Pattaya: A 2-Month Checkup
I am delighted to feature another opener by Bangkok Photographer who was in Pattaya this week. All of the words and photos in this week’s opener are the work of Bangkok Photographer.
When last we visited Pattaya in late May, Walking Street was a disaster zone. Between its destroyed pavement and dozens of closed shops and bars, it looked like a bombed-out war zone. The rest of the city didn’t appear much better, with devastating infrastructure work ripping up major streets and only groups of Indian men strolling the streets.
Two months on, things have improved, both on and off Walking Street. But, having compared with raging Bangkok, where life, for all intents and purposes, has returned to 2019 style, Pattaya still comes across as very quiet and depressed. Bar staff cheerfully said Pattaya is “60% back”, but the eye test says differently. There’s still work to do and recovery to make.
Look first at the beaches. Except for a solitary farang shunning the umbrellas to roast under the sun, all of those splashing in the sea or lounging on benches are Thais or Indians. Pattaya Beach on a recent Saturday was slow, as usual, compared with Jomtien, as Thais prefer that area due to more plentiful parking and seafood options. But those who were on Pattaya Beach were mostly Thai families.
The Beach Road promenade was lively, with joggers, bicyclists, idiot motorcyclists whizzing by on the pavement at dangerous speeds and even the odd street performer. Kids ran or cycled everywhere, laughing all the way. And, of course, there were the old expats hanging out on benches, chatting up streetwalkers and drinking their Changs. They’ve been joined these days by poorly dressed Indians looking for cheap action.
Across the road, Beach Road’s beer bars had a decent, but not large, crowd. And Thais grabbed their street food in front of closed, or partially open, hotels.
Up the road on Soi 6, there has been one very big difference since late May, when bars technically weren’t legal and had to operate as “restaurants”: The volume level. Where Soi 6 was about half open in late May, it was relatively quiet, as the illegal bars tried to stay under the police radar. No more. The Soi of Sin’s brothels now all appear to be competing who can pump out the loudest music. You could call the cacophony atmosphere, but most will simply call it deafening.
More bars are open on Soi 6, but still not all. And the girls working in the bars are pretty much what it has been in recent, pre-Covid, years. For all the talk of young spinners, Soi 6 remains the bargain clothing bin at the second-hand store: If you rummage through it long enough, you might find a gem, but mostly what you get is oversized, rumpled and worn out. Soi 6 is cheap, but you get what you pay for.
The only place in Pattaya where you might end up getting much more than you paid for – and not in a good way – is Beach Road’s “Coconut Bar”, where women and ladyboys who cannot or will not work in bars engage in the world’s oldest profession. After dark, you’ll find them lurking in the shadows. The list prices are cheap, but beware the hidden costs.
These days, Indian men, hunting packs for some group action, are the only real shoppers. And they’re paying dearly. Since April, nine Indian men – all flashing gaudy, expensive gold chains worth 50,000-75,000 baht – have been robbed by Beach Road ladyboys. Another lost their wallet last week. The message to not wear gold or stroll Beach Road after midnight hasn’t made it back to Mumbai yet.
At the opposite end of the price scale, on Walking Street, nights, at least on weekends, are looking more like 2019 than ever before. This recent Saturday witnessed the rarest of sights during the Age of Covid: The yellow tour group flag. In this case, though, it was a group of Thai tourists, in town for some pageant or event. Chinese groups won’t be back this year while other Asian and Indian groups remain scarce.
The biggest improvement in Walking Street since May is not the number of bars open or gawkers on the street. It’s the street itself. About 60% of the street – the northern portion – is now repaved with decorative bricks with crooked lines that leave you, at first, wondering if the bricklayers were drunk. Then you realize it was intentional and that only drunks staggering out of the bar will have a tougher time walking a straight line.
Walking Street remains a story of boom or bust, haves or have-nots. Fahrenheit and Pin-Up are doing roaring trade.
