Back In The Saddle
There is light at the end of the Covid tunnel. And that light is getting bright! Omicron looks like it will be as effective as a vaccine and bring the Covid-19 pandemic to an end. With a bit of luck the Covid nightmare will soon be over. Start preparing to return to Thailand!
It’s one year and one week since I last wrote this column. The plan was to review things 3 months later. A bit over 2 months later the bars and things had got much worse. The bars had been ordered closed. The nightlife industry was shuttered.
Omicron has changed everything. One by one, countries are removing restrictions and now there is genuine optimism in the air. The owner of this site – remember, I sold my share in 2018 – contacted me this week and asked me if I’d like to get back on board. Sure, I would!
There’s a lot to catch up on from the past year.
It’s been a quiet 12 months for me here in New Zealand. I have not ventured all that far and I guess like many people all over the world, my daily routine has been supplemented by Netflix and plenty of good novels. Not wanting to get stuck in the middle of nowhere in yet another crazy regional lockdown – New Zealand has gone bonkers with restrictions – I haven’t ventured out of the North Island. On a good day I’d say the past year has been uneventful. Others would describe it as boring.
I made a deliberate decision to largely ignore what was going on in Thailand this past year. It seemed pointless to observe what was going on over there when there was no chance of travel. OK, so I could travel to Thailand but getting back in to New Zealand would be a lottery. Literally. In many ways I am out of touch with Thailand and now that I have resumed writing the column again I have to put that right.
As far as this website goes, nothing happened for a year. That all changed a few weeks back when the entire content of this site, right back from the very early archives, was deleted. I’m not going to go in to what happened, suffice to say that most of the content has been restored. Unfortunately, 2 years’ worth of more recent columns and readers’ submissions – everything published from September 2018 through until January 2021 – has not been recovered. At least, not yet. The net result is a hole in the archives. Work is ongoing to restore what has been lost.
One side effect of the site being restored to what is essentially a version of the site from late 2018 is that any amendments made after September 2018 have essentially been undone. That means, for example, if you had previously submitted an article to the site about your romp through Patpong and asked me to remove your email address because you don’t want your girlfriend to Google your email address and find that story, you will have to notify me again to make said amendment.
For the past year my email address was removed from this website, and replaced with another. If you emailed that other email address and you didn’t get a reply, that’s because I never received your email. And if you emailed that email address and did get a reply, the email you received did not come from me! The only email address to get me at is the same as it has always been: firstname.lastname@example.org
Looking ahead, this column has always been that, a column. I am not into video and don’t create YouTube videos. Neither do I care for social media. This column works well as a column and will remain as a column. Just as it always has been, it will always be published before 6 PM every Sunday, Thai time. That said, more often than not I publish before 1 PM, Thai time.
Some work will take place on the site over the next week so there could be the odd teething problem. Don’t be alarmed if the site coughs, splutters, hiccups or even goes offline for a short time. Whatever happens, we will get on top of it!
Please give me a a few weeks to get back up to speed. Many people I used to rely on for news from the ground have moved on and one friend who worked in Soi Buakhao in Pattaya and provided a lot of bar info from Sin City passed away last year. I’ll do something of a roll call on the characters whose names & monikers appeared frequently in this column over the next week or two.
Hopefully it won’t be long until things are humming again – both this column and the Bangkok we know and love. It’s great to be back. Things will only get better!
Where Is This?
The where was this photo taken section will return soon. I need to get some current photos to work with rather than use old photos I took myself of places that may well have changed since I was last in town.
Stick’s Inbox – emails from the past week.
I welcome your comments and feedback to this column, as well as your general thoughts about life in Thailand and all things Thai. There is just one email this week. Do drop me an email – the best half-dozen or so emails will be published each week.
Green shoots sprouting.
Here in Bangkok, lots of “green shoots” are sprouting up now (February 4, 2022). Easiest to see: construction cranes are back. I can see them from my balcony. Just a few, but some. Not huge condos but remodelling a small office building here, adding on to a warehouse over there. Construction cranes working means people with money are optimistic about the future. Lots of new shops. Opening new businesses in previously closed stores. A store selling bakery supplies, and, across the street, a new bakery. Another store selling restaurant equipment. Several locations for Kerry Express and similar delivery services. Plenty opening on the shopping street in front of my condo. More optimism. Huge expansion of on-line selling at Lazada, Facebook, etc. It doesn’t take much to get started selling on-line, don’t even need merchandise because you can drop-ship from China. But it does take time and attention, and many people are trying that. Even my lawyer here in Bangkok has signed up for an on-line course on how to sell on-line. Finally, many, many new restaurants for delivery via Food Panda, Grab and similar. Every time I look at Food Panda, there are lots of new names. There’s tremendous churn with openings and closings, but openings there are plenty. By looking at the location maps, most newcomers are in homes on small sois and in the suburbs, but that’s okay. Local people are optimistic enough to put in the time, effort, and money to have a try at a delivery restaurant.
