Stickman Weekly, February 26, 2023
The mystery photo in the last column 2 weeks ago was taken on the green walkway between Benjakitt and Lumpini parks. Many of you got it right. This week’s photo might look obscure on first glance, but look closely and you might just figure out where it is.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
The magic is back.
I just got back from 4 weeks in Thailand and I have to say it was one of the most memorable jaunts I have had in the land of smiles. Thailand has a spring in its step that perhaps it had lost over the last 10 odd years. The magic is alive!
Billboard as good as ever.
I am back from yet another Bangkok trip a couple of days ago. Had a great time and perhaps a bit of an epiphany regards the bar you believe to be Bangkok’s finest gogo bar, Billboard. I’m starting to concur with your view. Previously, I’d always preferred its sister bar, Butterflies. But having spent more time in there recently and having been more proactive in inviting involvement with the girls, I have changed my view. The place is very well run and there has obviously been a lot of investment. The price of drinks, lady drinks and barfines are on a par or even lower than many other bars in the plaza and the girls are not pushy for drinks from those who are not interested, but attentive to those who do seek their company. I had a great time in there.
Red Dragon thumbs up.
I went to Red Dragon last night based on your reports. The line-up is really good. Beautiful girls and a lot of them. Imagine a stage that would normally have a dozen girls on it, and they’ve got three dozen up on stage! So they’re not really dancing, there’s no room, they’re shuffling and bumping into each other. Reminded me of what Rainbow 4 used to look like. I see a girl I like on stage and the server hands me a laser pointer to choose the girl, which I thought was quite funny. I zap the girl in the stomach to identify her, and they bring her down from the stage. I offer her a drink. Two small Tequilas quickly arrive along with a bill for 220 x 2 = 440 baht. I feel it is my duty to object. It’s not even a Tequila and a Coke. Clearly they have just brought two drinks when I ordered the girl one. I complain to the server and she shows me that at the bottom of the drinks list she’s carrying it says something like, “Choose girl from floor, start two drinks.” I don’t think that’s a terrible policy, it’s just new to me. I later bought the girl a second drink, and I was only charged for one. I bought a drink for a different girl who was walking by, and I was only charged for one drink. But taking a girl off the stage and offering her a drink means you’re buying her two, at least at Red Dragon.
More Readers’ Emails
I arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport around 7 PM and it was packed. At Immigration there was a poster, showing waiting times. Green for 10 minutes, yellow for 20 and red for 30. Only the poster, no actual lights that indicate the current situation. But there was no need because you could already see that the queue was extremely long. It took me 48 minutes to reach the counter. Almost all counters were open.
The taxi driver’s opening gambit may not be such a bad option.
I arrived in Bangkok on Wednesday. Got in the Immigration line at 12:25 PM, and was through by 12:40 PM. 15 minutes. No line for a taxi. I tell the driver my destination on Sukhumvit. Driver has a towel over the meter and says, “500 baht include tolls.” I’m not a newbie, so I scoff at that and say, “No, use the meter.” He removes the towel and starts the meter without any trouble. We’re cruising along towards Sukhumvit with not a lot of traffic and then BAM! The line is backed up for the North Ploenchit exit to get off the freeway and turn left on to Sukhumvit. We get into that line and we literally spend 45 minutes just in that line, moving 10 feet every few minutes waiting to exit the freeway. There was no accident, no train on the tracks, no construction, just a massive logjam to exit the freeway. Traffic on Sukhumvit wasn’t even that bad. It ended up being a 90 minute mid-day journey that was 415 baht on the meter. So when you add in the tolls and the 50 baht airport surcharge I would have been better off taking his 500 baht offer. Or I could have saved time and money taking the airport train.
You always remember your first Thai girlfriend.
I made it down to Patpong this week. Radio City is open but looks to be a gogo bar. 20 years ago it was a live music venue with a Tom Jones impersonator. It’s where I met my first Thai ‘girlfriend’. I was with a group of 18 studying to be English teachers, all discovering Bangkok. We thought we were in a regular disco and there was a stunning girl in a university uniform by herself. Believing the hype about western guys’ popularity, I decided to approach her. She was very friendly. We agreed to go on a date the next night. I was sure I had to meet her at 8 PM at the Lady O bar. I spent an hour walking up and down Patpong asking people until someone pointed it out as the Lady Oh – or “Radio” bar in a Thai accent. We had a great week together and my new friends were jealous as hell. Until one night she left my place to go home (with 300 baht for a taxi) and my buddy spotted her in the (Dis)Grace Hotel on Sukhumvit Soi 3. That was when I realised I’d been dating a hooker!
