Halloween in Bangkok, 2022
Bangkok Photographer did the rounds of the gogo bars on Halloween and got some great captures. What follows are his images and his words, highlighting what sounds like a fun night in the bars.
For the first time in three years, Bangkok’s bar areas celebrated Halloween.
While bars were open on October 31 in 2020 – Angelwitch even threw a party – ghosts were more visible than fun. There were literally just handfuls of tourists in the country and Covid-19 restrictions prevented any real group gatherings or public frivolity.
So 2022 marked the first time girls could become ghouls again. However, the pre-Halloween crowd crush tragedy in South Korea put a damper on some celebrations, with police out in force to emphasize “crowd control”.
Soi Cowboy took the brunt of that. In pre-pandemic years, staff and tourists both filled the Soi of Sin with spooky characters. That wasn’t the case this year, with only three bars putting women out front in costume. At the Asoke-end music bars, they went all out. At Baccara and Shark, the costumery was limited to some witches hats.
Customers in costume, likewise, were few and far between. A caped superhero was spotted and the obligatory guy in drag, but that was about it, at least early in the evening.
Theories abounded as to why the party was a dud on Soi Cowboy. Many said it was because Witches Night was on a Monday and people probably had their Halloween parties on the weekend.
But one bargirl – and bargirls are the worst sources for accurate information in Thailand – said police had gone around and warned all the bars not to have costumed staff on the street; because, Korea.
However, up the road in Nana Plaza – notably a different police district – it was a totally different story with more bargirls and service staff in elaborate makeup and costumes than before Covid-19.
Between 2017 and 2019, Halloween was kind of a dud in Nana. Some dressed up, but the women put money and barfines before fake blood and gore. Maybe after years of no Halloween, there was pent-up desire to look as un-barfineable as possible.
And make no mistake, women whose entire stock in trade is to look as sexy and slutty as possible in order to get customers to take them away made themselves look as unattractive as possible Halloween night.
Following the low-budget, B-movie Thai horror playbook, most girls went with black makeup, fake blood and dripping-slash makeup. Others got more creative, with capes, headdresses and two-toned dyed hair.
Billboard and Butterflies gave their girls an incentive to go all-out: 5,000 baht to the best costume in each bar, with four runners up getting at least 1,000 baht each.
And there were some good ones, including “dark angels” with black wings and halos – Mar, No. 97, was bewildered and a bit pissed off how her dark angel getup didn’t win. (She placed 5th).
Butterflies’ contest brought back a long-time favorite girl – Music – who had not worked in the top-floor gogo bar since 2020. She sported some elf ears and a costume that won her the 5,000-baht top prize.
At the newly opened Red Dragon, at the top of the escalator, all the staff were in makeup and all wanting to get their photos taken to share among themselves.
Upstairs at Mandarin, the star of the show was the “undead bride”, although the “undead nun” gave her a run for the money among best costumes.
At Whiskey & Go-Go, the girls were in unusually good spirits, with the photo-weary and recently reticent veterans eager to pose with their ghoulish pals. Another zombie bride here got the most looks from punters.
And, not to be outdone, the epicenter of Halloween in the Plaza for 20 years – Angelwitch – was the only bar in Nana with an actual Halloween party with spooky shows and plenty of hotties in witches hats, and not much else.
Nana didn’t see many customers in costumes, but they certainly enjoyed the horror show.
Last week’s photo was taken at Fortune Town. Only three readers got it right. Many of you thought it was MBK. This week’s shot features a view known to many readers…
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
The tourism bounce-back.
I’ve been away from Bangkok for so long it’s difficult for me to say what is normal and what is not. The airport was crowded. I would estimate 2.000 people in the queue for Immigration and it took an hour and a half to get through. It’s hard to convey just how busy it was. The queue for a taxi was very long so I took the airport link to Makkasan station (35 baht) followed the walk way to Phetchaburi station and one stop to Sukhumvit (17 baht). I only had a hand carry bag so it was fine. If I had had one or more suitcases I would have waited for the taxi.
