A generation of Thailand expats is disappearing. Some expats have fallen in to financial difficulties and been forced back home. Some have suffered from a chronic case of Asia fatigue and felt the only option was to move on. And in some cases, many years of hard-living finally caught up with them and they have met their maker. A new generation of expats is arriving to what feels like an entirely different version of Bangkok to the one my generation discovered.
The face of expat Thailand is changing. For a long time it was mainly Caucasians from Western Europe, North America and Down Under. Mostly male and more often than not middle-aged of thereabouts. Arriving in Bangkok in the late ‘90s in my 20s, I was a bit of an anomaly. Why did you come here so young?, long-termers asked. You should go home, establish yourself there and come back when you’re 45+. I’m glad I didn’t listen to that advice.
Expat Thailand was relatively small back then, especially outside Bangkok and the tourist hotspots. In many provincial centres you’d see few, if any foreigners. There were expats around, but you’d just about have to carry out surveillance to spot them.
I remember wandering through the main shopping centre in Udon Thani in 1998 and not seeing any other foreigners. And spending time in Korat regularly 15 – 20 years ago, there just weren’t that many expats. You could go to The Mall downtown on Saturday for lunch, catch a movie, do some shopping – spend half the day there – and you mightn’t see another white guy.
The makeup of expats has changed greatly since then and these days new expats are just as likely to be female as male. There are expat enclaves from all over including South America and Eastern Europe, each with their own established communities. And expats today are much more likely to be young i.e. aged under 30, than say aged over 45. In the space of a generation, expat Thailand has changed massively.
Most provincial centres today have more than just a token expat bar or restaurant. And where once those expat bars sometimes felt like they were the end of the road, nowadays they give you a reason to visit. Many stock a good range of craft beer and don’t be surprised at an expat venue in the boondocks to find the chef once worked in the kitchen of a famous 5-star hotel.
This is not to say that every town in Thailand is over-run with expats, but these days there is a very visible presence in most places.
Bangkok has long had an expat contingent, but long gone are the days when foreigners were largely centred around Sukhumvit. You find white guys and gals, young and old, in almost every corner of Bangkok – and it’s been this way for years.
Just a couple of decades ago, craving a really good burger meant you had a choice of either Woodstock or Garage. And you’re no longer limited to Henry J Beans if you feel like fajitas.
Today, expats in Thailand are spoiled for choice. Want a great hamburger? In Bangkok there are literally dozens of places to choose from.
After some obscure food product from home? Jump on Lazada or Shopee and odds are you will find it there.
Life for expats in Thailand today is very convenient, and has never been easier.
This suits the young generation of expats who like everything at their fingertips. With fast, stable Internet nationwide, they live much of their lives online. Food delivery is all the rage these days and you’ve no need to hunt for a taxi with a choice of apps and ride service providers. Apps make dating simple and new expats can seek out someone of their own race who speaks their language, which many seem to prefer. For the new generation of expats, the internet and their mobile phones makes things so convenient that there’s no need to make the effort to learn Thai. And apparently many new expats don’t.
Taking selfies at the latest hotspots with other young expats, jazzed up photos of beautifully presented food and being the first to post it on whatever the popular social media platform is the impression I have of the new generation of expats.
It’s nothing like the new expat experience of the late ‘90s. In my first year and a half in Bangkok, I mainly travelled by bus or canal boat. There was a skytrain station 5 minutes’ walk from my condo, but the network was still under construction.
Internet cost 45 baht an hour, on top of local call charges, for dial-up speed. 20 or 30 hours per month packages were the norm. Getting online was not something you did every day. Back then, the internet was a way to keep up with news and stay in touch with loved ones back home.
Bangkok really was filthy back then and my memories include over-flowing rubbish bins, a terrible rodent problem and many parts of the city just plain stunk. It was difficult to get around and there was far less choice of places to go to if you fancied anything Western that was decent.
By comparison, new expats arriving in Bangkok today have it easy. The city is truly international, there is so much more to do and it feels like everything is so much more accessible.
But with all of this said, I’m glad I was a new expat when I was. While Bangkok marches to a different beat today, you can choose to live the lifestyle of old, if you so wish. The canal boats still run. Red buses still go most everywhere. You can choose to drink gar-fair boran (old-style Thai coffee) over Starbucks and you can probably still hook up a landline in your condo if you really want one.
To young, new expats, put your phone in your pocket for a day or two and just get out, explore and see what happens. There’s a whole world out there away from the Internet. Roam Bangkok and see where you end up. You might actually find Bangkok away from social media and apps is a lot of fun.
Last week’s photo was taken at the Prakanong BTS station. The previous week’s photo, which no-one got right the week following, was taken of the food court dining area at the Immigration Bureau at Chaeng Wattana. This week’s photo is not quite as obscure as it may first seem. Where is it?
