Stickman Weekly, March 19, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken of the building at the top of Sukhumvit soi 11 where Insanity nightclub used to be. Only a half dozen of you got it right so this week’s mystery photo is a bit easier!
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Why fewer barfines are being paid.
My thought is that there might be less barfining now not because there is a new kind of customer, but because it is no longer the good deal that it was. Okay, prices rise everywhere, but rates in the bars have seen increases that are far in excess of inflation in other areas. Is it greed or a necessity for the bar owners and the girls? Probably a bit of both, but people’s pockets are only so deep. People often talk of the good old days with rose-coloured glasses, but the bar scene really was in a golden age back in the 80s and 90s. Genuine warmth from those in the business and value for money – cheap, even – whereas now bars that provide ‘public relations’ lean more and more towards the seedy places that have largely died out in the west and with prices to match.
Where to befriend our African mates.
In a recent weekly you asked where the African boys are now. They love the area around the Nana BTS station, near the start of soi 7, close to the Cannabis Club which is a major hangout for them. I should have taken a snap of them there but I did not want a confrontation. They might think I am an Immigration informant. They loiter mainly on soi 5, the Arab soi etc and at the Coffee Club and adjacent hotel. It’s mostly men but you do see some African women too. They just hang out there doing seemingly nothing.
What to believe?
I have to agree with you about varied reports coming from Bangkok. I’m not sure who is a reliable source anymore. Of late and after the Xmas rush, a lady friend has been messaging me. I take this as a sign that her bar isn’t busy and trade is not so good. One thing which may be a signal is bars changing hands or closing / being mothballed. In business is you either grow the business to give yourself a steady monetary return or build it so that someone will later buy it from you at a great profit. Of course the third way is to sell when it is sinking or becoming problematic.
More Readers’ Emails
Postcard from Sukhumvit soi 7.
I had a look in Sukhumvit soi 7. The soi 7 beer bar complex seemed to be doing ok. It wasn’t packed, but neither it was quiet. There was a decent number of punters in most bars. That couldn’t be said about the Biergarten. Stuck my nose in at around 10 PM and the place was as good as deserted. It was on a Monday, perhaps not the most busy night, but it was really dead. Saw one farang cuddling a nice-looking cat though. At least one customer was getting some decent pussy in there. But, boy, hows that place has fallen compared with its heyday. It has no atmosphere anymore. When I first visited in 1989 it really was a cosy beer garden, with different sections, trees and other original greenery, a pond, a monkey (gibbon), a parrot etc. Right now it looks more like a beer factory than a beer garden. The soul has gone.
Will Sin City always be a city of sin?
I think the development of the tech city near Pattaya and the proposed high-speed rail link to Bangkok will dictate the future of Sin City. If the latter becomes a reality, Pattaya may find itself becoming a “commuter town” and all of the seafront and prime areas will be in demand to cater to professionals. Naturally the displacement of bar areas nearby will move to outlying areas as new residents seek a higher standard of amenities.
Air purifier experience.
I’ve put 3 Philips air cleaners in the house. Each is supposed to handle 60 square meters of floor space so our 121-square meter house is fully covered. They come with a micro-mesh screen, a charcoal filter and a HEPA filter. They show an FO (Filter Obstructed) code every 2 – 3 weeks which requires washing the micro-mesh screen and a vacuuming of the charcoal and HEPA, and then resetting the alarm. Our AQI here in Udon Thani during this high season for sugar cane field burning runs over 100 daily and on bad days is 150 – 220. I keep the house buttoned up any time it’s over 60 – 70 as I have respiratory problems.
Flight prices staying stubbornly high.
I predict that the 2-week millionaires from Europe may become a dwindling source of income in the bars. I was searching for Emirates flights for certain times of the coming year and budgeted around £850 per trip. And there were a good many flights around this price. However, on closer inspection, the travel duration at that price was circa 30 hours! My usual 17-hour duration is upwards of £950 which whilst bad, is not as shocking as the £1,200 paid by the Thai friend of a mate’s wife. For the record, these are non-peak travel period flights from a regional UK airport in economy class.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Naughty bar owners in Bangkok’s major bar areas are all saying the same thing this week: The slow-down has become very noticeable. The month-on-month rise in tourists and revenue that began last June and seemed like it would never end has, indeed, ended. Many owners point to the second week of February as being the point when things started to come off the boil. Various bar owners have said business is down around 20% this month. Of course, part of the reason for the slow-down is the mix of tourists. Generally, naughty boys stay in bars, buy lots of drinks, lady drinks and pay barfines whereas mainstream visitors have a drink or two and that’s it.
