photos to run and which photos to dump. With the bars closed since early last week, there’s some space this week for photos which didn’t make it. For those of you who are in to the third sex or women of the second variety as the formal Thai term literally translates, here’s a selection of ladyboys you can meat at Why Not Ladyboy when it reopens. Why Not Ladyboy (good name, don’t you think?) has moved to Soi Nana, just a little further down from the turning for soi 6. I know most of you aren’t in to ladyboys but there is a percentage of readers – maybe 2%, at a guess – who are.

 

why-not-ladyboy-bar

For all you ladyboy lovers, there’s lots of choice at Why Not Bar on Soi Nana.

 

Down in Pattaya, there have been all sorts of rumours about the Night Wish Group. Much of what has been said is nonsense. From the head honcho, since Covid broke out, the total number of staff employed by Night Wish has gone from 450 to fewer than 200. Until bars were ordered closed last week, 13 Night Wish bars were still open while 11 were closed (which they plan to reopen at some time in the future). The group has walked away from 5 bars. So, sure, it’s bad….but it’s not quite as bad as some made out.

Still in Pattaya, Koh Larn has pulled up the drawbridge and day-trippers aren’t welcome for the time being.

And I note it’s the same at Ko Chang which is essentially shutting itself off from the mainland for all but essential travel by locals and delivery of supplies.

While times might be tough for some businesses, don’t expect those which practice dual-pricing (where foreigners are charged more than Thais for exactly the same product or service) to change their ways. A Bangkok-based friend developed toothache while on Ko Samui. He visited 3 different dentists on the island, all of whom shamelessly practice dual-pricing. Not one of the dentists cared that he is a long-term, legally employed, tax-paying expat. The toothache wasn’t that bad so he waited until he returned to Bangkok to get treatment.

The former operator of The Strip has just published another e-book. It’s not Thailand-centric but he’s an old friend so I am giving it a mention here all the same: Stories of a Lifetime : A Collection of Fascinating True Tales.


 

From the ASQ Facebook groups (a reminder, ASQ stands for Alternative State Quarantine), there is confusion about just what those currently in quarantine in Bangkok will be able to do, and where they will be able to go, when their 14 days of quarantine has been completed. Will the negative Covid tests they have had in quarantine be sufficient to allow them to travel beyond Bangkok? This is a real concern for those who have a home / wife / kids in the provinces as many provinces require anyone coming from Bangkok to do 14 days isolation on arrival. What I find interesting is that in these ASQ Facebook groups there are new posts from people still planning to arrive in Thailand later this month. For those who have family and / or property in Thailand, I get it. But for those traveling as a tourist, I’d seriously think about putting things on hold!

I really miss a lot of the characters and the stories from the old days in Bangkok. You never knew what might happen next. One such character was Blackie who I mentioned in a recent column. Perhaps my favourite Blackie story goes back to one of those lazy Sunday afternoons 20 odd years ago when a few of us would hang out at Blackie’s large apartment on soi 26. Blackie was sitting in front of his computer, showing a couple of us photos of ladies he’d been with that week. “Aw, best blowjob ever!“, he said to the two of us who were standing behind him, looking over his shoulders at the computer screen. We turned to each other with a knowing look, neither of us with the heart to tell him what he obviously didn’t know – that she was very clearly a he!

 

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Quote of the week comes from a reader, “Many Thai-farang marriages are made in heaven, and so is thunder and lightning.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Orde, “Sometimes It Takes A Cassandra“.

Foreigners are amongst those caught in a major gambling den bust in Pattaya.

Restaurants are jittery at the new restrictions imposed on them.

With passenger numbers dwindling, expect some Bangkok bus services to be cut.

Restrictions on travel to stop the spread of Covid-19 mean you now need special permission to take a trip to Pattaya.

 

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Cowboy 2, Soi Cowboy, a few days before New Year. When will the bars be allowed to reopen?

 

A couple of weeks ago all the talk was about when visitors would be able to return to Thailand with no need to quarantine. Now it has shifted to when the bars will be able to open again. It’s coming up to two weeks since the bars were ordered shut and there are no indications yet as to when they will get the green light to reopen. This week saw some bars announce extended closures until visitors return, while others announced they were closing permanently. Businesses are going bust and stress levels amongst business owners are, I am told, at all-time highs. I really hope the bar industry gets some good news before the end of the month. At the same time, I’m not holding my breath.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : [email protected]