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
For the past few weeks I’ve been hearing more about Patpong than Nana or Cowboy. That’s not to say that Patpong is doing better than the Sukhumvit bar areas – it isn’t – but it’s being talked about now. When the bars started defrosting a year or so back, all the action was on Sukhumvit. Hardly anyone talked about Patpong and many people – including some of the big names of the bar industry – questioned whether Patpong had a future. Things looked grim for Bangkok’s oldest and most infamous bar area. The outlook has changed markedly and over the past month or so it is Patpong that people are talking about. To be clear, I don’t know anyone – save a few Patpong die-hards – who think the area will challenge other areas or relive its glory days, but the fact that things have improved with more visitors than it has seen in years is a win for the area.
The Patpong Night & Food Market is powering the return of mainstream tourists to Bangkok’s oldest nightlife area, but not doing much for the naughty bars. Some may poke their noses in to a gogo bar or two but few end up poking any bargirls. For those making money off tourism that doesn’t involve girls in bikinis, the new night market has been a boon. The food court section, however, is far more popular than the shopping half.
While Patpong soi 1 is much busier now than it has been in a long time, old-timers lament seeing some old favourites in darkness, Safari and SuperStar among them. I’ve not heard anything to suggest these bars will reopen. The old staff are as much a part of the bar as the signs and the decor so even if these bars were to reopen, without the old staff they just would not be the same.
I love the Thais’ entrepreneurial spirit. So many Thais are keen to run their own business and some Thais come up with some novel ideas. Who would have thought of selling avocados in Patpong? That’s what’s happening and from all the reports I’ve received, it’s a hit! Fresh avocados are being sold in Patpong along with avocado juice – can’t say I’ve heard of that before. Avocado sauce? Yes. Avocado oil? Yep, my favourite to cook with. But avocado juice? That’s a new one. Truth be told, I’ve never been all that impressed with Thai-grown avocados and never thought there’d be a market for them, especially when there are so many fruits that grow well in Thailand like mangoes, durians, lychees, mangosteens etc. But apparently avocados are a hit at Patpong. Well done to those who came up with the idea.
A few friends assembled this week on the patio at Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy and recalled how the former Lighthouse, just a few doors down, used to be the place for the boys to meet up, down cheap drinks and shoot the shit. Lighthouse will not be returning, under that name or management at least. Dollhouse seems poised to become that place now. New(ish) manager Dennis has the place rocking, the stage filled with increasingly better-looking women and improvements such as a new sign and a new sound system on the way. There’s draft beer for 95 baht and the patio is a great place to start the night on Soi Cowboy.
Rainbow Soi Cowboy has been open for a couple weeks and the feedback so far hasn’t been great. “Do you like plastic bars?”, one industry pro recently retorted when asked about Rainbow, with its acrylic front and clapboard interior. It has been joked that every expense has been spared in opening Rainbow Cowboy. Buy a shell, paint the entire thing black, put in the cheapest benches you can find and point a handful of spotlights at the stage. Rainbow Cowboy has been described as the equivalent of cattle class on a budget airline.
Further down Sukhumvit from Soi Cowboy, the once popular Snow White Massage has reopened. It closed during the big Covid shut-down. It used to be on soi 26, you’ll now find it on soi 24/1. Snow White is a love it or hate it type of place.
On Nana Plaza’s ground floor, Blondie is packing the punters in. A gaggle of new women are now doing their thing on stage. Photos from a friend who did a shoot in Blondie this past week showed the party in full swing.
Popular fetish bars Demonia (Sukhumvit soi 33) and The Castle (Third Road, Pattaya) have a couple of events planned. After the success of the wine tastings, they will do it again, this coming Saturday, March 4th, in Demonia. The French owner is a connoisseur so expect quality French wines.
And on Friday March 3rd, The Castle in Pattaya will combine free flow drinks with a Shibari demonstration. Free flow drinks has proven to be popular at The Castle on Friday nights.
Some people have mentioned that trade in the beer bars along Soi Nana is not what it was a few weeks ago. Consensus seems to be that trade is still very good, but not quite as good as it was. And word from the open air beer bars on Sukhumvit soi 11 is that trade has tapered off a little there too. That said, if you jumped off a plane, you’d say they were jumping. In many beer bars in downtown Bangkok, word is the peak was a few weeks ago.
One big-name Bangkok gogo bar owner with his fingers in a few pies this week said that Valentine’s Day was the day when trade hiccupped (his term, not mine!). According to him, since early last week things have gone off the boil a little. Again, trade remains good but it’s not quite what it was. Typically, the peak of the high season lasts until around January 20th or 25th. It sounds like this year it ran through until mid-February.