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Living in Thailand on 25,000 baht / month.
Your comments about what one needs to live in Thailand were clearly aimed at a particular group of people, one that doesn’t include me. I can live in Thailand very comfortably on 25,000 a month. Add in occasional expenses such as car maintenance and car and house insurance and, like this weekend, the purchase of a new fridge, which over the year might raise that to 30,000. For that, I have foreign food most evenings bought from one of several people that supply such, IPTV with every possible channel I could want including live sport from multiple sources, excellent internet – one of the few things that Thailand excels at – air-con which I don’t skimp on to save money, running a pickup and catering for a wife and six dogs. I am at an age when I don’t seek going out frequently for entertainment and what I can watch on my TV suffices, and because I spent a couple of million on a house several years ago I have no rent or other such expenses. Of course, there are others who claim they need 60,000, 100,000 or even 200,000 baht a month to enjoy their chosen lifestyle. I do not.
The collecting of great memories.
Life is about collecting experiences. Creating memories. A lukewarm 1,000 dollar / month survival strategy sounds like a sure way to misery. For those with a challenging economic situation, postpone retirement. Make more money for a few years in Farangland. Or live very frugally in Bolton, Gelsenkirchen or Perth for 8 months a year and save up for a freer, more fulfilling stay in South-East Asia for the other 4 months. When it’s time to call it a day and meet your God, the bland existence in your home country will be a blur – but the memories from Thailand where you could afford to live life to the fullest will be crystal clear. And you can tell yourself, this was indeed a very good life!
Pattaya needs zoning.
Whenever discussing bars or nightlife in Thailand, it’s important to first recognise that Bangkok is a much larger and sprawling city than Pattaya is. You can visit markets, malls, cinemas, and enjoy family entertainment in Bangkok without ever going near a nightlife area. That cannot be said of Pattaya. Pattaya needs to do a better job of zoning nightlife areas away from malls and the beach. I have always found the beach areas in Thailand where Thais visit to be much more relaxing and fun than beaches with just Farang tourists. Pattaya is no longer a place where drunken sailors take leave from war. Properly zoning nightlife areas and encouraging Thai families to visit Pattaya beach would only make the area more vibrant and fun for everyone. There are precedents for this in Thailand – Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza. In the United States the place is called Las Vegas.
Getting back to Thailand and getting back to normal.
Dropping the pre-flight Covid test is about the worst thing Thailand could do. I understand that they want to move towards re-opening and get back to “normal”, but they no longer have their eyes on the ball. When I flew to Thailand in December 2020 I was not happy that Thai citizens were not required to take a pre-flight Covid test at that time. Think about it, you’re about to get in a confined space with 200 – 300 other passengers for anywhere from 6 – 12 hours and nobody has been pre-tested for Covid on the flight. If I were running an airline, I would make it a requirement for all passengers to get the test to simply protect my employees. There is a very high probability that someone getting on a flight is infectious and they will infect others on the flight. A pre-flight Covid test protects passengers from that person. Then to top it all off, the newly infected persons won’t test positive (yet) on arrival, and 2 – 3 days later start infecting others. They are removing the critical testing points and leaving the non-critical ones.
Less means more.
I really feel that having fewer bars in Bangkok will help enormously in these tough times. This will allow the remaining bar areas to eventually flourish again, by having less competition and not allowing customers to be spread too thin. This could well be a deciding factor in the future of Bangkok’s nightlife scene. If Patpong does transcend into something completely different to a predominantly nightlife bar area, this will make Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy even more popular. This should assure Nana and Cowboy longevity for future years. Just like the theory of Zen Buddhism – less means more! From Dave The Rave.
This Week’s News & Views
Following on from the high-profile bust last week when dozens of police stormed the soi 7 bar complex following an investigation into underage girls, bar operators in the complex had hoped that incident was behind them. Alas, the soi 7 saga continued this week. After being closed for a few days, the complex reopened last Saturday. On Monday it was ordered closed again and there was no indication when they could reopen. Almost a week since they were ordered shut, they still don’t know. It has since been revealed that the whole soi 7 bar complex is essentially illegal. The land on which the bars sit does not have a permit for any buildings. It only has permission for a car park for a maximum of 35 vehicles. None of the bar owners knew this when they took out leases with the landlord. Many rumours have circulated the past week but no-one knows what will happen next. Some of the bar owners believe that an application has been submitted for a change of use of the land. Apparently it takes the metropolitan office up to 45 days to process such applications and inquiries have been made as to how the process could be fast-tracked. Another rumour is that the bar area received a 60-day closure order, yet no-one has seen any evidence of this – usually there would be an official court order attached to the property for all to see. Some say the complex is done and will not reopen – but this is pure speculation. What can be said is that the soi 7 bar complex remains closed and its future looks rather uncertain.
