Stickman's Weekly Column April 10th, 2022

21 Years & Counting


When I stopped writing the column at the end of January last year due to Covid and few people visiting Bangkok, the plan was always to resume a few months later. But the Covid situation didn’t improve – in fact, it got much worse. Would this finally be the end of Stickman Weekly? Apparently not. With trade in the bars finally turning the corner as visitors slowly started making their way back to Bangkok, the owners got in touch. “Are you open-minded to writing the column again?” I was back in the saddle.

Today marks a little over 21 years since I wrote the first edition of this column. I had planned to do something for the 20th anniversary but the column was dormant then due to Covid, so this week’s edition is a look back at 21 years of Stickman Weekly.

There have been a few stops and starts along the way but 21 years later I am still writing basically the same column as I first did back in April, 2001. The format is the same, the content much the same and the places and people I write about are in many cases, the same. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d still be at it 21 years later. Truth be told, I didn’t know if it would last a month.

And last a month it almost didn’t. I had taken a year away from teaching to study Thai. And that year without income was taking its toll. A few weeks after launching this column, I started a new teaching job. It wasn’t easy juggling a full-time teaching position, running a website and writing a weekly column. The column was almost shelved but feedback was positive and fortunately, I stuck with it.

The first year of this column was like the early years of this website, very much for the love of it. There wasn’t any money in it. It didn’t even enter my mind back then that running a website could be a money-spinner. In 2002, I started getting inquiries regularly from various businesses about promoting their business. There were some bars along with hotel booking sites, professional services companies, flower delivery companies and immigration lawyers. Initially I was against the idea of advertising. I didn’t think there’d be much money in it and I liked the idea of the site remaining pure. At one time I thought ads emblazoned on the site made it look tacky. Oh, how I changed!

In 2003, I moved to a better teaching position but by 2004 the website hadn’t just overtaken my teaching income, it had dwarfed it. Between 2004 and 2008 this website boomed with numbers that would still be impressive today. Pre-GFC, the bars were humming and this website was the place for all the bar news and goss.

From 2009 through to 2014 the site did well enough while the bar industry went through a period of change that was almost imperceptible at the time. It would become more professional. Some might say more commercial. A lot of money was invested in the industry, and these investors were willing to promote their venues. It was a good time to be writing about the industry with a lot going on.

2015 to 2017 was a bit of a struggle. I had moved back to New Zealand in the first half of 2015 and while I was trying to make a new life on the other side of the world, I was still writing about Bangkok nightlife for expats. I had mentally checked out and had genuinely intended to say goodbye when I got an offer from someone who wished to buy the site. It was an offer I could not refuse. But it came with a condition – I had to stay on and continue to write the column. In 2017 with me in New Zealand and the majority owner in Thailand, things weren’t working insomuch that there was insufficient income for me to write. I stopped writing in 2017 and thought that would be it.

The site was sold again in 2018 and once again, a condition of the sale was that I resumed writing. That lasted for almost 2½ years but in January 2021 when Covid came along the owners decided it would be best to take a break. What we thought would be 3 months away became a year.

So why did I resume writing this year, having been out of Thailand for almost 2½ years? Sequels are never as good, right?

The owners asked nicely. The nightlife was slowly opening up and they thought I could generate some buzz.

I try to think of working on the website and writing this column more as a hobby these days than a job. Being in that mindset means it’s something I enjoy.

I’m at a very different point in my life now from when I first started. While I’d like to think I am largely the same person with similar thoughts, I am at a very different point in my life. Back then I was a young guy seeking adventure; now I am a middle-aged man who still enjoys a bit of fun from time to time, but who also enjoys a few more comforts. I think this is reflected in the column.

The media has changed. The Bangkok nightlife news & gossip column landscape has thinned out. Over the years many have come, and most have gone. I sometimes think chronicling the bar industry is a bit like running a bar – it looks like fun but it comes with all sorts of headaches that most never see.

Everything is so commercial these days. With social media and particularly YouTube and vloggers, everything seems to be about making money. Almost everyone starting out these days does so with the express purpose of making money. There’s all good and well, but it’s very different from the early days of Bangkok websites which were about fun and money was never part of it.

