Stickman Weekly, February 12, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken outside the Mary Jane Medical Cannabis Store on Sukhumvit Road, just around the corner from Soi Nana. Despite being very distinctive and located in an area Stickman readers know well, few of you got it right.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Gogo bar drinks pricing.
Having been a regular in Bangkok gogo bars since the late 90’s, I appreciate the huge investment and running costs involved. Especially these days with the increase in girls salaries the last few years and soaring rents etc. A typical beer in a big name bar is now around 160B and a lady drink around 180B which I don’t think is unreasonable under the circumstances. With that said, as you say, if any increases take those above 200B that’s a huge psychological sticking point.
Fabulous service at the airport.
Back in 2017 I needed to go to Cambodia to change my visa. I had a bad back at the time so I needed some help with the process. I checked online and found some airport escort services. I was amazed at their efficiency. For a couple of thousand baht I was met at gate 4 departures with a wheelchair (actually not needed, but a welcome thought). I was wheeled swiftly to VIP check-in where my economy class boarding card was issued in seconds. Then to VIP immigration for an equally quick passport check and passport procedure. On the ‘other side’ I was met by another staff member who took me to the airline hospitality suite where I enjoyed free drinks and snacks. Then off to the departure gate where I was placed for first to embark. The return trip was equally efficient. Met at the terminal by a man holding a card aloft with my name on. A button was pressed on the wall at which lift doors opened and I was whisked up 3 floors to the air-crew immigration desk where I was the only arrival. Having no baggage to reclaim (it was a one-nighter), I was on the street waiting for a taxi a cool 5 minutes from arriving at the terminal from the plane. I made a mental note to use the service next time, bad back or no bad back!
The increasing popularity of weed.
Saturday evenings, my wife and I sit outside our home with some Thai friends at an outdoor street vendor selling som-tam laap and nam-tok. The lady winds down her business from 5:00 or 6:00 PM. I usually order 5 or 6 portions to take home. I also bring her a 3-pack of Leo Beer and in return she gives me the left-over soup stock she uses for cooking. Recently we all sat together, drinking beer and having snacks together. This is when I will light up a cannabis cone and enjoy a toke or two. Our Thai friends love the smell and ask me to share with them. They normally see locally grown cannabis (mixed with tobacco) which they do not like. But the higher grade cannabis that I share with them is highly desired. I taught my wife how to grind cannabis and make a cone, which she now sells to her friends. I thought you’d be interested in knowing that there are a lot of Thais who are happy with cannabis legalisation and easy access to that option.
Masks a day-time thing?
On Sukhumvit during the day-time, everyone wears masks. At night-time, it is completely different and nobody wears masks, Thais and foreigners alike. I have not been to Silom recently at night and wonder if Patpong and the surrounding area is similar, even with all the Japanese who frequent that area and are quite diligent with masks.
More Readers’ Emails
Getting lucky in Pattaya.
We had friends drop by who wanted to try a fairly new restaurant that’s right on Beach Road where they could watch the sunset. The sunset was nice, but shortly afterwards hundreds, if not thousands, of flying bugs descended upon us. I really wanted crab fried rice, but ordered a hamburger as it was easier to keep an eye on. Later that night my friend saw a rat run across one of the tables, leaving a farang female customer in a bit of a panic. I have to wonder if these are regular occurrences or if we just got lucky that evening.
Enjoying a spliff.
Legalising cannabis is interesting, actually it’s quite enlightening. It’s not like drinking where you spend time getting intoxicated and getting progressively louder in some cases. You can buy a ready rolled spliff, smoke it in a couple of minutes and away you go. I have never seen anyone high on weed get loud or aggressive like alcohol does to some. One is enough for the evening. People do not binge or go on mad two-day benders and you cannot really tell those who have had a smoke, apart from perhaps their smile when you walk past. It would be interesting to see if those who are against the legalisation of weed have ever tried it. How many of your readers do you reckon have? Me? I’ve been smoking weed on and off for many years. In the past before legalisation, one of the places to buy was from one of the security guards at an infamous hotel in the Nana area. One of the girls introduced me to the security guard and you would catch his eye, follow him into the lift, give him the 500 baht note and he would get out on the fifth floor, you would go all the way to the top, then back down again where he would get back in the lift with your goods. True story. Anyway, the streets are not filled with crazed, mad-eyed looneys as some predicted. It’s a very low-key affair with the occasional whiff of greenery mingled with the other assortment of scents that one associates with Bangkok’s streets. The quality is superb and there are different strengths, strains and prices. It’s a plant that thrives in Thailand’s climate and Thai stick cannabis had a wonderful reputation in the past. In my humble opinion, it’s a winner.
Why is she avoiding Ko Chang?