In my first comment on your site some 10 years ago, I predicted that the gogo concept would evolve to become show bars with coyotes and that point is still valid today, more so if Thailand attracts high-end spenders after allowing casinos. Conservative Thailand also manages to be slutty and boundless. I have had “more than invites” on baht buses, in pharmacies, shops and restaurants, from gay breakfast staff in a 5-star luxury hotel to a mature office girl in the same hotel, and in 4,000 baht health spas in various 5-star hotels. Thailand is a matriarchy and sex or no sex is decided by the ladies. Sex has a tangible value – even for girls who absolutely don’t view themselves as freelancers. The big gogo bars will flourish and can ask pretty much as high prices as they want. But the small gogo bars – with sub-standard girls and high prices – will struggle. It’s a business model with flaws. People like to party and interact, so dating apps have limitations. Maybe the old CheckInn 99 concept will come back. You can have dinner, chat in the bar, perhaps buy a round of drinks for the band and end the evening by taking away one of the waitresses. There is also a future for very basic beer bars, and pop-up street bars, if the authorities allow them.
Cannabis aroma not an issue.
You may be sick of hearing about cannabis retail but realise that these storefronts went dark during the Covid years. No-one knew if the shops would remain derelict, and considering the economic hit, it’s good to see ANY business operating nowadays. I don’t hang out there but the ambient smoke is almost non-existent in my experience. I’m sure if I wandered past open-air bars I’d smell it more, but it’s nothing like San Francisco, for example.
Marketing the Biergarten.
You mentioned the Biergarten, I often watch video bloggers who wander the Asoke / Nana area, and one in particular seems to like Soi 7. And he sometimes peeps into the Biergarten and it always has only a few people there. What is surprising is that was even the case when the new Soi 7 bars were shut down. No-one graduated to the Biergarten nearby. I would have thought that the people who run the Biergarten would have made some kind of marketing presence to encourage punters to move up the road, but it seems nothing was done.
The good old days.
4,000 baht for a barfine? Even 2,000? Wow! Here’s something to make your readers weep. I remember the days (and in those days some of the gogo bars were actually open during the day, not just after dark) when a barfine was 100 baht, short-time was 500 baht and long-time 1,000 baht. And that was when the baht was in the toilet. Unimaginable, isn’t it?
The line-up on the runway.
You mentioned the long row of Thai planes parked up alongside the taxi-way / runway at Swampy. The majority of these aircraft previously served domestic routes. Currently, when you book a domestic flight online using the Thai Airways site, you are actually being booked with Thai Smile and seated on a Thai Smile aircraft. I’d booked a business class seat and ended up being seated in 1 of the 3 seats near the window, with the middle seat permanently left vacant. Currently, if you try and book a business class seat (domestically) on the TG website, you get a blank screen with an error message. As I’m returning to Thailand next month (and taking a domestic flight), I was curious as to whether Thai would repatriate these parked up aircraft and resume the domestic routes for the high season. Apparently not. As the Thai office here in Sydney rarely answers the phone or reply to emails, I contacted Thai’s ticketing office at Chiang Mai Airport. They told me that Thai Smile is doing all the domestic flights for now, and all of December. That’s all she knew. I, too, have concerns about all those parked up aircraft alongside the runway being put back into service after months / years sitting idle in very humid conditions.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
It looks like the rainy season is over in Bangkok with not a drop of rain this past week. And right on time, business is said to be really picking up around the traps. Everyone is saying the same thing – Sukhumvit bars and restaurants have been going gangbusters this past week.
Nana Plaza visitor numbers were up 30% on the previous month, as almost 130,000 visited Bangkok’s most popular bar area last month. Very impressive numbers indeed. As an aside, one wonders how many of those roughly 130K had a drink in Billboard. The top-floor bar is doing so well that you might struggle to find a place to park your bum after 8:30 PM on the busiest nights.