This Week’s News & Views
Most chrome pole bars of Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and Patpong have been out of action since April of last year. While there is still no date set for when gogo bars can reopen and operate in the manner in which they used to, there is much optimism that it isn’t far away. One Bangkok gogo bar owner with multiple bars hopes the industry will be operating without restrictions by May 1st. With a bit of luck it will burst back in to life even sooner.
So how are things in the bar areas currently? Let’s start with the oldest bar area, Patpong. A number of bars are currently open – and some have been running for a few months. XXX (the old Club Electric Blue) was the first bar to re-open in Patpong in November and is said to be doing ok. Black Pagoda is operating with a new team and many of the old regulars are back. The Strip just recently re-opened. Fetish house Bar Bar I have been told is doing very well. The Museum of Patpong is also open. Patpong today was described to me this week by one Patpong bar boss as the “real deal”. What did he mean by that? That it doesn’t feel like a neon-lit stage for tourists, but more like an edgy red-light district where unknown adventure awaits.
Of course, while some gogo bars are open, don’t expect to see much dancing. Strictly speaking, it’s not allowed at this time. Gogo bars may feel more like a beer bar than a chrome pole palace. Of course, if you ask around you can find the odd bar operating as they used to. No bar names mentioned as no-one wants to be visited by men in tight brown uniforms.
Several bars are open on Soi Cowboy – take that to mean the terrace outside the bar is open. It feels a lot busier at the soi 23 end of Cowboy than the Asoke end. Amongst the bars open on Cowboy at this time are Dollhouse, Suzie Wong, Oasis and a few more. The soi is hardly in full swing but it’s still a good place to hang out, catch up with friends and flirt with the ladies.
With so few customers about, some of the ladies on Cowboy are not afraid to give punters a tug. Not that sort of tug, dear reader, a tug on their shirt as they walk by. The girls are hungry – their income has been lousy for a year or more so who can blame them.
One unwelcome feature on Soi Cowboy for a month or so was the requirement to test negative for Covid before you could enter the soi. A barricade was set up at each end of Soi Cowboy and anyone who wished to enter the soi had to get a test done there and then or show a negative test result taken in the previous 3 days. I understand that since Friday of last week i.e. 9 days ago this testing was done away with. No surprise, trade has picked up since that nonsense was removed.
If you’re looking for dancing damsels on Soi Cowboy, someone might be crazy enough to tell you which house to go to.
Single-shophouse Soi Cowboy gogo bar Crazy Cats has been gutted. I’m not sure whether it’s a renovation, a new bar or perhaps it will be converted into something different.
Up the road on Soi Nana, many bars are open. If you’re looking for somewhere to hang out at and watch the world go by, Soi Nana is a good bet with lots of bars to choose from including all the favourites at the top of the soi.
On the ground floor of Nana Plaza, the outdoor terrace area of many gogo bars is open as well as the beer bars. Amongst the bars open in the plaza are Big Dogs, The Beer Garden and Lucky Luke’s.
Popular Soi Nana bar Hillary 4 closed some time ago and the lease was acquired by the Stumble Inn Group. After a bit of a refurb, what was Hillary 4 will reopen this coming week as The Jungle.
Arguably the most popular bar area in recent times has been the complex off Sukhumvit soi 7 that I – and all who have been unable to visit Thailand these past two years – have yet to see with our own eyes. Photos and video from the area show that at times it has been nightlife central.
But with that said, word is that the peak at soi 7 might have passed and as Soi Nana and Nana Plaza picks up, Soi 7 seems quieter. One bar owner claims some of the girls who worked in the Soi 7 bar complex have left and now work in bars in Nana.
A friend did a walk through Sukhumvit this week and much to his delight, he was able to get his pipes cleaned. Most BJ bars are open.
Currently, the bars are allowed to open until 11 PM, although some try and drag it on a little later. The nightlife industry has been hit really hard by Covid and bar owners are doing the best they can. For some it’s not viable to open – hence there are plenty of bars which have yet to reopen. The bar owners and bar staff are as keen for things to get back to how they were as customers are. Most are optimistic that the green light to a full reopening isn’t far away.
Whichever of the major bar areas you like most, do stop by. There are bars open in all of the major bar areas. Whether you’re looking for a few quiet drinks and somewhere to perch and watch the world go by, or for some company, you can find what you’re looking for. And if you look hard, you will find the odd bar operating with the antics of old. Names cannot be mentioned because as I said already, it remains a no-no – in all of the bar areas / police districts.
I wanted to concentrate on Bangkok this week so there’s little in the way of news from Pattaya or elsewhere. One titbit from Sin City is that Beach Road gogo bar, TQ, also known as Tahitian Queen, is set to reopen this coming Friday, February 11th. Just what the format will be when it reopens remains unclear. Welcome back, TQ – Pattaya’s oldest bar – 44 years and counting.
And the one bit of news I have from Phuket is that Harem, one of the bars in the Suzy Wong Group (no relation to the bar of the same name in Soi Cowboy), is getting rave reviews. One long-time correspondent who I’d describe as discerning says Harem is a bit more upscale than most bars of this genre and he tells me it currently has a crop of attractive women. And there is a view, if you get my drift. Unusual for the industry, it’s pay-as-you go which means there is little chance of any bill padding.
