Stickman's Weekly Column October 22nd, 2023

Bangkok’s Amazing Gogo Bar Photographer

This column has featured hundreds of photos of bar ladies and over the past couple of years, most of the photos of gogo dancers published on this site have been provided by a friend who operates Digital-A-Go-Go. After many months of nagging, he finally accepted my invitation to be featured in this column. Today, he talks openly about what it’s like shooting in a gogo bar and the challenges he faces. What makes his fabulous work even more amazing is that he is legally blind. Let’s hear more from the man behind the lens.

 

You’ve been around Thailand for a long time. You live in Bangkok today but for a while you lived in Pattaya. Can you give us a quick history of your time in Thailand?

mens clinic bangkok

My first Thailand stamp in my passport came in 1995. I was working as an editor for the Nikkei Weekly in Tokyo and had to do a visa run. (Yes, it’s not only Thailand!) Fares to Bangkok back then were stupid cheap, so I went to Thailand for three days.

I didn’t return until 2003. At that time, I was newly divorced, working at home in Virginia as a freelance writer / editor and there was 10 inches of snow in my front yard. I needed a holiday! Since I’d been to Bangkok, I wanted to try somewhere else and read on the internet these wild stories about this place called Pattaya. I knew what I was going to do at night 😜, but had to figure out what to do during the day. So, I decided to take scuba-diving lessons.

I spent 10 days in Pattaya and was hooked. I got back home, there was still 10 inches of snow in my front yard, and I booked another ticket to return to Pattaya two weeks later. I visited four times that year, started a Thailand-based eBay business, bought a share of the dive shop and moved there in 2004.

By 2012, however, I’d had it with Pattaya. The rose-colored glasses long ago had broken and I wasn’t the green newbie anymore. All of Pattaya’s warts were obvious and I decided to leave Thailand with no plans to return, ever.

I went back to the U.S. and tried to get back on the journalism career ladder. It was tougher than I expected, even though I’d been working part-time since 2009 as the news editor for the Pattaya Mail (which I continued to do through April of this year). By 2014, I began to look abroad again and made it down to the final cut at both the South China Morning News in Hong Kong and Bangkok Post. Hong Kong didn’t happen. The Bangkok Post did, and I ended up back in Thailand, this time in Bangkok. (I still visit Pattaya, but could not live there again. For me, it’s strictly a two-night town now.)

As is obvious from reading the Bangkok Post these days, the paper has fallen on hard times. Its parent company lost a billion baht or more a year in 2015 and 2016 and nearly all of the three dozen farangs working for its various publications, including me, left after salaries were frozen and bonuses eliminated. I was fortunate in that, 20 minutes after I walked out the front door my final day, I was offered the job as the marketing manager for Nana Plaza, laying the final groundwork for the Digital a-Go-Go business.

 

An Angelwitch beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

And what exactly is Digital a-Go-Go?

wonderland clinic

Digital a-Go-Go is a brand, not a standalone business. It’s one brand under the umbrella of an actual company, Fintech Management Services, a partnership I was invited to join into with a British marketing and content veteran. FTMS is a proper “by the book” company that has paid Thai staff, work permits, pays taxes, issues VAT receipts and does all the other stuff actual companies have to do. FTMS works with “mainstream” bars, restaurants, pubs, delivery companies and other hospitality businesses including Craft, Whisgars, Scruffy Murphy’s, Pizza One, Buddy’s Bar & Grill and other familiar brands. We didn’t want to intermingle the “family-friendly” venues with red-light nightlife, so the Digital a-Go-Go brand was created.

Shooting in the bars is relatively new to you. How long have you been shooting bar ladies professionally?

It’s not really that new anymore. I did my first bar shoots as the Nana marketing manager in 2016 and have been doing them since. So that’s more than seven years now. By the end of this month, I’ll have done more than 60 shoots this year alone.

 

A Red Dragon beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

Can you tell me a bit about the gear you use? The days when I used to shoot in bars with my camera, my trusty 24 – 70 lens and an external flash are very much in the past. Can you run through the gear you use without getting too technical?

I got my first “serious” camera gear back in 2006. It was all Nikon stuff, what we call “crop sensor” in that it’s 50% smaller than a “full frame” 35-millimeter film equivalent. As I was prepared to leave Thailand, I did a lot of regional traveling before returning home, and sold the big, bulky Nikon gear for light, compact (and then cheaper) Olympus Micro Four-Thirds gear, which was half the size of full-frame. It was using two MFT cameras I began my Nana bar shoots. While the small cameras were great for traveling, they were terrible in low light. So in 2018 I sold everything from that system and invested in Sony full-frame.