From Soi Cowboy, the soi of sin was also said to be doing very well with reports that this past Friday was as busy as it has ever been. Ever, as in any time on history. It’s amazing to hear how Bangkok has bounced back.
And it’s not just the likes of Nana and Cowboy people are flocking to. Soi 11 was described as pumping at Halloween with a business owner in the area saying it was the busiest he’d seen Soi 11 in years.
I hear a rumour that two popular gogo bars in Nana Plaza might be for sale – Blondie and many people’s favourite, Spanky’s. The word I’ve heard is that the owner has been in the game a long time and fancies stepping down and enjoying a long retirement. Spanky’s reminds me a bit of Long Gun in Soi Cowboy, in that they’re both bars that got the formula right from the outset and have stood the test of time, maintaining popularity year after year after year. Blondie, arguably the most beautiful gogo bar in Bangkok, only opened a few months ago and is also up for offers. If you fancy the idea of owning and / or running a gogo bar, I understand that, unlike elsewhere, the leases extend up to 12 years in Nana. Anyone interested should drop by and ask for the owner. Alternatively, send me an email and I’ll forward it to him.
Many visitors are keen to make up for lost time in their favourite old hang-outs hence the likes of Spanky’s and Billboard are booming. At the same time Bangkok is not standing still – far from it – and there are new venues opening every week. One soon-to-open venue which sounds particularly interesting is Velvet. I’ve mentioned Velvet before, the newest venture from the lady behind Soi 8 favourites Viva, Invite and Monsoon. The multiple floor venue, which I understand will feature a rooftop area, will offer dining and dancing, be managed by a Frenchman and catered by another Frenchman. Oskar comes to mind. Velvet’s website says the soft opening party will be Friday next week, November 18th. You can find it in the sub-soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 with the excellent Vesuvio (Napoli-style real pizza).
The best doesn’t mean the most expensive, far from it in fact. You can grab a bargain in Nana Plaza with 99 baht beers at the Blondie outside bar on the ground floor. Note, this price is at the outside bar area only and not the inside part / gogo bar.
Speaking of Blondie, Harry, the recent manager of Blondie, has given up the gogo game and moved over to manage The Game on the main Sukhumvit Road, under the Nana BTS station. A DJ in his own right, Harry has a big following of friends and is a cordial host with a keen appreciation of sports. With the soccer World Cup kicking off in a couple of weeks, The Game is a good choice to follow the action, with its massive projector screen in the main bar area and other screens both upstairs and downstairs.
A couple of months back I wrote that the authorities had announced they would be clearing the Nana to Asoke stretch of Sukhumvit of street vendors – and for a very short period most did indeed disappear. But just as predicted they have returned – and I’m told it is very much business as usual for the familiar vendors. It’s a rather different story at Silom where a sign at the corner of Silom and Convent says that the sale of anything by street vendors is not allowed and can be punished by a fine not exceeding 2,000 baht. Many of the vendors who were on prime Silom can now be found around the corner in the shadows on Convent Road.
A friend recently acquired an Apple Watch and got quite the wake-up call on his first trip to Nana Plaza when the watch began beeping and vibrating like crazy with notifications that it was too loud. After numerous alerts about how he was potentially damaging his hearing, he turned off the notifications, but it did prompt a reckoning for just how loud and damaging the sound in gogo bars (and to be fair, nightclubs and other music bars) can be, especially for those that spend a long time in such environments. The friend – whose occupation involves nightclubs and gogo bars – was being battered with music at 103 decibels. At worst, a deafening 114 dB! Sound levels are considered “loud” at 80 dB and hearing is impacted not only by the decibel level, but by the length of exposure. Even brief exposure to very loud sounds, such as at a concert, can cause temporary hearing loss. Long-term, repeated exposure can damage the hairs of the inner ear, leading to permanent hearing loss. It’s no wonder one young lad sitting next to the Jacuzzi in Billboard on Thursday night was wearing noise-cancelling Apple AirPods in both ears!
