Stickman's Weekly Column August 7th, 2022

Stickman Weekly, 7 August, 2022


There is no opener this week but there’s still heaps of news, views, gossip, photos, readers’ emails etc. I hope you enjoy this week’s edition!

Stick

 

Mystery Photo

Where is it?

Where is it?

Last week’s photo was taken from the Nana Hotel, looking down at the skytrain line with the Nana intersection and Nana Square shopping centre in the background. Many of you got it right. With this week’s photo, yes, I am well aware that there are literally thousands of branches of 7 Eleven in Bangkok. This particular one is not somewhere obscure and is located somewhere in central Bangkok – but precisely where?

 

Meet her at Mandarin A Go Go, Nana Plaza.

Meet her at Blondie, ground floor, Nana Plaza.

 

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

A long afternoon on Sukhumvit soi 7.

I will never understand Thai logic. I just checked into a 7/1 hotel. I was told that between 4 PM and 7 PM the front door would be locked. Why? Because they had overbooked. So how does blocking tired customers from their rooms without an explanation help the situation? And does it mean that if I am in, I can’t get out? The question was met with amusement. I didn’t venture to ask what would happen in the event of a fire <And what a question that is given the tragedy in Chonburi this weekStick>. I left the hotel at 3:30 PM in light rain. By the time I got to the mouth of soi 7, it was a torrent. I was drenched. Going back to soi 7/1 meant getting more wet. Going forward to soi 7 meant the same. Like a demented seal, I continued on my way. I could barely see the bars for the rain. I made it to an open, empty bar where I was able to take shelter. Although I could hear music somewhere within the soi 7 bar construction site, it was clear that bar hopping was not an option, even if it hadn’t been raining. Whilst waiting for the rain to ease I watched a woman outside the Moonshine Bar sweeping away the water. It didn’t seem to occur to her that she was fighting a losing battle, but on she continued nonetheless. Eventually there was a lull in the rain and I was able to make it to the Biergarten to be met with an astonishing sight. Quite a few sheltering farangs and only one lady. Quite a reversal in my experience. It’s raining hard again and I am banned from my hotel until at least 7 PM. It’s going to be a long afternoon.

.
Thoughts on cannabis.

Any idiot could have told the puuyai that there’s great interest in high-THC products and little interest in overpriced hand cream, but that way lies Satan, and this whole thing isn’t playing out in a puuyai-friendly manner. Instead, you’ve got entrepreneurial Thais setting up picnic tables and / or LINE delivery groups selling flower of any-percentage THC which is now legal. I don’t go to tourist areas much but I have yet to smell any cannabis smoke in Bangkok whatsoever, and the widespread advice is to avoid smoking in public which is illegal after all. As compared to San Francisco where the smell is omnipresent. I don’t hate the smell but all smoke (cigs, incense, pot) should be curtailed from environments as a public health measure, something at which Bangkok excels. I expect that to continue.

Glad to have travelled.

I am glad to have just visited Bangkok and had a great time overall. Once you get there, the mask thing isn’t an issue. I probably wore a mask for about five minutes a day, on average. The reader who said everyone still wearing one in Bangkok should have said that most Thais are still wearing one. The vast majority of foreigners are not. The odd shop did have signs on the door saying that wearing a mask is required inside the shop. But most didn’t and even though I’d pull one out of my pocket each time I popped into a 7 Eleven for two minutes, towards the end I didn’t bother as most foreigners didn’t bother either, and I never heard anyone asked to put one on. The journey there and back was a different kettle of fish. 15 hours travelling to Thailand, and 16 hours on the return leg, including the 2-hour stopover in Dubai. Needless to say I spent a lot more time eating and drinking than I usually would on a flight, as an excuse to remove the mask. I’m glad I went but the discomfort of the masked journey and the now horrendous cost of flights certainly makes me reconsider my usual pre-Covid schedule of 3 trips a year for this year and maybe next year too.

Fantastic Bangkok.

Bangkok really is great at the moment. I visit the bars regularly. Always soi 4, even though I live in soi 23. Cowboy has zero appeal to me. In Nana I play pool and sometimes visit Billboard and Spanky’s. I really see things picking up in the soi. It is busy enough to be fun but not too busy like high season. I wish it would stay as it is now. We will see how it develops.

The historic Miami Hotel.