It can be challenging trying to remain independent, impartial and report what is really going on, especially when at times it may not paint a rosy picture. Readers want facts and don’t want anything sugar-coated. Bar staff want positive coverage and publicity. It is not always an easy balance.

These days it’s much more simple. I write a column and I get paid for it. I don’t have to chase any advertisers. The owners of the site are great – straightforward and easy to deal with.

Some readers aren’t shy to remind me that I am not there in Bangkok on the ground and that it’s just not the same when I am in New Zealand. Of course, it would be better if I was in Thailand but I am not and at this point in time it’s not likely to change. I’d like to visit a few times per year – and no doubt that will resume again soon. The column should be that little bit better for it.

It’s not like the column is being ghost-written. Stickman Weekly will always be written by the original Stick.

That’s not to say that there haven’t been a few times these past few months where I almost felt like I was pretending to be Stickman. How can I be Stickman when I am not in Thailand? It’s an odd situation and I’m the first to acknowledge that.

Covid-19 remains a challenge but things are improving. Bar trade is picking up, and column reader numbers are trending up. Things are moving in the right direction. I’ll do my best to produce a decent read each week.

Bernard Trink managed almost 40 years with his Night Owl column. I’m not going to pretend I’ll get anywhere near that – and my 21 years has been interrupted. It would be nice to think I’ll be writing Stickman Weekly this time next year, and the year after that, and maybe even the year after that. I have told the owners that they have me as long as they want me.

 

Mystery Photo

Where is it?

Where is it?

Not a soul got last week’s photo so I’m going stay mum on where it was until someone gets it right. This week’s photo is not as obscure as it looks. It is somewhere in downtown Bangkok.

 

the-castle-pattaya

 

Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week

Just like it was 20 years ago.

The restrictions have sorted out the sex tourists from the people who really do enjoy the country for what it is. Before if you asked a guy why he came to Thailand he’d say it was the culture, the weather, the food, the people, the beaches. Well, all those things are still here and tourists have been allowed in for more than a year now, and at the moment there is zero quarantine. But they’re still not coming back. Why? Because they can’t get laid on the cheap. I actually think Thailand is better off without them. It feels more like Bangkok was twenty years ago. I’m sure it will get back to ’normal’ eventually and the sex tourists will be back en mass.

The drinkers aren’t who you think they are.

There are too many people happy to be out daily who are not these “washed up loser” expats that the internet seems to have everyone think are daily drinkers. There are mega successful and interesting people who are on the piss daily. Plenty have businesses and jobs. All earning over 10,000 GBP a month. Yes, GBP, not USD. It would make a good column opener if you could get more of a story on this as I feel every time daily boozers are mentioned in Thailand we all think of some fat 60-year-old guy in Pattaya with a young girl who’s living hand to mouth on a crap pension. That is not my experience here at all and never has been. The quality of the people in the pubs here is actually quite good!

It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.

Reading this week’s opener strikes a note. Over the years, I know of a dozen bar owners in Pattaya alone who have met an early end. I don’t think any of them reached 70. Then there are the countless expats who died prematurely in Fun Town. Some were only in their 50s. I was living that same lifestyle. I’m back in Farangland and I only visit for a short time with the missus. I don’t want to get sucked into that lifestyle again. It’s not where you live, it’s how you live.

 A healthy environment?

I used to joke with friends in Bangkok that it could be one of the only places I have visited where you need to go indoors to get some fresh air. Remember pre-Covid when it was common to look at the Air Quality Index to see the days which were deemed “dangerous.” That’s when I read that it was alleged that walking around Bangkok on an average day was equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day! How accurate that is I cannot say but I do know that on one of the hottest days I was there (40C plus) I had to go slow and visit an air-conditioned 7 Eleven store often to cool down rather than for the water I kept purchasing. I do not smoke but that day my lungs and heart were struggling to the point I was shuffling rather than walking, and I’m relatively fit. My trips to Bangkok normally average 10 days and my guess is I drink alcohol half those days / nights. The expats I know go out just about every night and most smoke.

