Stickman's Weekly Column March 12th, 2023

3 Years Since Covid Hit Thailand

Once known as Bangkok Photographer and now known as Digital a-Go-Go, our favourite correspondent has penned a few thoughts on the Covid years. Enjoy his report!


He Clinic Bangkok



Next Saturday marks three years since the start of the coronavirus pandemic in Thailand; the date when the government imposed the first nationwide lockdown. Dark times would fall across the country – and the world – for more than two years after.

For some, the past three years have been a blur. For some, it zoomed by; for other it seems eons ago. A lot depends on how much you were affected personally, of course. For those working in and around Thailand’s tourism, hospitality and nightlife industries, the pandemic was catastrophic.


March 17, 2020. The night before the lockdown.


Digital a-Go-Go, which produces the top-quality go-go bar photos published here weekly, spent time documenting Thailand during the pandemic. There wasn’t much else to do: The bars were closed for months on end and nearly all of the agency’s revenue stream dried up. Like so many expats in Thailand, its managing director left the country for five months to work in his home country.

CBD bangkok

But, in March 2020, no one really knew what to expect and certainly no one expected it to drag on as long as it did. To that point, there had been few “official” reported cases of Covid-19, but growing numbers and mounting deaths from mysterious cases of “pneumonia” and “respiratory infections”. Within a span of just a few days three years ago this week, the entire world shut down.


March 17, 2020. The night before the lockdown.


The announcement already had been made that Thailand would shut down before St. Patrick’s Day 2020. A few places, such as The Game and The Old English Pub, carried on with their St. Paddy’s parties, only to find most seats empty and lots of green beer going flat.

St. Patrick’s Day on Soi Cowboy felt more like a wake than a celebration. Many bars had already closed down, some, like Lighthouse, never to return. Lighthouse, with its popular 100-baht drink promotion, drew a small crowd of regulars that night, all speculating how long it would be until the storm passed. No one guessed years.


March 17, 2020. The night before the lockdown.


“I’m not afraid of catching Covid. I’m really not around large groups of people that often. Plus, I’m healthy, so it’s not a worry,” said one expat in attendance. Indeed, he didn’t catch it for 13 months, but when he did it was the severe Delta variant and he missed being hospitalized by only a hair’s breadth.

wonderland clinic

Cowboy that night had few tourists: Many airlines were canceling flights and routes by the planeload. Those who did wander down the Soi of Sin looked bewildered and more than a bit scared; would they be able to get home? What about their visas?


March 17, 2020. The night before the lockdown.


Those who didn’t flee immediately did, in fact, get stranded when Thailand shut down its borders and declared a state of emergency on March 26. All commercial flights would be suspended on April 4.

For the next 18 months, foreigners would wrangle with “Covid visa extensions” which were extended time and time again even after the notion that people were “stranded” here became a running joke. No one can claim that Thai immigration authorities are too strict after looking at the leniency shown during the pandemic.


March 17, 2020. The night before the lockdown.


The first weeks of Thailand’s pandemic were surreal. People stayed home, overdosed on news, doom-scrolled social media for hours on end, and ate a lot. People like to say everyone got fat during the pandemic. But there were plenty of Thais, of course, who nearly starved. Pattaya, in particular, would see up to 2,000 people standing or sitting in the hot sun for hours to get a free meal.

Dark times indeed.

Things got worse on April 3, as the government imposed a night-time curfew from 10 p.m. Digital a-Go-Go hit the streets that night to document the night before curfew. The images were shocking. On Tuesday night before 9 p.m. the Sukhumvit MRT station – the city’s busiest – was empty. Normally the line for tickets wrapped around five times. Soi Cowboy, of course, was steeped in darkness.


April 2, 2020. The night before the curfew.


The curfew would remain in place until June, although the government began easing the curfew hours and grow the lists of businesses that could reopen starting in mid-May. The curfew was lifted in July.