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
The lead news item in last week’s column was the decision of the owner of Long Shots, one the biggest bars in the soi 7 beer bar complex, to close. Long Shots was the first bar to open in the complex, and one of the few foreigner-run bars – which made it all the sadder that the owner made the decision to call it a day. Perhaps one of the reasons why soi 7 struggled was the lack of branding and for want of a better word, any sort of “identity”. Most of us don’t even know the name of the complex, or even if it has a name. I heard a few different names over the years but as far as I know, none were ever “official”. Now, 3 years and 3 months after the first bar in the complex opened, a sign finally goes up with a name for the place. 7 Center Point. This could, hopefully, make a difference.
So you thought things were going to slow down now in February? The peak of the high season has passed and things should start to ease off, right? Think again! While the odd person tries to tell me that Bangkok is not as busy as it was in December, others tell me that it feels like it’s actually getting busier. Crowds on Soi Nana – see the great photo below – suggest that it’s every bit as busy as one would expect in high season. Will 2023 have a low season? My guess is that it will not. There is huge demand to travel and it’s hard to see that changing any time. Bangkok’s tourism industry is booming.
Soi Nana is pumping. From Morning Night to Stumble Inn to Big Dogs to all the Hillary bars and, of course, Nana Plaza, have been packed this week. Most venues close at 2:00 AM, except for Hillary which rocks late in to the night. There are other spots open later and well after 2:00 AM. Some cannabis dispensaries stay open late and are said to do decent trade after most bars have closed.
Initially set to open on Valentine’s Day, the Rainbow Bar (no number) opened on Soi Cowboy this past Thursday. Like the other Rainbow bars in Nana Plaza, the Cowboy version is fronted with acrylic, but, unlike the others, has an actual rainbow (in LED) across the front. Beer prices are in the standard 165 – 185 baht range with lady drinks at 200 baht. For those who don’t drink, a number of non-alcoholic drinks are offered for a very reasonable 100 baht.
While the Rainbow Group might be expanding, it’s a bar where you need to keep your eyes on your bill – at least in Rainbow 5 – and possibly in the other Rainbow bars after Rainbow has introduced a “big beer” for the ladies. Neither the lady nor the service staff tell you that the “big beer” is not the same price as a standard lady drink. This past week, a customer sat down with a lady, agreed to buy her a drink and even held up one finger to ensure the message got through. The dancer and service both repeated back “one beer”. The punter didn’t think anything of it when a tall glass of beer appeared. But once the beer and the dancer were gone, a look at the bin showed two lady drinks at 200 baht each. When the customer pointed out the mistake, reiterating he only ordered one drink, he was told a lady beer is the same as two drinks. In this particular instance, after considerable protest, the dancer forked over 200 baht out of her own pocket to make good. But watch your bins in the Rainbow bars – Soi Cowboy included – because if it’s happening in one, it’s likely happening in all.
Note to bar owners, you get everything in your bar close to perfect but it doesn’t take much to undo it all and funny business with pricing is all it takes to put customers off for life. And with the Internet, word spreads very fast!
In another case of customers using the Internet to bleat about poor service, the management of the recently renamed Bunny Bar (formerly Jungle and Hillary 4) needs to do some managing. Tweets this week from customers complained that despite the fact there were a dozen customers there one day this week keen to play pool, the table was being hogged by five members of staff playing among themselves instead of, you know, working.
Crazy House always seems to be screwing with the lights, and last week installed eight new fluorescent (not LED) lamps over the bar. It turned a midnight-dark side of the bar into noon. The new lights are so bright they go beyond distracting, and some customers even described them as “blinding”. Faced with complaints, bar staff simply threw up their hands and shrugged it off with a “mai roo!” A week later sanity prevailed with someone figuring out how to dim the lights. Now they’re not so bright, but flicker annoyingly.
Spanky’s in Nana Plaza celebrated its 14th anniversary yesterday, even if the super popular gogo bar actually opened 16 years ago. What’s that all about? The owner decided that it was appropriate to say that this was the 14th anniversary – and not the 16th – as the bar was closed for a couple of years due to Covid.
There’s more activity in the sub soi off Sukhumvit soi 8 as constructions goes ahead with a new venue in the space that was once the New Zealand fish and chips restaurant, Snapper. The space is being taken over by the Thai lady who operates popular Soi 8 businesses Monsoon, Viva, InVite, and Velvet. She also owned my favourite Bangkok pizza outlet, Vesuvio, before later selling it.
Sukhumvit Road was flooded again Thursday and, again, it hadn’t rained. Last time it appeared to be a burst pipe. This time you didn’t need to open your eyes to know what happened, you could smell it: Sewage. Something backed up or broke and flooded parts of the road.
Bangkok ticket writers were out on Soi 4 this week hassling street vendors for various nonsense. Filling up the tip jar before Valentine’s Day, perhaps?