Tuesday night is Loy Krathong in Thailand and, like Halloween, it’s sure to be a big night in the bars. Shark on Soi Cowboy, in particular, is expecting quite a turnout, with many of the girls donning traditional dresses – or slutty versions of traditional garb – for the night, with lots of photos and selfies expected. The same will hold true at sister bars Mandarin and Red Dragon in Nana Plaza. But even on Soi Cowboy, where Halloween proved kind of a dud, you can expect to find lots of ladies going conservatively traditional for the night.
They’ll be doing the Loy Krathong thing at Whiskey & Go-Go in Nana Plaza where girls got an early jump on the Thai Valentine’s Day on Halloween. Whiskey continues to offer great drink deals every night of the week. In November, Leo bottles are on special every day for 99 baht.
You heard it here first: Mark your calendars for Saturday, November 26, when Butterflies in Nana Plaza celebrates its 6th anniversary in party style that has become legendary. Like the massive blowout Billboard 7th anniversary in September, its sure to be a sold-out event, with bottle-service tables up for pre-booking, special limited-edition souvenir glasses as gifts to the first 100 punters and a free pizza buffet. Look for the invites to go out this week.
Down the road in Thonglor, The Old English Pub has extended its signature “Pint for a Pound” promotion. It now runs every day from 1 – 7 PM, adding up to 2 more hours of cheap Leo pints. The extended hours bring tiered-pricing, however, with a pint still just one British pound (45 baht) from 1 – 3 PM, 1.5 pounds (65 baht) from 3 – 5 PM and 2 pounds (85 baht) from 5 – 7 PM.
While famous for a long-time, Lee Shamrock doesn’t hold the monopoly on popular farang music acts. Johnny Guitar, a “one-man band” act who has been belting out classic favourites and new hits for 20 years, is now appearing Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays at Buddy’s Bar and Grill’s new location on Soi 8. The music starts at 7 PM.
Down in Pattaya, some say that the best gogo bars these days are those most popular with Japanese and Koreans. The list of such bars includes Sensations, Baccara and Palace. These bars may recruit ladies who have a look that Asian men prefer: think fairer skinned, a little more curvy and not as “skinny” as many of the ladies in bars popular with Caucasians. Whether it’s the girls’ looks or the fact that some don’t really care for whitey, few Westerners make it inside and even fewer stick around. Those who do stop by report that they are largely invisible to most of the girls. One thing the girls in these bars really like about the Asian men is that they are all business – and not seeking any girlfriend experience nonsense. Asian men know not to hunt for a wife in a naughty bar. Like the venues popular with Thai men, it’s all very transactional and the pricing – while not fixed per se – could be described as standardised. The girls union instructs its members to quote 3,000 baht for short-time, and 5,000 baht for long-time. None of that “up to you” stuff. That is on top of barfines which can run 1,500 baht.
Speaking of that phrase, whatever happened to ladies saying, “Up to you.” When was the last time a lady said it to you?
Some months back a few readers provided photos of breakfasts in Thailand and they were included in the column. Feedback was positive so let’s include this shot from a reader who enjoyed the baht buster American breakfast at the I-Rovers Sports Bar and Restaurant in Soi LK Metro, Pattaya. This spread – which include coffees and orange juice – is still just 119 baht…or in real money, a bit over 3 American dollars. Ridiculously cheap. It’s crazy when you see deals like this that are much the same price as they were 10 or more years ago. Prices might be moving for many things, but Pattaya remains outstanding value for money when it comes to a good cooked breakfast.
And it’s not just breakfast which is cheap in Pattaya. When I first took the bus from Bangkok to Pattaya, I distinctly remember thinking what a bargain it was at 77 baht. That was almost 25 years ago. The price today? 131 baht. Still a bargain!