I now have Sony A7iv, A7iii and A6400 cameras. I’ve got about a dozen lenses, but, for bar shoots, almost exclusively shoot with the Sony 50mm f/1.2 GM lens and Sony 24mm f/1.4 GM. For parties and events, I also toss the Sony 35mm f/1.8 in my bag. I know you like to shoot zoom lenses, but I never use my zooms in bars anymore.

The key to good photography is, however, not having the best or latest camera or lenses. It’s the lights, and I’ve got a lot of them. Most of my shoots use three lights on the models of various sizes. In some cases, I’ve used more.

 

A Billboard beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

When I came along to one of your shoots earlier in the year, you had a MacBook tethered wirelessly to the camera. That was very cool. Tell me about that.

“Tethering”, or connecting a camera to a computer or iPad, can be done both with a USB cable, which I started with, or wirelessly, which I now do. The photos are transmitted immediately from the camera to the monitor, where they can be better evaluated than is possible looking at the tiny screen on the back of the camera. It helps me get the lighting right faster than I could otherwise, but it also pays huge dividends working with the models and clients.

The ladies can see the photos as you are taking them, which delights them. They also will ask to do more shots or other poses because they didn’t like how they looked in a particular shot. It’s also had the effect of convincing ladies who had not planned on posing to join in, as they can see you aren’t going to make them look ugly.

As for clients, some also watch the screen and suggest changes or new angles or poses they want.

Since we shot together, I’ve replaced the MacBook Pro in my workflow with a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It’s got a better screen and it’s easier to pick it up to show the models, etc.

You mentioned to me recently that you had spent an hour editing a photo – and felt you were able to do it “so quickly” because of recent advancements in Photoshop and Lightroom. I used to spend 1 – 2 minutes per photo. Why take so long? Are you editing images files on a Commodore 64?

Ha! No, it’s an Apple M1 Max Mac Studio, and spending that amount of time on one photo is very, very unusual. This was the photo and it required editing each individual model. Most edits are just a few minutes, just like you.

 

The photo that required editing each individual model.

 

Photoshop and Lightroom really do give us God-like powers to edit photos. When we edit photos of ladies in the bar, often we tweak colour, contrast and sharpness. We can soften and smooth their skin, and brighten their eyes. What other edits do you make? Most of the time I preferred to leave it at that and keep things “real”.

As I learned bar photography, I tried to emulate Thailand’s best, and to me that’s Adam Yurnan, who is a partner in Sapphire Club and Lady Love in Pattaya and shoots exclusively for them, after years of working for Playboy and Penthouse Thailand. I’ve also learned a ton and drawn influence from my partners in Pattaya at Digital Mints. I think my photos these days are a middle ground between the two. They aren’t as hyper-smooth and glossy as Adam’s and are a bit more “real”, as you call it, than Digital Mints’.

What’s your attitude towards blemishes on the ladies (such as acne or motorbike accident scars) and whether to edit them out or not? Where do you draw the line on what to, and what not to, edit?

Digital a-Go-Go is a marketing and PR company. We (and all my go-go bar clients) are not in the business of selling reality. We’re selling the dream, the fantasy of Thailand and go-go bars and bargirls. We want those guys with air tickets in one hand and Facebook on their phone in the other looking at my photos and get as green-eyed giddy as I was when I first touched down in Pattaya 20 years ago. The photos are meant to put butts in the seats, and making the ladies look as good as possible is how you do that.

So, to answer this question and the one before, road-rash scars and motorcycle burns are removed. Bruises – you’d be shocked at how many bruises these girls’ legs have – are removed. Moles are removed. Acne is usually smoothed over, but, in bad cases, is removed outright. You forgot to mention C-section scars and stretch marks. Those also are removed and smoothed out. And then all the skin is heavily softened out and contrast increased or decreased. Editing also reddens lips, brightens eyes, whitens teeth, and lightens the hair.

But as you can see from this before-and-after, 95% of the final shot is captured in camera. Like a lot of photographers, I struggled at first to get the shot in-camera. Back when I started, I reckon it was 40% shot and 60% editing. And, along with that, the number of “keepers” from a photoshoot were limited. So the same small batch of photos were used, reused and used again on social media. Now, the number of “keepers” I get is ridiculous. Every client gets 60-100 shots from every shoot and photos are rarely repeated online. In fact, my biggest challenge these days is culling shots and not just edit everything. If I did, I’d never finish processing!

But where do I draw the line? I won’t do as the defunct After Dark magazine did. One After Dark model told me years ago that they actually put her head on a different body!