This whole soi 7 saga shows the folly of the bar industry. You can be the most honest, professional bar operator but when one of your neighbours cuts corners and breaks rules then your business can suffer, or even be forced shut. You might be running a legitimate business, operating a registered company and even paying tax (yes, most bars do pay tax) – but how could you possibly know that the land on which your bar sits only has permission to be a car park? You really have to feel for the individual bar owners, some of whom might have put their life savings in to the business / might have borrowed heavily to finance the business, only for this to happen. If there’s a lesson to be had here, would be bar operators should stick with established bar areas.
Nana Plaza was closed on Thursday night. The boys in brown paid a visit to the soi to make sure everyone was following the Covid rules. At Nana Plaza, the signage was turned on but the plaza itself was in darkness. Stumble Inn and most of the other beer bars remained open. It was very much business as usual inside the plaza the following night.
Thursday night’s shutdown had some odd repercussions in the plaza. Random, which has been dressing its girls in see through nighties, had all the ladies in white jeans and black tank tops on Friday. And there was no dancing.
The plaza bounced back in Friday night when it was described as business as normal – or even better than normal. One bar which was pumping was Spanky’s which was too full to get in the door at 10:30 PM.
Upstairs at the new Rainbow 3, the girls were in bikinis, dancing like it was an aerobics class on stage and frolicking in a full, wet jacuzzi. The bar is tiny, so it’s not difficult to fill it, but next door at Billboard, where all the girls were in dresses, it was packed to the rafters, which, given its size, is a much more impressive feat.
Last week there was a welcome sight on Soi Cowboy as Tilac reopened. Sadly, it sounds like two once-popular farang-owned Soi Cowboy bars may not return. The first is Lighthouse where the lease has been surrendered. I understand that space has not yet been taken over by anyone else. The other bar which may not return is Shark, which would be an even bigger loss. The property owner and the bar operator have failed to agree on terms. One hopes it can be sorted out as Shark was always a good bar, at times a great bar. Soi Cowboy really can’t afford to lose two of its better bars. Let’s cross our fingers and hope that something is worked out. With this said, just hours before publishing this week’s column I received word that there was activity at Shark on Saturday night and it looked as if the bar might be being prepared to reopen….so watch this space.
Friends tell me that Soi Cowboy has settled in to a pattern. There is a cluster of bars open in the middle of the soi consisting of Jungle Jim’s, Suzie Wong, Dollhouse, and Afterskool followed by Tilac. They all seem to be doing ok – not great – but they’re all ticking over. At the Asoke end of the soi, Country Road is regularly heaving with customers and appears to be the busiest bar most nights.
Operators of chrome pole bars in Bangkok continue to be frustrated by the enforcement of rules in the capital that are ignored elsewhere. Bar owners are desperate to be able to operate their bars in the manner in which they were designed i.e. with dancing on stage – but that is still not allowed. At the same time there are photos and videos all over social media showing revellers partying all night long down south on the islands. (Of course, if you ask the guy in the bar sitting next to you if he knows any bars in Bangkok where there is dancing behind closed doors, you might get lucky….)
And I think it’s so widely known that there is no harm in saying that Crazy House on Soi Cowboy is the place to go if you are keen to see pre-Covid-style dancing. It’s very much a game of cat and mouse and whether it’s a clothes on or clothes off night comes down to luck.
A few hours after last week’s column went live I added a quick note to say that Bully’s on Sukhumvit Road, a stone’s throw from the JW Marriott, had reopened. To add to that, Bully’s version 2 looks to be a little smaller than Bully’s version 1, but a bit more modern. It’s run by the same fellow as before.
Is there a less-changed strip in the farang nightlife than the single-shophouse bars at the corner of Sukhumvit soi 22? I am told that they look much the same as they always have – and they probably have the same crew who have been there for what feels like forever. As best as I remember, I don’t think I have ever stepped foot inside one of those bars.
Down in Pattaya, nightlife central is now firmly the Soi LK Metro / Soi Buakhao area. While several bars are open on Walking Street, they are spread out across a largely dark area where most places are closed and as such, there isn’t anything like the sort of buzz Walking Street was known for. Soi LK Metro, Soi Buakhao and the Treetown Complex are where it’s happening in Pattaya at this time.
Pattaya bar owners are really struggling to recruit girls – and then when they get them, keeping them is a problem. A few weeks back I quoted a Soi LK Metro gogo bar owner who said he’d had to hire some real rough birds because they were all he could find. This week, the owner of Buzzin Bar said similar in one of his YouTube videos. Exactly the same: the problem is not just getting girls, it’s keeping them. As more bars open up, it will be the girls calling the shots.
