Stickman Weekly, September 25, 2022
Last week’s photo was taken from the new wetland park – where the Thailand Tobacco Company used to be – looking west across the expressway to the low-income housing blocks. I thought it was relatively easy and was genuinely surprised so few of you got it right. This week’s photo is, as per usual, somewhere in downtown Bangkok. But precisely where was it taken?
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
All back to normal.
On Tuesday night, I went to Hillary 2 to listen to the early band. Always enjoyable. At around 10 PM I walked back to Asoke. That stretch of Sukhumvit is back to pre-Covid normal. It may have only been a Tuesday night, but the sidewalks were packed, as were bars and restaurants. I explored several side-sois as well, and all were crowded. It was really quite remarkable.
Thumbs up for Oskar.
Went for a meal at Oskar in soi 11 last night, 7 PM table booked upstairs and took a couple of very well-travelled out-of-towners. We were all blown away by every aspect of the place. The service, the food, the drinks, the ambience. And the prices aren’t bad. 10/10 for Oskar, just how a restaurant should be.
Sad news about Patpong.
Sad news about Patpong. It’s not that far from Soi Thaniya, so maybe it will reinvigorate if the Japanese return to Bangkok in big numbers? In many ways Patpong was my favourite entertainment area. Small beer bars, Le Bouchon, the gogo bars, naughty bars for stress relief, the night market. I even liked the taxi ride from lower Sukhumvit.
Thoughts on Patpong.
Silom is definitely a disaster zone. I think Patpong attracts a different kind of customer than Nana or Cowboy. I would say it is more expat / part-time expat-centric and more laid back than the heavier touristed Cowboy / Nana areas. More reminiscent of Cowboy in the early ‘90s. You are right, it has a ways to go, but even pre-pandemic it was like this. You spent a lot of time in Club Electric Blue and The Strip in the past. Didn’t you find it this way? I imagine you got to live through more halcyon years of the place. Many expats have left and have yet to re-establish the place. I think Patpong’s revival will take some time.
More Readers’ Emails
Thoughts from Sin City.
My first impressions about the nightlife scene here in Pattaya tally with what you’ve heard. If anyone thought they’d be receiving the red carpet or being welcomed with open arms then they’re in for a shock. The demands of many ladies are simply absurd. This isn’t just my experience but also those of friends and acquaintances. Of course there are pragmatic ladies but overall they’re very mercenary, they aren’t interested in repeat customers and just want to grab as much money as they can, as fast as they can. Incredibly, we aren’t talking about those at the top of the pecking order! I’m sure in a lot of venues visited by expats or older gentlemen the attitudes will be better. In the main it’s simply not aimed at experienced visitors. I think that’s the bottom line and that’s why we quickly pick up on attitudes.
Thais outside Thailand.
I read with interest your comments on Thai people living abroad. Spot on, I totally agree with what you said. My ex-girlfriend worked in a massage shop on Sukhumvit. When I was in town we wanted to spend the day together. Her boss charged her an exorbitant amount of money to have a day off, more than she could ever hope to earn in one day. The boss knew she had a farang boyfriend and that I could afford it. Basically, it felt like I had to barfine her.
A peculiar Thai custom?
The article about Siriluck Fatima Chimmalee requesting bail, touched on the peculiar Thai custom of releasing someone to allow them to look for their papers. To my farang cynical mind, such a release is preceded by a large fat brown envelope. The excuse of releasing someone to look for their papers appears to me as a Thai face-saving thing.
Charles Sobraj – in the book The Life and Crimes of Charles Sobhraj by Julie Clarke and Richard Neville, Charles Sobraj was released by Thai Police in 1976 after paying a bribe of $US20,000. However, in the recent BBC mini-series The Serpent, the Thai Police released Charles Sobraj to look for his passport, even though the Dutch Consul had prepared a fat dossier accusing him of murdering at least 4 backpackers in Thailand. After his release Sobraj would murder at least 8 more people. The BBC needed the co-operation of the Thai police to film in Thailand, which may explain the script.