The Mad Professor continues to decorate the city. His scribblings were spotted by a reader this past week on Sukhumvit soi 71. We foreigners remain fascinated by his antics.
A heads-up on something tourists (and many expats) may not realise will soon be taking place. On November 18th and 19th, Thailand will host the APEC summit and the Cabinet has declared a government holiday in Bangkok, Nonthaburi and Samut Prakan from November 16th – 18th to clear the streets. (November 19th is a Saturday.) The bulk of the summit will be held at the just-opened and rebuilt-from-the-ground-up Queen Sirikit National Convention Centre on Rachadapisek Road, a kilometre or so directly south of the Asoke intersection. So why do tourists need to worry about 18 APEC country leaders – including Mad Vlad – attending daytime meetings? The lesson lies in history. Thailand last hosted the APEC summit in 2003 under the watch of then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Thaksin, too, wanted to “clean up” Thailand and portray a modern, pristine image. He ordered police to round up homeless people and put them out of sight until the world leaders left and packs of soi dogs disappeared, never to be seen again. Police also cracked down on the bars – and it was not limited to just Bangkok. Nightlife in Bangkok and Pattaya suddenly became family-friendly, with nobody showing anything, anywhere. Closing times were rigidly enforced and security in the capital made getting around a chore. Expect similar during APEC week. Soi Cowboy is likely to see the worst of the crackdown, as it is closest to the QSNCC but Nana and Patpong could also see clampdowns and face restrictions. And even Pattaya might too. Meanwhile, getting around the city – particularly on the MRT which has a Queen Sirikit station – will be annoying. Avoid that station if at all possible. There will also be security that will impact access to the new Benjakit Forest Park next door. You may need to find another place for your morning exercise.
The crosswalk on Soi 4 at Nana Plaza has gotten a much-needed upgrade. This week Bangkok city workers painted the entire intersection in red with a very visible white zebra crossing. Tourists, however, continue to cross against the light and motorcycles continue to not stop at the pedestrian walk.
Continuing the roadwork tour, the previously mentioned destruction of the Patpong-area sidewalks on Silom Road is finally showing signs of improvement. The photo here was taken right near one entrance to the Sala Daeng BTS station (and, of course, a marijuana shop) and, yes, it looks great. But 40 metres up the road its potholes, standing water and tripping hazards. Maybe it will be finished in time for Thailand’s next turn hosting APEC in 19 years’ time?
I can’t help but notice that a lot of Thais don’t really adapt to life in Farangland and struggle outside their own country. Many Thais here in provincial New Zealand barely reach survival level English (despite the offer of free / government-funded language lessons for immigrants) and even after years in the country, some are lost the moment they leave the Thai community, and are like the proverbial fish out of water. What makes it worse is that many Thais only listen to other Thais. So often it’s a case of the blind leading the blind. I am always willing to help out Thais here, pointing them in the right direction and giving advice when I can. But my offer to help didn’t go down well this week after I inadvertently revealed to a large group of Thais that they were all driving illegally. They were mistaken in thinking that they were allowed to drive here when, in fact, they could only do so under certain conditions. Most Thais who drive here have converted their Thai drivers licence to a local New Zealand licence. If you come from the likes of Australia, America, UK and other developed countries, all you need to get a local NZ driver’s licence is provide your foreign licence, show that you’re resident in New Zealand, fill out a form and pay a few dollars. You’ll be issued with a local drivers licence and can drive without any restrictions or conditions. Those from elsewhere must pass a theoretical test at which point they get a licence with conditions, allowing them to drive with a NZ licence holder in the car supervising them. They then must pass a practical driving test at which point they get a “full licence” and can drive without restrictions and no need for a supervisor. But most Thais here don’t understand the system. In the group I spoke to, each had passed the theoretical test and been issued with a licence with conditions. However, they didn’t realise there were conditions and they drove as if they had a full licence. Not one knew about the need to pass a practical test. They didn’t think this was such a big deal until I explained that in the event of an accident their insurance would not be valid, they would have to pay to fix their own car and could be liable for any damage to other people’s property. That’s when the penny dropped. I knew there would be a backlash. They got angry at me. I was wrong, they told me. I misunderstood. I was a liar! 100% sure, I was wrong. “OK, you keep driving. Just remember, when you crash, you will have to pay for the repairs of your own car and could be liable for someone else’s. You might also find that being caught driving without a licence affects your ability to get citizenship.” I showed them my licence. It had no conditions on the back. Each of their licences had a condition – they could only drive accompanied by a supervisor / NZ licence holder. They weren’t happy! Even here in Farangland, most Thais listen to and believe one of their own over a local. It takes a lot of effort to get them to listen to you, even when all you’re trying to do is help them! Do I think that any of them will actually try to do the practical test to get a full licence without restrictions? Most likely not!