Iron Club, on the other hand, remains closed and the Frog beer-bar complex is gone and shuttered, presumably under redevelopment as something else. Mysteriously, a Russian bar has opened but, one wonders if the women inside actually are Ruskies or Ukrainians. Certainly the customers are not.
Along with the crowds of looky-loos, the street performers also are back, adding to Walking Street’s renewed vibrancy.
Yet, at the same time, the Marine Plaza boxing ring remains deserted, Muay Thai fighters entertaining only their trainers and bar staff.
Venture further south and strolling the street becomes more precarious. Open manholes are covered by wooden pallets marked with rubber cones while huge piles of shifting dirt await to trip up unsuspecting pedestrians. Pattaya officials have vowed to finish the work by the end of August. Contractors have said September.
With tourist numbers increasing every month, Pattaya’s fortunes will only improve, but local and national tourism officials are not even trying to lure westerners. City Hall’s marketing plan is targeting Indians, Vietnamese, Malaysians, Singaporeans and Australians. The Tourism Authority of Thailand is not planning any European or American trade shows. With America exporting its rampant inflation worldwide, the prospects for western tourism in Pattaya remain dim for 2022. But the city will survive. It just may look different than farangs remember when they do make it back.
Last week’s photo was taken from the Queen Sirikit Convention Centre on Rachadapisek Road looking east towards buildings in the Sukhumvit soi 22 / 24 area. I really like this week’s photo which was taken by a good friend a while back. It’s somewhere known well to many readers of this site – but precisely where?
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Grown and available in every corner of the country.
Cannabis is apparently a big thing up-country as well. Talking with my 18-year-old son yesterday, he showed me he was growing a plant, and apparently a lot of people are doing so as well. Even his grandmother’s boyfriend is growing cannabis now!
Cannabis? No, thanks!
The thick smell of cannabis is so distinct. Experienced it once and it creates a sense memory that will stay with you for life. If smoking is allowed in bars in Thailand, it would be a disaster. Think coming back to your hotel at night and your clothes totally stink out the room. And let’s say you have to leave early the next morning for the airport. Besides, cannabis use would totally kill the vibe in bars.
Postcard from Hua Hin.
As a longish term resident of Hua Hin (14 years), I can confirm that the Bintabaht area is a ghost town. I remember the heaving days but even before Covid things were shifting to sois 96 and 88. I have a business associate who owns a small hotel in the area and we meet up there from time to time to chew the fat. I alight from my Grab taxi at the clock tower, walk through the usually deserted temple car park and down through the heart of the former barland to the hotel. I did this 2 weeks ago and found a few bars had half-heartedly opened – but they were bereft of customers. I stopped at one for a glass of red wine. At 180 baht I won’t be back. Absolutely no atmosphere and an expensive drink, not the way to attract much-needed customers. Most bars were closed. I went again on Wednesday, this week. It was even worse. The expensive wine bar was firmly closed, no surprises there. Feeling peckish I went to Murphy’s Bar (previously El Murphy, a rather strange name for an Irish bar). The place was open, but dark. I walked in. There was no bar staff. I called out ‘helloeee’ and a lady emerged from the darkness. She looked vaguely hurt when I asked if they were open’? ‘Of course’, she replied. I took a seat and ordered a Guinness. It was excellent. Then I ordered Gammon and chips. 20 minutes later another lady comes to ask if I had ordered Gammon and chips. 20 more minutes later my meal arrived. Although I didn’t see a Panda bike arrive, I rather get the impression that my order had put them into a panic. Where do we get it?! But it was good. And hot. But no English mustard. Another pint and 760 baht paid, I went home. Methinks one day the area will sport a new 5-star hotel encompassing all the alleyways and the nightlife will all have permanently shifted out to soi 96 and soi 88.
Pattaya the new Phuket?