The slowdown has prompted cutbacks from the owners of a couple of bars in Nana, Whiskey and Tycoon. The primary investors in both bars are Americans based in the States. They don’t have experience in the nightlife industry and take no role in managing the bars. Page 1 of the Gogo Bar Business Manual says “Your bar is going to fail if you’re not there to manage it” but many foreigners who roll their money into naughty bars never read it. Look at Nana Plaza’s best-run and most-successful bars – Billboard, Butterflies and Spanky’s – and the owners are in the bar, at least for a few hours, nearly every day. The foreign-owned bars struggling often have one thing in common – most nights there’s not a foreigner manager or owner to be found.
While Western, Japanese and Korean customer numbers have been falling in Bangkok gogo bar areas, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of Chinese. And, overwhelmingly, they are Chinese couples, not single guys. This past week saw numerous Chinese couples in the bars. But it’s not all great news for bar owners. These couples often sit gawking and taking in the entertainment while they nurse one drink.
Nana Plaza’s revolving-door bar, Geisha, has been sold again, and the managing partner in the group of investors is Tee, who today rents more of the Plaza than anyone else. Tee and his partners now have a stake in Rainbow 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 69; Twister BKK and its VIP Bar offshoot, plus the Witchcraft and Bunny beer bars. I have never thought it a good thing when any bar operator runs so many venues in one bar area. This is especially so in this instance as a few of Tee’s bars are filled with ladyboys.
The subject of ladyboy bars and Tee’s expansion has become a touchy subject among some Nana bar owners, especially those behind long-established ladyboy bars. One bar operator in the plaza has complained loudly that the value of their ladyboy bar has fallen markedly now that Nana again has 6 (at last count) bars with ladyboys. Just a few months ago there were only a couple of ladyboy bars and as such, these bars did better trade (there are only so many ladyboy bar customers to go around). And reduced turnover means the value of the bar – if they were to sell – also takes a hit.
As mentioned earlier, Tee has taken some of the space in Twister BKK and turned it into VIP Bar. There’s little to distinguish it from Twister, other than geography and a menu. Vodka drinkers beware, the menu at VIP Bar lists Grey Goose at 320 baht. By way of comparison, the highest price for a glass of Grey Goose anywhere else in Nana or on Cowboy is a more reasonable 240 baht.
Long Gun on Soi Cowboy is old-school in every sense of the word, including its interior. The unisex restroom has an old chandelier hanging in it and the shelf above the urinals is cluttered with everything from old toothbrushes to empty lipstick dispensers to a rack offering the girls (and guys, I guess) a selection of free condoms.
In decades past, poor Thai women went to work in gogo bars to find someone to take care, while lonely Western men came to the gogo bars of Thailand to find companionship as much as sex, and perhaps many were subconsciously looking for a wife. Marriages happened. In Thailand and indeed all around the world, there are tens of thousands of Western man / Thai woman couples who first met in a gogo bar. In some cases the man paid the bar a sum to buy her out from the employer. Fast forward to 2023 and the girls aren’t as poor or uneducated and generally prefer Thai men (who have much more opportunity and money these days). Many gogo bar maidens today are in the bars to make money on drinks and short-times. So the whole buy out thing is history, right? WRONG! Unbelievably, this practice which really is a con job lives on. In February, one large Bangkok gogo bar had 6 women retire with men paying to buy the lady out.
We’re turning back the clock to an archaic practice I thought had been left in the past. The paying of a so-called lifetime barfine began with the very dubious argument that it compensated the bar for the loss of an employee. That is pure bullshit. That was a time when bars actually turned many ladies applying for a job away. Let’s be really clear here: the ladies are NOT trafficked. They choose to work in the bars and they can – and do – quit regularly, often on a whim. But bar owners added a caveat to quitting to marry a customer: If the buy-out fee wasn’t paid, the girl cannot come back to work at the same bar if things don’t work out. Who cares? These days there are many bars desperate for girls. If you wish to take a lady out of the bar and the bar wants a fee paid, tell them where to shove it. And if the lady puts pressure on you to pay it, walk away from her and don’t ever look back!
For naughty boys with a specific taste, there are a number of fat-assed African hookers on Soi Nana somewhat further down the soi towards the turning for soi 6. They offer great value for money if you consider the cost in terms of baht / kg.
On the subject of Africans, more and more of you are telling me that lower Sukhumvit and especially Soi Nana – down towards the intersection with soi 6 – are full of friendly, smiling African men who are keen to be your friend. Let me repeat what I have said in previous columns: they are drug dealers who will happily sell you drugs but ultimately would like to get you, a non-African, to sell drugs for them in the late-night spots. Needless to say, you should not have anything to do with them at all.
Speaking of drugs, when weed was decriminalised and dispensaries started popping up all over the place, many commented on the price of cannabis. Those who have seen weed decriminalised in other parts of the world noted that it wouldn’t take long before there would be a shake-up in the industry with many dispensaries closing and the cost of weed dropping. While there is no sign of dispensaries closing just yet, the price of weed is coming down, in fact it has dropped markedly with Kush House, located at the very start of Sukhumvit soi 22 offering a great deal for weed fans – see the poster below.