 

Before, and after.

 

You’ve done very well, shooting in most of the best bars in Nana and Cowboy and Patpong beckons. Do you find any difference shooting in the different bar areas?

In most ways, bars are bars. It doesn’t matter if they’re in Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy or Patpong. And their lighting setup is irrelevant, as I don’t let the bar’s “ambient” lighting affect my photos. So, the main difference really comes down to size. Billboard and Butterflies, for example, are huge, making placing lights easier and providing more interesting backdrops for the shots. The opposite of that is the B-52 ladyboy bar in Nana Plaza. It’s so tiny that, last week, I found myself standing outside the bar, on the Nana concourse, to shoot the (very tall ladyboy) model on stage!

Do you shoot in any bars in Pattaya?

Not currently, although I did Living Dolls on Walking Street last year. Digital a-Go-Go has since partnered up with the outstanding Digital Mints in Pattaya, so any bar owners needing professional photos and marketing can contact them or us.

I really enjoyed doing in-bar photo shoots in the early days but as time passed by, I found them to be tiresome and towards the end of my time living in Thailand, I turned down invitations to shoot in bars. In my day, often shoots were very poorly organised, the ladies weren’t always on board due to a lack of organisation on the bar owner’s part which made some ladies difficult to work with. Unlike you, I was never paid for it. My attitude was always, “Give me access to shoot your best ladies and I’ll feature them in the column so we both win” but sometimes I ended up with some dragons to shoot – or “old boilers” as our mutual friend Dave The Rave would describe them. Today, of course, photographers are paid – and bar owners select the most attractive ladies to feature. Oftentimes, I felt there was an inverse relationship – the more attractive the lady, the easier she was to work with, while some less attractive ladies could be complete bitches! How is it working with ladies in the bars these days?

As you’ve long documented, it’s more and more difficult to get ladies to pose for social media and website photos these days. They’ve got husbands, boyfriends, overseas sponsors, parents and relatives who are on Facebook and the ladies “don’t want them to know” they’re working as a bargirl. The fact is, most of them know, but just don’t say anything as long as the money keeps coming in. But those lovers and family members don’t want the bar work thrown in their faces or, more likely, don’t want their neighbors and friends to know.

So, bar photographers have to take and make the best of what we are given. And the best-looking girls in most bars are not the ones we’re given. Instead of the bar’s handful of 10s, most of the girls we photograph are the 5s, 6s and 7s. The key is posing them and using angles – and photo editing – that makes a 5 look like an 8.

I’ve never run into a girl that was, as you say, “a complete bitch”. All the ladies have been, at their worst, polite. They do the photos because the mamasan said they have to, but they aren’t thrilled with it. Most ladies, however, are happy, friendly and enthusiastic.

It’s often the less-attractive girls who are reluctant to do photos because they feel intimidated. But, going back to my earlier point, if you make them look good, they get more enthusiastic. One lady, who won’t win any beauty pageants, reluctantly posed in Red Dragon in Nana and only did a couple of shots. She kept saying “I mai suay, mai suay”. But this month she moved to Shark Soi Cowboy and was first in line to do photos and had some of the biggest smiles and laughs of the group.

 

She kept saying “I mai suay, mai suay.”

 

I have felt for a while now that there is one glaring issue with your photos. I feel that the quality of the images you produce exceeds the beauty of the ladies you shoot. Your photography is at a level where you could shoot supermodels for magazine covers. You get superb results in what is a very difficult environment to shoot in. Few of the ladies you shoot are photogenic and many are – to my eyes at least – just plain unattractive. As readers know – and are probably sick of me banging on about – I find tattoos to be a huge turn-off (even if in some cases they can make for a dramatic look when photographed). Braces look absolutely ridiculous on adults. The fake eyelashes, the over-sized bolt-on knockers and the motorbike accident scars are all so vivid in your beautifully lit, precisely composed and expertly processed photos. Like I say, to both my eyes, many of the ladies you shoot just aren’t photogenic. What do you make of that?

I really appreciate the praise. Thank you. What I learned a long time ago, even while doing Nana Plaza’s social media years ago, is that everyone has different tastes. One well-known bar owner who has been in the business for decades, told me in Pattaya nearly 20 years ago, “every bar needs a fat woman”. In Pattaya bars with on-site rooms, the fat girls would get the most barfines of anyone, as long as the guy didn’t have to take them outside.

