Stickman Weekly, New Year’s Day, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken of the construction work taking place at the Grand Hyatt Erawan Hotel, near the Rajadamri intersection. This week’s photo is one for the bar hounds. The venue where this week’s photo was taken will feature in a photo essay in next week’s column.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
How the ladies have changed.
I think the current debate on the pretties of yesteryear and today are missing an important point. The Thai race always has and always will produce attractive women, so happily we cannot expect that to change. It’s unfortunate however that Thai girls see their bodies as blank tapestries to embellish with sundry tattoos. I have never found that attractive, ugly in fact as it detracts from natural beauty which is the essence of the Thai female form. In my 22 years in Thailand, it’s not the prettiness of the ladies that has changed (apart from aforementioned tattoos), but rather the attitude. 20 years ago they were sweet and offered the true girlfriend experience. It was easy to kid ourselves that this was not prostitution. Many foreigners who would not engage with a prostitute back home were happy to engage with a Thai lovely. The chatting-up process was not immediately on a business footing, rather it appeared to be genuine interest in the foreigner who was funding the drinks. It wasn’t genuine, of course, but they made an effort to hide it and it worked. There was no apparent time limit to the conversation and no pressure to engage the relationship further. And even when getting down to the nitty-gritty business it was dealt with swiftly, settled, and then back to the pleasure of the evening again. The typical response to ‘how much’ was ‘up to you’ – a very savvy response because the customer, not wishing to be seen as a cheapskate (in most cases) would probably spend more than he would otherwise. Now, they cut to the chase. It’s not the customer who asks ‘how much’, it’s the girl who asks ‘how much you give me’ which kind of takes the shine off the girlfriend experience of yesteryear and brings the whole thing back into the realm of prostitution. I wonder how 20 years ago, many foreign visitors woke up the next morning to the sound of his liaison of the night putting his shirts on hangers and placing them in the wardrobe. Or washing the floor or cleaning the toilet? It happened. And even on the odd occasion the lady declined payment because she had had a truly enjoyable and memorable experience. It happened. Newbies visiting Thailand will of course see only the ‘paradise’ that exists now, without knowledge of what they are missing from the old days. The oldies may still pursue visceral delights of Thailand but perhaps with a wistful memory of paradise lost.
Observations from the bars.
A trend I have noticed in the last few months is that the tattoo fad looks to have peaked and is now in decline. Tatted women were the majority just before Covid, and in some clubs they are now in the minority. I see more women who are “o-ij-jin-al” as they say, with neither tatts nor silicon, and who claim they have no intention of adding any enhancements. Also, while there are women on the far side of 30 years, there are plenty just barely over 20. If guys go into the clubs with eyes wide open, not clouded by memories more enhanced than a woman straight from the plastic surgeon, men will find the women about the same – in terms of attractiveness – as 10 or 20 years ago. The women today are more worldly – and they do expect larger tributes – thanks to inflation – but they can be just as aesthetically pleasing as any woman any punter remembers from bygone days.
Queues at the airport.
People have written about the queues at Thai immigration, but it goes further than that. Last week it took me 2 hours to surrender my suitcase as well as clear immigration and security at Suvarnabhumi Airport – despite having checked in on-line. One security area was so busy they closed it temporarily and so funnelled everyone into the other so overcrowd that too. I didn’t use the Fast Track exit I was entitled to as that had a long queue spilling well out into the check-in area. By contrast, when leaving Dubai my 15-minute taxi ride to the airport, check-in and going through security and immigration took less time than simply handing in my suitcase in Bangkok.
More Readers’ Emails
Remembering Tim’s Bar.
I was a regular customer in Tim’s Bar in Pattaya, basically a gogo bar (although the official name was Tim Bar Beer). But Tim’s was unique. It wasn’t just a gogo bar. With the beer bar at the front, and the snooker and sports bar at the back, it was more of an entertainment complex. It was a very popular bar for many years (decades even!). There was a reason for it. Tim knew how to run a successful bar. There was always good 70’s / 80’s / 90’s rock music being played at a level that made it possible to have a normal conversation too. Tim knew this was the music her customers, looking at their age and background, knew and liked. Girls were told to make a customer feel welcome and relaxed first, before asking for a drink. Taking care of their seating, a cold towel if needed and a decent drink for them were the first priorities. Only when the customer was fine, and chatting with a girl he liked, was a question for a drink allowed. Tim was always there to overlook things. She had mamasans and managers, but knew exactly what was going on herself. And let me be clear, Tim could be really tough! Girls who were not working according to the rules were sacked straight away, and this at a time when there was plenty of supply so the girl had a bit of a problem when this happened.