Cherry Likit Bannakorn – was arrested in Phuket by Thai Police. She was the courier / organizer of the heroin delivered to the Bali Nine. Indonesian police arrived to extradite her, but the Thai Police claimed that their papers were not in order and released her to look for her passport.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
This week’s big story from the nightlife industry was the long-awaited reopening of Shark on Soi Cowboy. Closed since the end of 2020, Shark’s return has been anticipated (and pushed back) since August but, thanks to growing tourist numbers and extensive pre-opening publicity, the reopening proved to be a surprising success. The new Shark will be both familiar yet fresh to those who’ve visited anytime since its opening 20 years ago. The basic layout remains the same, but subtle changes have been made to bring the bar into 2022. The owners were pleased as punch that they were able, when reupholstering the sofas, to match the original colours of the bar when it opened.
The low-hanging Christmas lights have been ripped out, as have the bolted-to-the-floor barstools next to the stage. The stage and the stage-side itself was resurfaced, and new coloured LEDs added to the edges. And, while there are currently no stools, the stage edges / bar-top has also been improved. Shark boasts an all-new sound system, new air-conditioners, additional stage lighting and all the sofas were replaced. Most significantly, the entire bar has been scraped and scrubbed to clean out all the mould and rot that gave Shark its distinctive musty and, quite frankly, sickening smell. Goodness knows how many with sensitivity to mould got sick from spending time in that bar. This is something I commented on a few times in the past. I’m told that Shark feels – and smells – fresh and new.
The only new thing Shark wasn’t able to bring in from the get-go are a lot of ladies. The bar opened on Thursday with about 10 dancers on stage and had the same number of Friday. You would think that, with so few ladies available, business would have been terrible, with most guys walking in and back out. But, on Friday at least, that was not the case. Shark was said to be ¾ full at 9 PM and drew more people until midnight, when the heavens opened, again. Even the owners expressed surprise at the trade, saying they didn’t expect much from the first weekend / until they get more girls. Shark’s Thai manager said it’s basically impossible to lure girls to switch bars in the middle of the month, but expects many new arrivals after salaries are paid at the start of October.
Upstaging Shark’s big reopening was the rain, which is becoming a serious pain in the shoes for everyone. This year’s rainy season has been described as the worst in living memory by some expats. Every single day this week had rain – mostly falling after dark – usually for extended periods and it’s all followed by the inevitable heavy flooding.
Punters mostly were spared Wednesday night, but those who stayed – or went – out late got a brutal lesson in meteorology. Heavy rain began falling around 12:30 AM (Thursday morning), became a torrent at 1 AM, and at 2 AM was described by one friend as a “wall of water”. It refused to let up until 4 AM, leaving those in the likes of Nana, Cowboy and Soi 11 stranded. The water on Sukhumvit Road rose to the bumpers of the few taxis floating around the area. Everyone was searching their Grab app for the GrabBoat option.
Thursday saw the rain begin just before 8:30 PM with Mother Nature pulling a fast one on Bangkok. From the looks of the radar map the rain was only a relatively thin sliver, moving Northwest out of the city. A hot topic at this time of year, barstool banter had it clearing up within an hour. But moderate rain continued to fall and a new look at the radar saw the front move straight north, and, a short while later, just die. No wind. The storm cell simply parked itself over Bangkok and didn’t move until well after 1 AM. While the rain was never torrential, the moderate-to-heavy rainfall flooded Patpong, with Suriwong Road left with ankle-deep water.
Unsurprisingly, the rain and flooding dampened business in Patpong on Thursday night, but not as much as you’d expect in some bars. Pink Panther drew 16 girls, compared with the 25+ the previous Saturday, but only two groups of customers: A group of farang women (a token guy) that came in before the rain and was trapped, and two very soggy guys who came in after the rain started. But, up the road at Bada Bing, the cosy tables on one entire side of the bar and half of a second were occupied around 11 PM with about 12 ladies in the house. Bada Bing has been the one bright spot in a dismal Patpong, attracting more customers and better-looking girls than the neighbouring bars. After midnight, upstairs at Black Pagoda, the front bar had about a half-dozen customers. Granted it was a rainy night, but one long-time resident who had not been to Patpong in more than a decade expressed shock at “how quiet” the entire neighbourhood felt.
Friday appeared as if, finally, there would be a respite. And Soi Cowboy boomed. Not only Shark, but Dollhouse, Crazy House, Suzie Wong and Rawhide were packed. But punters got a rude surprise when they stepped outside after 11:30 PM with, you guessed it, a brief, but furious, downpour leaving Soi Cowboy with dirty lakes at each end and a sheet of water throughout. Each end of Cowboy used to be a deep lake after each downpour, but repaving a few years back was supposed to solve that. Based on Friday, the pavement needs to be raised even more. Saturday looked to be more of the same, with thunder rumbling, skies darkened and showers beginning again as this column was being put together.
