Stickman Weekly, January 29, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken in the Biergarten in Sukhumvit soi 7. A challenging photo that quite a few of you got right – well done! This week’s photo is a little different in style to the usual shots. It is from a venue in downtown Bangkok which gets some press in this column. Show me how clever you are!
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Watch your shoes!
My problem at Immigration isn’t long waiting times, but staff who don’t speak a word of English. Quite a handicap when their job is to deal with foreigners who very often speak little or no Thai. And in my local office, which I won’t name, they often don’t really have a clue what they’re doing. On my last visit the officer kept referring to a manual the size of an old-style London telephone directory (no wonder they don’t understand their own rules!), and those wiser than the staff at this particular office, people who advise on visa matters, have pointed out errors they make. But, of course, you can’t challenge them. When your very existence in Thailand is up to them and their whims, that’s pretty frightening.
Bangkok taxi fares.
Taxi fares were supposed to be going up a week ago, maybe even two weeks ago. I’ve been in taxis all week and nobody has adjusted their meters. I just got home and it was still 35 for the 1st km. The new rate is supposed to start at 40 baht. I have no idea what’s going on with these guys why the rate actually hasn’t gone up. I’m not complaining, but I feel for these guys. I’m totally fine paying the higher rates. The taxi fares haven’t gone up in almost a decade. These assholes cheat everybody because they need more money. It would be good if the official rate was higher.
More Readers’ Emails
Lazada Wallet challenges.
One problem with wallets used by apps is they have to comply with Anti Money Laundering (AML) requirements. Anyone with a Rabbit card will remember they couldn’t add funds until they either got a new card or had their passport or national ID enrolled on their existing card. This is a worldwide phenomenon courtesy of our friends in places like the World Bank and UN child abuse organisations. The deal is this – if anything can be used in an electronic payment then the holder has to be registered with an ID issued by an official organisation (preferably a government). When the Rabbit card changed from one that was used for the BTS skytrain only to one that could be used for small payments, the ID of the holder had to be registered. It’s the way the world is today. Banks in developed countries have been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for allowing small-value payments to be made to people in South-East Asia, typically the Philippines, Indonesia and probably Thailand, without proper identification being provided. Something like the Lazada Wallet falls into this category. If the first question on Lazada asks if you’re Thai or a foreigner, your answer is “foreigner” and you cannot continue then it means Lazada is probably not interested in collecting the information required to comply with AML for non-Thais. They see the risk mitigation as being too difficult. Or maybe they know what a Thai ID looks like but are less confident about what IDs are available for foreigners. Obviously there’s the passport but they might see the risk of holding that information as too high. (And why would I want my passport details to be held by yet another company when I have no idea of their information security capabilities?) I realise this information is not helping anyone to get a Lazada Wallet but I thought it might help understanding why it happens.
For foreigners unable to get a Lazada wallet.
Responding to the email about not being able to get a wallet at Lazada as an expat, the answer is the MCard with SCB. It’s a pre-paid debit card and all you need is your passport to get one. There are MCard booths at every Mall shopping complex. The only downside is you have to go to The Mall to top it up with cash if you don’t have an account with SCB. I use it exclusively for Lazada and any refunds are credited back to your debit card. I can vouch for this as I have done it several times before.
When the food cart lady is busy.
I ordered food at my favorite street cart. The lady was making my order when 2 girls came up and wanted som tam. The lady said she was quite busy at the moment, and if the girls didn’t want to wait they could make it themselves. And they did. One girl was giving instructions on what she wanted while the other was pounding away. Once finished they showed what they made to the lady who owned the cart, paid 50 baht and were on their way. I’d never see something like this back in the States!
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Many people’s favourite gogo bar, Spanky’s in Nana Plaza, has a new manager. The owner is very pleased with how manager Matthew is settling in to his new role.
Last week’s column mentioned that Nana Plaza bar Geisha had been in darkness some nights that week. Just a few hours after last week’s column was published, the lights were back on and it was business as usual again.
If you blinked, you missed it: Pigtails is no more. The short-lived Nana Plaza bar that was once London Calling this week was renamed and another gone-but-not-forgotten brand was resurrected: Rainbow 1. The original Rainbow 1 was never numbered. Since the days when it became the first gogo bar to open in Nana Plaza last century, it was known as Rainbow Bar. Numbers 2, 3 and 4 (and 5, and 69) came after. The original also was located two doors to the right where Blondie now operates. More on all the Rainbow bars a little further down.
