Stickman Weekly, January 15, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken of what was once a lane in the north-eastern corner of Benjakiti Park, which used to be lined with ramshackle houses either side, home to some of those who worked in the Tobacco Monopoly. Many of you got it right. This week’s photo is not in Bangkok.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Biergarten, a reminder of the charms of years gone by.
I was pleased to see a reference to Biergarten in soi 7. Far from becoming irrelevant, I think it could see a resurgence of interest. Yes, it lacks the razzamatazz of other bars and, yes, it lacks the glamorous teen ladies of other bars. But it has a place in the bar scene, especially for older, long-term expats living on pensions with ever-worsening exchange rates. (When I arrived here in 2001, an ATM would give me 85 baht for GBP; last week I got 39). With ever-increasing drink costs in bars, minimum drink quantity purchase, padded lady drink bills and other scams, many will be grateful for the peaceful Biergarten environment where you can nurse a beer (or a bottle of water) at reasonable cost for as long as you want, whilst having a nice long relationship-building chat with a Thai lady, all without having to pay exorbitant lady drink prices for a centimetre of cola in the bottom of a glass. And don’t write off the Biergarten ladies as being past their sell-by date. There are some very nice ladies there in their early 30’s who can be reserved for a night of frolics for a fraction of the highly priced ladies elsewhere. And their attitude is still old school. The GFE still exists at the Biergarten. You might even get your shirts put on hangers and placed neatly in the wardrobe!
Airfares coming down.
There has been a significant drop in airfares to Thailand from Australia. In December, it was impossible to find a return ticket from Australia to Thailand for less than $2,000. Now, Thai Airways is offering direct flights to Bangkok from Melbourne for $1,160, starting mid-February. This includes 30 kg of checked in luggage. Scoot is offering return fares for $675 but this includes a long layover in Singapore and no checked in luggage. It looks like it’s game on for us Thailand-deprived tourists!
Mask use has increased.
Over the past couple of days the seemingly impossible has happened: the Thais’ use of masks has INCREASED. Whereas before the “Chinese announcement”, you may have seen the occasional Thai not wearing a mask and the occasional foreigner wearing one, from my observations, now not only is every Thai wearing a mask but more foreigners are too! Today I went to buy a few things in Tesco Lotus On Nut and I didn’t see one Thai, out of what must have been hundreds, not wearing a mask. I wasn’t wearing one and I got a very dirty look from one older lady although she didn’t say anything to me. I always carry a mask and I have a feeling sooner or later I will have to start wearing it. At least on the skytrain, in supermarkets and similar places. But it’s not just on the skytrain and on the street and basically everywhere that all Thais are wearing masks, it’s creeping into the nightlife areas too. In the Thermae every girls wears a mask, but that’s not surprising as all the (Japanese) men in the Thermae are wearing masks too. I wouldn’t be the slightest bit surprised if in those gogo bars mainly frequented by Japanese, some of the girls on stage dance wearing masks. A lot of the girls in the Biergarten wear masks too.
Pleased to have visited.
Thailand and Covid19.
Regarding the new conditions to enter Thailand, I thought something might happen now that the Chinese are travelling again. Who knows what the truth is about Covid19 in China? I am no conspiracy nut but I am sure the western media hype it up against the Chinese, and I am sure that there is politics at play to some degree. We will just have to see how things play out in the coming weeks. At this time of year I would usually fly to Thailand and then go overland to Malaysia, and maybe to some other countries in the region as well, using Thailand as a hub and then fly back home out of Thailand. That seems pretty risky right now. The best I could hope for now would be just to fly in and out of one country such as Thailand or Malaysia and just stay in the one country. Three years on and Covid19 is still causing issues! <These silly rules have been rescinded – see the lead news item below – Stick>
A lady recently accompanied me to the cinema to watch the latest Avatar film. I’m curious on your thoughts regarding Thai subtitles, are they an accurate reflection of the English dialogue? I noticed quite a few times throughout the film a short line of script to cover long speaking passages. My date (with poor English skills) indicated she was following the story no problem. Wondering if you have had experience with this? <Thai subtitles are perfectly fine. Of course, some things don’t translate 100% because of cultural and language differences. The one comment I would make is that pretty much every Thai I know *hates* dubbed movies or TV. They much prefer the original version (English, Korean etc.) with Thai subtitles. NEVER a dubbed version – Stick>
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
The Thais flip-flopped just hours after last week’s column was published, removing the requirement that foreigners flying to Thailand had to show proof of two Covid vaccinations before they would be allowed to board the aircraft. It was replaced with a new condition: anyone who did not show proof of vaccination would be subject to a Covid test on arrival. Word is that large-scale testing facilities don’t actually exist at airports in Thailand. In proof that this was all a gigantic balls-up, the very next day – that is this past Monday – the Thais changed tack again and all of these requirements were cancelled, a tacit admission that the whole idea was ridiculous.