As is quickly obvious from reading the comments on any bar’s socials, guys – especially those stuck in Farangland – drool over dark girls, light girls, tall girls, short girls, thin girls, fat girls, girls with tattoos and girls without tattoos. I was sitting in Crazy House last week staring up at this gorgeous woman, the best looking in the bar in my opinion. Next to me was an older White guy making googly eyes with a massive woman standing right next to her who had no business being in a bikini, let alone buck naked as she was. It takes all kinds.

As I said in the previous answer, we don’t get to choose who to shoot. We just make them look the best we can.

 

A Suzie Wong beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

A Suzie Wong beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

One way to shoot ladies who are not that easy on the eye would be to shoot in black and white and go for a moody, non-posed look, perhaps shooting without a flash. Alternatively, you could get more creative and shoot silhouettes or close-ups of particular body parts. Do you ever shoot in that style?

Any good photographer can shoot a whole range of styles. I certainly can, which is more obvious with my party or event photos. I also do a ton of street photography while traveling, as my background is in journalism and photojournalism, so I love candids. But most working photographers have their own signature style, the reason people hire them. And I think the market has spoken. Bar owners overwhelmingly prefer and spend their money on well-lit, well-composed, well-edited, posed glamour shots.

There are exceptions, of course: Spanky’s artwork focuses a lot on body parts – legs, butts, etc. Angelwitch’s bosses like candids. But candids are actually harder to get than posed shots. Not only do you run into the general objection about being in photos, you also got the objection to being photographed without makeup on, etc.

So, to cut a long answer short: I can do them. I just don’t prefer to, and the clients generally don’t want them. But there are guys who do those types of “other” styles extraordinarily well, the best of them being my friend Jim who lives in Phnom Penh but has shot Bangkok bars for years and years, including this year for Dollhouse. Jim’s a good friend and we agree: We like each other’s work but have little interest in shooting in each other’s style.

 

A Billboard beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

There is something that is quite incredible about your photography, something most people probably wouldn’t believe but let me assure readers, it is absolutely true. You’re legally blind. How does that work? How can a blind man produce such incredible images? It makes your work all the more amazing, especially the attention to detail editing your images. I mean, who has ever heard of a blind photographer?!

Yes, I have uncorrected vision of 20/200, which makes me “legally” blind in the U.S. (and probably some other places). Corrected vision is pretty much 20/200, too! It’s a congenital condition and cannot be corrected. But what you also didn’t mention is that I don’t have a degree or went to university or vocational school to learn photography. I’ve accomplished what I have through constant study, lots (and lots) of trial and error, more study, paid lessons and workshops and more study. I continually consume videos and written tutorials and then test out those tips and techniques in my shoots.

Since my university days, I’ve always loved photography. I was editor-in-chief of both my university’s daily and weekly newspapers and worked with some of the best photographers of my generation, including two who went on to become White House photographers and one who took home a Pulitzer prize at the Los Angeles Times. But back then, there was no digital and no autofocus. But they’d let me borrow their Nikon F3s and F4s and would develop (some) photos for me. Then they’d say, “Hey, you really are a natural at good composition. It would be a great shot. But your focusing is for shit!”

Fast-forward 18 years and autofocus first started to reach the point where it was usable. So I bought my own Nikon D50.  Six years later, the Olympus auto-focus system was even better. And then Sony revolutionized the entire industry with its autofocus and, now, real-time tracking systems.

From 2018-2022, I used the Sony A7iii. (I still do as a second-unit camera) and it still takes great photos. Getting the latest-and-greatest camera doesn’t make you a better photographer, so I didn’t need to upgrade to the A7iv to improve photo quality. I bought it for the focusing system, Sony’s third generation of its industry-leading technology. With my vision, I need the autofocus to get my shots in focus. The rest of it? Composition, lighting, technical settings, posing, editing and processing are natural talent and learned skills that have nothing, or very little, to do with good vision.

I asked you to provide some of your favourite photos to showcase in this column. Are there any images featured here which stand out / you particularly like?

As I alluded to earlier, getting a large number of “keeper” photos to deliver to the client from every shoot is a basic requirement of bar shooting. I’ve delivered more than 100 shots to Dollhouse, Billboard and Butterflies before. Just like a parent, we love all our babies but, although Mommy didn’t tell you, she probably loves some babies more than others. While you may love all the photos you deliver, every single time there are a few you love more than others.

My portfolio constantly swells to a stupid size and I have to routinely cull it to about 20 – 25 shots or risk boring the prospective client. I had the same problem sending you photos. In the end, I sent you a bunch and put the burden of which to run on you!