Why force someone to buy another beer?
I’ve been here since December 26th. As others have reported, probably 85% of Thais are wearing masks (hell, they may be surgically attached!). Probably 20% of foreigners are wearing a mask. I don’t wear one, and I haven’t been hassled at all anywhere – BTS, MRT, airport, bars, Grab / Taxis, Terminal 21, Wat Pho, etc. Certainly a better mask experience than I was expecting.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Rainbow is coming to Soi Cowboy. Construction is taking place in the space that was previously Kiss. Peeking beyond the canvas erected across the front to keep nosy parkers at bay, it looks very much like another gogo bar – and not another weed shop or place to eat. The Rainbow bars in Nana immediately come to mind. Could this be another Rainbow bar connected to the bars of that name in Nana Plaza? Or could it be a new bar with an old name from someone nicknamed Rainbow (รุ้ง / Roong in Thai), a once popular Thai nickname you don’t hear so much now.
Following on from last week’s column which mentioned the police presence on Soi Cowboy, the boys in brown were lingering again this week. The cops strolled up and down the soi in what once again appeared to be an effort to be seen.
For some punters, there’s nothing worse than the sight of a white woman getting up on stage in a gogo bar. That scene has played out numerous times the past few days on Soi Cowboy which is attracting throngs of white women, some of whom have been described as “smashed”. Two friends each made the comment to me that Soi Cowboy felt like it had been invaded by white women on Friday night. It sounds like New Year’s Eve started a day early on Soi Cowboy as many made up for lost time these past 3 years.
It’s not unusual for the dynamic to change in the bars at this time of year. Cowboy seems to appeal to some of the mainstream as a place to really let their hair down on New Year’s Eve. This week the bar areas have been described as crazy busy. The run-up to New Year often sees a different crowd from the traditional bar customer base who tend to party in a different way. As one friend said, “This might just be the busiest I have ever seen the bars” – and he has been living in Bangkok and hitting the bars for 20 years. Outsiders tend to stand out, especially white women and backpackers with their 7 Eleven-store-bought drinks.
It’s party time at Patpong this coming Friday, January 6th. The Patpong Museum will host a 70s and 80s party inside the museum. 350 baht entry includes your first drink.
Speaking of Patpong, if you are price sensitive, ask to see the menu / drinks price list before ordering. At least one of the classic old Patpong soi 1 bars, Thigh Bar, now has a stream of tuktuks bringing visitors to see the show. And you know what it means when a tuktuk delivers customers to the door. Higher prices. Word is that drinks prices in Thigh Bar start at 300 baht. I do believe that drinks prices will shoot up this year – but not to that level.
Still in Patpong, while the signage for many of the classic old Patpong bars remains, many of these bars have gone and it seems they are very unlikely to reopen. A whole swathe of venues in Bangkok’s oldest bar area have been consigned to Bangkok bar history by the pandemic, even if hope remains that some might come back to life.
There is finally some good news from Bangkok’s oldest bar area. Things have picked up in Patpong in recent weeks, thanks to the return of a smaller Patpong Night Market, the reopening of the Muzik Cafe live music bar on Soi 1, and the opening of Delaney’s – a new bar offering a variety of entertainment including reggae, jazz, comedy, and poetry readings. It brings a new vibe to Patpong, a red-light area that sometimes forgets it’s a red-light area.
