Stick Taking A Break
Bars and restaurants in Bangkok are closing and to use some Bangkok terminology, some for a short time, others for a long time. Some will never reopen. Almost every business in the farang sphere has seen income plummet as tourists can’t visit and most expats don’t venture out. I wasn’t surprised when the email came this week. The Covid situation has changed everything and it’s time for me to take a break. This will be the last Stickman weekly column for a while.
Explanation shouldn’t be necessary. Bars have been ordered closed. That means they have no need to advertise. No advertising means there isn’t any money in the pot to pay the person who writes the column. That’s me.
I am taking a break as we wait and see how things play out. It is hoped I’ll be back in a few months. Maybe it will be sooner. Maybe it won’t.
My involvement with the column is complicated. I can write what I wish and the owners don’t interfere. While I genuinely enjoy writing this column each week and I will miss not writing it, the time commitment is significant. This is no part-time gig and it’s just too time-consuming not to be paid for it.
The sad part with taking a break is the loss of momentum. I have been in a groove in recent months and despite not having set foot in Thailand in well over a year, I have had no problem coming up with opening pieces, and have developed a really good network to gather news and gossip. Feedback has been positive and reader numbers consistent. I have been doing this long enough to know that it takes a while to get back in to the groove after a break.
This is not the first time I’ve stopped writing this column. Last time, I said my goodbyes. That was supposed to be the end. That’s not the case this time. I think I’ll be back, I just don’t know when.
When I stopped writing in 2017, my previous partner was wrongly blamed for what was seen by some as the site’s / column’s demise. Please don’t direct any disappointment towards the current owners of the site. Their decision to press the pause button for a while is no different to what is happening in various industries all over the world. If you have to blame someone, blame Covid.
The site will still be here so you can go back and read the archives any time you wish. I will continue to work in the background and do all the maintenance tasks. I will continue to publish readers’ stories as they come in. If you wish to contact me, I will be here at the usual email address. I respond to all emails. But I will not be writing any new columns for a while unless something really big happens that I feel I just have to write about.
With a bit of luck this will all pass and I will be back soon.
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Last week’s photo was taken at Yong Lee, the old Chinese-style restaurant best known for duck, on the corner of Sukhumvit soi 15. It has been there since, I believe, 1911. This week’s photo features what has been a popular spot recently in downtown Bangkok.
Calling BS on high numbers of expats being in to ladyboys.
To the reader who suggests that 1/3 of expats are attracted to ladyboys, I call bullshit. I have seen this type of proclamation before. These people are into ladyboys and somehow feel compelled to project that attraction on to the rest of us to normalize it in their own mind, in order to somehow make it seem not gay. An assertion that often goes with that is that “we know we want to” (do ladyboys). No, we don’t. The projection is irritating. You like ladyboys? Knock yourself out. You be you. The real number of guys who like ladyboys is probably around 2%. If someone is in to ladyboys or is otherwise gay, that is perfectly fine by me. I wish them all the best. Just don’t project that on to the rest of us.
Why short-time hotels exist.
One incident originating in Heaven Above made me vow to avoid bringing girls back to my own hotel. It was a girl’s birthday and girls in the bar had given her a gigantic Teddy bear as a birthday present. We arrived at my hotel around midnight. A large Asian tour group was checking in and we had to wait in the lobby. All the other guests stared at the drunk 140-cm tall scantily-clad girl carrying a 100-cm tall stuffed toy. She had to show her ID card at reception and was asked about the duration of her visit. “How long is short time?“, was her loud and confident reply!
Moving condo may require a Covid test.
Regarding this week’s column, a Thai friend of mine is moving to a new condo today and she had to go for a Covid test before she was allowed to move in, so it’s not just foreigners who have to get a Covid test to a view a condo.
Pessimistic about tourism.
We’ve had the first wave, the second wave and now the flood wave. Get ready for the resistant wave. The conclusion I am coming to is that the days of easy and mass tourism are completely finished. Anybody who thinks mass tourism will continue is delusional. The purely hedonistic tourist tsunami, accounting for less than 5% of most economies, is incredibly destructive to the environment, and significantly increases the risk of viral pandemics that can repeatedly tank the broader economy. Borders are now closing more tightly, with even the US and UK closing in the last few days. Germany said it would close its border if their neighbours don’t get their shit together. With vaccine-resistant strains appearing, there is no way humans can keep up with the virus. So either we accept that and carry on as before, or severe restrictions on human travel will be indefinitely imposed. Governments will not take the laissez-faire route. There will be no more Full Moon parties with 10,000 drunken backpackers. No more bar booze tours. And there will be a lot of closed bars, and closed malls. I am now pretty much resigned to reducing my expectations of interesting international travel. COVID vaccines and testing plus quarantine will be universally required. Maybe long term tourism will continue, where multi-week in-country stays will be permitted. But weekend getaways or one-weekers to say Singapore will be unlikely. Give me a reason to be optimistic and get excited.