Deaf girls are back on Soi Nana. Or maybe they never left? Whatever the case, if deaf girls appeal, you know where to find them.
Just be careful further down the soi where ladyboys still dominate at certain times of the day, particularly late at night, between Hillary 1 and Hillary 2. While they’d love to spend some time in your room, they’d be just as happy to pick your pocket.
On Soi Cowboy, a reader points out that a correction needs to be made when we said that some of the girls in Dollhouse were fully nude. He says that is wrong as those described as dancing nude are wearing high-heels.
Construction on the new Rainbow on Soi Cowboy is coming along and it is anticipated that it should be completed and ready to open in the next few weeks.
The space on Soi Cowboy that used to be Lighthouse remains in darkness. Lighthouse was always a decent bar and had a good following, but it has been in darkness since Covid came along. With the rest of the soi buzzing, one imagines that it can’t be long before someone picks up the lease. Rainbow 6, perhaps?!
Everywhere in Soi Cowboy seems to be doing well with the pick of the soi said to be the three bars with live music. 5 Star, Penny Black and Country Road are all reported to be doing very good trade.
The Biergarten has been mentioned a bit in the column in recent weeks and last week’s mystery photo was taken there. A friend visited the Biergarten early evening this past week – which is considered prime time at the old soi 7 freelancer hangout. Once upon a time ladies would drift towards the Biergarten mid-afternoon, linger, hope to get a customer and some would then wander down to the Thermae which would open early evening but not really pick up until much later at night. When my pal stopped by Biergarten, there were a grand total of 31 folks present, excluding staff, comprising 9 guys and 22 girls. The pickings may have been limited in number but they weren’t grim with said friend saying about half the ladies looked more than ok.
Said friend made it to the other classic decades-old Sukhumvit freelancer venue this week, the Thermae. He stopped counting the number of ladies when he got to around 120. Needless to say, Thermae is doing a whole lot better than Biergarten – and if the trends at Thermae are anything like they used to be, the number of ladies in the Thermae swells as the night goes on.
In an earlier column I remarked about how the ladies working in Thermae wore masks while trying to attract customers and wondered how successful a tactic that would be. (It should be noted that many of the Japanese customers are also wearing masks.) This week the overwhelming majority of ladies standing around the circuit weren’t masked up. Of the estimated 120 women present around 10 PM, perhaps two handfuls were wearing face masks.
Every gogo bar in the country – even Billboard – would kill to have 120 women working on a Tuesday night. But that’s how many were present at Thermae this past Tuesday – generally one of the quieter nights of the week. A friend remarked that if you put a large percentage of those women in a bikini, they would look right at home twirling a chrome pole. Admittedly, a chunk of Thermae’s workforce has no business wearing a bikini in public. At Thermae, fashion sense and cute outfits go a long way toward making a well-rounded lass look attractive enough to take out. But there’s no denying that there’s enough eye candy in Thermae to give your eyes new cavities.
Back on soi 7, booze-booth style street bars line the soi between the main Sukhumvit Road and the Biergarten. One wonders what those in the soi 7 beer bar complex think of those little beer booths which offer cheap drinks because they operate rent-free (although no doubt there are payments to be made) and offer a not entirely different atmosphere.
I’ve never been a fan of beer bars in downtown Bangkok. It just doesn’t seem like the place for them. I guess it’s a combination of the pollution and the lack of a view. OK, sitting at the rails at the beer bars at the top of Soi Nana is fun for a while but I still much prefer the beer bars on Beach Road in Pattaya or even the old beer bars on Karon Beach in Phuket (are they still there or has that prime real estate been snapped up?) Anyway, Sukhumvit soi 11 has a complex of beer bars that are proving popular. Among them, Orange Bangkok is making more effort than most and it almost sounds like shades of the past. Orange Bangkok has 100 baht beers – a bargain in 2023, along with the obligatory pool table and TVs showing international sport that all the beer bars in that complex have. But it’s the little things like giving a customer 5 baht for the toilet, noticing international visitors who don’t have a local SIM card and providing them with the password for a nearby wi-fi connection that make the difference. Little touches like this give customers a reason to return.
Some readers have commented on the observations in this column about the smell of weed lingering along parts of Sukhumvit. A few readers have responded that they haven’t smelled weed anywhere. At the same time, one good friend in Bangkok this week said to me, “Still can’t elude the smell of weed, even in the hotel.” I guess whether you notice / are bothered by the smell of weed is very much an individual thing.