Songkran 2020 (and 2021 and 2022) was canceled, of course, and Bangkok over Songkran was shocking to behold. Empty streets, with the only ones out being photographers and Grab drivers delivering food. Of course, they had to be temperature-scanned before gaining entry anywhere. Didn’t we all!


April 2, 2020. The night before the curfew.


Thailand’s 2020 reopening was slow and painful and go-go bars and nightclubs were the last to get the green light, prohibited from reopening until July, when the curfew ended.

For the next five months, however, Thailand seemed like an oasis from the pandemic. While the west was being ravaged, Thailand went more than 100 days without a single “official” case.


April 2, 2020. The night before the curfew.


Times were still very hard, of course. Borders remained locked to tourists although some flights resumed in July. Bars were forced to close by midnight, a limit that remained in place until Spring 2022. Hungry girls went back to work and, for those few months, expats were boss. They had never gotten so much TLC from the working ladies, now that there were no “two-week millionaires” to spoil them.

Bars that had never discounted before, like Billboard and Butterflies, began “buy one get one free” deals, promotions that would last until 2022. Barfines got cheaper. Short-times got cheaper.


April 14, 2020. Songkran.


But the oasis was an illusion. No nation was impervious to Covid-19, a fact brought home at Christmas 2020 when Thailand again shut down all its entertainment venues on Dec. 28. Nana and Cowboy shutdown overnight. Patpong somehow managed to stay open, with no dancing, through Dec. 30. The few expats at Black Pagoda on Dec. 30 spent big, knowing it would be the last party for a while.

The shutdown didn’t last long, with curbs again lifted in February 2021. Even the Thai stuffed shirts were partying again in the high-end G-clubs in Thonglor. And that’s where it all came crashing down.


April 14, 2020. Songkran.


Thai operators of the Emerald and Krystal clubs imported dozens of girls from casino nightclubs in Cambodia, which, at the time, claimed to be Covid-free. It was a lie, of course. The coronavirus was a raging dumpster fire across the border and most of the tarts brought in to entertain cabinet ministers, police brass and MPs were infected, this time with the virulent “British variant” soon to be renamed the Alpha variant.

Covid swept through Thonglor and burst out across the city and then the country. By April 2021, Thailand locked down again. The British variant (Alpha) started the fire, but the Indian variant – Delta – soon made its way into the poorer areas of Bangkok and poured gasoline on the Covid fire. This would not soon pass. The death toll grew and, in July 2021, another curfew was imposed.

The curfew would be lifted for “blue” tourism zones in late October 2021, but bars still weren’t allowed to reopen until January 2022. But when they did, there was no dancing and no bikinis. As January turned to February, some bars began pushing the limits, putting girls back on stage, in cocktail dresses. Whiskey & Go-Go, a small bar in Nana Plaza, was among the first to do so and reaped the benefits of bending the rules.


March 18, 2022. Almost a year ago to the date. Bars open, girls in cocktail dresses.


Things wouldn’t get back to “normal” across the city until late May when Thonglor police finally let Soi Cowboy bars put girls on stage.

While the world technically still is in a pandemic, June last year marked the start of the end for the crisis in Thailand. For the nightlife sector, it marked the start of a steady rise in customers, business and fortunes. While business has fallen off since early February, the good times are back in Thailand.





Mystery Photo

Where is it?

Last week’s photo was taken of the night market which runs along one of the sois in Siam Square, opposite Siam Paragon. This week’s photo is taken in a soi popular with foreigners.


Meet them at Dynamite, Pattaya.


Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week

Just another evening on Soi Nana.

Soi Nana on a Saturday evening in March—a pack of humanity shuffles along: random males, sex workers and bemused tourists. Deaf-mutes perched on motorbikes throw sign language at each other, preening katoeys stalk, young African women roam braless. A pair of spectacularly unattractive African katoeys perch on plastic stools in an alley off the soi, one with an incongruous and off-putting mane of blonde hair. The mob is thickest at the entry to Nana Plaza, where a live band in one of the side-piece bars thuds out “Smoke on the Water.” Speak to any of the working girls in Thai and replies are in English, “Where you hotel?” followed by an air-thrust of two fingers indicating your pair of grey banknotes in exchange for their brief companionship. If this fails to appeal, the average jabroni can cop a buzz at any of the numerous cannabis retailers and go ham at Nana Burger. This is lower Sukhumvit tourism post-COVID, and as ever, matters are up-to-yoo-ooh.