Impressions of healthcare in Thailand.

At a hospital in Europe I had talks with a colleague, a Thai doctor, about healthcare in Thailand. I have also experienced being a patient in Thailand on a couple of occasions. Here is my two cents worth. Government-run hospitals in Thailand should be avoided. The big private hospitals can be great but sometimes they worry more about profits and maintaining face than guaranteeing benchmark quality. The “care part” is always fantastic because this is what the average patient can judge. But the medical treatment varies.

More paperwork required.

Not sure if any other of your readers on a retirement visa have encountered the following. Normally when I do my annual visa renewal, Immigration requires head-shot photos, passport, bank-book and a letter from the bank. This year my lawyer informed me that they also want to see the original of my condo lease agreement. No big deal but it smacks of another irritating and pointless requirement and one that will probably fade away in a matter of months.

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Soi 7 remains shuttered.

Soi 7 earlier this week. Photo credits: Marty.

 

This Week’s News & Views

What a total, absolute debacle at Sukhumvit soi 7 this week where bar owners are furious. There was good news earlier this week with bars given the green light to open on Friday, putting 3 weeks of closure behind them. Bar owners visited the premises to dust down their bars. Staff were called and told the good news. And then on Thursday night – the night before they were due to open – word went out that the bars could not open after all. It turns out that the landlord had told bar bosses earlier in the week that they could open and had then hurriedly sent them the invoice for their rent for April. Cynics felt like before this was a ruse to get them to pay rent, and then find out there was no permission to open because the original problem – the fact that the land did not have the requisite permits for businesses of that nature to operate from – had not been addressed. And then it all changed again on Friday when there was good news – and the bars could open after all! No doubt some girls who had initially expected to work and then been told the bars would not open had headed off home for Songkran, accounting for a noticeable drop off in girl numbers on opening night. But a couple of videos posted online showed the complex was indeed open so all’s well that ends well, right? Wrong! It turns out that the landlord had told porkies in a letter to the bar operators which said they had permission to open. On Saturday police closed the soi 7 complex again and for now, it remains closed.

Things are building nicely in Nana Plaza with more bars joining the fray with Random 2 opening this week, in the spot that has been many bars over the years but which I will always remember as the spot which was once Fantasia. Standard drinks are a very reasonable 120 baht which makes them cheaper than drinks were in most bars pre-Covid. Lady drinks run 195 baht.

Still in Nana Plaza, Rainbow 4 gets the thumbs up from one reader who remarked there were some really hot girls dancing in underwear with a see-through nighty over the top to keep everything legit. And you know the bar has attractive dancers when the customer base is dominated by Asian men. It hasn’t been open long but Rainbow 4 is said to be doing well – long may it continue.

There’s more to Soi Nana than Nana Plaza and the bars immediately out front. One of the main differences between Nana Plaza and Soi Cowboy is that Nana Plaza is just part of a bar district whereas Soi Cowboy is basically it. That said, I have to admit that I seldom ventured further down Soi Nana for anything more than a walk to see what had changed since I last roamed. Other than occasionally grabbing a burger at Bus Stop, I didn’t stop by many venues further down the soi. Word is that money is being spent in various spots on Soi Nana with new bars being developed. Many new bars have opened on Soi Nana that I have yet to see with my own eyes, too many to mention. And on Sukhumvit soi 6 – which is actually the first soi proper off Soi Nana, a couple of hundred metres or so down on the left – a couple of new bars have opened, Champs and the bar with the coolest new name, Kicking Donkey. These two bars flank the long-running Bangcockney which is also being revamped. Champs and Kicking Donkey are open now; I’m not sure about Bangcockney.

 

Sukhumvit soi 6 this week.

Sukhumvit soi 6 this week.

 

You know things are picking up when the number of street bars swells. Late at night along Sukhumvit the number of small booze booths is on the increase.