Pure on Soi LK Metro, one of the soi’s newest bars, has an 80s’ and 90s’ theme every Thursday night called Skool’s Out. Sounds like fun.
Pattaya Beach Club is the freelancer hotspot at this time and seems to have scooped up the freelancers and their customers who previously hung out at Lucifer and Insomnia.
With all this news and gossip from Pattaya, how would you like to work there? A new Irish Pub in Pattaya is looking for a manager. The ideal candidate has experience and can understand some Thai. Send an email with your CV to: Paddyspubpattaya@gmail.com
If you’re keen to get in touch with Dave The Rave, he remains active on social media and still keeps an eye on what is happening in Thailand. But for the time being Facebook is not the place to find him. Dave was given a 30-day ban from Facebook for the abhorrent crime of………using the word “tranny” on Facebook. Apparently that word is considered hate speech by Facebook. Can you believe it?!
River Sports Bar in Korat has the right idea with the sign below. High oil prices and higher costs generally means it’s inevitable that the prices for drinks and pretty much everything will go up. Best to front-foot it and be open and honest about it, as River Sports Bar has.
Some would call it a scam. More modern types might call it a life-hack. Me? I think it’s a risk I wouldn’t like to take unless I absolutely had no other choice. Agents have long offered visa extension services. It’s great for those who do not meet the financial requirements and is also popular with those who simply don’t want the hassle of dealing with Immigration themselves, all the waiting around, the inevitable demands for more documents etc. Agents do everything and can pretty much guarantee you a visa. An agent’s fee can run anywhere from 20,000 – 60,000 baht. The best agents offer a same day service. Others can take up to a month to get you your visa. Some agents lodge the application at the local Immigration office i.e. in the area you live. Others do it in an upcountry Immigration office – which, to be frank, is a concern because strictly speaking you can only apply for a visa extension in the province in which you reside. Most of those who use an agent don’t think twice about it. Perhaps they should. My concern would be that some people getting their visa through an agent are up to some dodgy shit. If – or is it when – these people get caught, their visa may be scrutinised. And if it was found, for example, that they have been living in Bangkok all along but their visa was issued at an upcountry Immigration office to which they have no links, there could be some explaining to do. And if the investigation expanded, there could repercussions for others who got their visa that way. All it needs is for one person who has a dodgy visa to come to the authorities’ attention and everyone who got their visa that way could be looked at. If at all possible, apply for the visa yourself. Keep it all above board. If you apply for the visa extension yourself, not only will it cost you much less (the fee is only 1,900 baht), you’ll have zero worries about anything happening because some dodgy sod used the same agent you did. It is not my intention to be alarmist – and the odds are that using a visa agent will not result in any issue. But, it is not 100% safe.
I cannot stress enough not to make the same mistake I made in the early years in Bangkok of not going home to visit from time to time. I went 6 years without going home which was way too long. When you lose touch with home, you risk losing touch with reality. As much fun as Thailand is, some lifestyle choices in Thailand can distort your view of what is “normal”. Taking reasonably regular trips back home – or visiting other developed countries – helps keep things in perspective. I reckon it’s especially important in the early years in Thailand.
Thailand-Related Articles And News Links
Reader’s story of the week comes from Anonymous, “Healthier & Happier“.
From the Bangkok Post, restaurant prices are increasing in Bangkok.
Russians living and working in Thailand are feeling the pressure of economic sanctions against their homeland.
The BBC looks at Russians trapped in Phuket due to the war in Ukraine. I’d like to say som num na but being stuck in Phuket and not being able to get back to Russia doesn’t sound so bad!
The Bangkok Post reports that travel rules are being slowly eased.
There are growing calls for Thailand’s entry restrictions to be done away with and everything to open up.
It’s always nice to have a few columns planned ahead. I can’t plan what will go in to the news section, obviously, but I like to have an outline for at least the next couple of column openers. Next week’s column is tentatively titled “Does Living In Thailand Shorten Your Life” and the following week should be “21 Years And Counting”. Anyway, I’ve been in contact with a bar owner from the Sukhumvit soi 7 bar complex and thought it would be good to run a few questions by him. There have been so many mixed messages and conflicting reports about Sukhumvit’s newest bar area that I thought a few questions to someone in the thick of it would help to clear up some misconceptions about Bangkok’s newest bar area and make for a good opener. But with what happened at soi 7 last week, I wonder if that column will ever see the light of day. On a positive note, my main concern when resuming this column would be whether I could come up with enough to write about. That hasn’t been a problem at all, which is a relief.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com