If there was ever any doubt, this week proved that Crazy House is the busiest, most-popular bar on Soi Cowboy, even though it’s not technically on Soi Cowboy. Friday was absolutely insane inside, with not a single seat to be had downstairs and upstairs going full throttle. But, more surprising, was that both floors were jumping on Tuesday. The huge number of customers – the majority of who were Asians – is drawing more and more girls like bees to honey. Customers have voted with their wallets – they prefer fully nude dancers.
Crazy House also saw a significant departure this week: Its original mamasan. Familiar to anyone who has visited Crazy House, the older lady with glasses and a permanent scowl became famous for barking at customers, shining her laser pointer in girls’ faces when they were late to stage and taking 100 baht off every girl whose barfine she arranged. She began work at Crazy House on Day 1 in 2014 but apparently had a massive falling out with the connected owners and was sent packing. She began work early this week at Whiskey & Go-Go in Nana Plaza. She brought no women with her from Crazy House and isn’t predicted to last long, as her income will dive compared to what she was making on Soi Cowboy.
Crazy House wasn’t the only bar booming early this week. At Nana Plaza, Billboard marked its first Monday without a 2-for-1 drinks deal since 2019. Management braced for a wave of complaints and slow trade. What they got was just the opposite: An absolutely rammed bar, with only one person reported to have complained about the expired happy hour. He was advised to go across the way to Butterflies, which continues to offer buy-1-get-1-free drinks all night Mondays through Wednesday.
Apparently, everyone else already knew to do that. Powered by those looking for a bargain, Butterflies recorded its busiest night since opening in 2016. Not busiest Monday. Busiest night period. On a Monday. Amazing!
Construction continues on Candy on Sukhumvit soi 11 which is looking very distinctive, and has a rather large and impressive frontage. It looks like it will become a new landmark on the soi. As to my question last week about the meaning of the odd name, it has been suggested that if the “x” is stated as “by” – as is used in the timber industry to describe timber size etc – then the name of the club would be Candy by Bobo. That makes sense and would suggest that it be might be run by those who have the Bobo club in the Hyatt on Sukhumvit Road, a short walk away and a venue which has proven to be quite a hit with the Thai crowd.
For several years Nana Plaza had the unwanted reputation as being the place to go if you were in to ladyboys. At its peak (not sure that is quite the right word!), I believe Nana Plaza had 9 bars that were either all ladyboy or at least part ladyboy. But things have changed massively and those days are firmly in the past. Today, the plaza has just 2 ladyboy bars. There are now more ladyboy bars in Soi Cowboy than Nana Plaza. On Soi Cowboy, Cockatoo and Shadow are dedicated ladyboy bars, while East End and, rather surprisingly, Toy Bar, have both real ladies and ladyboys.
Just inside the entrance to Nana Plaza, Lucky Luke’s reopened on Friday night as a cannabis dispensary and beer bar. Workers made record time in renovating and enclosing Tiki Bar, adding air-conditioning and attractive new signage. Ganja smoking is not allowed inside the bar, however. Where will they smoke? Some Nana Plaza bar owners raised their hands to vote “not in my place either” upon hearing of the Tiki’s imminent opening. More “Marijuana Prohibited” signs went up in the plaza as Nana’s tenants increasingly are at odds with all of the cannabis dispensary owners and the increasingly divisive issue of weed smoking or, more succinctly, where to smoke.
At Erotica on Thursday night, a Japanese man lit up a joint at the outside patio. Little did he know he was sitting just two tables away from the owner. At first, it wasn’t clear where the nauseating smell was coming from, but once the Thai owner spotted the Japanese fellow trying to hide the joint, he was told to put it out or leave.
The owner of another gogo bar in the plaza said potheads are realising their bad habits aren’t welcome and are trying to conceal their weed smoking. He reported seeing one customer cupping a joint in his hand, over his mouth, to never show the cigarette. He too was told to stop smoking or leave.