Which of these are my favorites? Probably the blonde sitting on the table in Red Dragon, her reflection in the mirror. She’s beautiful and the pose and backdrop are different than you usually see from go-go bar photos. I also love the photo of Kae from Butterflies lying on the bar. So sexy. And – you were with me for this shot – May from Dollhouse doing her pole-dancing gig on the upstairs table stage is a fave as well.

 

A Dollhouse beauty, captured by Digital A GoGo.

 

Your website is up and running so people can learn more about your work there. Anything you’d like to add?

You’ve nagged me for months about getting the website up. But each month since June last year has been busier than the last as bar owners reinvested in their businesses. So I had little time or energy to put into the site, which I registered at first just to get the email addresses. But it helps. It lays out all the services Digital a-Go-Go offers and puts the portfolio online so I’m not sending prospective customers a Dropbox link! I’ll be adding galleries for each partner bar we work with and there’s some legal stuff that needs to go up as well. So it’s still a work in progress. But for any bar or pub owner anywhere in Thailand looking to level up their marketing, I think the sheer breadth and quality of products we offer is unmatched in Thailand.

 

 

Mystery Photo

Where is it?

Last week’s photo was taken of the BTS Skywalk to the JLK Tower at the corner of Sukhumvit Soi 7. This week’s shows a venue that not infrequently is mentioned in the news section of the column.

 

 

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

Not all bad news.

We keep hearing about changes for the worse for customers in the bar industry. But I can report one thing that has improved is the scourge of girls sitting transfixed to their phone. Pre-Covid it was getting ridiculous in some bars as so many girls appeared to have zero interest in interacting with customers. In some cases we were told that there was nothing that could be done to stop it as the girls had all the power. I’m glad to say it’s not a problem anymore, at least in all the best bars where the girls are not allowed to use their phones. It appears that for the girls who want to work in the bar industry, they generally want to work in the best bars where the customers are and they will follow the rules.

Texting in the bars.

“Texting my friend” is the response you will get when asking a bar maiden what she is doing on her phone instead of paying attention to you. To prove she is being a good girl and not texting a farang, she will turn her phone screen so you can see the text message is written in Thai. If you can read Thai, it can save you some disappointment. Many times she is part of a group texting friends in the bar. The topics are mostly mundane – customers and current happenings in the bar. But once I read that the girls were trying to get barfined before 9:00 PM so they could get to their friend’s 25th birthday party. They had already purchased balloons and a cake to take along. Since it was already 8:30 PM, I didn’t stay around to see how that played out as I doubt farangs would be welcome.

Working girls have needs too.

In 2003 I was involved with a girl from Eden Club. She once took me to a bar catering for women with good-looking male staff. She said sometimes when they finish work at Eden Club, girls would go to such a bar and have some fun with guys there and spend the money they made earlier that evening. My theory is that after having sex focusing on the needs and preferences of the customer, some girls like to balance it by having sex with men focusing on the needs and preferences of the girls. It’s a better way to spend their money than doing drugs, in my view.

Up-skirt video recording.

On the up-skirt photos, there was news recently of a Thai doing that and he was arrested. But let’s post the warning in English, hmm, as a Thai would never do that.

More Readers’ Emails

The charms of a new bar.

Last Monday, a friend of my girlfriend’s opened a bar in the Myth Night area and we went to the grand opening. We sit at the bar and I order a Jack soda. Guess what? The bar has no soda. Strike one. They send one of the girls out to get soda and I try ordering again. This time there’s no Jack. Strike two. Okay, the staff calls the bar owner and she’ll be bringing a bottle of Jack with her. So while I’m waiting, I order a SangSom soda (yeah, I know it’s rum, but they have it at least) and they bring me a SangSom and Coke. Strike three. Usually I’d leave at this point, but I couldn’t really do that because we were there for the opening. And then I noticed that the barstools at the bar where we were sitting were broken and that the barstools wobbled a bit from side to side. Wouldn’t you think a new bar would have new seats? Apparently not.

200 baht for a Long Island Iced Tea is too much!

You say, “I don’t understand how someone can complain at these drinks prices when you are getting such a good experience for the money.” I was getting such a good experience prior to the meteoric rise in drink prices. Yes, business costs rise over time but, I still cannot see the justification. Perhaps you are thinking in New Zealand terms where, I assume, the price for a Long Island Ice Tea is a lot more than the New Zealand equivalent of 200 baht, no? <A Long Island Iced Tea in New Zealand runs 400 – 500 baht. There are 5 spirits in a Long Island Iced Tea (tequila, vodka, white rum, Cointreau, gin) and it takes time to mix. My original comment was that a Long Island Iced Tea in Billboard – considered by many to be the best gogo bar in Thailand – at just 200 baht is truly a bargain. If you think this is expensive, you have *very* unrealistic expectations Stick>

Israel War to have implications for travel?