Nice to see the Miami Hotel re-opening. The first time I went inside was in the mid 2000s after an older Aussie guy who was a miner in his younger days told me about it. He used to hang out with the GIs there in the 1970s. When I saw inside, having walked past hundreds of times since 1990, I immediately knew I had stumbled across one of those increasingly harder to find gems of Bangkok. They had a Happy Days style cafe counter off to the side that I believe is now a 7 Eleven. The lobby was decorated with ancient wooden cabinets and fixtures. There was an old-fashioned telephone switchboard that required an operator etc. I walked all through the hotel without anyone asking what I was doing there. My impression was that it was all unintentional retro, like the owners waited so long to upgrade that it eventually became retro-cool. Another old GI accommodation spot like that, if on a smaller scale, was the Crown 29 Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 29. It went from GI hotel to regular hotel to short-time hotel (where I first learned about it) to closed down hotel to would-be retro hotel. At the Soi 29 entrance they had one of those Happy Days style cafes that survived until not long ago when it became the RetrOasis Hotel, which didn’t survive Covid as of my last walk through a couple months ago.

 

 

Yet another new bar has opened at Nana Plaza, which remains far and away Bangkok's most popular bar area.

Yet another new bar has opened at Nana Plaza, which remains far and away Bangkok’s most popular bar area.

 

This Week’s News, Views & Gossip

Nana Plaza’s newest bar opened this past Tuesday. Pigtails, from the people behind Geisha and Rainbow 2, is located in the spot that once was London Calling, next to Erotica. Walking in, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d mistakenly entered Rainbow 2 next door. It’s nearly identical, from the all-black interior to the stage to the music play-list. On Friday, Pigtails had 20 dancers in typical coyote outfits on staff – none in pigtails. While it’s great to see new bars opening, one does wonder about the choice of car-alarm techno which is hardly popular with most punters. And with the crew seemingly enjoying gossiping amongst themselves over engaging with punters, Pigtails needs an active, attentive mamasan to steer the ship.

What was previously the space taken by The Kiwi Pub (its second iteration on the side soi off the main Soi 8) is still under renovation. The plan was for it to open at the end of August. That looks rather optimistic with work appearing to have stopped some weeks back. Word from other venues in the same group is that it will be open in 6 weeks. The new venue, believed to be called Velvet, sounds promising – a bar featuring live music, spread over 3 floors. Like so many bars and restaurants in Sukhumvit soi 8, the Monsoon Group is behind it.

The old Corner Bar at the west / Asoke end of Soi Cowboy has been undergoing renovation in recent weeks. Signage went up this week with the name Penny Black, indicating that it will be part of the short-time hotel / late-night bar of the same name next door. Word is that the new, extended Penny Black will open in the next few days.

 

The new signage for what was Corner Bar, and will now be part of the extended Penny Black.

Signage went up this week for what was Corner Bar, and will now be part of the extended Penny Black.

 

Heavy rain ruining nights is hardly news at this time of year and Tuesday was another washout, at least that was the case on Soi Cowboy. But just a kilometre up the road, Nana Plaza was teeming, not with rain but with customers. This is the time of year when the significant investment the owners made in the plaza several years ago of installing a roof really pays off. Billboard reported weekend-like numbers with Spanky’s and even Mandarin all calling Tuesday a boom night.

How do you know tourists are back? When one rolls into Crazy House towing a carry-on size suitcase behind him! A sumo-sized Japanese punter – well known in the Soi Cowboy bar – went straight from the airport to Crazy House. He was immediately pounced upon by three damsels, who made various lewd poses with or on his luggage, until it tripped up too many service staff who took it to the back. He didn’t barfine any of the girls, but was seen sneakily grabbing the Line contact details of one for a rendezvous later that night.

Leo has sponsored a new sign at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy. That in itself is hardly big news. It is a reminder that the way Soi Cowboy is managed is very different to Nana Plaza. At Nana, one company owns, manages and maintains the entire complex. They keep on top of all the little jobs that need doing. And they invest in the complex, big jobs with big prices – like the roof, said to have cost around $US 2 million at the time – as they see the need. At Soi Cowboy, small improvements are made by companies looking for promotion. Soi Cowboy owners would love for a roof to cover the soi, but given the way the soi has many different land-owners, it’s unlikely to ever happen.

 

There's a new sign at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy.

There’s a new sign at the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy.

 

If it seemed like the bars were especially full of Asians this week, you’re right. National holidays in South Korea saw planeloads of horny Korean guys flock to Thailand and its bars. And Thai girls just adore Korean guys who have supplanted Japanese guys as their favourite customers. Korea and all things Korean have been in vogue in Thailand for some time now – and more than a few girls have picked up, or are even actively learning the Korean language.