A couple of weeks back I mentioned that our African friends were not just being hassled by the boys in brown on Soi Miami (Sukhumvit soi 13) , they were rounded up. Of course, it didn’t last and they were back pushing the hard stuff the next day.
I suspect no-one will lose any sleep over reports that the cops were hassling the lingering ladyboys out front of the Sofitel this past week. It’ll be the same deal as with the African drug dealers – the ladyboys will be taken away to the police station, fined and be back in exactly the same spot a few hours later.
With six Rainbow bars in Nana Plaza (and one nearly ready to open on Soi Cowboy), let’s take a closer look at each bar. The first thing to understand is that none of the Rainbow bars are now majority owned by the original owner, a brother and sister team that mostly got out of the game during Covid. What you may remember as Rainbow 2 or 3 are now very different today.
- Rainbow 1 (formerly Pigtails) – Associating a gogo bar with a pig is never good for business, but, in this case, the name was warranted, as the “talent” on stage really were a bunch of porkers. The name may have changed, but the line-up hasn’t.
- Rainbow 2 (formerly smaller Rainbow 2) – Enlarged during last year’s renovation, Rainbow 2 has yet to recapture the vibe or the trade of the original, which was overwhelmingly Japanese gawking at (and frequently getting away with making hidden videos) of thin, young ladies on stage. Now the stage is huge and largely empty and the Japanese have gone elsewhere.
- Rainbow 3 (formerly Enter) – After a brief fling with trying to replicate the original – which had the most average girls of all the Rainbows – owner Tee has gone back to the Enter formula: one-third women and two-thirds ladyboys.
- Rainbow 4 (formerly Rainbow 5) – Don’t try to figure out which bar was R4 and R5, as they’ve changed names faster than a game of Three Card Monty. But Rainbow 4 now, located to the left of its original spot, caters to Japanese and guys who look Japanese. If that’s not you, head to Rainbow 5.
- Rainbow 5 (formerly Twister, formerly Rainbow 4) – While Tee is seemingly buying up every Nana Plaza bar that becomes available, his black magic hasn’t touched Rainbow 5 yet. On weekends, R5 feels very much like R4 did 15 years ago, and that’s a good thing. It might be because some of the same mamasans who were there 15 years ago are still barking at the girls today.
- Rainbow 69 (formerly Casanova ladyboy bar) – It’s tiny, and has few ladies. Half the seats are so close to the door, you can get high from the ganja fumes on the middle floor walkway.
Once a bargirl, always a bargirl? It’s a touchy subject for some, especially those who put a ring on the finger of a lady who once upon a time dropped her knickers for cash. But there are cases where once a bargirl, always a bargirl is a fair comment. If a girl leaves a bar and then at some future point returns to that bar as a customer – it could be weeks, months or even years later – there are bars which still pay her a commission on the drinks if she is in the bar with a male friend (could be her boyfriend, husband, date du jour etc). In a small number of bars, even a very long time after the lady has left the bar, should she return she still gets a commission paid on all the drinks she consumes in the bar, as if they were lady drinks. I find this odd. At the same time I imagine the Thai bar operators see it as perfectly normal.
Historically, one of the attractions of Pattaya over Bangkok was lower prices. Pattaya meant cheaper hotel rooms, cheaper food and in the bars, cheaper drinks and ladies willing to go for less. It might still be that way if you shop at the Coconut Bar or head to Soi 6, but if you’re talking Walking Street, that’s no longer the case. In fact, on Walking Street it hasn’t been the case for some time. Every few weeks I hear stories from Pattaya of crazy barfine rates, and ladies asking awfully steep prices for an hour or two of their time. Joining the list of crazy numbers from Pattaya, the barfine in What’s Up Imagine Club is said to be a whopping 3,000 baht. Whether this is for showgirls or regular girls or what, I don’t know. For years, What’s Up Imagine Club had impressive shows far beyond anything else in the bar industry so perhaps the high barfines are understandable. And it has been said that long-time is available from the girls in mega-popular Pin Up. But the ladies’ definition of long-time has changed somewhat and their idea of long-time might not be the same as yours. Apparently Pin Up girls see long-time as 3 hours (yes, you read that right, THREE hours) – and for that they charge a premium: 8,000 baht. And that’s on top of a hefty barfine. My best guess is that the ladies see long-time as 2 “shots”. Prices at these levels reinforce last week’s opening piece Gogo Bar Evolution.
Next weekend sees the return of northern hemisphere rugby with the Six Nations Championship. Held on five weekends through March 19, all Six Nations matches can be shown live during normal hours in Thailand this year and Buddy’s Bar & Grill will be the place to see them. With five locations around the city – Sukhumvit Soi 8, 20, 22 & 89 plus Silom. There’s one near you.