The case for the Philippines.
The Philippines is great! There are no visa hassles! You can still live in tropical, Southeast Asia and have bars and nightlife but you don’t have to spend the rest of your life doing bloody visa runs or border bounces and there’s no “reporting to immigration” like a criminal on parole. They don’t even have dual-pricing here. They actually seem to like affluent Westerners living in their country spending money, whereas Thailand hates our guts! Thailand is / was a brilliant vacation destination but you just cannot reside there as a foreigner. Friends of mine who claim to “live” in Thailand seem to spend most of their time in airports or the immigration office. À chacun son goût, but I think life’s too short for that bullshit. One friend in Ko Samui used to have to do day-trips from Ko Samui to Singapore to keep his Thai visa current. It’s mad! Only the maddest Thai-addict whoremonger would put up with such shabby treatment, and Thailand isn’t the only South-East Asian country with hookers! Thailand has been overplaying their hand for years and maybe the virus damage to their tourism industry will force a rethink and an easing up of the visa rules. Maybe it’s tolerable as long as you’re young and able-bodied but what about when you’re 80 and in a wheel chair? Will you do the full-day bus ride and overnight hotel with 5 AM wake-up call to take the long tail boat across the river to Kota Bahru, Malaysia? Not me! See ya, Thailand!
In Bangkok, restaurants got a reprieve this week and may now open through until 11 PM – it was previously 9 PM. However, they are still not officially allowed to serve alcohol. Bars, however, still don’t have permission to open.
In Chonburi province – which is where you will find Pattaya – bars and pubs can reopen from tomorrow, Monday, February 1st and the sale of alcohol is allowed. Social distancing must be practiced and all venues must close no later than 11 PM.
The big news from the bar industry this week comes from Pattaya where it’s the end for an entire beer bar area block. Bar operators in The Made In Thailand bar complex have been told that it will close, to clear out all their stuff and vacate the premises. Some say they were given 30 days’ notice, others say they were given short notice and everything needs to be out by the end of today. The Made In Thailand bar complex was one of the largest beer bar complexes in Pattaya, it may even be the biggest. If you’re not familiar with the area, it is located on Second Road, opposite the Bayview Hotel and has been around for years. On the few occasions I walked through, it felt like it went on forever with bar after bar after bar. That’s a lot of bars about to be wiped out, and a lot of livelihoods lost. Late note: Since I published the column a few hours earlier, I have since been informed by the owner of one bar in the complex that this closure may not be a done deal after all. I would follow up during the week and report back next week but I can’t as, obviously, there won’t be a column next week. So let’s put this in the unsure basket.
Back in Bangkok, Today @Soi8 Bar, the popular beer bar at the start of – you guessed it – soi 8, has dropped its happy hour. Where once a beer could be had for as little as 80 baht, now beer prices start at 125 baht. It has lost some regulars who objected to their bills being padded. Red Hog Bar, opposite Viva, has picked up some of the slack as has the new Bar 8 further up the soi.
Bar Bar, Patpong soi 2, will reopen this coming Monday at 5 PM. I am told that it will serve “real” fried eggs, together with “bottoms up” toast. Given the nature of the venue, that should be interesting. Bangkok’s favourite fetish house will have some new girls, a few of whom can be seen in the photo above. Bar Bar will only allow 5 customers on the premises at any given time to make sure Covid rules are followed.
A few doors along on Patpong soi 2, XXX has an increasingly popular online presence. You can tune in online from anywhere in the world to enjoy the fun and frivolities.
Still at Patpong, the Patpong Museum may move to a bigger and more prominent location. Talks are underway and while nothing is certain, one thing that is certain is that the Patpong Museum is here to stay. If you only take note of one thing I write in this column, do yourself a favour and visit the museum. I’ve said it before and I will say it again, it’s fantastic!
Since the beginning of last year the people behind the Patpong Museum have been working with a team of IT developers, game programmers, photographers and other creatives on project Cyberpong. They reckon this will be the next level of online entertainment for adults. It will launch in February, broadcasting from live locations into an animated, interactive and gamified platform full of direct live content, riddles, prizes and surprises. They tell me that when it arrives you can forget OnlyFans (which they had to explain to me is a paid site that girls sell content on.) Cyberpong sounds interesting.
Looking for vibrant naughty nightlife? Go south, a long way south! Nightlife central in Phuket is Soi Bangla where currently around 20 bars are open every night. At least two bars, Stereo 27 and Sweetie, have live bands. Pumpui Love has girls in short skirts dancing on the bar top. A few nightclubs are open including Illusion, Tai Pan and Sugar. Truth be told, while there are a few nightclubs which are open, most aren’t doing well either – but at least they’re open.
What about chrome pole bars? At least two Soi Bangla gogo bars are open – Suzy Wong’s and Nida’s. Topless dancers can be found in both and in the latter, some are bottomless. Cashiers and waitresses wear masks, dancers don’t. Suzy Wong’s has a decent line-up of dancers with around six dancing at any one time. This past Friday night there were around a dozen customers at one point in the night and customers could be mistaken for thinking it was almost business as usual.