But it is the gentlemen of India who remain the biggest demographic in Bangkok’s naughty bars and, with western tourism still somewhat depressed, bar owners have taken a much more lenient stance toward Indian customers. Where once they were outright banned or forced to pay cover charges to get in, today Indians are welcomed – albeit cautiously – in nearly every bar. But there are limits that show that stereotypes become stereotypes for a reason: A group of 9 Indian men were refused entry to Spanky’s this week and moved on to Angelwitch, where they were stopped at the door and were met by one of the owners. The group leader asked if they could come in if they bought one drink. The owner said sure, one drink for each of you is fine. No, the group leader clarified, one drink for the entire group! You can guess Angelwitch’s response. Hey, at least they were polite about it and asked first!

Soi Nana does seem to be a particular favourite for Indians who flock there over Cowboy or Patpong.

Around the corner from soi 8, progress continues, albeit slowly, on the new Buddy Bar & Grill in a prime position right on the main Sukhumvit Road.

 

The new Buddy Bar around the corner from Sukhumvit soi 8 is coming along slowly.

The new Buddy Bar around the corner from Sukhumvit soi 8 looks like it will be nice.

 

The big story from Thailand this week was the fire at Mountain B Pub in Chonburi. I was making lunch on Friday and had the TV running the Channel 3 news live from Thailand, as I often do at the time of the day. I had one eye on my lunch and one on the TV. I had to stop cooking and pay attention to the TV where the report featured  horrific scenes of people engulfed in flames running out of a pub. It was not pleasant viewing, to say the least. Sadly, fires in pubs and hotels ending in tragedy like this are nothing new in Thailand. There was the Royal Jomtien Resort Hotel in the late ’90s with over 100 people killed. More recently, there was the Santika fire in Ekamai on New Year’s Eve, 2008, when around 70 people were killed and hundreds injured, many horribly disfigured.

As is the case with most accidents and tragic incidents in Thailand, the fire at Mountain B sparked the requisite knee-jerk reaction across the East, and even in Bangkok and other parts of the country. All bars and clubs in Pattaya this weekend closed no later than 2 AM due to “fire safety precautions”. Expect to see a heavier presence of police, city, district and Interior Ministry officials around nightlife areas for a while.

While the Santika fire was the first that came to mind after the news about Mountain B broke, it was actually a much smaller fire in Pattaya that inspired genuine changes to fire-safety requirements in Pattaya clubs. On May 7, 2006, a day-time fire at the Route 999 club killed eight staff members and construction workers. Had the fire been at night when the club was full, it would have been far worse and that thought scared the bejeezus out of both local officials and bar-goers. Suddenly, everyone was looking for the fire exit, with many Walking Street bars eyed warily. Lucifer and Insomnia were deemed death-traps by many. But to their credit or perhaps because they were forced to, both made changes. Insomnia now has egress down to iBar in the back and Lucifer has well-marked back exits as well. (At Insomnia, the only other option back then would have been to break a window and jump in to the sea.)

There are plenty of potential death-traps in the farang bar areas in Bangkok. I could name 3 multi-floored venues in Soi Cowboy where I would not want to be if a fire broke out. Take Penny Black, as an example. Three floors, one entrance in and out. Imagine being on the top floor if the lights went out, the venue was filled with smoke, with dozens of panicked, drunk punters and princesses, all making a beeline for the exit. It would be Santika all over again.

 

Weed is available in the Nana Hotel car park.

Weed is available in the Nana Hotel car park.

 

It’s getting harder and harder to avoid marijuana in Bangkok’s naughty bar areas. After featuring a photo of a stall selling pre-rolled joints on Soi Cowboy last week, there are now multiple stalls on Soi Cowboy offering weed, some in ready-to-smoke joint form. And let’s not forget the Thai Cannabis Club, across the street from Nana Plaza in the Nana Hotel car park.

Even if you’re not planning to buy some yourself, you might still get a taste inside the bars. Bar owners increasingly are reporting people lighting up joints with readers telling me they have seen and smelled it first-hand in three different Soi Nana bars as well as in Kink, in Pattaya. In every case, the smoker has been told to stop.

Over in Patpong, bars are not only actively selling weed in the bars, but are seemingly actively promoting it.