Despite the rules being cancelled soon after they were announced, some unfortunate travellers got caught up in this mess. A small number of people were denied boarding flights to Thailand and reports say that when they went to claim on their travel insurance, some insurance companies reportedly labelled it a force majeure. That’s a big deal because exclusion clauses in travel insurance policies means the insurer will not pay out for a loss due to any situation deemed a force majeure.
Stockings in Nana Plaza, reported as closed a week ago, is open. Under new owner Tee, the second floor bar has taken a step back to its Temptations roots and is once again a ladyboy bar.
When Stockings opened, it was the last unit in Nana Plaza to do so. But there’s actually another bar under construction. Where you ask? Aren’t all of Nana’s three floors of units already operating? They are, but the new bar is being built in an entirely new location, never used before. Some Plaza wall will be knocked down before it opens and an entirely new space will be created. I can’t tell you too much about this “secret” new bar other than it’s going to be “upstairs” and that it will be more of a cozy hostess lounge than chrome pole palace. More to come.
Mandarin and Red Dragon already had the best drink deal in Nana Plaza with their 95-baht all-drinks happy hour until 9:30 PM. But now Red Dragon has added a daily drink special that runs all night. Tonight (Sunday) for example, Johnnie Black is 95 baht all night. Friday is Smirnoff vodka, Tuesday Gordon’s gin, etc. For each day’s special, see Red Dragon’s Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
Across the Plaza, Whiskey & Go-Go and Tycoon have started Tequila Thursdays. You’ll get a free tequila shot for yourself with every drink. Leo bottles also are 99 baht this month at Whiskey with Tiger 99 baht upstairs at Tycoon.
On Friday, Buddy’s Bar & Grill on Soi 89 will officially open its new extension. The bar is now double its original size and a brand-new regulation pool table has been installed with plans to join the Bangkok Pool League. The bar will celebrate the opening with a Chinese New Year party and a “Killer Pool” tournament.
During the pandemic, the owners of Hillary 4 bar gave back the keys and walked away from the large Soi Nana beer bar. It was given basically free – no key money – to the Stumble Group, which reopened it as Jungle Bar. Jungle was basically Hillary 4 with a new logo and from all reports it did nothing for Stumble’s bottom line. After disposing of the Temptations (now Stockings) and Mercury (now Red Dragon) gogo bars, Stumble Group has offloaded Jungle Bar to – you guessed it – Tee at Nana Plaza. Hillary-Jungle is now “Bunny” bar. I hope that they removed the Jungle sign before they put the Bunny sign up. Can you imagine the uproar from the woke folk if a Thai owner had unwittingly combined those two names?
It seems every day new marijuana joints are opening shop in Bangkok, but one of the most aggressive weed dealers is the Cannabis Club. First spotted opposite Nana Plaza, it now has opened at the Soi 23 end of Soi Cowboy and erected a huge cannabis sign at the Asoke intersection.
In last week’s column I mentioned that the Biergarten in soi 7 hasn’t recovered from the long Covid disruption – although the question could be asked, recovered from when? The Biergarten maintains a following amongst some long-termers but the fact remains that the Biergarten has been in decline for a very long time. Perhaps there just isn’t the demand for afternoon delight that there once was? Back in the day, from mid-afternoon the Biergarten would have dozens of ladies on the premises and as the sun headed for the horizon it would be packed. But this isn’t recent. I am winding the clock back a couple of decades. In fairness, the Thermae is another spot that was a whole lot busier in the past than it has been in recent years.
Not all freelancer spots are struggling. I hear soi 11 is pumping. Away from soi 11, two venues which attract freelancers – although they aren’t freelancer venues per se – Country Road and Penny Black on either side of the Asoke end of Soi Cowboy, are both doing great trade. Each attracts plenty of freelancers, especially later in the evening. And if you’re on a budget, these are decent places to stop by. This past week a friend of a friend had a lady accept an invitation to his hotel room for 1,000 baht. Said fellow must be a genuine hansum man because he found another lady outside Thermae similarly willing to head back to his hotel room for 1,000 baht.
The writer of the email in today’s Emails To Stick section which I titled “Mask use has increased” commented that most ladies in the Thermae and some ladies in the Biergarten are wearing masks. What does that do for their popularity? Does wearing a mask reduce the likelihood that a punter will choose them? In the past some punters would say that what they liked about taking a lady from a gogo bar is that (compared to freelancer bars) you could see what you were getting. With mask-wearing by these freelancers, that would be even more so today.
A friend in town for the first time since pre-Covid feels that when it comes to familiar faces in the gogo bars, he recognises many of the old service staff he has known over the years. As far as girls on stage goes, not so much.