Is Patpong repositioning itself? For as long as I have known Bangkok, old-timers have complained that Patpong was ruined by the night market (which takes up lots of space and draws mainstream visitors to the city’s most infamous bar area, many of whom are lookyloos and make the bar hounds awfully uncomfortable). I always thought Patpong was pretty good when I first arrived in Bangkok and through the late ’90s and even early ’00s there wasn’t much between it and Nana Plaza. That said, I don’t doubt that Patpong was even better before I ever stepped foot in Bangkok. Anyway, much of the space on Patpong soi 1 that prior to Covid was the Patpong night market has changed format which has created a whole new vibe. What once drew mainstream visitors to the night market, a place to pick up souvenirs, knock-off brand-name clothes, trinkets, copied watches and a lot of touristy knick-knacks – as well as have a nosey at the infamous red-light area – has now been largely taken over by a beer garden-style area with food and drink. The Patpong night market remains at the Suriwong Road end of the soi while the Silom end is now an outdoor dining and drinking area. This repositioning seems timely and will almost certainly bring life to the area. Many visitors to Thailand like nothing more than being able to sit outside after dark and enjoy good food and drink in an area with great people-watching – and Patpong soi 1 is fantastic for that. The night market has not been a draw for years and is now a whole lot smaller than it once was. I imagine this will be a huge drawcard for the area while at the same time the bar hounds will be less than impressed.
Business in Patpong continues to improve as it rides a wave of tourists brought on by the new food stalls and beer garden on soi 1 – and trade has picked up in quite a few bars too.
On Patpong Soi 2, Delaney’s Pub has added a Roman-style pizza kiosk out front.
And it sounds like across Patpong they’re all getting in on the food act. On Patpong soi 2, the manager at XXX Lounge has opened a bratwurst and chips shop next door to the gogo bar.
Also new on Patpong is Mellow’s Weed, Patpong’s 4th medicinal cannabis shop. It’s located just outside Pink Panther, across from the police box.
Construction has begun on Shenanigan’s Snug, a large additional space next to Shag’s where the Boots pharmacy used to be. It’s set to open early next month.
Down in Pattaya, popular long-time bar manager / operator Ricky was due to open his new bar, Lips Lounge, on Soi Honey this weekend. It is said to look like a mini gogo bar with a stage and tiered seating. I don’t remember there ever being a gogo bar on Soi Honey so could this perhaps be the start of a new direction for the soi? And with a gogo bar in Treetown too, it sounds like chrome pole bars are thriving. Or is it that the rents on Walking Street are so high that those keen to get in to the gogo bar business are choosing to open in the Buakhao / LK Metro / Soi Honey / Treetown area where rents are much lower?
The revival of Walking Street really is all but complete. The last piece to come back to life was the very southern end of the street and for that to happen it needed one big, currently demonised demographic: Russians. Nearby U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya International Airport (quite a mouthful!) is getting charter flights from Russia and, with them, the Russian businesses have returned to life. The Crazy Russian Girls gogo bar is back and a new one has opened: Russian Sugar Girls. And a brave business owner has opened in the abandoned Soho Square with the Déjà Vu Russian gogo bar. Shuttered restaurants have reopened as have tour companies, gift shops and other businesses. And the street is now paved and repainted all the way to the Siam Bayshore.
Walking from Second Road down Soi 16 and back to the centre of Walking Street is a virtual world tour these days. First are the Middle Eastern shops and restaurants. Next, it turns Indian with the Kamaa Club opening directly behind Raas and a rock’s throw from Kaanat. Then you hit the Russian stretch before getting back to the western-themed bars. Along the way you can buy weed every 50 metres or so. Some shops have simply given up any pretense of “medical cannabis”, such as the new Get ‘Em High “dispensary”. Another ganja shop is totally confused. The storefront selling marijuana is called Blow, as in cocaine.
Recent columns have mentioned that some of the big, popular bars on Walking Street set barfine prices much steeper than in Bangkok – and ladies often have asking rates to match. But this isn’t to say that Pattaya is an expensive place. Not at all. Venture to some of the smaller bars, especially in the LK Metro / Buakhao area and there are still lots of bargains to be had with drinks often priced under 100 baht – and in some bars the prices are nowhere near 100 baht for many drinks. If you’re on a budget or simply wish to enjoy prices which may remind us of years gone by, spend a few days in Pattaya and your wallet will love you for it.
Last week’s column listed an ad for the position of PR Manager at a couple of Pattaya bars. A couple of readers asked me what a PR Manager is. It’s a common term used in the bar industry these days. PR is short for Public Relations so a PR Manager is (usually) a foreign manager whose job is to look after customers but NOT to manage the Thai bar staff.