Getting back to drinks prices, one prediction I have for 2023 is that the price of standard drinks in some of the bigger, better and more popular Bangkok gogo bars will break the psychological 200 baht barrier. There are many reasons I believe this will happen. First of all, bars have not increased prices in years. In many of the better bars, a standard drink was priced at 170 or 180 baht back in 2019. Inflation in the bar industry is generally higher than the official inflation rate because the costs of running a bar tend to increase faster than the wider official inflation rate (think rents, labour etc.). The cost of running a bar has increased, the industry is more competitive and girls are demanding much more money – so it’s inevitable prices will go up. Bar owners can increase the price of drinks and / or barfines, or charge an entry fee. I can’t see the latter happening so increasing drinks prices and maybe also the price of barfines seems likely. And with all expectations that 2023 is going to be a record-breaking year in the bar industry, if ever there was a time to increase prices it is now. You increase prices when demand exceeds supply – and that is now. Demand to get back to Bangkok is huge and at the end of the day, if a beer was 210 baht, would you really say no to paying 30 or 40 baht more per drink after you just shelled out several hundred more dollars / pounds / Euros for your airfare than you did pre-Covid? You might not like the idea that the price has jumped, but I bet most international visitors would still pay it. The best bars would have no trouble justifying 210 or 220 baht for a standard drink – and despite naysayers, I reckon these bars would see no drop in customer numbers. I know this will not go down well with some readers but thinking purely from the perspective of a business owner, if I was running one of the best bars, I’d raise prices now. It’s very unlikely that standard drinks will be priced at 200 baht for the same reason that when prices eclipsed the psychological 100 baht barrier back in 2000 – 22 years ago – when they went from 90 baht to 110 baht. The reason that drinks were not priced at an even 100 baht is all about tips. A customer has 2 drinks @ 200 baht each, the checkbin is 400 baht and he pays with a 500 baht note. While, yes, a bar could give his change as 5 x 20 baht banknotes, it looks rather contrived. It looks better if the total cost is 420 or 440 baht baht, and the customer is given 80 baht change which would naturally be 3 or 4 x 20 baht notes.
This issue of being asked to leave a bar due to not buying lady drinks when asked to do so may have arrived in Bangkok. I have commented on this issue the past two weeks with multiple reports of it happening at one popular Walking Street bar and a single report from a reader from another popular bar in Pattaya. This might not only be a Pattaya thing. A reader claims this week that he was asked to buy a lady drink in a newish Bangkok gogo bar that has not yet gained traction and when he didn’t, he was asked to leave. I’m not going to name the bar until I receive verified reports from people I know. All I can say is that I hope that said reader is either mistaken about what happened or it was some random incident that isn’t policy and isn’t repeated.
The reason this is such a big deal is that if it was to become a thing, it would change the dynamic of the bar industry entirely, making them much less laid-back. It would make the whole bar experience feel more like, well, prostitution! One of the great things about Bangkok’s gogo bars is that they are generally laid-back. There are no entry fees. Drinks prices are very reasonable given the format. You’re not hassled to take a lady and if you just wish to enjoy a few drinks and watch the show, that’s fine. The bar industry is ever so slowly moving away from a prostitution model where the vast majority of customers are men interested in barfining a lady. It feels to me like things are ever so slowly moving towards a model where the customer base is more diverse and where many are there to watch the show, enjoy the ambience and see what it’s all about as much as anything. If customers are asked to leave a bar when they don’t buy a drink, it drags the model back towards prostitution. Is that where the future of the industry lies? The world is changing and if the gogo bar industry is to survive, a more diverse range of customers is needed because the old generation of sex tourists is, quite literally, dying off! And they are not being replaced by a new generation. I really hope this nonsense of asking customers to buy a lady drink or leave the bar will peter out.
Nana Plaza finished this year where it left off before the world went crazy, as Bangkok’s most popular red-light bar area. Soi Cowboy has made a decent comeback too and should get even better as new venues open and fill in the empty spaces. Patpong? It’s picking up slowly. So the question has to be asked, was it Soi Cowboy saboteurs or Patpong pranksters who undertook a mission to discredit Nana Plaza? A Stickman spy was on the scene to capture this rotten sod messing with the sign at Nana Plaza where the phrase “The World’s Largest Adult Playground” was replaced to read “The Worst Adult Playground”. See the photo above. Who was behind this outrage to discredit Nana Plaza?! I am joking, of course – it was simply a case of maintenance being carried out on the main sign at Nana Plaza at the opportune moment a Stickman spy snapped this shot.
In some areas there are more foreigner-owned bars; in other areas there are more Thai-owned bars. But Thailand being Thailand, it’s not a level playing field. Most Thais know how to work the system in their favour. Foreigners in the bar industry ought to be aware of the importance of relationships in Thailand and pick their battles very, very carefully. Unless one has deep pockets and genuinely powerful and influential friends, one wants to be careful who one goes in to battle with. Don’t go thinking that because a Thai bar boss is female and comes across as friendly – sweet even – that she isn’t prepared to be absolutely ruthless should she get in to a dispute with another bar operator.