Conversely, at Suzi Wong on Soi Cowboy, smoking anything is banned inside the bar. Most sensibly, Suzi Wong has an outside patio to accommodate smokers – but only tobacco is allowed. No weed. Suzi Wong gets the thumbs up – allowing punters to consume outside seems a fair compromise while the interior remains smoke-free.

 

A great deal at Bangkok's best gogo bar!

A great deal at Bangkok’s best gogo bar!

 

All good things come to an end and come Monday, such will be the case for Billboard’s early-week 2-for-1 Drinks All Night special. Starting tomorrow – that is August 8 – the promotion will change to a Half-Price Happy Hour with all local beers and house pours still 2-for-1 Mondays through Wednesdays, but only from 8 – 10 PM. However, the 2-for-1 Drinks deal will continue all night Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays at Billboard’s sister bar, Butterflies, for now. Make the most of it while it lasts.

The mainstream press in Thailand this week reported the country’s 4th known monkeypox case happened to be the first female in Thailand known to have contracted the virus. Said lady was described in the Bangkok Post article as a woman with a record of visiting entertainment venues popular with foreign tourists. With the Thai authorities well-known for knee-jerk reactions, will there be any ramifications from this? It’s a headache bar bosses and the tourism industry could well do without. With Covid lingering and monkeypox spreading, there are a few nasties out there for naughty boys to avoid.

Trade at the Sukhumvit Soi 7 bar area picked up this week. Friday was described as busy by a couple of readers who made it there.

On the topic of the bars in Sukhumvit soi 7, if you were to hazard a guess at what the monthly rent runs for a bar like the one in the photo below, what would be your guess? Scroll down a couple of paragraphs for the answer – but do have a guess before doing so.

 

Punters are heading back to Sukhumvit soi 7.

Punters are heading back to Sukhumvit soi 7.

 

One of the few things that can improve or in some cases ruin a bar, is changing the lighting. And several bars in Bangkok and Pattaya show they do and don’t understand that, even if it took some a while to learn the lesson.

Crazy House has long had the worst lighting on Soi Cowboy, if not the city. Flashing lights placed directly at eye level of people sitting in 75% of the seats downstairs and even people sitting next to the glass-floor stages on the second floor! It seemed like this would never change but, lo and behold, this month Crazy House’s owners must have confiscated a truckful of LED lighting and they have lined the walls and the edge of the glass-ceiling stages with red LED strips. At the same time, the owners actually moved or removed the bad lights meaning people can sit almost everywhere in the bar now without getting strobed. The girls on stage also are much better illuminated. An A+ improvement.

Answer to the question above: 300,000 baht is rumoured to be the monthly rent for We For You Bar.

On the flip side, Kink on Soi Buakhao in Pattaya reopened its naughty upstairs stages in May and, for some unfathomable reason, moved the lights next to the hydraulic-powered stage (which drops to the lower floor every 30 minutes for a lesbian show) so that they are directly level with customers’ eyes. It’s basically impossible to see when sitting on the far side of the stage and painful to sit on the near side. Did the owners ever sit there to try it out?

Random in Nana Plaza basically did the same thing. The bar has changed its interior layout several times since reopening and now has a shower in the centre of the bar. Blazing spotlights illuminate the dancers and anyone unfortunate enough to sit at the high tables next to the tub. Unless you’re wearing shades, no one can drink within touching distance of the topless bathers.

At the opposite side of the lumen issue is Geisha, which has the worst-lit main stage in the Plaza. The lighting is so bad, what the girl actually looks like will remain a mystery until she comes to your table. Perhaps Geisha should play “Dancing in the Dark” once an hour?

 

Take note, fans of the Olde English!

Take note, fans of the Olde English!

 

Away from the chrome poles, The Old English Pub up Soi Thonglor (Sukhumvit Soi 55) announced this week that, in September, it will be moving to a new location directly under the Thong Lor BTS station. The new place, previously a teppanyaki restaurant, is far more convenient than its current spot in The Maze (Tops) mall, which was a good 10-minute walk up Soi 55. The new location, unlike now, will have a pool table, but will lose the large patio. There will be a smaller outside-seating area, however. You can see updates on the new location on The Old English’s Line account and social media.

Word from a Malaysian reader is that the reopening of the land border between Thailand and Malaysia on July 1st with no need for Thailand Pass, travel insurance etc. was not the exciting day many Malaysian men thought it would be. Horny Malaysians crossed the border and made a beeline for their favourite cathouse to catch up with their favourite pooying Thai. The thriving border towns they remember were just that, memories. What greeted them were empty shophouses, abandoned massage outlets and none of the cute girls and friendly smiles who used to welcome them. The ladies had long since left to return to their villages. As one Malaysian Stickman reader said, the cross-border trips are boring at this point in time and there’s no reason to make them.