Members only coming soon.

I think you are right on the money with your prediction that it is only a matter of time before a bar on Walking Street becomes “members only.” In fact, I have seen such signs in Tokyo. As you might already know, White dudes are often excluded from certain bars in Japan. Being able to speak Japanese sometimes opens doors that would otherwise be shut. (The assumption being that if you understand Japanese, then you will follow the “rules” in such establishments.) Yet, even gaijin men who are fluent in Nihongo sometimes are a no-go. It’s not just certain bars. Other adult venues like the so-called soaplands often prohibit foreigners from entering. The thinking among punters is that some Japanese men don’t want to share their pros with us. Hence, there is an element of racism involved. Fortunately, there are other adult businesses that accept foreigners to varying degrees. Indeed, a few even cater exclusively to foreigners who cannot speak Japanese. A similar situation exists in South Korea.

Refused entry on Soi Cowboy.

Just a quick comment on your no Caucasians allowed comment. A few years ago just before Covid I was on Soi Cowboy and trying to enter Baccara. They had a special event with JAV idol, Maria Ozowa, doing a meet & greet and they weren’t letting any white boys in. Initially, I was told sorry we are full. I had a beer outside and watched as they enforced a very selective entry policy. Asians just walked in. Everyone else was blocked from entering. When I finished my beer I tried again having seen a group exit but still no entry. Like you say, their bar, their rules – but don’t expect me to return the next time.

The best lookers on Soi Nana.

When you commented, “Word is that the better looking ladies lingering on Soi Nana are more likely to be Vietnamese than Thai”, you could have added “or ladyboys.” 🙂


Meet them at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.


More Readers’ Emails

Short-time hotel closure inconvenience.

Apart from the convenience to bar owners who would see their girls return to duty, the Plaza short-time places were surely a major earner with rooms turning over a few times each night with sometimes a queue of people waiting in reception with their public relations officer of the evening. The Hollywood rooms were very well appointed too. And a pity that the Balcony Bar is closed. I did enjoy my visits when it was the Big Mango. I well remember attending the Stickman convention there. <Yikes, how times flies, that is turning back the clock to 2006! Stick>

MBK today.

Last time I was there, MBK was quiet and looks to be dying out as more well-to-do people visit Thailand and are in preference of designer brands like those found in Siam Paragon. The way I see it, MBK will eventually either fall into one of two scenarios. They’ll revamp it and bring in more expensive brand names making it similar to almost everything else around now there, or it’ll die out completely and they’ll make it something completely different. Your standard malls like Terminal 21 and Central World are the ones that ultimately take business away from MB, (also not helped by the sellers that try and screw tourists out of whatever baht they can get from them). Areas like Pratunam already service it well enough for people looking to buy cheap junk and Covid more or less drove a stake right through the heart of what remains there.

QR code prevalence.

I recall some mention in your column regarding the ever growing popularity of scanning QR code when settling bills. This morning I took a motorcycle taxi and on the back of his vest was a QR code next to his license…that was a first! I do recall how taxi drivers would spray alcohol on any money they received from passengers, so the QR payment system made good sense. And as was mentioned, you can pay your bill with QR at most chrome pole bars as well….this is a great idea to save on headaches from cash handling, especially when the cashier loads you up with coins in the hopes you’ll be shamed into leaving the “small change’ as tips! However, it was also mentioned that a wife or significant other might see those charges from chrome pole establishments which could possibly create problems in the relationship. Even if most of those charges are billed to a holding company (not the bar name)….I’d counter by suggesting you have more serious underlying problems in your relationship IF you have a nosey wife / partner with trust issues. I have never given my wife any reason to be suspicious and she never snoops around my mobile devices / email…heck, we aren’t even friends on Facebook. Complete 100% trust and mutual respect. Just my 2 satang worth.