Perhaps one reason why things are so slow down south in the likes of Krabi and Phuket is the inconsistent and unclear messaging of recent weeks about inter-provincial travel and whether it is “allowed,” whether quarantine is required for people travelling from elsewhere etc. At the time of writing, there aren’t any restrictions on travelling to Phuket.
On swanky Soi Thonglor, a friend walking by a new art gallery couldn’t help but notice the racy pictures below on the walls. A few days later they were still there. No sign that any effort had been made to cover them up. Even in Soi Thonglor you never know what you might see next!
Last week’s column featured a link to an article about a new high-end office tower going up on the corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 7, adjacent to the Nana skytrain station. In the immediate area – soi 7 and particularly soi 7/1 – feature many naughty bars. What effect will gentrification have on what is one of the sleaziest areas in town? Could this finally be the end of vendors selling sex toys openly on the street in the immediate area? Will working girls be so willing to parade the pavement if every other person walking by is a middle-class Thai who looks down their nose at them? Can the new soi 7 bar area survive with a giant office block right next door to it? (I cannot imagine long leases were signed in that space.) Of course, this is hardly anything new and there are plenty of places in Bangkok where flash office buildings have gone up next to notorious bar areas – Interchange going up right next to Soi Cowboy is a good example. The area between Nana and Asoke is seeing a lot of development. I can’t see this strip staying Farang Sleaze Central forever.
When I wrote about the long-gone Tom’s Quik Diner in last week’s column that Soi Nana was crying out for a 24-hour diner, I was serious. There is huge demand for such a place. Imagine if Took Lae Dee – the popular diner at many Foodland supermarkets – had a branch in Soi Nana, it would be busy 24/7! Wouldn’t it be nice if someone thought outside the box and tried something new rather than just opened up yet another beer bar of which there are plenty – I would say too many – already. Took Lae Dee – which translates as Cheap And Good – is the model to replicate.
Phil Hall has self-published an e-book titled Soi Dog Stories. All profits will go to the Dog Recure Centre in Rayong, Soi Dog Angels, run by Caroline Worthington. The book is a collection of stories written from a dog’s perspective. All of the stories are also translated into Thai so your Thai other half can enjoy it too. You can find it on Amazon.
Speaking of soi dogs and suffering, many of the girls in the bar industry are suffering with little or no income. Thais are survivors, especially Thais from difficult backgrounds (which is the majority of the girls in the bar industry). But Thais from the difficult backgrounds who have got used to the good life and then have to go back to the ghetto, so to speak…..hmmm, my observations are that they don’t cope so well.
With so many people out of work, you’d think that businesses in the hospitality industry would have no trouble finding staff at this time, right? Wrong! Friends in the industry tell me it is more difficult than ever to find good staff. I am told that it’s no problem getting people in for an interview, but many will leave literally hours after they start work, not even completing their first day! This past week a friend said to me, “You ask 10 business owners what’s the toughest thing about owning a restaurant in Thailand. Ten out of ten will say staff. Not nine out of ten. All ten will say staff.” It’s one of the very weird dynamics of doing business in Thailand.
Bangkok Byron is offering his latest novel, “The Ramakian Code”, as a free download from Amazon from today until Thursday, February 4th. All he asks in return is for you to write a review on Amazon.
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “It will be a great day in Thailand when morning village announcements are made by text, rather than blared over loudspeakers.”
Reader’s story of the week comes from Bangkok Byron, “A Thai Girl In Frankfurt“.
Thailand may reopen to visitors who have been vaccinated against Covid-19 without the need to quarantine.
A resurgence of Covid-19 in Thailand has made predicting tourism numbers difficult.
This video shows the massive transformation taking place at Benjakit Park.
Barry Kenyon suggests it could be the end of Walking Street as we know it.
89 foreigners were arrested at 360 Bar on Ko Phangnan which opened when it shouldn’t have.
This lengthy article looks at the 2016 case where a dodgy American was involved in all sorts of stuff in Bangkok, including the dismemberment of a fellow foreigner.
Thailand has legalised first trimester abortion.
Thanks so much for the nice feedback to last week’s column which seemed fitting for the penultimate edition. I have thousands and thousands of photos of bars that are long gone which I hope to share at some point in the future. When that will be, I just don’t know. Everything is so uncertain at the moment and it’s hard to plan for the future. To me, that’s the big issue with Covid – you can’t plan anything. I have no idea what the future holds regarding my involvement with this site. Like some bars which announced they were closing temporarily only never to reopen, I can’t rule out that might be the case with this column. This could be the last Stickman weekly column I write. The world is a funny old place at the moment and like I say, the future is so uncertain. Hopefully I’ll be back soon but if by chance I am not, thanks for all of your support and encouragement over the years. This column would not have been possible without it. Best wishes to you all.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org