With regards to the upcoming high-season, I honestly believe if the situation in Gaza goes beyond Israel’s borders then all of the Middle Eastern Airlines will be affected which will be a problem for those of us who fly from Europe on these carriers. Up until today I never realised that war / invasion is not covered by general travel insurance (Source: The Sunday Times). Whilst some think of this as a Northern Hemisphere problem, my experience suggests this goes far wider.

Movies made in Bangkok.

It’s funny how many movies are filmed in Bangkok, including many B-grade and foreign movies you stumble upon by accident. I was watching a Korean movie on SBS World Movies with English subtitles titles and to my surprise, there were several scenes filmed in Soi 20/1 right outside the SHAG 2 Bar. The small soi was made to look as though there were more bars there than there really are. It made me homesick!

 

Nana Plaza, the best is about to get even better.

  

This Week’s News, Views & Gossip

Change is coming to Nana Plaza as management looks to make big improvements. Plans are in place to add a high-quality LED strip around the centre of the plaza. It will wrap around the horseshoe-shaped complex and will be able to be seen from every corner of the plaza. It brings all sorts of possibilities from adjusting the atmosphere in the plaza by changing the light temperature to including digital art and displaying information about parties and events. The LED display could be matched to a theme such as Christmas, New Year, Songkran, Chinese New Year etc. There are also plans to include concert-quality speakers and lighting technology which along with the LED strip would make the bar complex’s previous name “Nana Entertainment Plaza” seem fitting.

Nana Plaza was given a spruce up in 2012 when it was painted yellow in a move that saw me cheekily refer to it as Banana Plaza. But it was the installation of the roof a few years later which revolutionised the complex. A covered bar area was a revelation – not only would punters stay dry in rainy season when moving from bar to bar, the roof had the effect of bouncing sound around the plaza and creating an atmosphere similar to being in a busy stadium. Call that Nana Plaza 2.0 in what were the first major changes to the plaza in a very long time as the new owners stamped their mark.

Other improvements coming to Nana Plaza soon include plans for the stairways to be repainted by local artists, which should add a bit of character. More than a hundred Nana Plaza-branded barstools will be placed around the common areas as bars get rid of their own tired, old barstools. Damaged tiles will be repainted. It is hoped that these improvements will see visitor numbers continue to increase as Nana Plaza cements its position as Bangkok’s premier bar area. Nana Plaza 3.0 is coming soon.

Why don’t the chrome pole bars which prohibit smoking make a point of promoting it? Large signs outside a bar with something along the lines of “Smoking not allowed in this bar, non-smokers especially welcome” would work a treat with the many readers who tell me they don’t like smokey bars. I am of the firm belief that there are a hell of a lot more non-smokers in the bars than there are smokers. Some bar owners tell me that they would lose some customers if they didn’t allow smoking in the bars (despite it being illegal). Do they understand how many non-smokers are put off? In some bars, the ventilation works great and you barely notice smokers, but in other bars it’s a nightmare for non-smokers. The few bars where smoking is not allowed make zero effort to promote this. My other pet peeve about smoking in Bangkok gogo bars? Those venues with no smoking signs throughout the bar but still allow customers to smoke.

Why do so many bar ladies who get fake knockers choose to get them super-sized? Plenty of Thai ladies who would never dream of working in a naughty bar have fake knockers – and most size them sensibly. Are fake boobs the same price regardless of size making the bar ladies think they should just go bigger as it’s better value for money if you consider the price by volume?

On Soi Nana, do venture down the soi a bit and explore. For gogo bars, duck in to Nana Plaza – but if you’re looking for beer bars, don’t limit yourself to the bars at the top of the soi. There are many beer bars well down Soi Nana and some say you get a warmer welcome the further down the soi you venture, away from the busiest bars. One bar worth checking out on Soi Nana is BK Bar, which is open from 10 AM through until 2 AM. A bunch of live bands perform throughout the week at BK Bar with live music starting at 8 PM. There are pool tables and a VIP karaoke room if that rocks your boat. It might not be your thing but the ladies love it. Happy hour runs from 10 AM – 7 PM with most drinks just 89 baht. After 7 PM, bottled beer is 120 baht and whiskey is 160 baht. The bar currently features quite a line-up of ladies. You can find BK Bar around 400 metres down Soi Nana, opposite Country Road Bar. It’s about 50 metres beyond the 7 Eleven branch on the right-hand side.