I keep hearing good things about Dollhouse. Some say it is the pick of the Soi Cowboy gogo bars when you consider the mix of girls, vibe, music and prices. Enough people have mentioned Dollhouse that it’s worth having a nosey inside. Don’t forget, the action is upstairs where things are much more risqué than the ground floor.
A friend who moved down to Phuket from Bangkok a few years ago tells me that the paradise island is absolutely over-run with Russians, to the extent that he escapes to Bangkok for some peace and quiet. Is this a blip as Ruskies flee their homeland and Mad Vlad’s invitation to join the front lines, or is this the new direction for Phuket, as it becomes dominated by Russians?
Down in Pattaya, will the expected flood of Chinese visitors be looking to get high? Marijuana “dispensaries” continue to sprout in Sin City, with Kahuna Queen taking over a defunct gold shop at Soi 13 and The Old Weed Man looking like a marquee cinema at the entrance of Walking Street. A weed cart has even taken over the front of the defunct McDonald’s near Walking Street.
During the pandemic, when Walking Street was closed and gogos operated like hostess clubs, Soi Buakhao emerged as the centre of Sin City’s (moribund) nightlife scene. The engine that powered pandemic partying was the Tree Town market which, before Covid, was a bunch of food stalls and a few crappy beer bars. During Covid, a nightclub opened in the back of Tree Town, beer bars filled with out-of-work gogo girls and the crowds came. Tree Town became the epicentre of Pattaya’s biggest Covid-19 wave, with 25% of everyone going there testing positive at one point.
Once Walking Street reopened, it was thought Soi LK would go back to being the fun zone for Cheap Charlie expats. But the momentum the Soi Buakhao / LK Metro area gained during 2020 and 2021 didn’t slow. The only thing missing was a true after-hours nightclub. Now Soi Buakhao has two: Warehouse and Bling. With restaurants, pubs, music bars, gogo bars, beer bars and now, nightclubs, there really is no need to go to Walking Street.
For those fed up with the sometimes hostile service at Pin-Up, XS is proving a solid alternative. While some staff have the same poor attitude as Pin-Up – as they were transplanted from that bar – manager Stephane is trying to make guests feel much more welcome. He says, for example, customers can sit wherever they want. His message hasn’t gotten through to some of the staff, however, who continue to restrict seating for certain groups and in certain areas of the bar for no apparent reason. And, for all their shared lineage, XS is not Pin-Up in another regard: The ladies, while attractive, still can’t compare to those on stage down the road. Stephane says it’s still early days – XS has been open only about a month – and the line-up gets better by the week.
At first glance, Sin City may appear to be booming again, but a closer look shows there are still deep pockets where recovery has not, and may never, come. While the beer bars of Soi 7 are again showing life, Soi 8 remains dire. Entire beer bar complexes remain empty and the hotels on that street show how the pandemic destroyed many businesses.
Prior to Covid, the Eastiny Hotels Group was one of the three largest players in Pattaya’s hospitality market, along with the Nova and Sunshine groups. But while all of Sunshine’s and Nova’s hotels are open again, Eastiny has barely survived. The Eastiny Plaza and Eastiny Place hotels on Soi 8 are mere shells. Only four hotels remain in the group, all but one newly reopened hotel on Soi 10 are outside the downtown area.
IvyGo takes over in the spot that was once Sugarbabies, some forgotten bar opened by Big Andy and then Annabelle’s. While nicely laid out, with short pedastool stages, it’s a prototypical Thai-run bar, with horrific music, contract coyotes hunting for their required 30 – 90 drinks a month, and the signature bizarre interior furnishing. In this case it’s an 1890s-era fake machine gun right in the entrance. No one could explain what that was all about nor what IvyGo means.
Soi Diamond, long a graveyard for successful gogo bars not named Windmill, is showing signs of life. The left side of the soi is now lit up and jumping, with even the big LED screen flashing again. The right side? Not so much. Even the rebooted Heaven Above has closed, leaving that side of the soi dark, except for the Galaxy Russian joint.
Further up Soi Diamond, the eponymous Diamond A-Go-Go, long ago relegated to the annals of dead gogo bars, has been a tough place to operate since the days Ricky was in charge, way back in 2008. Who knew, however, that all you had to do to make the Diamond a-Go-Go site successful was rename it Windmill!
Windmill is currently under renovation. So owner David took Diamond / Annabelle’s and turned it into Windmill 2. He recreated the Windmill 1 stage, complete with gynaecologist’s table, and opened an upstairs few knew Diamond even had. Tellingly, bottles of hand sanitiser are everywhere, which is good for all the debaucherous geezers who are regulars there. None of the women working at Windmill would rank above a 4 on most sane men’s hotness scale, but if you’re into sticking full beer bottles up a fat, saggy 40-something’s baby canal and have her pour it back out into your mug and drink it, then Windmill is your place.