Margarita Storm at the mouth of Sukhumvit soi 13 will have its annual Super Bowl party starting early on the morning of Monday, February 14th. Margarita Storm is open 24 hours so go early and get a great seat.
What is and what isn’t open in Thailand is academic for those of us outside Thailand because it is still something of a hassle to get in to the country. I’m not going to outline all of the current requirements because by the time the column is posted it may well have changed again. What I will say is this: there is much optimism that when the Omicron wave subsides, entry restrictions will be eased and things will largely revert to how they were. All you’ll need to do is buy a ticket and head for the airport. Of course, to enter Thailand you’ll almost certainly have to be vaccinated. Of course, you can travel to Thailand now. It’s a bit of a hassle but it’s not that difficult. My best guess (or is it my hope?) is that things will get a whole lot easier after Songkran. Tourism is a big part of Thailand’s economy and as other parts of the world get on with living and open up, I can’t see Thailand maintaining its current entry restrictions. Things will open up – and when that happens I suspect there will be a huge surge of visitors back to the country. More on that over the coming weeks.
A reader is asking $250 for the domain name BkkAirport.com. He tells me that domain names featuring “airport” sell for good money and there is currently an $1,800 valuation for this domain name at GoDaddy. Times are tough for him hence the asking price. Drop him an email at: email@example.com if you’re interested.
I was chatting with my old friend Big Greg, of Sunrise Tacos fame. Greg is one of the founders of Bangkok Community Help Foundation which amongst other things has been helping expats and tourists coming to Thailand. The problem some people entering Thailand have is testing positive for Covid when in fact what the test discovered was an historic infection – and they are not actually infected with Covid. Greg explained to me that many countries use quantitative PCR testing, whereas Thailand uses qualitative PCR testing and sets the threshold cycle to run over 40 times. To try and make sense of what this means, imagine looking for a drawing of a squirrel on the massive Night Watch painting by Rembrandt. It probably would not take that many cycles for a computer to spot the squirrel. But let’s say you were looking for a tiny mosquito. It might take 30 or 40 cycles zooming in. Each cycle increases the power exponentially. Thailand’s Covid testing can pick up dead / inactive cells as it test 40 cycles while many countries test far fewer. The net effect of this is that many people arrive in Thailand with a negative test from their homeland because their country was looking for the squirrel, yet when they get to Thailand they test positive because Thailand is looking for a mosquito! These travellers need someone to help explain to the hotel clerk and hospital as the ambulance is on its way to pick them up from their hotel and take them to hospital. More about the testing differences here. In these cases, Nina and Greg can talk to the hospital on the person’s behalf and following that conversation the person is almost always free to go. For those who have previously tested positive and are traveling to Thailand, it is a big help to have a letter of recovery along with the original PCR positive test from your home country.
Back to the Bangkok Community Help Foundation, co-founders Greg Lange and Friso Poldervaart have been busy for more than a year as donors from all around the world have donated money which has provided over 1,000,000 lunches and 600,000 survivor bags, all of which they have distributed. You can follow their journey Covid testing, building homes, handing out food and much more at their Facebook page.
So many things have changed in Thailand and it will take time for me to get back up to speed. There is a lot to catch up on. Did you know, for example, that abortion is now legal in Thailand? – at least, it’s legal in the first trimester. It used to only be allowed with a doctor’s approval and my understanding is that that wasn’t always easy to get. A change for the better, methinks. For sure, it’s going to take me a bit of time to get back up to speed.
Links To Thailand-Related News & Stories
There is no reader’s story of the week but there will be next week.
Quote of the week is short and sweet, “Go woke, go broke!”
A Thai man amputates his own penis with scissors in a cannabis-fuelled episode.
Unlike Thailand, the Philippines is welcoming back visitors without any need to quarantine.
This is what cargo in the cabin looks like on Thai Airways.
Anyone travelling to Thailand needs to be aware of the consequences of testing positive for Covid while there, the requirement to quarantine – and how insurance may not cover you.
The Minister of Health says mask-wearing is not required, but he is concerned about those who don’t wear a mask!
A Brit dies inside a happy ending establishment in Sin City.
A former staff member of the Aussie Embassy in Bangkok is arrested and charged with installing cameras in the female toilets.
Air travellers have been told not to bring more than 30 face-masks to Thailand as they are a “controlled product”.
So now that I am back, what’s the plan? We’ve all had enough of Covid, all the bad news and disappointments these past two years so I am going to try and be positive and look towards the good times ahead. As much as anything, I will try to bring you a 15- or 20-minutes reprieve from this crazy world of ours. So many of us are keen to get back to Thailand, to see old friends, revisit places we have come to love, to party and to enjoy good times there again. It’s less than a week since I was invited to resume writing the column and it’s going to take a few weeks to get back up to speed but for sure, it’s great to be back in the saddle!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org