I think in time Pattaya will come to resemble Phuket. They will fix the drainage and water pollution, build a better port and perhaps a casino. A new train from Suvarnabhumi. Location, location, location. My record from the airport in Bangkok to Pattaya is 55 minutes in a taxi, but that was terrifying as hell! Hua Hin is boring and the long trip from Bangkok is a drag.
Mask rules from place to place.
Having to wear a face mask, I can’t say I was looking forward to a 12-flight with it on. Thankfully, it seemed to be a personal choice on the Thai Airways flight. Regardless of what people think, I hate wearing a mask. I work in a hospital and wearing the mask is the most uncomfortable thing. I’m currently in Phuket and no-one seems to care if you don’t wear one. I was in Bangkok before and it is pretty much expected that you do wear a mask there.
With current situation, prefer not to deposit money for a retirement visa.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Things are off to a slow start at the reopened Soi 7 beer bar complex. Photos from readers show piles of building supplies strewn around the bar area which hardly makes it an inviting space to explore. How long until the work is done? It looks very much like a work in progress. There is now parking for six cars which satisfies the issue with the plot zoned for car parking. The owner of the land was fined 13 million baht for back taxes and renting space to bars in an area that was not zoned for such use. Obviously that isn’t the figure he finally settled on with word on the street that it was still in the millions. Soi 7 did well when everywhere else was closed but with Nana Plaza humming and Cowboy doing fairly well, soi 7 is hardly the only game in town. And with no roof over the soi 7 complex, rain will be a constant threat for the next few months. With only dim music from the sparsely situated bars, I am told there is not much of a vibe. We wish the bars well and hope that things pick up but now, one must ask themselves if it is worth the walk from the BTS?
Nana Plaza’s newest bar, Tycoon Agogo & Lounge, opened on Thursday night on the stairway to heaven, between the second and third floors in the space that was the short-lived Taxi Bar. Launched by the people behind Whiskey & Go Go, Tycoon follows the more traditional gogo model with girls in various states of undress on a stage encircled by stadium bench seating. The bar is nicely done out in neon-hued LEDs, including pink LED lines embedded in the floor. Like most bars, attracting ladies is a challenge and Tycoon’s opening is definitely on the soft side, with a grand opening party anticipated at a later date when they have a decent stable of girls.
For the month of August, both Tycoon and Whiskey are doing Buy-1-Get-1-Free local beers (excluding Heineken) and standard drinks every night of the week.
Erotica, now on the ground floor of the plaza, has pulled in a new stable of girls, a couple of whom appear below. Erotica has a 100-baht happy hour at its outside bar all night long on Monday and Tuesday, and lots of new dancers inside. Doors open at 7 PM.
Parties returned to Nana Plaza Saturday night with Angelwitch heralding its return to relevance with a Sexy Uni Girls bash. Angelwitch had a slow ramp-up after being closed for two years but now the owners are making a concerted effort to modernise one of Nana’s oldest and most-loved bars. Painters were in in June, new signage went up indoors and a new outside sign will be up within days. And, last week, the bar’s ancient, battered floor was replaced with sleek black tiles. Angelwitch is now doing its signature shows all night long with new girls joining the ranks weekly. Doors open at 7:30 PM.
Another slow starter, Butterflies is really hitting its stride again. Some punters say that no bar in Nana Plaza matches the unbridled fun, party vibe in Butterflies, most nights. Owned by the people behind Billboard, Butterflies has a very different personality. While Billboard’s soundtrack is a harder, edgier mix predominated by hip-hop, Latin rap, and Latin dance, Butterflies has always been more pop, club and rock. On Thursday night, the mix included tracks you’d never hear in Billboard, including AC/DC and Red Hot Chili Peppers, plus Thai rock anthems that had the girls singing along.
While the bar owners are doing everything to lure customers back, the sight of coppers setting up a table in the middle of Nana Plaza can be very off-putting. Mid-week, the boys in brown were collecting urine samples from girls for piss testing. Each bar had to send 5 girls to supply urine to be tested and it was not blanket testing of everyone which I take to mean that police make concessions to reality and cut the girls and the bosses some slack. Opening was delayed and bars in the plaza didn’t get the party started until well after 8:00 PM on Wednesday night.