With foreign tourists flooding into Bangkok, the city has seen the return of that strange creature last spotted in the high season of 2018 – 2019: The Luggage Dragger. With two legs and two-to-four wheels, the Draggers can be found late nights along stretches of Lower Sukhumvit dodging drunks and clogging sidewalks as they shun taxis to roll their socks and underwear from the BTS or MRT station to a far-off hotel. Luggage Draggers were seen this week, well past midnight, headed uptown past Soi 23 – to what hotel in that area remains a mystery – and pushing through the street cart-narrowed sidewalks on Soi 4.
Late-night pedestrians and drivers on Sukhumvit early last week did a double-take. It hadn’t rained, but lower Sukhumvit was flooded. It seems a pipe broke somewhere, leaving the street looking like it did during rainy season.
There are many measures of how busy Bangkok is. There are the official stats recording the total number of foreign travellers. Some make a guess based on how busy the bars are. One good measure is hotel occupancy rates. The Mothership, otherwise known as the Nana Hotel, this week had an occupancy rate of 60%. That’s lower than I’d expect at this time of year, especially given that Soi Nana and the plaza have been heaving.
Speaking of hotels, one of the things in Thailand I have long struggled to get my head around is the service charges added to bills. That’s because I come from a country which to all intents and purposes does not have a tipping culture and where service charges aren’t a thing. Occasionally, local diners might tip and some of the better eateries aren’t shy to try and lead you in to leaving a gratuity but it’s not the norm. Of course in Thailand, many hotels impose a service charge on pretty much anything offered in the hotel. These service charges are pooled, divided up and distributed equally amongst all staff at the end of the month – and they can add up to a substantial amount, often exceeding some staff member’s monthly salary. What I find unusual – but perhaps I shouldn’t, given that Thais love to show off – is that these numbers are posted by many hotel staff in a Thai hotels Facebook group which has over 100,000 followers. The service charge paid to staff in hotels for the period which included Christmas and New Year shows hotel staff did very well this past year. The share of the service charge for staff at the JW Marriott Phuket was a little under 80,000 baht for the period that included Christmas and New Year. The service charge is always highest at this time of year as it includes both Christmas and New Year when room rates are at their highest, ditto occupancy, and many guests indulge in special meals and New Year countdown events. Hotels posting these monthly service fees is a combination of bragging and it is also used to aid in recruitment. What is perhaps ironic is that many hotels in Thailand are struggling to find staff. Perhaps job-seekers don’t realise just how much they can make in the big hotels?
After news emerged of Chinese-owned businesses being run by companies stocked with nominee shareholders, the government is cracking down – again – on nominee shareholders in Thai limited companies. Having nominee shareholders is illegal and those acting as nominee shareholders can face steep fines, jail and companies barred from hiring foreigners for a period of 3 years. The Labour Ministry ordered the Department of Employment to screen shareholders in businesses in Bangkok, Ko Samui, Phuket and Pattaya – in other words they’re targeting areas popular with foreigners. Setting up a Thai Limited Company now requires only two investors, but the Thai shareholders must hold at least 51% of the shares. There are no restrictions on the nationality of directors of the company aside from certain businesses such as those that apply for a Tourism Authority of Thailand license, which require the managing director to be a Thai national.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Quote of the week comes from the late Pattaya nightlife commentator Duncan Stern and is as apt today as it was back in the day, “If you’re paying those prices, you’re looking in the wrong places!”
A British diver dies in yet another death under mysterious circumstances on Koh Tao, known to some as Death Island.
A Taiwanese actress accuses the Thai police of corruption, extortion and shaking her down for 27,000 baht.
The Thai police claim that the Taiwanese actress’s claims of corruption are wrong and they only warned her about having a device which is not legal in Thailand.
In Phuket, a Thai wife follows her husband to a massage parlour and has a showdown with the lady servicing him.
The air quality got so bad in Bangkok this week that people were told to work from home, if possible.
Bangkok Photographer continues to pump out fantastic images of ladies in the bar industry and I am delighted to run a selection of his shots each week. Every effort is made to include the most recent photos and in some cases the photos included in this column are from a photo shoot just a day or two earlier. That way you know the girls shown are actually working there – as in they can be found in that bar right now. Funnily enough, that’s often not the case with a lot of social media accounts, even many of the official bar social media accounts. All of the ladies featured in this week’s column were photographed this past week.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org