Despite trade generally being excellent most everywhere, there is one long-running venue that continues to struggle. The soi 7 Biergarten. Like all bars, there are various times of the day which are busier than others – but I am told that the words “Biergarten” and “busy” have not been used in the same sentence for a while. From a friend who spent some time in the Biergarten late one afternoon this past week – what used to be considered prime time – he described it as somewhere between quiet and dead. 5 customers and 15 ladies.
One gauge of how busy things are generally is the occupancy rate at the Mothership AKA the Nana Hotel. This week it was at 90%. Unlike the beer bars, it’s trending up.
Speaking of the Nana Hotel, what will happen to the empty shell that was the 3rd(?) iteration of Strikers? If memory serves me right, Strikers started on Soi Nana proper, moved to the Raja Hotel car park and then moved again to the Nana Hotel car park. The Raja Hotel car park location was a fantastic spot with a large, part-open, part-enclosed bar with various “wings” that I thought worked really well. The owner did a great job with the design and layout but it didn’t last due to lease issues, if I recall correctly. A few years back, Strikers moved to the Nana Hotel complex. And then Covid came along. Strikers, sadly, didn’t make it. Strikers may be history but the Strikers sign remains, for now.
Did being on the wrong side of the soi count against Strikers? History tells us that most of the successful beer bars on Soi Nana have been on the left side of the soi i.e. the same side as Nana Plaza, with the prime spots between Sukhumvit Road proper and the entrance to Nana Plaza. Further down the soi sees much less footfall and I suspect many punters have barely walked further down the soi beyond the entrance to the plaza. That said, plenty of venues have done well further down the soi with the Hillary bars the best example. Chequers also comes to mind as does Bus Stop which is not only a decent stroll further down the soi but it’s on the wrong side.
The late night crowd have felt a bit lost this week. Those who enjoy relaxing in street-side booze booths late at night when most venues have closed have had few options with the police ordering the streets clear of such bars after 2 AM. Those who like to venture out late and wander the streets well after most of us are tucked up in bed have had nowhere to go. This week, police have been out shooing them away and sending them home. This sort of thing happens from time to time and one assumes that things will revert back to how they were before long.
The small pharmacy inside Foodland on Sukhumvit Soi 5 that was popular with some expats is currently closed. Is it being renovated or will it open as something else? No-one seems to know.
A reader mentioned seeing what appears to be a homeless foreigner this week, sleeping outside the entrance to Benchasiri Park. Anyone else spotted him?
The Nigerian drug dealers are hanging around the Nana BTS stairs, not far from The Game. There has been some suggestion that they were moved along from their favourite place to perch near the start of Soi Miami (Sukhumvit soi 13). This week they were in groups of 3 or more, extending friendly greetings to those who made eye contact with them. So what is the deal with these clowns? They are drug dealers. I’m told they have it all from heroin to meth to their most popular product, cocaine. They don’t have merchandise on them and anyone who wishes to buy has to wait while they signal to someone to bring the contraband from its hiding place. While they’ll happily sell you whatever drugs you’re after, what they really want is for you to sell drugs for them – for a hefty commission. A middle-aged white guy is almost invisible on Sukhumvit and can roam in and out of the late-night discos and nightclubs, whereas these Nigerians may as well have a neon light emblazoned across their torso saying DRUG DEALER. Given that drug-dealing is a big deal in Thailand and the punishments extremely harsh, why aren’t these guys caught? You can probably guess the answer to that question! If you are looking to get high, it’s probably best to stick with one of the many reputable stores in the area selling high-grade marijuana. You know what you’re getting and it’s legal.
Down in Pattaya, popular bar manager / bar owner, Ricky, has opened his newest bar, Lips Lounge, on Soi Honey. If the past is anything to go by, expect the venue to appeal to the same crowd who enjoy Windmill. Ricky would love to see you so pop by and say hi.
One of the surprises of the post-Covid era was the reopening of one of my all-time favourite Pattaya gogo bars, Iron Club. I remember taking a curious girlfriend from Bangkok to the Walking Street gogo / show bar many years ago when it was at its peak. No, taking girlfriends to gogo bars was not something I made a habit of and it was very much her idea. Iron Club at that time was beyond impressive. Anyway, until this past November, Iron Club appeared rusted and abandoned, but a major refit was happening behind the scenes. The bar reopened in mid-November with an impressive new interior including the removal of the uncomfortably low, round stools that fans of the original still remember with disdain. “Original” is perhaps the wrong word, as Iron Club continues to be owned and operated by the same Thai woman who opened it back in the day. (She also is the operator of Queen Club on Soi LK Metro and had Bachelor Club on the same lane.) But, unlike a decade-plus ago, her formula for attracting customers to Iron Club isn’t working. There are two stages as before, but no Jacuzzi. One stage has models – the euphemism for ladies with huge silicon balloons who dance topless – and more modest dancers who are, as I am told is increasingly the case these days in Pattaya, plain. The bar, in blues and purples, has been described as cold with little vibe. A glance at the menu may partially explain the lack of interaction between guys and gals: lady drinks for models run 250 baht. And 200 baht for dancers.