Those of us in Farangland who have yet to make it back to Thailand are really missing the bars but for a few days this coming week it wouldn’t be a bad idea to avoid them. It’s Songkran and despite all manner of announcements that water fighting will be zoned and those who don’t wish to participate should be spared, no doubt it will be the usual mayhem and anyone out and about will find themselves a target to be drenched. Officially, Songkran starts on Wednesday and finishes Friday but I’d suggest that avoiding the bars from Tuesday afternoon through until Friday and not venturing out until Saturday might be best. Things usually kick off the afternoon or evening of the 12th rather than the official start of the 13th.

Beer Lao IPA Limited Edition is a popular drop found in some drinking spots around town. It’s been around for a while now, but does not seem to be widely available. One such place is 8855 on the small sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 8, opposite Lolita’s. There, Beer Lao IPA Limited Edition will set you back just 120 baht / bottle. Just how limited an edition this particular brew is, I don’t know – so whether it will be around for long, again, I don’t know. I make no claims of being a beer connoisseur but I was always a fan of Beer Lao in the past. I do wonder why there still hasn’t been any genuine effort to promote the brand in Thailand.

In addition to the alcohol upgrade promotion mentioned last week, Demonia (Sukhumvit soi 33) will hold a Sexy Songkran party this coming Wednesday, April 13th. All customers will get a free glass of bubbles.

And you fetishists in Pattaya love your whips, chains and foot worship, don’t you? The owner told me that the reopening of Pattaya’s fetish venue, The Castle, has been even better than hoped. The girls will not be going home for Songkran and The Castle will remain open every night during Songkran.

Reports this past week from readers and friends alike consistently described Soi Cowboy using the same word, “quiet”. I guess most of us are waiting for the current testing requirements to enter the country to be done away with before booking tickets. When that happens, there’s going to be a stampede to Soi Cowboy!

 

Soi Cowboy, Sunday night.

Soi Cowboy, Sunday night.

 

Down in Pattaya, popular gogo bar Sapphire is doing a Super Sunday promotion which means happy hour prices all night long. Sapphire is also promoting a VIP room which Dave The Rave tells me is very classy. A class guy like Dave knows a classy place, don’t you Dave?! Some punters have previously commented that Sapphire is the closest thing Pattaya has to Billboard – which is about the highest praise you can give a gogo bar. Just what the story is with the VIP room and how accessible it is, I don’t know.

Thinking about Sapphire’s VIP room reminds me of that private room that was off to the side of the dance floor on one of the upper levels in Baccara in Soi Cowboy. It had one-way glass so from inside the private room you could watch what was happening in the bar / dance floor while those in the bar couldn’t see you (and the girls) you had in the room with you. Whatever happened to that room? Was it converted in to a changing room for the girls or something like that? I seem to recall something along those lines.

Still in Pattaya, could the amusingly named gentlemen’s clubs gain in popularity and one day become as established a part of the industry as gogo bars? Gentlemen’s clubs are very popular in Pattaya, appealing to those who have a been there, done that attitude towards the gogo bars. They are particularly popular with those who have no illusion of the girlfriend experience and really just want a quick bit of adult fun. Gentleman’s clubs have rooms on the premises and are, in many ways, more a bordello than a bar, offering a quick and easy solution with everything on the premises – and all for a very reasonable price. The authorities are generally comfortable with these so-called gentleman’s clubs because everything is behind closed doors and discreet. There are none of the in your face antics of the Walking Street scene which embarrasses everyday Thais. Let’s not forget that once upon a time, Pattaya’s soi 6 was made up of venues that could perhaps be described as kind of low-end gentleman’s clubs. Everything was much more discreet on soi 6 back then. There was still plenty of craziness but it was a different flavour of craziness. What was known as a place for afternoon delight for Pattaya locals who were often escaping from their live-in for a few hours has transformed in to a party street.

 

Songkran wet t-shirt contest at Patpong.

Songkran wet t-shirt contest at Patpong.

 

This coming Wednesday will see 3 bars in Patpong soi 2 host a Songkran wet T-shirt party. 900 baht allows you to roam between the 3 bars in which the competition will take place – The Strip, Black Pagoda and XXX Lounge – and includes free-flow beer in all 3 bars, all night long. Sounds like it should be fun if you can move between the 3 bars without coming across idiots with water guns.