Is this the most famous turnstile in Bangkok? For bar-going Westerners, it very likely is. It is of course the turnstile leading to the toilets in the beer bar complex at Sukhumvit Soi 7. Need to use the loo? The swanky loos inside might just be the priciest you’ll find in Bangkok. At 10 baht a pee, I’ve never heard of a pricier loo in Thailand. If your prostate is not what it was, raid your coin jar of 10-baht coins before you head to soi 7.
Oasis on Soi Cowboy opened 2½ years ago but its total operating time to date can be counted in months, not years – due to the pandemic. Despite being such a new bar, the owners – Stumble Inn Group – have already carried out a small refurbishment, removing the windows so the venue feels more open. The change in layout is said to have improved the feeling of the bar.
For lovers of ladyboys, both the ladyboy bars in Soi Cowboy, Cockatoo and Shadow bar, are now open.
Dollhouse is said to be humming along, running just like it was before Covid. That means birthday suits upstairs where some antics wouldn’t be out of place in a Nanapong show.
The recently opened East End on Soi Cowboy has been tinkering with the bar’s interior. It was never clear quite what it was trying to be but now the owners of the single shophouse bar have settled on a narrow gogo bar with seating either side of a narrow stage. By accident or design, I don’t know, the crew in East End is said to be on the older side for a gogo bar – figure late 20s up. That said, they tell me they’re still a decent looking bunch and it’s not like East End is like a far-flung Pattaya beer bar dumping ground, hiring the ladies that no other bar would take on. If young ladies are not your thing, East End might be for you.
For teetotalers and those on a tight budget, East End charges just 50 baht for a bottle of water.
Stumble Inn is one of the first bars to put notices up inside stating that cannabis may not be smoked inside the bar. Whether bars allow smoking on the premises or not (smoking anything inside a bar / cafe / restaurant / hotel lobby etc. is illegal) is polarising punters. There is certainly a number (I suspect a minority) who are strongly in favour of being able to consume cannabis wherever and whenever they like. At the same time there is a group which is just as vocal but who are equally as strongly against the idea. As per the last email included in last week’s column, some have come out and said they will leave a bar and never return if they get a waft of the very distinctive smell of cannabis in a bar. With this issue unlikely to settle down any time soon, will signs like this become more commonplace?
The concern some against the use of cannabis have raised is that of random drug testing carried out by their employer. How much cannabis needs to be passively inhaled for them to later produce a positive test for cannabis use? While there might not be the hordes of fly-in-fly-out workers that there once was, many of these guys work in industries where a positive drugs test means a mandatory stand-down period. In some cases, it might even mean the loss of a contract or the end of their employment. In other words, for some guys it’s a hell of a big deal. As one reader put it in a round-about sort of way, “You want to fuck a girl then by all means take her to a room and do the deed, just don’t do it in front of me!”
And with signs appearing in Nana Plaza offering cannabis for sale – outside Geisha on the top floor to be precise – Soi Cowboy has followed suit. A table was set up this week on Soi Cowboy outside Kazy Kozy / opposite Baccara with jars containing various strains of ready-rolled joints for sale at 200 baht each. The vendor was doing a steady trade.
The amusingly named Thai Cannabis Club is a shack in the Nana Hotel car park, one of literally dozens of outlets in the area selling the devil’s lettuce. A menu outlines the varieties offered. Apparently, the decriminalisation of cannabis in Thailand allows strains to be sold with a THC limit of 0.2%. It should come as no surprise that no-one is taking any notice of this. The first page of the menu at the Thai Cannabis Club has a strain that is rated at 28% THC. Now I may be way outside of my area of knowledge when it comes to marijuana and have no idea just what that means, but I am decent enough at maths to know that there’s a huge difference between 0.2 and 28! For you daredevils, Thai Cannabis Club is in the car park of the Nana Hotel, directly across the road from Nana Plaza.