On the subject of gogo bars coming back from the dead, a once hugely popular bar that not only has been closed for years but actually had the soi it was on blocked off is said to be on the path to resurrection: Happy A Gogo. The group that owned Happy, Baccara, Beach Club and Peppermint is no more, but the brands live on, with only Baccara still under the previous ownership. Happy is said to be under revival by the South Koreans who resurrected Peppermint last summer.
As for Baccara, Covid took quite a toll on what was for a time one of Walking Street’s top bars. The formula, hands-on management and service staff remains the same, but the impressive line-up and the free-spending customers haven’t returned to 2019 levels. Baccara, too, is suffering from the “averages”, dancers who, while not unattractive, are not special and not worth either the barfine or short-time prices being asked. Skin also now is in much shorter supply and, overall, Baccara just feels flat, a far cry from pre-pandemic times.
Skin – read: nudity – is in surprisingly short supply up and down Walking Street (and, to be fair, in Bangkok as well) these days. There are only a handful of bars on the Pattaya nightlife strip where girls in less than bikinis can be found: Pin-Up, XS, Fahrenheit, Skyfall, Shark and, of course, Windmill are pretty much it, other than maybe sporadic shows at small, less popular bars. It should be no surprise that the list above matches the list of the most-popular Walking Street gogo bars.
After taking two steps forward toward relevancy, Soi Diamond took another step back with the quick closure of Hilton Club. It wasn’t even open long enough for anyone to write a review. But this past week saw yet another bar open in the spot that once was famously Carousel. It is the only bar on the right side of Soi Diamond with all its neighbours shrouded in darkness. That makes for dim prospects indeed.
One Walking Street bar that has bounced back is Glass House, which again has a surprising number of very attractive ladies. But the seating? It has been called horrendous. Straight-backed bench seating with tables jammed in so close to the benches you have to sit beside them, not in front of them.
In another sign of Pattaya’s tourism rebound, Burapa Bike Week returned to Pattaya just before the cyclone hit us here in New Zealand. Motorcycle clubs parked / displayed their big bikes on Walking Street and guys in motorcycle vests were in and out of the bars. I’ve mentioned before about how atrocious the service at Pin-Up has become. Burapa Bike Week provided more proof. A group of 12 – 15 Asian bikers from a Hong Kong club entered and were pushed to the back of the club. Moments later they all walked back out after the security guards used to seat people refused to let them all sit together in the VIP section, which was empty at the time. I can imagine a future in which I’ll be writing that Pin-Up closed after falling from its once lofty perch.
In addition to Hong Kong natives, mainland Chinese are coming back to Pattaya – and Thailand as a whole – in droves. The deputy national tourist police chief, in fact, was at U-Tapao-Rayong-Pattaya Airport on Friday to personally welcome and thank a large Chinese tour group to town. And when they get to Pattaya, there are now marijuana dispensaries waiting for them.
Soi NightWish is pandemonium. It seems nearly all but a small handful of bars have reopened on Pattaya’s soi 6 and the noise levels on the street at night are enough to keep people blocks away awake. In the middle of it all a long-running beer bar – Club 69 – has done a total refit and created a proper gogo bar amongst all the short-time brothel bars. Sure, there are still rooms upstairs, but, downstairs, it’s got a full stage and chrome poles with enough room for five ladies to dance. The new version of the bar has attracted ladies who used to shuffle on Walking Street.
Soi 6, of course, no longer has the corner on the market for short-time, afternoon delight in Pattaya. In fact, for the city’s older, penny-pinching expats, Soi 6 has gone out of their price range and they’re now looking for budget options closer to their East Pattaya retirement homes. Gentlemen’s clubs – a euphemism if there ever was one as they’re brothels, not clubs, and those patronising them would not be described by most as gentlemen – have popped up all across the Darkside and in places no tourist ever would venture, such as Soi Bongkot in South Pattaya. But these places are as dodgy as their locations.
A whole row of brothels now operate on Soi Bongkot and one, Club 4, was raided on February 16 with underage girls found working the chrome poles downstairs as other girls worked customers’ poles upstairs. Police are seeking a permanent closure order with Pattaya’s online doomsayers predicting all such clubs eventually will be shut down by authorities. News link with more details here.