Some expats in Bangkok are feeling the consequences of a visa crackdown on the back of dodgy Chinese businessmen who had been living in Thailand on visas acquired through questionable means. The investigation found they had been residing in Thailand on visas they should never have been issued with. A number of Immigration officers were arrested as the Thais show that they really are serious about cracking down on this. There have been consequences for expats using certain visa agents in Bangkok. Visa agents are resourceful and the latest work-around for those after a new visa is a throwback to the days of old when passports went on holiday out of the country i.e. the passport is sent to the Thai embassy / consulate in another country and visas are acquired while the holder of said passport relaxes in Thailand. This might have been common back in the 1990s but is a reckless thing to do these days, especially when you consider where the passports are being sent to. Africa! Maybe the visa agents use the friendly African gents peddling their wares near the start of Sukhumvit soi 13 to carry a backpack full of dodgy expats’ passports with them to Africa, get the visa they’re after and then bring them back again? Ok, so I don’t imagine that is what’s happening but, seriously, if a visa agent offers to get you a visa that requires your passport to take a trip to Africa, run! It’s not legal and the consequences could be disastrous. One expects that things will revert to how they were once the focus is off the Immigration department. As far as visa runs go – the service of taking foreigners to the border and back in the same day – there has not been any change and visa runs are operating as normal.
For many years, Bourbon Street was particularly popular on Tuesday nights as expats made a beeline for one of Bangkok’s favourite and best established expat bar and restaurants. Tuesday night was Mexican buffet night, with a fantastic spread of Mexican dishes along with salads, desserts and soup – a tasty spread for not a lot of money. But like so many buffets, Covid put an end to it and for a few years, the Mexican buffet was off the menu. But fear not, with Covid very much at the back of many people’s minds, Bourbon Street’s popular Mexican buffet is back by popular demand. On the second Tuesday of each month, you can enjoy the best value deal on Mexican in Bangkok. If you’ve never been to Bourbon Street, it’s a very pleasant spot and a great place to satisfy your farang food cravings.
While we’re talking about Bourbon Street, it’s one of the places to head to watch Super Bowl LVII tomorrow (Monday, February 13th). There will be a breakfast buffet. Bourbon street opens at 6:00 AM tomorrow morning for the highlight of the American sporting calendar.
Another American-themed venue, the 24-hour Margarita Storm, located at the intersection of Sukhumvit Road and Soi 13, was for many years a favourite of mine. Great food and Margaritas so good I might just have to break my no alcohol rule. Margarita Storm is another great spot to watch Super Bowl LVII tomorrow morning. The match kicks off at 6:30 AM but for those of you for whom the pre-game is a big part of it, the party starts at 4:00 AM. During Super Bowl parties at Margarita Storm, you can enjoy nachos, chicken wings, pizza, or ribs – just as you would enjoy back home in the States. Alternatively, you could enjoy a hearty breakfast burrito, an all-American breakfast, buttermilk pancakes with blueberries (my favourite) or California avocado toast. It’s all there at the Storm. And you also have a choice of apple or cherry pie with a 50% discount from 4 AM until noon.
When tourism in Thailand started opening up last year it was Indians who were first out of the gate and Thailand was flooded with visitors from India, something not lost on those who like the bar industry who commented that there were as many Indians in some bars as all other nationalities combined. Indians visited in large numbers until a few weeks back when India started imposing tests on its own nationals returning from Thailand (and some other countries). This saw the number of Indians visiting Thailand fall off a cliff. However, expect to see Indian visitor numbers swell again as India has just dropped that requirement.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Reader’s story of the week comes from Mega, “Around the Traps in Southeast Asia: Part 24“.
Thais are up in arms as gang som is declared the world’s 12th worst dish. (Got to admit I don’t care for it!)
An engine erupts in flames on a flight full of Russians at Phuket Airport.
A Phuket travel agent stabs a Chinese tourist over a refund dispute.
A young backpacker comes off her bike in an accident that scars her. Fortunately she had travel insurance to cover the cost of treatment.
Immigration officers involved in issuing dodgy visas are being prosecuted.
A British crime boss is arrested in Hua Hin after 5 years on the run.
Being away from Thailand makes writing this column a challenge. It will never be as good when I write it from afar and I’m the first one to admit that. It’s also a whole lot more work writing from 10,000 km away than doing so on the ground in Bangkok. The places I write about change fast and Bangkok is such a happening place that if you were to spend half a day walking around the old traps and a half the night under neon lights, you should have plenty to fill a column. It’s not long until I’ll be back for a decent stay. Things will be a whole lot easier then and with a bit of luck the column will be better. I wonder if you’ll be able to tell when I am back in town. Thanks for continuing to tune in to the column despite me writing it from afar.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com