Stickman Weekly, May 7, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken on Sukhumvit soi 11, looking across the road with the distinctive Two Pacific Place building on Sukhumvit Road near Nana Station in the background. Think you know Bangkok well? Prove it by telling me where this week’s photo was taken!
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Emails From The Past Week
Your time to visit / weather comment brought back memories of a trip to Bangkok in July which took me well and truly “out of the game.” Having been out in temperatures exceeding 40 degrees, I was later in the evening caught in a downpour. When I did manage to find a taxi, the air-conditioning in the vehicle was at a very low setting. Suffice to say the later sniffles led to worse. I still was coughing away a few weeks later back in the UK!
December the best month.
The best time of year in Thailand is December. The weather is great. The nightlife starts earlier because the sun sets earlier and in Bangkok in particular, there is a great vibe. Admittedly, air-fares are more expensive, as are hotels around Christmas and the New Year but that’s a small price to pay for an atmosphere you just don’t get at home. Plus, because it’s not so hot, you can spend more time just walking around seeing the sights without sweating up your shirt. The air-conditioning on the skytrain isn’t at freezer-box levels either. I don’t even mind carrying that extra jacket when I go out at night in Chiang Mai.
Could Safari reopen?
In early February I was checking out the Patpong beer garden and reminiscing about Madrid (the door is still there and it looks for all intents and purposes like it always has!) when I spied the door to the Safari was open. Inside it looked like a storage area with stacks of bottled water (and probably a lot more). The now elderly lady owner (whom I knew by sight from years ago) spied me and came outside for a chat. I was reminiscing on the great times I’d had in the bar over the years and how I was so sad at its demise. She said to me that there has been no final decision and they were looking at options for revitalising it albeit probably in a different form. She asked my opinion on that and I said it was always different from the other gogo bars in the area as there was always more emphasis on good music and mingling. I said there was surely room in Patpong for a decent ‘hostess’ style bar with good music (which Safari always had) and a great vibe. I gained the impression during discussions that there is still a chance of things happening but she said that extensive renovations etc. would be necessary to bring the premises up to scratch, at least another six months or maybe towards the later end of the year. Fingers crossed. It would be a real shame to see that icon disappear with the same fate as Madrid.
The Mad Scientist is still going strong.
The “mad scientist” drawer is still at it on Sukhumvit soi 71. I saw him just a few mornings ago, with a brand new blue marker in his hand. I meant to get a picture of him, but did not. If I see him when I am on that street, I will be sure to capture a snap of him.
More Readers’ Emails
Saw the comments from a reader about the Bolt app, and I fully agree. It really works well in Thailand. Sometimes I visit an old friend who has a bar in Jomtien, and it used to be a bit of a hassle to get a taxi there from Pattaya, because I’m not going songtaew hopping when go to Jomtien. So you had to hail a taxi or go to a place where they are waiting, and then you had to negotiate a price. Nowadays I just order a Bolt taxi. Just tap in departure and destination, and you immediately get plenty of options, from a motorcycle to a regular taxi to a minibus. They usually pick you up within a few minutes (you’ll get a message when they’re 2 minutes away from you and when they’ve arrived), and prices are ridiculously cheap. Where a regular taxi charges 250 – 300 baht (Covid years excepted) the same 25-minute ride on Bolt will cost you around 90 baht for a regular car. Sometimes I return to Pattaya very late (think 4 or 5 AM) and then it’s around 110 baht. It usually takes a little longer before they arrive at that time (approx. 10 minutes) but that’s a whole lot better than finding a regular cab or even a songtaew in Jomtien at that time. After 1 or 2 AM, Jomtien is pretty much dead. I usually give a very nice tip because I feel somewhat guilty with the low asking price.
The old Biergarten crowd.
I agree that the soi 7 Biergarten’s following could be described as old school Bangkok visitors, but where you described them as “Generation Sex Tourist”, I seem to recall that most people I met in there between 1989 and 2005 were people who had some business to do in Bangkok, be it a job or self-employment, along with some retirees. Of course, there were sex tourists too but they didn’t make up a majority. Everyone had one thing in common though, the ladies were the main reason they were in Thailand. So if you use the words Generation Sex Tourist in a broader perspective (i.e. Generation Sex Tourist / Sexpat), it is exactly how Biergarten’s clientele could be described. And yes, that generation is dying out. The new breed of expats can mainly be found in areas like soi 11. It seems to me they are a lot younger and more trendy than the old school expats.
Angeles City thoughts.