While commentary in this column about Pattaya centres on the nightlife and probably makes it sound like Pattaya is still very much the citywide brothel it has long been known as, comments from friends in Pattaya is that some have reached a different conclusion. They feel that the nightlife is today a smaller part of Sin City. Walking Street may have plenty of bars but the bar scene there is very different from how things were not all that long ago. The customer base is more diverse and most people’s interest in the nightlife is to have a look and see what it’s all about, but not to partake. As a good friend spending much of the UK’s winter in Pattaya said to me this week, “Pattaya can survive without the nightlife.” Such comments may not be new but there does seem to be something to them when you hear comments like, “The typical profile of visitors to Pattaya today is a Russian family.” The change in Pattaya’s direction has been almost imperceptible. In 2012, I wrote the following in this column: I give the naughty nightlife another 5 – 10 years. It’ll go because the country doesn’t need it. Thailand is way past the days of tuna, pineapples and bargirls. Today the economy is diverse, sophisticated and seeing real growth. And all of the growth in tourism is away from the nightlife. It’s going to get squeezed out. All these guys who want to retire in Pattaya 10+ years from now are going to find a very different and much more sophisticated, to say nothing of a more expensive place. I was derided at the time for making comments like this. We’re now 10+ years on and that final sentence seems reasonably accurate. Where will things be in Pattaya in 5 – 10 years’ time?
Not much news makes the column from down Phuket way, but we can report that Goddess A Gogo has finally reopened, one of the last Patong gogos to do so. The bar – owned by the manager of Whiskey & Tycoon in Nana Plaza – was gutted and entirely rebuilt during the pandemic, with an eye toward making it a “clubby lounge” like Whiskey, rather than a stadium-seating gogo bar. Located on Soi Absolute off Bangla Road, just after Tiger Disco, Goddess is described as a relatively small place with about a dozen or so women working, but no mamasan. The stage is low and the girls accessible, with Leo bottles just 95 baht. Lady drinks are 250 baht.
It’s hardly news but every day for the past couple of weeks when my other half has spoken to her sister in Bangkok, said sister rants about the pollution. She has air purifiers throughout her house and says that even with them all running at maximum the air quality is bad.
And what would a weekly column be without me mentioning face-masks? No, I am not going to rant about them this time. I hadn’t watched the Channel 3 morning news from Thailand for a few weeks but made a point to watch it this past Friday. And one thing stood out to me – news reports from around Thailand showed a noticeable decrease in the number of Thais wearing masks. That made for a nice surprise!
A lot of Bangkok history has been lost in recent years, from favourite old bars, restaurants and cinemas to old buildings and places which many of us – Thais and foreigners alike – were not just familiar with but felt an affinity towards. Along with these places and buildings, many old characters have disappeared too, some of whom you had long forgotten about until someone mentions them and you think to yourself, “I wonder what happened to them”. One such character is the photographer of Patpong who has been around for, well, as long as anyone can remember. With business picking up in Patpong, he is back doing the rounds, offering a snap of you and your friends for 200 baht. He’s a friendly fellow with an easy smile and always up for a chat. One wonders how many photos he sells in the age of mobile phones with amazingly good cameras (that are likely better than the gear he uses).
How are you finding service standards in Bangkok and Thailand generally, these days? I ask because some people have mentioned to me that service is one area where they feel Thailand may have gone backwards.
The best bargirl novel of them all, Private Dancer, by Steve Leather, is now available as a hardback. Here’s the link to Private Dancer on Amazon.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Russians are buying up property in Thailand to avoid conscription in the invasion of Ukraine.
An Aussie drug smuggler complains about the dreadful conditions inside a Thai jail.
A Frenchman wanted for a 10 million Euro fraud in his home country is arrested in Pattaya.
A British woman wants to know why her husband of more than 50 years makes regular trips to Thailand.
Standing up on songtaews has been banned across Thailand.
A Vietnam newspaper looks at why Thailand has attracted far more visitors than Vietnam.
Once again, I’d like to apologise for not publishing a column last week. Obviously it was out of my hands as I was stuck in a city without power, cut off from the rest of the country. Thanks for all the well wishes after I posted a brief note last week to explain why I was unable to write a column. For us, the power came back on Sunday afternoon, our wi-fi router powered up and we felt like we had been reconnected to civilization. All is well and it’s business as usual with the column. That said, the city remains a mess and I don’t wish to diminish the hell that many have been through. This week’s edition is longer than usual with some bar news and gossip carried over from the previous week. It’s good to be back in the saddle!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org