 

Some of the team from BK Bar, Soi Nana.

 

Next Sunday, October 29, you’ll need to find something else to do than hit the bars, as they’ll all be closed for the last Buddhist holiday of the year. Bars will close at midnight Saturday. Bar owners grumble, but they concede at least it wasn’t a Friday, which seems to happen so often.

When the bars reopen after that day off, it’s party time! Red Dragon will kick off the week on Monday with a two-night, 3-in-1 bash they’re calling “Haunted Full Moon 1st Anniversary Party”. It’s hard to believe Red Dragon opened just 12 months ago in the combined spot that used to be the Mandarin Table Dance and Mercury gogo bars at the top of the escalator in Nana Plaza. Beautifully done out and stacked some nights with 75 ladies, it quickly became one of the Plaza’s most-popular bars – and for me, one of the best 3 gogo bars in the plaza when I was in town. The October 30 – 31 party features lucky draws all night for free drinks and gift vouchers, a “Thriller Show” and “Black Magic Woman Show”, plus great drink deals: All drinks are 95 baht until 9:30 PM each night while Ricard (Monday) and Gordon’s Gin (Tuesday) will be just 95 baht all night long.

Down the road in Soi Cowboy, the party continues Monday at Shark Club which will have its monthly Full Moon Party but, this time, it will be haunted! In addition to the usual Full Moon Party shows, there will be lucky draws for free drinks and gift vouchers all night October 30.

This year is shaping up to be the biggest Halloween in Bangkok red-light areas in years, even before Covid. Red Dragon, Shark, Tycoon, Billboard, Butterflies and, of course, Angelwitch have all announced parties for Halloween, some more elaborate than others.

Angelwitch starts celebrating this Tuesday, the 24th, with a full week of special scary / sexy shows. Happy hour pricing will be in effect October 24/25 & October 30/31, with all local beers only 75 baht until 10 PM. Angelwitch dancers have a long tradition of dressing up in wild costumes for the holiday, and it really is worth stopping by.

At Halloween, Shark on Soi Cowboy will have lucky draws for free drinks and gift vouchers, plus the Thriller and Black Magic Woman shows.

And the same night in Nana Plaza, Tycoon will have a costume contest for the ladies, with cash prizes to the top 3 winners. Customers will enjoy special drink prices on Tuesday, October 31.

South-East Asia lost a much loved icon this week. Many of us who visited Phnom Penh are familiar with Sambo, the elephant that would walk north along the riverfront in the morning to Wat Phnom and give rides until late afternoon. Later she could be seen making the commute home. Sambo and her mahout would often stop for a photo, or a “snack” at a riverfront restaurant along the way. In 2014, USAID was able to fund Sambo’s retirement and she was relocated to Mondolkiri province to the east of Cambodia. Sadly, Sambo passed away this past Thursday. She survived the Khmer Rouge and the rapid development in Phnom Penh over the past couple of decades. Sambo was 63. Rest in peace, Sambo, you brought smiles and joy to millions of people.

 

Sambo, on Phnom Penh’s waterfront.

 

A rumour from a reader – and this one I stress is just a runour as I have not been able to verify it yet – is that the Penthouse Hotel on Soi Pattayaland 2 is going to reopen at the end of the month. Said reader tells me that the sound system has been tested and that light-fixtures in the ceiling area outside the old gogo bars which were part of the ground floor of the Penthouse have also been turned on. I fired off an email to the owner but nothing back from him yet. The Penthouse Hotel is one Pattaya hotel that every naughty boy should stay in at least once. The rooms are like nothing you’ve seen anywhere else and were purpose-designed to meet the needs of naughty boys, meaning some rooms have a mini-stage, chrome poles and other fixtures and accessories you don’t find anywhere else. Penthouse Hotel is almost certainly where more porn movies have been made than any other hotel in Pattaya – although it should be noted that this is not something that was permitted nor endorsed by the owners. The owner became tired of reports from people who would tell him that his hotel was the location of yet another porn movie.

Have you noticed how more and more reports in the mainstream media with a headline along the lines of “Foreigner robbed on Beach Road by Ladyboys” or “Foreigner leaves 200K baht in Taxi” or “Foreigner still married in home country marries Thai lady” feature foreigners who are not white? Not that long ago, any news article from Thailand featuring a foreigner could have the word foreigner changed to Western male. Not any more. It’s just another example of how the mix for foreigners visiting / relocating to Thailand has moved away from the group that put the country on the tourism map.