Last week I mused whether Keto and gluten-free menus were available at Bangkok restaurants. As it turns out, there are surprisingly more options out there than I realised. Doing a Keto diet in a country where rice and noodles are staples will raise the locals’ eyebrows, but if you don’t want to prepare all your own food, you can find plenty of good choices in restaurants or the Food Panda and Grab delivery apps.
Limitless Foods in Sathorn is a popular choice, as they put the carbohydrate, protein and fat information on the label of every meal. In addition to Keto items, Limitless also has “Balanced Macro” and “Plant-Based Balanced” meals. Very similar is Potion Essential in Thonglor, where the menu is divided into “Keto and Protein”, “Superfood Salads”, “Healthy Rice” and “Cold Brew Coffee”. Lean Fire, in Ekamai, is the place for meat lovers with grilled steak, beef and chicken meals in both Keto and “normal” (i.e. potato and rice eaters) versions. GetFresh is another long-time go-to for healthy eaters, with “Keto Egg Bites” and lots of low-carb options.
GetFresh, which has several locations, has been joined on the Bangkok food scene by a booming number of salad restaurants, all of which offer keto-specific menu items, such as the “Keto Karma” salad (bacon, cream cheese, guacamole, boiled egg, grilled chicken, walnuts and greens) at Wrap & Salad on Soi 22, and the Tokyo Bowl (sashimi salmon, tuna, unagi & ikura, avocado, pomelo, bell pepper and greens) at Tropical Summer Bowl. Outside of those, many restaurants offer at least one or two Keto-named dishes, such as the Keto Salad at my old favourite eatery, Sunrise Tacos.
As for gluten-free? Easy Health, Hummus Bangkok, Carrots Vegan Bistro and the aforementioned Lean Fire have numerous items, but, again, most places – even Taco Bell – offer gluten-free options.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
A naked Brit is found on a Ko Samui beach after a bender celebrating his birthday.
Thailand predicts 18 million visitors to the country next year.
The latest crackdown announced in the Land of Crackdowns is on foreigners who overstay their visa.
A delivery driver found over half a million baht in cash suspected to be counterfeit under a tree in Udon Thani.
A well-known Aussie surfboard designer is killed in a motorbike accident in Chonburi.
I closed last week’s column posing the question of how high season would be this year. With limited numbers of flights and sky-high air ticket prices, I had concerns. It looks like I spoke too soon. There have been many reports of long queues at the main Bangkok airport this week as tourists flock back. An old friend / Sukhumvit business owner commented how busy Sukhumvit soi 11 was at Halloween. And now we have the Tourism Authority of Thailand predicting 18 million visitors for next year. I would not be surprised if the TAT may have actually underestimated how many visitors Thailand will get next year. Given the huge pent up demand to travel again, Thailand looks to be sitting pretty. I reckon there’s going to be a lot of money made in the tourism industry, despite the looming recession.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org