Regarding your point about the lack of visitors to Angeles City in the Philippines, I always compare Angeles City to Nana Plaza. If someone was going to Bangkok, staying in the Nana Hotel with a daily / nightly routine of getting up at 2 PM, spending the next 12 hours in the beer bars / gogo bars and sharing their hotel room with a “friend”, with occasional stops at a local restaurant, then they might as well go to Angeles City. But as you have written several times recently, how many people actually do that anymore? There are fewer sex tourists visiting Thailand now than there were before the pandemic and certainly far fewer than ten years ago. And if sex tourists are visiting Thailand in smaller numbers it’s only logical to assume they are visiting the Philippines in smaller numbers too.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
Why was the landlord in such a hurry to clear the piece of land on Sukhumvit soi 11, opposite the Ambassador Hotel, where a bunch of open-air beer bars and a couple of eateries had been a happy place for many for the past few years? I previously reported that the last night for the soi 11 beer bars would be Sunday of last week. A couple of bars had considered launching legal action to get a stay of execution, so to speak, but they abandoned the idea at the last minute. On Sunday morning a group of contractors arrived and tore everything down and raized the area quick-smart. By the end of the day there was zero evidence there had ever been any beer bars on that plot of land. Why were they in such a hurry?!
In an unexpected development, one of the beer bar operators from said beer bar complex insists that her bar will be back in the very same space in a couple of months’ time. Claims are being made that the space had to be cleared so construction could begin on a new beer bar complex on that very piece of land which in time will be torn down so construction can begin on a new condo complex. I can’t see how this could be true but at least one operator insists this is what is going to happen. And as unlikely as it sounds to me, in Thailand you just never know, do you?!
Who is the major bar industry figure who is currently being investigated by the DSI? Described by some as Thailand’s elite police department, strictly speaking this is not true. The DSI is a department of Thailand’s Ministry of Justice and operates independently of the Royal Thai Police. It is assigned special cases. So who is the major bar figure being investigated? I’d rather not say although it’s not exactly a secret in bar circles. What I will say is this. There is a reason why most bar figures do not constantly put themselves in the spotlight and talk up their achievements in the bar industry and make flowery claims about their success. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Keep your big farang mouth shut, lest it come back to bite you on the bum.
I neglected to report in last week’s column that the Museum of Patpong had been closed, along with more bars in Patpong soi 2, Delaney’s and Paddy Fields. These 3 venues closed well before last week’s column was published but I had not been able to verify that they were closed when that column was published, hence I am only mentioning it now. A hand-written sign on the door at the Museum of Patpong (see photo above) states that it is closed temporarily. Where it gets interesting is the reasons behind the closure – rumour has it that the owner of the building locked the doors. This does not appear to be an official government order to close. Some in Patpong say that the Museum of Patpong is done – but no-one knows for sure and we now wait to see how this all unfolds. The loss of the Bangkok Museum would be, in my humble opinion, massive. It’s a brilliant concept, wonderfully executed, and showcased the Patpong area and the wider bar industry in a no-nonsense way palatable to those not typically drawn to the nightlife. The industry has been crying out for something like this and it’s disappointing that the museum never really gained the traction it deserved. Every person I know who visited thoroughly enjoyed it. Given that the creator and curator of the museum is languishing behind bars in Phuket, can we realistically expect the museum to reopen? I just don’t know. It would be a tragedy if it didn’t reopen – and I don’t use that word lightly.
As for Patpong today, those on the ground tell me that the closure of all of these popular farang-operated bars leaves just 3 good gogo bars left across all of Patpong – King’s Castle 1, Bada Bing and Pink Panther. Maybe make it 4 bars if you count King’s Castle 2. Is that enough to entice you to the area?
Tiered barfines are becoming more common across the industry. In some Patpong soi 1 gogo bars, the barfine is 700 baht for short-time and 900 baht for long-time.
BangkokEyes reported in its May edition that David Walls has died. If that name isn’t familiar, David Walls was the biggest name in Nana Plaza from the mid-90s until he eventually sold all of his bars in 2012 (?). He was the boss of the Crown Group which ran close to half the gogo bars in Nana Plaza at one time, making him one of the biggest players in the industry. In a column back in 2002 I described him like this, “While he might be viewed by many in Nana Plaza as the devil, David Walls, the Crown Group’s numero uno….”
In modern day Nana Plaza, give points to Red Dragon for continuing to mix things up and keep it fresh. Thursday was the middle-floor bar’s monthly Full Moon Party and it took the lighting effects to the next level. Coming up the escalator, you had to wonder if the bars were open, it was so dark. But, arriving, you found the landing illuminated with black light, with hostesses outfitted in glow-in-the-dark yellow outfits and neon finger-painting done on the bar’s outside wall and growing figurines hung from the ceiling. Very inventive.