A few readers let me know about the obituary for BaronBonk which ran in the The Telegraph – and which is very much worth reading, even if you have no idea who Baron Bonk was. The question some readers asked was how could it be that Baron Bonk’s obituary appeared in the British press with his date of death listed as early February, 2023, when this column featured an obituary for Baron Bonk way back in November, 2015?! It’s a little complicated and I will try to explain. The obituary in The Telegraph is for Peter who was a real baron. He became known in the UK as “Baron Bonk” after he developed a reputation as a womaniser. Peter died last month. The fellow whose obituary appeared in this column back in 2015 was Tim, a good friend of Peter’s. Tim ran the websites Baronbonk.com, Asiabugle.com and Samworthington.com. Tim created BaronBonk.com as a way for Peter to make a living in Thailand writing about his night-time adventures. But Peter did not stick with it and Tim took over, publishing reports in a nightlife column covering much the same places and characters as this column. Tim was the man behind BaronBonk.com and in Thailand, Tim became known as Baron Bonk. Few in the bar scene knew anything about Peter, the real baron. Peter’s colourful life in the UK wasn’t repeated in Thailand. Rather, he floated on the spectrum between grifter and outright con man. Some 20+ years ago he would spend his days in Lucky Luke’s, availing himself of cheap drinks while replying to letter after letter from lovelorn Brits who had replied to ads Peter had placed in English newsletters masquerading as Thai women looking for love. Peter pretended to be a Thai female looking for a Western partner and willing to travel to meet the love of her life. Peter conned many Brits in to sending money for a visa and plane ticket to a lady they had never met – and he would in turn spend that money on booze and babes. It may be uncool to speak ill of the dead but the Peter I observed in Thailand was a loathsome individual.
This was the 3rd weekend of the 4-week Pattaya Music Festival, with stages on Beach Road in North Pattaya and on Koh Larn. It was also St. Patrick’s Day. There were very mixed reports about just how busy Pattaya was. A couple of people told me it was pumping, as busy as it’s ever been. But bar owners n Walking Street say it’s not as busy as it was. What’s that all about? My best guess is that it’s the same as is happening in Bangkok where naughty boys who tend to spend are being replaced by mainstream visitors just there for a look.
A friend stopped by popular Walking Street gogo bar Fahrenheit on Friday night, and said there was a terrific vibe and atmosphere, with the stage full and most of the seats occupied. But management said the appearance was deceptive and it actually was quite slow for a Friday, compared with recent history. Was the music festival drawing people away?
Pattaya’s nightlife industry rebounded fast after Covid-19 controls ended, but, like an exploding star, its expansion has led to a dramatic contraction. Some bars that opened last year already are closing, with new ones trying their luck in the same place. Here’s a few quick bites.
- Flex Club, which opened on Soi Diamond in the spot where Carousel and Center clubs had been, closed four days after it opened.
- Stunners Club, a coyote joint on Soi Buakhao, has closed.
- Lux, a much ballyhooed Indian nightclub on Walking Street, closed after less than 2 months and has been replaced with Shimmers.
- Wild Things on Soi 6 closed before things got wild.
- The failed Cheeky Monkey bar on Soi Chaiyapoon, has been brought back to life as Let’s Go.
- The Ying Ying Bar on Jomtien Soi 7 is changing into the Back to the Future music bar.
I always enjoyed photographing Pattaya Farang. Reader Don sent in some great snaps of Westerners in Pattaya when he was in town recently, including the shot above of a fellow looking to be in quite a state outside the Central Festival shopping mall on Beach Road. Don said the young-looking fellow was laying in his own filth. Barefoot and dirty, this guy looks like he is in a much worse state than just a bog night out. I wonder if he is still about or has he managed to get back to his homeland.
The rumour mill has it that the old Made in Thailand beer bar complex which was razed a year or two ago will be back. Word is that where the land owner previously leased the space to someone who developed it as a bar area and sold leases to individual bars, this time the actual land owner will be behind the project. The large Made in Thailand complex bar area on Second Road which wasn’t far from Central Festival ran all the way through to Soi Buakhao. It had dozens and dozens of beer bars. Is there demand today for another bar area with 50 odd beer bars? I guess we’ll soon find out.
Still in Pattaya, a few months back we wrote that the Eastiny hotels in the soi 7 / 8 area – once a major beer bar area – were closed. The hotels remain closed today. Word is that they’re not just closed, they have been completely stripped, at least at ground floor level. The impression is that they are not going to reopen any time soon, if at all.
Staying in that part of town, the Pattaya soi 7 and 8 area is back from the dead. A thriving area 15 – 20 years ago, footfall in the sois had been falling year after year and with that, bar after bar closed. The area became something of a bar graveyard with almost as many empty bar shells as bars still operating. But things have turned around with lots of bars in the area doing well and punter numbers the best they have been in a very long time.