What has happened to the music playlist at Long Gun? The classic old gogo bar used to play classic gogo bar music – 70s, 80s and 90s hits. This week? Early evening, the playlist was rap. Does the bar have a new DJ, perhaps? Long Gun would not be the first gogo bar this year struggling to find a decent DJ.
Have you noticed that some ladies in the bars actually look like they are in decent shape? I mean not just slim, but actually toned with muscle? One difference between ladies working in the bars these days with those who clutched poles in the past is that there are a good few working girls who regularly go to the gym, something which was almost unheard of amongst bar ladies in the past.
Hardly any news reached me from Pattaya this week although I don’t doubt that with Bangkok bustling it will be little different in Sin City. I thought soi 7 in Pattaya was done and dusted, the glory days long gone – and this goes back to long before Covid came along. But in yet another indicator that Thailand has absolutely roared back, word is that soi 7 has picked up noticeably and while it might not be back to the heady days of 15 or 20 years ago, things are looking a whole lot more lively than they have in a very long time.
The past few months have seen visitor numbers swell on Sukhumvit and you can expect visitor numbers to shift up another gear from next month after China announced its borders will open next week and 1.4 billion Chinese are let loose on the world. The top destinations for the Chinese to visit? Macau, Hong Kong, Japan and……Thailand! Expect to see flag-bearing tour guides leading hordes around all of the usual hot-spots again real soon.
The incredible rebound of Thailand’s tourism industry is just that, incredible. Some were most vocal in saying that things would not bounce back and if visitor numbers ever recovered to reach pre-Covid visitor levels, it would take a very long time. Thailand’s record visitor numbers was in 2019, at just under 40 million. When will that number be exceeded? 2024? 2025? It won’t be long. I suspect 50 million visitors to Thailand annually isn’t far away. Anyone like to take a guess at how many visitors Thailand gets in 2023? My best guess would be about 30 million – but it would not surprise me if it exceeds that. I predict 2024 will see a new record north of 40 million international visitors and I think by 2025 the number will be north of 50 million. Those are my best guesses. What do you think?
One of the gripes of foreigners who lived in Thailand for a period and then later moved back to their homeland is that Thai food in Thai restaurants in the West is (for the most part) just not the same as it is in Thailand. Often it’s nothing like Thai food in Thailand although in some cases this can be easily explained by the fact that the supposedly Thai restaurant is run by Chinese or Koreans or Cambodian or other non-Thais. Anyway, here in my corner of provincial New Zealand, in a city of 60,000 people we have 7 Thai restaurants, all run by Thais. One is very good but awfully pricey. The others are more reasonably priced but the food is very average, at least in my opinion. What I find perplexing is that the one genuinely good, authentic Thai restaurant hardly gets any Thai customers at all. Customers are almost entirely white or non-Thai Asian. Just as perplexing is that the other Thai restaurants which are, I think it is fair to say, somewhere between average and mediocre – actually attract quite a lot of Thai customers despite Thais being the first to say that the food just isn’t that good. What’s that all about?!
Thailand-Related News Article Links
A dual-national Kiwi / Irishman falls to his death while leaning out of a carriage on a train in Thailand to take a photo.
With China opening up, an influx of Chinese visitors to Thailand has some concerned about the spread of Covid.
A fire in a casino on the Thai / Cambodian border kills more than 20 Thais.
A Thai man forgets his wife after taking a pee stop on a road trip on Christmas Day and she has to walk 19 km to the nearest police station for help!
Russians continue to flock to Thailand as the number of Ruskies arriving in Thailand jumps seven-fold from September.
What a year it’s been for the places this column covers, particularly the past few months. While some like to talk of the economic downturn next year as if that will have a negative effect on visitor numbers, I don’t see that being the case. There is MASSIVE pent up demand to get back to Thailand and if there is one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s to make the most of your opportunities while you can because you don’t know when they will be taken away. Don’t put off gratification for tomorrow when you could enjoy it today. I reckon tourism is going to boom worldwide for years and Thailand will benefit hugely with record numbers of visitors year after year. Speaking with friends here in this part of the world, when Covid forced us to stay home we brought forward our spending on toys like big-screen TVs to latest model laptop to new furniture and whatnot. Some of us tidied up our house and we generally spent money to make our home life more comfortable – because we were spending so much time at home. What we haven’t been able to do is travel – and we have a lot of catching up to do! I really think this is going to be the case with the middle class all around the world. It’s going to be boom times for Bangkok in 2023. Happy new year!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com