I won’t name the bar, but things are getting ugly behind the scenes at a well-known, foreign-owned Bangkok gogo bar. Amid continuing red ink, the relationship between the various partners has fractured, with allegations of fraud made and legal charges threatened, which have been met with counter-claims that girls’ photos were used online without their permission. A half-dozen girls left last week in a very public firing that one owner caught between the feuding partners regretted. The meltdown is being talked about in bar circles across the city. It shows what happens when big hopes turn to big losses in an industry where it requires a lot of work to turn a profit month after month.
Holidays and looming booze bans put a weird twist on Bangkok’s bar scene this week, with all the usual business patterns upended. Labour Day was a 3-day break and Coronation Day gave many people a 4-day holiday. People were coming back to Bangkok as others were leaving. That made it impossible to predict how even Tuesday and Wednesday would go. As it turned out, Tuesday and Wednesday were huge nights in the bars. Nana Plaza had big crowds wandering outside and inside the bars and Wednesday was described by multiple owners as “crazy”. Weirdly, Thursday night was slow, except for Billboard and Butterflies. Friday on Soi Cowboy was cow manure, management of some bars lamented, although things picked up later in the evening. In Suzie Wong, it was party central, attributable mostly to it being a birthday bash for the bar’s senior mamasan.
Crazy House really was crazy for a while on Friday, filled to the rafters with Japanese. The Tokyo-Osaka crowd has been huge in Bangkok bars all week with it being “Golden Week” in the Land of the Rising Sun, which actually has more holidays in the first week of May than even Thailand, which is saying something. It’s the biggest getaway-vacation week of the year and groups of Japanese guys were making the rounds. The Japanese crowds were thick in Billboard on Thursday and Rainbow Soi Cowboy on Friday was as popular as a cosplay convention with free sushi bar. Golden Week runs through May 9, so the fun is up soon.
Rainbow Soi Cowboy has been criticised for its aesthetics. The bar is cramped. I have heard the furniture described as cheap plastic. The music is car-alarm techno which many find downright offensive. The way some describe it, you’d think the bar would be empty. But, proving the old axiom true, if you pack even a dump with lots of pretty girls, guys will come in. Even Rainbow’s early detractors have made the grudging assertion that “Rainbow is the best bar on Cowboy”. But is it really? Some say it has the best line-up of ladies on the soi. None of the Japanese crammed into the airline economy class-sized seats Friday seemed to care about the cramped space and crappy decor. Girls are everywhere, dancing in booths, bouncing on laps, up on podiums in the corners and all over the stage. And, nearly all of them are thin, young and pretty. That’s all to be expected from the Tee-led ownership group, which shuffles in girls from his various bars.
Once upon a time, ladies walking to and from their bar, whether in the company of a customer or not, would have wandering eyes. Make eye contact with them and they’d give you that unmistakable look, “Wait an hour and I’m all yours!” Nowadays, they tend to work with purpose and avoid eye contact with us perverts. What’s that all about?
Some bars are cut-throat when it comes to imposing rules on the girls and cutting their salary if they break those rules. In one Patpong bar which shall remain nameless, girls are cut 5 baht for every minute they arrive late, so a lady turning up at, say, 8:40 PM when she was supposed to start at 8:00 PM is cut 200 baht. At the same time, the rewards are greater than the old days with the same bar paying girls a flat rate 100 baht commission for every lady drink. Understand the rules under which the girls work and it’s easier to understand why they behave the way they do.
On the issue of employees’ salaries being cut, there is a bar which I shall not name in which the girls used to be weighed – and if their weight went over a certain number, their salary was cut. Strange, but true. Can you imagine a workplace in a western country having such a policy these days? At the end of the day, I guess the owners just wanted the girls to look sexy at night.
Talk of Indians being welcome in the gogo bars these days is true, but that’s not to say that every bar is on board. The days of door staff closing the curtains as Indians approach has not gone completely by the wayside. Readers’ favourite Sexy Night is one bar where this practice still takes place.
Is there anything more representative of the 2023 version of Thailand than what is happening on Pattaya’s soi 7? The location of the classic old gogo bar, Silver Star, at the bottom of soi 7, is being redeveloped and will be replaced by a large, luxury cannabis store.
Still in Pattaya, if you’re looking for a Jewish deli, you can find one in Sin City….well, sort of. It’s an online Jewish deli store that as far as I can tell does not have a shopfront but operates exclusively online and offers delivery. More details here.
Myst Club Pattaya celebrates its first anniversary May 8, featuring Thai pop sensation Wonder Frame. She will make a grand entrance down Walking Street with an entourage and security escorts. As a singer, rapper, and songwriter, Wonder Frame rose to fame in the mid-2010s. More information is available on Myst’s Facebook page.