Meet her at Whiskey & Go Go, Nana Plaza.


This Week’s News, Views & Gossip

Closing times have been all over the show in recent months and vary from night to night, bar  to bar, area to area. At Soi Cowboy, the closing time – translation: the time until which bars can open without police hassles – is currently 3:00 AM. It’s very much up to the individual bars and some will close at 2:00 AM or even earlier if they don’t have any customers. Figure the better, more popular bars like Dollhouse to be open through until 3:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays, at least.

Speaking of Dollhouse, last week I included a snap of a small sign on the patio. Dollhouse used to be known for – amongst other things – the huge, iconic sign that extended out over the middle of the soi. The bar is in the final stages of getting a new sign up, said to be sympathetic to the old Dollhouse sign’s “half-moon” look.

Talking of long-running Soi Cowboy bars, Tilac is doing decent trade. While there are plenty of customers, are many ladies being barfined? I don’t just say this in terms of the general trend that there is less barfining these days. This past Friday night, a reader was interested in taking a lady away from Tilac but baulked at the 1,300 baht barfine.

With so many bars following much the same formula, it’s nice to find somewhere a little bit different. One bar that breaks the mould is Bar 112 on Sukhumvit soi 22. This is an odd location for a bar that feels upmarket given soi 22 is considered a cheaper option, as far as bars go. Step inside Bar 112 and any thoughts of 100 baht drinks disappear fast. A plushily decorated bar with amenable ladies, beers start at 160 baht while Jack Daniels or other top-shelf choices will set you back at least 250 baht. Lady drinks run 250 baht too – putting prices higher than in the likes of Nana and Cowboy. The Bar 112 crew has been described as miles better than what one expects in soi 22 bars and it has been said that their English is above par too. But don’t go thinking it’s a bunch of university students moonlighting on the side however. Good English in the bars usually means a lady has been around the block, so to speak. For those looking for somewhere cosy and more intimate than your average Nana or Cowboy bar, you might want to stop by. Bar 112 can be found on Sukhumvit soi 22, opposite Makro.


Meet her at Red Dragon, Nana Plaza.


Red Dragon jumped back into action after Monday’s Buddhist holiday with its first Full Moon Party. Parties in gogo bars are too often a let-down with little thought or effort going in to them: Put up some balloons, make a poster and call it a party. WTF?! Red Dragon made an effort, dressing up the girls in outfits that could be described as neon tie-dye – see Miss Red Dragon in the photo above. The papasan also created some new shows for the occasion, with staff passing out glow-bands for all the customers and girls, with some having fun making bracelets, necklaces and hairbands.

I absolutely respect anyone’s wishes to decorate their body as they wish, even when my personal attitude towards tattoos is not positive. Looking at the lady above and following on from the last email in the readers’ emails section about QR codes, how long will it be before working girls get a tattoo of their own QR code? What a convenient way for customers to pay them, tip them or just “donate” by holding up their mobile phone to the lady’s QR code. It can’t be far away, that is if some ladies haven’t already gone down that path. One hopes the tattooist is competent and gets the code right. Imagine a lady’s fury if the tattoo of the QR code was somehow messed up and funds meant for her ended up in someone else’s account!

I’ve been getting a lot of really positive feedback about Red Dragon with some saying that this could be the first bar in a very long time to provide competition for Billboard. The middle-floor Nana Plaza bar has more than hit its stride and is positively soaring, both in popularity and in the sheer number of ladies. An email from a reader published in a recent column remarked how there were so many girls on stage that they were bumping into each other. Red Dragon’s manager didn’t see the email, but he did see the same and told the papasans to create 3 teams of girls to rotate shifts so all the girls have a chance to show off. Mandarin and Red Dragon combined now sees 100 or more girls on stage most nights, with even more on Friday and Saturday nights. Plans are in the works to reopen Mandarin’s third floor again as a “Red Dragon Club” with girls from downstairs working upstairs exclusively in a more-intimate setting.


