Patpong, December, 2023: There’s Life In The Old Dog Yet
This week’s opener takes a close look at much-maligned Patpong. The images are provided by a good friend living in the region who travels to Thailand frequently and who likes to be referred to as “Stick’s understudy”. He picked up the slack shooting ladies of the night when I left Thailand, and was a regular in Bangkok until Covid came along. The photos are his and the words are mine, with a mix of his observations and my thoughts on Bangkok’s oldest bar area.
As Thailand opened up after the Covid scare, you could say that Patpong failed to gain traction. That would be true, but it would be missing the point. Patpong has struggled for years.
Covid didn’t kill Patpong and wasn’t responsible for its decline. By the time Covid came along, Patpong had been in a death spiral for years. Actually, make that decades.
While some of us might point to the closure of SuperStar or Madrid, or the passing of Tim Young, or even the departure of Bernard Trink, some Old Asia hands tell me that not long after Reagan left the White House, Patpong would go in to a long, slow decline.
While Patpong’s peak was long before I ever stepped foot in Thailand, that’s not to say it wasn’t a fun place to visit. In the late ’90s, Nana Plaza was the place with Patpong generally considered to be a close second. Soi Cowboy was barely on the radar.
Patpong has been in decline for so long that it fell out of favour with all but the most ardent fans. It retained a small group of followers who prefer Silom to Sukhumvit, a mix of old-timers who remember the area in its heyday, punters who live in the area as well as a few oddballs.
Some operators did their best to put Patpong back on the map. For a while, Club Electric Blue and The Strip were so good that those two bars alone made it worth the effort to venture to Patpong.
The owner of a small group of bars including Black Pagoda, The Strip, Bar Bar and Patpong had genuine passion for the area. He lived in the area for years and worked hard to promote the area.
More recently, he was behind the Museum Of Patpong, the wonderful attraction that as I have said countless times in this column already, is a huge loss to Patpong, the wider bar industry and even the mainstream tourism industry.
During Covid, Patpong became popular with the homeless. The area had become filthy and many used it as an open-air toilet. Many bars never reopened and it felt like much of the area was vacant spaces available for lease. It was beyond dilapidated, Patpong had become an embarrassment. A number of industry insiders felt Patpong wouldn’t survive.
When I visited earlier this year I saw little to make me think otherwise. The area may have a rich history but as the months went by and more long-running venues closed or announced that they would not open, it felt like the Patpong we once knew was being dismantled, bar by bar. Look hard and you still find the odd pretty girl – but would that be enough to entice punters back to Patpong?
Few Patpong bars made any effort to promote themselves and when the owner of Black Pagoda, The Patpong Museum, The Strip et al was arrested, Patpong had lost its brightest star.
But something has happened at Patpong and its decline has been arrested. There are murmurings that the opening of new bars and the improvement of some old bars has Patpong improving. Patpong is making a comeback.
A small number of gogo bars are picking up as locals gravitate to Virgin, Pink Panther and the King’s bars on soi 1.
Shenanigans is busy every night and it can be hard to find a seat on the glorious patio.
The Patpong Night Market was shortened which old-timers have described as a good start.
The food court which takes part of the space which was made vacant by the market is doing ok.
Vendors are doing ok as high season ramps up and mainstream visitors are back. Many first-time visitors are keen to see what all the fuss is about at Patpong.
But Stickman readers don’t visit Patpong for the night market. How are the bars?
The bars of Patpong developed a reputation – mainly soi 1, it must be said – for high drinks prices and snooty girls with a lousy attitude. The photos today show attractive ladies and friendly smiles. Drinks prices at Patpong are no dearer than anywhere else.
In my understudy’s words, “Patpong has a great vibe and is very different from Cowboy and Nana. None of the girls were hustling and I was able to call over the ones I wanted to hang with and they were kind and receptive.”
This lady struck me as a throwback from the past. Slim, smiling, no signs of any tats or cosmetic / surgical enhancements other than lightly dyed hair. How often do you come across beauties in the gogo bars these days who don’t have one or other cosmetic / surgical enhancements? She is, as some bar ladies like to say, originon (original).
When I asked my friend about the attitudes of the girls and how they did not appear to be a bunch of miserable maidens, he noted that he has made friendships with girls he has shot over the years in Patpong and he feels they are as genuine as it gets. Each time he visits it feels like a reunion. It’s not a one-off tourist encounter.
But how did he manage to get so many great photos over just a few nights out?
“I really feel that if you want to capture a party, you need to be part of the party. What I felt on slow Sunday and busier Monday is that the camera was welcomed and even encouraged. No one in the bar seemed to be offended by it and it didn’t get pointed in any customer’s direction. I sent one of the girls around with the camera and one of her friends to hold the flash, and said go and have some fun! What was different about Patpong to the other bar areas is that more girls wanted to be shot and have their photo taken.“
But isn’t Patpong predominately a Japanese and Korean bar area these days? It felt that way when I was last in town with Koreans outnumbering everyone else in a couple of bars on soi 1. I am told that the East Asian guys are still around, but perhaps not as dominant as they were a couple of months back.