The cool-named Drunk Burger which can also be found in the Nana Hotel car park is actually the new, improved Taco Taxi. Great place for a tasty, inexpensive late-night bite if you find yourself on Soi Nana after dark.
The Miami Hotel has been renovated and restored to recapture and celebrate the decor of the Vietnam War era complete with a period jukebox and 1960s furniture. It looks like they’ve done a brilliant job! Like many of the hotels in central Bangkok with the names of American provinces or cities like the Reno, the Florida etc, the Miami Hotel was an R&R hotel during the Vietnam War. For a long time the Miami Hotel was an older hotel trying to look modern. Now it is an old hotel retaining and revelling in its old world charms. If you’re stuck for somewhere to stay, the Miami is in a really central spot, a few metres from the main Sukhumvit Road on soi 13, roughly half-way between the Asoke and Nana intersections. Or in Stickman-speak, it’s half-way between Nana and Cowboy. Of course the original period hotel in the Sukhumvit area is the Atlanta Hotel down towards the end of Sukhumvit soi 2. That one would, however, not be so popular with Stickman readers as it’s not, errr, how do they call it….”guest-friendly“. In fact they actively turn away customers who bring back a different lady every day to their room. The Atlanta Hotel is closed and plans to reopen in October. If you’ve never been there, check it out in this music video.
Down in Pattaya, there’s an all-new Living Dolls with a new British owner, new interior, new girls, new drink specials and a new Facebook page. Living Dolls Showcase closed in November 2019, before Covid. The previous owner, Ken, sold up and the new owner, Dirty Barry, ripped out the dated Showcase interior and brought the bar into the 2020s. The bar reopened in late May and has built up a stable of attractive girls. With New Living Dolls 1 no longer, Barry dumped the Showcase moniker and the bar is now Pattaya’s only Living Dolls. There are different drinks specials every night of the week, such as Jack Night on Mondays.
Is it a scam or is it fair play? A long-time reader, frequent bargoer and retired bar owner explained that some bars on Sukhumvit are serving mixed drinks in a tiny tumbler which is more like a lady drink tumbler than the regular-sized tumbler customer drinks are typically served in. With a measured 25 ml shot and a load of ice, there is little room left in the tiny tumbler for the mixer. The customer thinks they’re getting a stronger drink and it’s gone in 3 or 4 mouthfuls. You’re essentially drinking a stronger-tasting drink due to there being very little mixer. Apparently, this may lead to customers to order more drinks. It’s been years since I had a Jack+Coke but my pet peeve was not tiny tumblers, but drinks served with flat / stale Coke.
If the girls do that thing where they rub their neck as they mimic they’re thirsty and want a drink, grab your mask, make a show of putting it on quickly and make out that you’re scared that she has Covid. A friend has been playing this little game with the girls and says it goes down a treat.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
A shortage of flights to Bangkok has the potential to stymie Thailand’s tourism recovery.
In fast-changing Thailand, first they decriminalised weed, will casinos be next?
A drunk Russian tourist in Pattaya breaks through a gogo bar’s glass door and attacks the guard after being unable to pay for drinks.
A Brit caught lying about being attacked by a taxi driver in Chiang Mai, instead reportedly hurt himself while climbing into resident’s yards.
Thailand, or more specifically, Thai citizens, have had a taste of their own medicine as Malaysia detains and heavily fines Thais who crossed the border and tested positive for marijuana.
The once popular readers submissions section of this website is very quiet these days. Where once there would be 15 or even 20 readers’ stories published each week, these days it’s more like one or two per month. I often get questions from readers asking why I seldom publish stories from readers. The answer is simple: if decent stories come in, I will happily publish them. If nothing comes in, nothing is published. It’s as simple as that. I will publish a new reader’s story in the next day or two from Mega so do tune in for that if you’re a fan of his travels around the region.
You Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org