One of the nice things about international travel in the years leading up to Covid was that, generally, you didn’t need to book international flights months in advance to save a fortune on your ticket – unless you were travelling at peak periods (which I personally always make a point of avoiding). Whether you booked several months in advance or just a week or two before travelling, the difference in ticket price was – at least when travelling from this part of the world to Bangkok – negligible. We would often book our trip to Thailand less than two weeks before we would travel – and the price of flights would be little different from if we had booked months in advance. This is no longer the case. I don’t like having to plan trips so far in advance, especially with the mess the world is in right now – but that’s what you have to do if you want to get the best price on air tickets. Airfares from my part of the world to Thailand over the next several weeks are crazy high and while I am keen to get back, I am not that keen. If I were to book flights for February – a very good time to visit with pleasant weather, the fares are almost half the price that they are to visit in October, which is one of the worst months to visit, weather-wise at least.

 

Meet her at Mandarin A Go Go, Nana Plaza.

Meet her at Mandarin A Go Go, Nana Plaza.

 

A couple of weeks ago I wrote that I was hearing reports of people in Thailand coming down with a flu-like bug which was not Covid – or at least RAT tests came back negative. I continue to hear of people coming down with some or other bug. I can relate. I never felt that healthy in Thailand. It felt like I was often coming down with some bug or another. At times I would catch something every few months – and certainly I would come down with something or other at least a couple of times a year. Looking back, I guess it was a combination of being out and about a lot, having a busy social life, living in the fast lane and meeting people from all over the world who probably brought various bugs and viruses with them. Here in New Zealand, nada, nothing. I can’t remember the last time I had a cough or cold. The last time would be years ago. One of the benefits of living in a hermit kingdom, I guess.

Turnover of staff in Thailand has long been a big problem. It happens in the bars. It happens in restaurants. It happens in factories. And it probably happens in offices and better-paying jobs too. Come the end of their month, their salary safely in their bank account, they disappear from their place of employment without so much as a goodbye, never to be seen nor heard of again. It’s as much of a problem in foreign-run businesses as it is for Thai bosses. I’ve always thought there is an obvious solution: Pay staff a decent bonus after 12 months of employment. Many Thais on minimum wage need an incentive to stay. They have almost unlimited options to walk in to a new job – and it’s pretty much always been that way. They need a reason to stay – and a pot of gold at the end of the year is about the best reason of all.

 

Meet them at Blondie, ground floor, Nana Plaza.

Meet them at Blondie, ground floor, Nana Plaza.

 

Thailand-Related News Article Links

Quote of the week comes from Mega, “Thailand is great for beaches, temples, spicy food and prostitutes but is a lemon for national parks.

Reader’s story of the week comes from Mega, Around The Traps in South East Asia: Part 21.

Thailand’s cannabis cafes are getting lots of exposure in the mainstream press.

Bangkok’s new mayor is determined to move the city’s street vendors from their long-standing locations to organised hawker centres a la Singapore.

13 (and counting) were killed and 40 injured, many very seriously, in a terrible nightclub fire in Chonburi.

Thailand’s 4th monkeypox patient is described as “a woman with a record of visiting entertainment venues popular with foreign tourists”.

There are efforts being made to make entertainment areas popular with foreigners allowed to open until 4:00 AM.

 

Meet her at Mandarin A Go Go, Nana Plaza.

Meet her at Mandarin A Go Go, Nana Plaza.

.
When I first started writing this column back in 2001, former Bangkok nightlife columnist and good friend Baronbonk said to me that each column was too long. I should stick to 1,500 words otherwise I’d run out of things to say, he said. He gave the column 6 months maximum before I ran out of puff. 21 years later I might just have run out of things to say. Having been away from Thailand for so long, each week it’s hard to write a decent opener. So with that in mind, if I have something to say, something on my mind or a story to tell, I will write an opener. But if I don’t, I won’t. When I get back to Thailand I’m sure I will have plenty of ideas for new openers, photo essays etc and there will be an opener every week. But for now, I will concentrate more on the news, views and gossip section – which is what most of you seem to be most interested in anyway. This week’s column still tops the scales at north of 4,500 words so hopefully you still feel it’s worth tuning in for.

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com