Thailand is known for its vibrant street-life, street food and street markets. Sometimes it feels like you can get anything available on the street. Delicious food. Tropical fruit. Sex toys. Prescription pharmaceuticals. Brand-name clothes, bags and other fashion accessories. Hookers of all sizes, sexes and persuasions. And let’s not forget – as continues to be reported in this column – marijuana. Call me an old conservative but is the availability of weed from these contraptions a good look? Again, feel free to label me conservative, but the impression of weed being sold from a crappy old van seems rather downmarket. Yet the favourite spot to sell their pot is on soi 11, with its many upmarket venues. Flash marijuana stores – increasingly being referred to as dispensaries – are one thing and while I personally am not a fan, they don’t lower the tone of the neighbourhood. Still, this is hardly anything new, is it – you’ve long been able to buy weed (and harder drugs) from many of the tuk-tuk drivers who serve tourist areas.
Every year for almost as long as I can remember, there have been predictions of doom and gloom in the bar industry. “This low season will be the death of many”, some punters claim. I admit that at times in the past I used to be a bit of a doomsayer myself. But I’ve been writing about the bar industry for long enough to see a pattern – and that pattern is that while the low season might see a bit of a dip, most bars get through just fine, power through the high season and the cycle repeats itself. Year after year after year. But don’t say that to the doomsayers who are now back in on the act, declaring that while many bars made it through Covid, they won’t survive beyond the next high season. Bars and bar areas are very much trending up, even those that are taking a little longer to gain traction. As more flights resume between Bangkok and far-flung corners of the planet, expect trade to continue to rise. And I expect most bars will still be in business this time next year.
How are things in the bars from the perspective of bar owners? One Bangkok gogo bar owner who I have known a long time – someone I absolutely trust who is not too proud to say when times are tough – surprised me with an email this week, “This is the busiest low season I’ve ever seen!”
There has been a lot of chopping and changing over the course of the pandemic as some bar owners announced they were calling it quits, only to months – or even years – later do an about-turn and make a comeback. One such bar was TQ, Pattaya’s longest-running gogo bar. There were many tributes online to the owners when they announced with much sadness that TQ would close…..only for some months later the bar to reopen. Hopefully, other bars (and restaurants, eateries, cafes and even hotels) which have closed and look to be gone for good may also come back from the dead.
But in some cases the return of an old bar or restaurant is not what it was. In a couple of cases of Bangkok venues reopening in a new location, it’s the same old name, but it may as well be a whole new bar because, in the odd case, sometimes the bar was so intrinsically tied to its original location that relocating simply doesn’t work. The use of the once popular bar’s name can be a fallacy. No names, but a couple of venues with very European names fall in to this group.
Shortly after the column was published last Sunday saw the boys in brown out in force across Pattaya with bars citywide ordered closed at midnight. What was that about? Speculation is that it might have something to do with the rapid and unexpected removal of the previous Pattaya police chief, and his replacement making a statement by stamping his authority.
An old friend sent the graphic above. I honestly have no idea if this is something genuine or not, but assuming it is, what a hoot!
Exchange rates haven’t been much of a talking point recently as punters are just happy to get back to Bangkok, however much baht they get for their hard-earned. But while exchange rates may not be such a talking point for visitors, they sure are for some retirees on fixed incomes. If my email inbox these past 48 hours is anything to go by, there’s a lot of chatter about how much baht people are getting for their dollars, and how few they are getting for their pounds. Americans must be awfully happy with the mighty greenback soaring past 37 baht to the dollar this week. But spare a thought for the Brits. While you can still get over 40 baht to the pound at the likes of Vasu and Super Rich, at some banks you’re now getting 3x.xx baht to the pound. And there I was thinking that the Kiwi dollar was toilet paper. Our poor British friends are even worse off.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Reader’s story of the week comes from Bangkok Byron, “Angeles City Revisited Part 3“.
Thailand denies entry to a model from Myanmar who denounced the junta in her country in a pageant speech.
Pundits predict the Thai baht could fall further against the US dollar.
A Singaporean tourist who accidentally ate a cannabis dish in Thailand said it looked like a Singaporean dish she was used to enjoying.
Thailand hopes to boost per capita income to $US10,000 within 5 years.
Sex & drugs, an Aussie talks of his Thai holiday experience.
It’s great to hear so many reports saying that the entertainment areas in Bangkok feel like they’re largely back to how they were pre-pandemic. I didn’t think it would happen so fast, but things really do sound like they’ve turned around fast. With that there seems to be a lot of optimism. Many people are keen to get back and many are eager to make up for lost time. I appreciate all of your reports from the ground of what you’re seeing with your own eyes. Keep them coming!
You Bangkok commentator,
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