Tequila lovers should head to Whiskey & Go Go.


Like Tequila? Whiskey & Go Go in Nana Plaza extended its free Tequila Thursday offer, giving you a free shot with your first drink.

St. Patrick’s Day is this coming Friday and the best-value St. Paddy’s Day party is arguably at Buddy’s Bar & Grill’s Soi 8 and Soi 89 locations. Just 200 baht gets you an all-you-can-eat buffet of homemade Irish stew, corned beef hash, steak & kidney pie, pork pies, pork sausages, potato salad and more. Wow! Guinness pints are only 200 baht and all shots and Irish coffee are just 100 baht. The feast begins at 6:30 PM.

The latest from the Thermae is that the dreaded masks are only being donned by a small number of ladies. It was only a few months back when most girls in Thermae were hiding behind a mask.

In the west, many bars and nightclubs have their own ice machine, ensuring a plentiful supply of cold cubes. Would you believe that not a single bar in Nana Plaza has an ice machine? So where does all that ice come from? Spend time at Nana in the late afternoon before the bars in the plaza open up and you’ll see a steady parade of guys bringing in ice. And, at that time of day, the elevators are turned off, so guys bringing in ice and cartons of booze and soda have to haul it up their stairs on their backs.

Down in Pattaya, Captain Hornbag celebrated his new gig at Dynamite Entertainment on Soi 15/Soi Buakhao with a guest DJ, free food, Jell-o shots, “black crack” shots and special shows. Dynamite is not your usual gogo bar and they tell me it has a nice line-up of ladies, a few of whom are highlighted in this week’s column. Check the bar out on their Facebook page.


St. Paddy’s Day is just around the corner.


I know some readers live for their trips to Thailand – and often that means night after night in the bars. I am really looking forward to getting back to Bangkok, and hanging out and just chilling in………Soi Arab! I know it sounds corny but I really enjoy hanging out on Sukhumvit soi 3/1. There’s something about the combination of the food, the vibe and the company of my few friends who also enjoy Middle Eastern food that makes it something I really look forward to. A fellow Soi Arab fan tells me quite a few of the restaurants on soi 3/1 were gutted during Covid, have been rebuilt and look better than ever. Seriously good food in that soi and I am told that the prices are still very reasonable.

A few friends living in Bangkok tell me that it’s a better place to live these days. Why do they say that? They claim because it’s more Westernised. What they mean is that there are more things to do, and more places to eat, drink and go out. Fancy a hamburger? There are dozens of places serving a burger every bit as good as you get at home. Ditto pizza. I am not sure that I would use the term Westernised, perhaps instead I’d say that today it is more cosmopolitan. This is not just a Thailand thing, but a worldwide thing. The mass movement of people over the past 10 – 15 years has seen so many places become much more diverse. I’ve seen it on my own doorstep. While  you cannot compare a city in provincial New Zealand with an Asian metropolis of more than 10 million, the principle is much the same. In a city of less than 70,000 we have 7 Thai restaurants. We have about the same number of Indian restaurants. There are a few Thai massage outlets, a couple of Lao restaurants, a Filipino food outlet, an outstanding French patisserie and I could go on. All have opened up in the past several years. Prior to that, this place was very much vanilla. So while some friends say that Bangkok being more cosmopolitan is one reason why it’s a better place to live these days, the same applies to much of the Western world too. Whether you crave Tom Yum Goong, Chicken Tikka Masala or Boeuf Bourguignon, you can probably find a decent version most places these days.

Last week we commented on the changing bar frontages and how more bars were making an effort to dress themselves up. But the bars pale in comparison with dispensaries around Thailand, not just the name of the venue, but the frontage and general appearance. Here are a couple of my favourites – but there are many. When it comes to imagination, I’ve got to hand it to the weed-heads!


Cool-looking weed shop, Bangla Road, Phuket.



Weed Hub on Soi Cowboy.