While the consensus is that peak naughty boy season is over, there should be no doubt about the overall number of visitors in Thailand at present. Try and get a room in your favourite hotel and you might find yourself out of luck. One long-time reader tried to get in to his favourite hotel, The Landmark, only to be told it was full. No problem, plan B was the equally impressive Grande Sheraton Sukhumvit just a few hundred metres down the road. That too was full. He did eventually manage to find a room in a property in the area. Whether you prefer 5-star hotels or a small room where you could barely swing a cat, don’t leave making your accommodation bookings until the last minute, lest you miss out.
On that note, domestic flights in Thailand have always been so convenient. Not only were the prices always very reasonable, there were so many flights that, holiday periods and long weekends aside, you could make a last-minute decision to travel and usually get a seat on your preferred flight. Decide that morning you wanted to fly down to Phuket for a few days and the odds were that there would be seats available. Not now, I am told. With tourism going gangbusters in Thailand and the number of flights still well less than pre-pandemic, it really pays to plan ahead.
An email in the readers’ email section talked of the high airfares to get to Bangkok from the UK with the writer speculating that this could result in fewer so-called 2-week-millionaires venturing to Thailand. I only follow airfares from this part of the world and I note that they have not come down. I guess that shouldn’t come as a great surprise with so much demand to travel and many airlines yet to even return to flying to this part of the world. In fact, airfares appear to have actually gone up in price. I used to fly Auckland to Bangkok direct on Thai Airways and tickets typically cost $NZ1,000 – $1,100. It was a good deal. You could fly to Bangkok on QANTAS via Australia for a couple of hundred dollars less but I always preferred Thai as it was a non-stop flight. Today, a ticket to Bangkok on QANTAS will set you back $1,600 – and that is the cheapest of the few airlines which fly to Bangkok. There are other circuitous routes such as via Hong Kong which run around the same price but take longer. Will higher airfares cause me to visit Thailand less often? I don’t know. I’ll see how my upcoming trip goes and will be in a better position to decide about future trips then. If I have a great time, I’ll be happy to return at these prices. If I don’t have such a good time, perhaps I won’t travel as much as I did pre-Covid. I guess for me it’s more about the experience than the cost of the airfare which you can offset in other ways with a bit of imagination.
Multiple people tell me that the trend of fewer face masks being used in Bangkok continues. Some speculate that those wearing face masks now might be doing so more to protect themselves from pollution than Covid.
If you enjoy the bar environment and the comings and goings behind the scenes, you might just like the Australian TV series “Last King Of The Cross“. It’s a 10-part series set in King’s Cross a few decades back when it was an infamous, freewheeling entertainment area not all that different to Patpong. Think working girls, sleazy bar bosses, customer / bargirl relationships, ladyboys, police corruption and drug dealers. If that appeals, you might enjoy this series. 6 parts have screened so far. You can find it at your favourite movie / TV download site. It’s no Breaking Bad or Sopranos – but if you like the bar scene and all its machinations, it’s worth watching.
A Thai family we are friendly with have been battling an insurance company over a claim resulting from the damage that bitch Cyclone Gabrielle caused in this part of the world last month. They have struggled with the paperwork and asked if I could help them out. Something really weird happened when I was driving to their place and for a moment I thought to myself, “Shit, I don’t have a work permit for this.” I have no idea where that crazy thought came from and just as quickly snapped back to reality – I left Thailand a long time ago and I don’t have to worry about all that work permit nonsense here in New Zealand. I don’t know how that thought came in to my head! I wondered if that has happened to anyone else? I can’t imagine I am the only one.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
Russians are looking at staying long-term in Thailand.
Bali wants to tighten visa requirements for Russian tourists.
There’s trouble in Phuket where a bar on Bangla Road is raided for underage women.
5 police are transferred following the underage raid on Velvet in Phuket, which had been open just 3 months.
Why having a negative blood type can be a death sentence in Thailand.
The Russian invasion of Phuket is making news all around the world.
When I flew out of Thailand in late 2019, I never thought it would be a few years before I returned. And I never thought that, an 11-month break due to Covid aside, I would continue to write columns from afar all this time. I counted all the columns I have written since I was last in Thailand. How many? 130 weekly columns! It’s kind of crazy. Obviously I’ve had a lot of help and a good deal of luck. It is so much harder to write the column when I am outside the country. I’ll be back very soon and it will get a whole lot easier then. I wonder if you’ll be able to tell when I am back. Will the column be all that much different when I write it in Bangkok? Then again, perhaps I am back in Bangkok already? I’m genuinely intrigued to see if readers notice much change in the column and can tell when I am back in Bangkok. Do let me know when / if you think I am back.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org