Will Windmill 2 remain open after Windmill 1’s renovation finishes? Staff believe so.
In last week’s column I included a photo of the signage for Sperm Bar in Chiang Rai and commented that it could perhaps be the worst named bar in all of Thailand. Reader Roger has submitted another bar with a similarly poor choice of name, Piss Bar. Piss Bar can be found in the Rompho Complex in Jomtien.
A correction: In November, it was said Apple a-Go-Go opened in the spot that Infinity, the gogo bar started by former police volunteer and Pattaya One founder Howard. It did not. Infinity’s shell and sign is still there two doors down.
Back in Bangkok, earlier this week some of the drug-dealing Africans on “Soi Miami” (Sukhumvit soi 13) were rounded up and taken away by the cops. Was this a genuine crackdown aimed at getting hard drugs off the street or was this all for show? My bet would be on the latter. History tells us that within a few days they’ll be back in the same spot, peddling the same merchandise.
A friend was telling me this week about his banking woes. Like many expats in Thailand, he chooses to keep most of his money in accounts back in his homeland. When he went to make some purchases online this week the transactions were declined, despite having more than adequate funds to cover the purchases. We all manage our finances differently but most people living in Thailand likely have accounts in Thailand as well as in their homeland. One of the many reasons for this is that Thai banks are reluctant to give foreigners a credit card and if they do, it’s an incredibly lousy deal. That’s why many expats use a credit card issued by their bank in Farangland. How you structure and manage your finances is an individual thing. Many I know keep between 6 and 12 months spending money in Thailand, and the rest back in their homeland. Funds held in a Thai bank account are basically dead money with interest rates often little more than a fraction of a percent. Let’s not forget the not infrequent news reports of money disappearing from Thai bank accounts and the hassles getting it sorted out. (As an aside, more often than not it’s someone in the person’s household behind it.) I have found dealing with banks here in my home country to be very good – they are generally very helpful and getting things done is very easy. There is one proviso – you need to be in-country. The moment you step outside the country it all changes and any request is viewed with great suspicion, especially when you mention Thailand. For banks in New Zealand, the mere mention of Thailand is like multiple red flags at once.
On the subject of banking, I wonder if Thailand will ever make it easier for foreigners on a tourist visa to open a bank account? With things moving rapidly towards payment by electronic means, vendors who only accept payment that way may be limiting their customer base with tourists unable to make a purchase.
I mentioned last week the strong surge the baht has made over the past 2½ months. The baht’s meteoric rise continued this week, gaining another 2% against most major currencies. Your US dollar now gets you 32.xx baht. Change British pounds in a Thai bank and you won’t even get 40 baht for every pound. Aussie and Kiwi dollars are in the low 20s.
If you’re out and about and find yourself caught short with no power in your phone, each floor of Terminal 21 – the ground floor aside – has workstations where you can power your laptop and charge your mobile phone. This week the popular shopping mall installed partition screens between these spaces and erected signage saying “Keep social distancing”. The signage is only in Thai and English. I thought they might have put it up in Chinese too, given that Terminal 21 was very popular with the Chinese who are now returning – and whose return, no doubt, prompted this signage to go up in the first place.
A few days before I moved to Thailand in early 1998, I went to the local bookstore looking for a book to read on the flight. I grabbed a copy of “The Solitary Man” from an author I’d never read before, Stephen Leather. The Solitary Man appealed because it was my favourite genre – a thriller – and was set partly in Thailand. I enjoyed it immensely and over the following months read through the entire Stephen Leather back catalogue. I remain a big fan and even after all of these years, I look forward to the latest from Steve Leather. This week his latest novel, Still Standing, was released. It is set on Ko Chang. I started it yesterday and I’ll probably finish it today. You can grab a copy on Amazon.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Reader’s story of the week comes from Mega, Around the Traps in Southeast Asia: Part 23.
There has to be more to the story of a Brit who claims to have been tortured while in police custody in Phuket.
Thailand’s vaccination rules U-turn made news all around the world this week.
The Guardian outlined the dos and don’ts of cannabis use in Thailand.
I suspect someone has drawn a very long bow suggesting that in the 6 months following the decriminalisation of cannabis in Thailand, the number of drug addictions has quadrupled.
The Thai baht just gets stronger and stronger!
Finally some truth as a top virologist says that if you’re healthy, there is no need to wear a mask!
Bangkok taxi fares increased this week for the first time in 8 years.
Thailand hopes to attract 80 million visitors per year by 2027.
I appreciate all of your feedback and reports from the ground. I try to include a representative selection of emails in the Emails To Stick section but please understand that I cannot include everyone’s emails. I also have the challenge of filtering the odd email from those who are trying to talk up a business they have an interest in or talk down a business they are in competition with. All of your emails and reports are gratefully received and I engage, but please understand that I cannot possibly include everyone’s thoughts and reports in the column.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org