With a lot of chatter in recent months about the dreadful state of the air in Thailand, air purifiers are becoming a must-have item. I have to admit that I never had an air purifier when I lived in Thailand. I wish I had but it was not something I gave a lot of thought to at the time and didn’t know much about. If I was living in Thailand now, I’d have an air purifier in each room. If you live in Thailand, do you have air purifiers in your home / apartment? If you don’t, why not?!

And on the subject of air quality in Thailand, some expats are so quick to dismiss air quality in Thailand as a problem, often blaming it on other countries in the region. The funny thing is that the polluted air is not the same across the region! Over in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the air is much less polluted than it is on the Thai side of the border. Ditto for much of Vietnam. And within Thailand itself, the south generally has much better air than the central and northern parts of the country. If the air quality is an issue for you, head for Phuket which is the least polluted of the places popular with foreigners. Just note that the island comes with a whole different set of issues.

You know things are back to normal in Thailand when the begging backpackers are back. Typically, they came from Russia or other Eastern European countries that were once part of Russia. The fellow below claimed to be Turkish and was happy to be snapped as he sat out front of a night market at Patong Beach. His story? He had run out of money and was “requesting donations” – I prefer the term begging – to continue his travels. Next stop for him: Koh Samui.


A Turk is begging his way around Thailand.


Many Westerners working in Thailand off the books are vulnerable. Whether they are an employee of a company which is dragging its feet in getting them a work permit, or whether they are flying solo and doing their own thing – even if it’s working online for a company outside Thailand which is largely invisible – not holding a work permit may leave you open to hassles. Sadly, many foreigners are reported to the authorities for working without a work permit by their fellow foreigners, usually by someone they know. I have always thought that one of the saddest aspects of living in Thailand is the petty jealousy that is so common amongst some foreigners. It can get so bad that they tip off people in uniform about old friends they have fallen out with, often over something totally innocuous. I know all about this because I was reported to the authorities various times. I had men in uniform knock on the door twice and believe me, it is not pleasant. One person once even sent an email to the authorities and cc:d me in on it. I mention this because twice in the last two weeks people I know have told me they had been reported to the authorities. In one case the fellow did the sensible thing and took it as a signal to get legal which meant a trip out of the country to get the right visa, return to Thailand and get the paperwork in motion for a work permit. The Immigration Department gets so many anonymous emails about people on overstay and / or working illegally that they simply don’t have the resources to follow up on them all. And Thai law doesn’t make it easy on a couple of fronts. First, matters reported to the authorities must be investigated but – and this is a big but – only when an official complaint has been made. That means the person making the complaint must provide their own name along with ID. Few foreigners tipping off the authorities about other foreigners do it properly with anonymous emails the most common, hence most situations aren’t looked in to. Second, the person being investigated essentially needs to be caught in the act. Foreigners grassing other foreigners is nothing new, and the whole situation is really quite sad.


Meet her at Dynamite, Pattaya.


Thailand-Related News Article Links

An American teacher is charged with negligent homicide after his son’s friend drowned in the sea off Chumphon province.

A Thai man is jailed for selling calendars with yellow ducks that mocked the King.

Revenge travel is seeing hotel rates soar in Bali, Bangkok, Phuket and Singapore.

Bangkok Pat looks at the pros and cons of the cannabis revolution in Bangkok.

Authorities in Chiang Mai will hand out face-masks as dust from fires hits hazardous levels.


Meet them at Mandarin, Nana Plaza.

Closing Comments

It was a tough week for gathering bar industry news and gossip. Lots of “it’s still fairly busy but nothing specific to report” comments, hence there’s not a lot of bar news in this week’s edition. While I didn’t gather all that much intel this week, I continue to get conflicting reports about how things are. It’s tough to get an accurate read of what is going on and just how busy it is, as well as the general make-up of customers around the traps. I get the impression that the bars have fewer regulars these days and it’s more of a tourist crowd. Plenty of people are still around but it sounds like they’re not hitting the bars with the frequency that they used to and a lot of bargoers these days are more mainstream visitors. I really need to get back to see things with my own eyes. Not too long to go…


Your Bangkok commentator,



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