Why are coffee shops in the busy part of Sukhumvit between Asoke and Nana so quiet? One of many things I am looking forward to when I return to Bangkok is checking out some of the new coffee shops. Friends tell me there has been an explosion in coffee shops in Bangkok and it sounds like there’s more of a coffee culture these days. That appeals to me and I’m just as happy to meet friends in a decent cafe by day as I am enjoying a night out. But apparently the area between Nana and Asoke is not exactly over-run with new cafes – and those that have opened up haven’t taken off at all. Contrast that with cafes opening up elsewhere which are often very busy. As more visitors return maybe that will help, or is there limited demand for cafes in that general area?

A friend sent the photo below of the big breakfast from the Robin Hood (corner of Sukhumvit Road and soi 33/1). Wow! 399 baht and I bet it would keep you going all day long. Said friend suggested a competition to see if we can find the best breakfast in Thailand. How about it? Do send me a shot of your favourite Thailand breakfast and I’ll run your snaps in upcoming columns. Grab the chance to get a free plug for your favourite breakfast venue, anywhere in Thailand.

 

robin-hood-bangkok-breakfast

Breakfast at The Robin Hood…..you’d better be hungry!

 

It’s 3 years since we were last in Hua Hin. I always enjoyed it for a couple of quiet days away from Bangkok. One of the highlights was the fresh seafood – and we’d often eat two big seafood meals per day, each day we were there. So I was saddened to hear some months back that some of the long-running seafood restaurants built on piers that extend out over the bay have been dismantled. What a shame! These were great places to not just enjoy a meal, but to enjoy an entire evening. Fresh seafood, a few drinks, good company, warm tropical air and the cool breeze – one of those experiences I really enjoyed in Thailand. That said, there are plenty of places similar in style and atmosphere all over Thailand.

One thing I really miss from Thailand is the ease with which you can find someone to get odd jobs done quickly. It’s the complete opposite here at the bottom of the planet. After a tradesman for an odd job in Thailand? Phone around in the morning and odds are you’ll get someone that same day. If not, waiting more than a day or two would be unusual (unless it is a job that requires a specialist or someone with, say, brand-specific familiarity / skills). Ditto if you wish to see a doctor. You can do that pretty much immediately. Need to see a specialist? Even some of the most in-demand docs don’t tend to have the sort of long wait lists that are the norm here. Thais tend to be business-minded and they hate the idea of losing a potential customer to a competitor so they will do what they can to accommodate you. Compare that to here in my part of Farangland and, honestly, it’s a nightmare. Plumber? Good luck if you can get someone within a week. Standard doctor / GP visit – 2 to 3 weeks’ wait seems to be the norm now (and don’t bother turning up at hospital unless it’s something life-threatening). When you need to get things done that you don’t have the skills to do yourself, it’s so much easier to get someone in Thailand than it is here. I don’t know if it’s as bad elsewhere in the developed world but seriously, it’s got to the stage here that you cross your fingers that nothing goes wrong because if it does, you could find yourself stuck with, for example, a dead washing machine, for weeks. That’s one aspect of Thailand I really miss.

 

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go.

Find her at Whiskey & Go Go.

 

Thailand-Related News Articles

Quote of the week comes from a Bangkok expat, “75% of the drinking here is due to boredom.”

Thailand is hoping for high-end tourism with marijuana legalised.

Two elderly Thai sex workers are jailed in New Zealand for fleecing a fellow of a cool quarter of a million dollars.

From the Bangkok Post, entry into Thailand should be much easier from next month.

British Airways has announced it will not resume flying to Bangkok until at least March, 2023 (they had previously indicated they would not resume before October, 2022).

 

Nana Plaza.

Nana Plaza.

 

In closing this week on the 21st anniversary of the column, I wanted to include a few links to some old columns.
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The most popular column everCyberbullying and Karma, February 27, 2011.

The 2nd most popular columnThrowing Away The Winning Lottery Ticket, May 8, 2016.

The first ever weekly columnThe First Ever Column, April 8, 2001.

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Thanks again for tuning in and many thanks for all your support over the years!
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Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com