Starting November 1, Russian passport holders can enter Thailand visa-free and stay for up to 90 days. There’s no sign this is going to be offered to those of us who hold a passport from a Western country. I also note this week that the new Thai Prime Minister seemed awfully happy with himself to announce he had invited Vladamir Putin to visit Thailand and reportedly the Russian leader accepted the invitation. What’s with this Thai love affair with Russia?

 

Great deal at Scruffy Murphy’s, Sukhumvit soi 23.

 

This column tends to feature a lot of info about gogo bars and to a lesser extent, beer bars and freelancer venues. The reason for that is largely historic. When I first started writing about the expat bar scene, basically these were the choices. There were none of the rooftop bars so popular today and many foreigners could rattle off the names of the higher end bars. As Thailand has developed over the 26 years I have known the country, the bar industry has become more diverse, more vibrant, and there is a much greater variety of venues. With all of this in mind, there is no need to limit yourself to gogo bars, beer bars and freelancers bars if that is not really what you’re in to. I know some readers are looking for a higher class of bar. One such venue you should consider stopping by is Levels (pictured below), on Sukhumvit soi 11. It’s a big step up from the bars regularly features in this column. Of course, there are all sorts of interesting bars all over Bangkok. Get exploring!

Alternatively, you might like to stop by some of the classier venues where the ladies are – how shall we say – “a sure thing”. Well away from Sukhumvit are many classier / higher-end venues where you can find extremely attractive ladies who are up for it. You do, however, need to be prepared to spend a whole lot more than you would on Sukhumvit. Recent reports from some of these venues indicate a good night out with a happy ending runs the equivalent of several hundred US dollars or more. The format is entirely different to the likes of Nana and Cowboy and the venues, the ladies and the service is at a whole new level. I seldom mention these places because they’re a big step up price-wise from the bar areas I chronicle and my feeling is that while there is some curiosity about these places, most Stickman readers would be unlikely to stop by. With some readers complaining about a 200 baht Long Island Iced Tea, what would they make of a venue where the bill for one night all in could easily be over 40,000 baht? If you’re looking for a higher end experience, such places are out there.

When I was in Bangkok earlier in the year I went a bit crazy drinking coconut water. I’ve always liked the stuff and when I discovered a friendly vendor nearby selling large coconuts at giveaway prices, I’d buy a few at a time and would end up drinking the water from 2 or 3 coconuts every day. And I felt good when I downed all that coconut water. Really good! Could it have been a sign that I needed to top up my electrolytes? It was the hottest time of the year with daily temps reaching the high 30s most days and I spent plenty of time outside. In the heat of Thailand, sometimes drinking water is not enough. In fact drinking too much water can become a problem as it dilutes your electrolytes. Coconut water has the right balance of potassium, sodium and calcium that your body needs. Fresh coconut water daily is one of those things from Thailand I really miss.

One of the peculiarities in Thailand these days is the number of expat retirees who claim to prefer their own company. I am surprised at how many expats I know these days who appear to have few, if any, friends. Some live what could almost be described as a reclusive life. It wasn’t always this way. I always found Thailand such a social place for expats. Everyone seemed to have lots of friends and most people were keen to socialise. But things seem to have changed a lot in this respect in recent years and the lack of social connection I observed with plenty of retired expats is a change I never saw coming. Many expats appear to isolate themselves. Why is this? Could perhaps the adoption of social media and other online activities cause some people to believe that they don’t need to spend time with others in person as their social needs are met online? Call me a cynic, but I question the benefits of “online social contact” to real world socialising. Meaningful social connections is a positive marker for good health. The opposite may be true for a lack of social connections. Could this lack of socialising explain why there are so many bitter, grumpy, old men in Thailand these days? I don’t remember it being that way in the past.

 

Great deal at Craft, Sukhumvit soi 23.

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Thailand-Related News Articles

Chinese tourists are losing confidence in Thailand following the shooting at Siam Paragon.

A Dane talks about life behind bars in Thailand.

Thailand invites Russian President Mad Vlad for an official visit.

In what seems like an all too common occurrence, a, 89-year-old Brit, falls to his death from a balcony in Pattaya.

Closing Comments

The column’s format has followed the same theme for much of this year with lots of news and gossip but seldom an opener. This week’s was entirely different. A lengthy opener but much less bar industry news and little gossip. Try as I might, there just didn’t seem to be a whole lot happening in the bar areas this week to write about and things were looking thin until the last minute. In the end, the column came together ok. I hope you enjoyed this week’s edition.

 

Your Bangkok commentator,

Stick

 

Stick can be contacted at : stickmanbangkok@gmail.com

 

nana plaza