If you think bar owners have it bad with this month’s alcohol-sales bans, pity what restaurant owners have had to go through. Thonglor and Bangrak (Silom) police have cornered the markets on flip-flops, whipsawing restaurant owners back and forth over whether they could open or not, or sell booze or not. The ban on alcohol sales on May 6 and 13 from 6 PM until 6 PM the following day should be cut and dry. But, typically, some coppers trying to make bank off government regulations have instead made a mess of things. A week ago, connected cops told multiple restaurant owners they could, in fact, stay open and even serve booze to foreigners Saturday night and Sunday daytime.…if suitable arrangements were made. Then, predictably, that was changed Thursday night and they were told they had to close. One owner with businesses in the Thonglor, Bangrak and Lumpini police districts, was furious, as this morning (Sunday) was a big UFC fight. Lumpini cops were the only sane ones this week and are allowing pubs and restaurants to remain open during the election windows, serving only non-alcoholic beverages. So UFC was on there. But the event had to be cancelled in venues in the other police districts. That appeared to be the end of it. Notices of closure were prepared for publication. Holiday plans were made. And then, around 10:30 PM on Friday, another flip-flop! Thonglor police came back and said restaurants and pubs could stay open. “The problem is that none of this was written down,” one restaurant owner lamented. “They just make it up as they go along and it’s all just phone calls or text messages.” Hopefully things will go more smoothly next weekend….but I wouldn’t count on it!
There’s been little let up in the heatwave in Bangkok, with this year’s hot season proving the worst in memory for most expats. Friday night’s humidity was oppressive. You know it’s bad when every time you step out of the skytrain or an air-conditioned bar and your glasses steam up – even well after midnight!
Whether one should make the huge effort required to reach a degree of fluency in the Thai language is a topic that comes up frequently in expat circles. There are decent arguments for and against. No-one should underestimate the effort required to reach a level where you can talk with most Thais about most subjects in their mother tongue. One argument for reaching a degree of proficiency in Thailand that I seldom see made is that it is needed if you want to know what is going on in the country outside expat circles. So much of what happens in Thailand gets little coverage in the English language press. And even when the English-language press covers stories, there’s often little in the way of follow-up. You read a story that interests you, but you never know how it develops or what happened in the end. Television news in Thailand reports in a way that I find engaging – lengthy, in-depth reports looking at issues from many angles. Big stories may get half an hour’s coverage in a 2.5 hour bulletin, day after day for weeks. Take the story last year of the model who fell off the speedboat on the Chao Praya River, for example. It was covered by television news closely for months and it became almost like a real, live soap opera as it all unfolded. The big story currently is the female serial killer who is alleged to have poisoned 20-odd friends with cyanide is being covered in a similar level of detail. If you don’t speak Thai to a decent level it would be difficult to follow these stories. And you can forget the expat forums for following Thai affairs as they have mostly deteriorated in to what feels like schoolyard nonsense. If you plan to stay long-term in Thailand and have a genuine interest in what is happening in the country outside of expat circles, taking the time to learn Thai to a decent level may be worth your while.
With the general election taking place next week, I have to admit that I am intrigued to see how things will go. Will the Move Forward party’s surge in the polls see it eclipse the Peua Thai vote? Will it even matter, if Peua Thai is genuinely looking to form a coalition with Pracharath? Who knows what will happen…..but I have to confess that I am following it. Politics tends to turn me off fast, but there’s something about the way political campaigns are waged in Thailand which means I can’t keep my eyes off it.
The photo below was taken by reader Brian in MBK this week. In a country with many novel signs, this is a new one I don’t recall seeing before. And to be clear, this is not a mis-translation. To translate the Thai literally, word for word, would be “basin for vomiting”.
Thailand-Related News Article Links
The BBC calls Thailand South-East Asia’s “Weed Wonderland“.
A drunk, naked Brit bottles an Aussie pensioner at TQ Bar, Pattaya.
The suspected Thai cyanide serial killer has been charged with more than a dozen counts of murder.
The impressive leader of the Move Thailand Party tops the PM poll ahead of the general election.
A 1,000 baht fee is being discussed for Thai citizens and foreign permanent residents departing Thailand.
A change in policy means those travelling in big Chinese groups to Thailand now need to apply for their visa individually.
An enraged Italian high on drugs hurls a fridge from the balcony of his Pattaya apartment.
Messages from friends in Bangkok this week all mentioned the same thing – the unrelenting heat. It sounds like it is hellishly hot there at the moment with friends sending screen captures of weather apps showing the Mercury at 40 degrees, while the heat index (what it actually feels like) shows it closer to 50 degrees. May is the hot season but usually the worst of the heat has passed by now. Not so this year, it seems. Here’s hoping the temperatures dip a little from these highs by the time I make it back there.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com