Is this a big deal? Not really. East Asians don’t tend to party like your typical Stickman reader. Case in point: A Japanese guy entered a recently revamped soi 2 gogo bar and the mamasan rounded all the girls up to stand in a line. With a laser, a lady was picked out and she went and sat with the salaryman. That happened a couple of times while my pal was there. I’ve never seen a white guy request a line-up like that.
Thai girls may love fun, but they work in the bars to make money. In one bar, the girls get to show off by donning a sash when they get 20 lady drinks. Is that 20 lady drinks in one night? Or is there some special deal where you can buy 20 drinks in one go? I honestly don’t know. Whatever the case, assuming an average 100 baht commission per drink, 20 drinks is a nice earner on top of salary, tips and other income.
Perhaps the most prescient point my understudy made about visiting Patpong this week was, “The Pong was welcoming.” The bars he visited had attractive ladies and customers were made to feel welcome. That’s a winning combination. The feel welcome part is a big deal. A lot of bars just don’t get it. It’s not difficult to fill a bar in Thailand with attractive ladies. Creating a friendly and welcoming vibe seems rather more challenging. It shouldn’t be that way, given that most Thais are genuinely friendly and welcoming.
I didn’t know if Patpong would make it, and when I heard the news earlier this year about the Museum of Patpong being forced to close, I pictured an undertaker pushing the lid on the coffin, a hammer in one hand and nails at the ready, about to bang the bastard shut.
But he never did get the lid on the coffin, and Patpong is very much alive.
Most people consider Patpong to be Nana and Cowboy’s ugly sister – and while that may be true, a good time can still be had. That said, it would be a very long road for Patpong to truly compete with Nana and Cowboy. I’ll stick my neck out and say that it will never happen. At the same time, it’s nice to see Patpong making something of a comeback.
Take a positive attitude, be willing spend more than you might normally budget for a night out and a good time can be had.
Patpong has been through a terrible period and has plenty of detractors. But there are some vibrant bars with some lovely ladies. If you’re looking for a change of scenery from Sukhumvit, maybe it’s time to revisit Patpong?
Last week’s photo was taken from the CTI Building on Sukhumvit soi 16 which has a branch of Foodland on the ground floor. The photo was taken from the car park, looking east towards soi 18 and beyond. In the background are hotels like the Queens Park and what was the (now closed) Windsor Suites.
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Readers’ Emails From The Past Week
Bangkok is bustling with tourists, and I’ve never seen so many freelancers. Thermae is packed as never before. Business is going well. Despite the time of year, I still struggle with the heat. Must be the age.
Russians enjoying Pattaya.
Had a long walk through Naklua, and Wong Amat Beach (aka Little Russia) in particular, this week. The Russians are definitely back in big numbers! I guess it must be quiet in Moscow right now. So I confirm again that Pattaya is doing very well at the moment.
High season in full flow.
Right now there aren’t many bars not making any money. I’m surprised that you can walk sometimes into a quiet soi, find one or more bars there, and see punters inside. It’s those bars which you often walk past and had always wondered how they survive. And then suddenly, in November 2023, you pass by and see a decent number of punters inside. No, they’re not packed, but seeing 10 – 15 paying customers in such bars is a surprise. Usually, the standard sized beer bar in a beer bar cluster has about 20 bar stools around the bar, and 20 other seats scattered around the bar. If they have 10 – 15 punters in all night, who each spend a few thousand baht, the bar is doing fine.
Lousy ATM exchange rates.
I bring cash to Thailand and get the best rates at Vasu, but this time I decided to keep some of the cash that I brought, and hit the ATM a couple of times. I went once to Platinum Mall and today I went to the Krungsi ATM by 7 Eleven. Both times at the end of the transaction there is a conversion and most unsuspecting people will accept the conversion. You have the option to accept or decline the conversion though it is not presented in the customer’s favor. Don’t accept the conversion as your bank will give you the current rate. Today the bank rate was about 34.87, and the ATM menu came up and said they would do the conversion and it was in the 33 and change rate which is about 1 baht per dollar less. At 10,000 baht which is about 300 dollars, that’s an extra 300 baht the bank tried to get from me. Some unsuspecting person will accept that conversion. Had I accepted the conversion using only ATM transactions during my stay it would have cost me 1,200 baht. Some visa card transactions pull the same stunt. Be aware.
More Readers’ Emails
Who are the Africans?
Every now and then, in your weekly post there is mention of African working girls and African men loitering on Sukhumvit. Surely, Thailand has enough working girls without importing more. Regarding the men, why are they in Bangkok? Do they have jobs? Are they on holiday? What is the story?
Thai Airways through the pandemic.
Sorry to hear about the hefty fees for air tickets flying Bangkok to New Zealand. It seemed clear that Thai Airways would survive post-Covid but they didn’t win any friends by their actions during the pandemic. I didn’t hold any tickets with them, but apparently they flat-out refused to recompense for flights which were cancelled. Like many carriers, they created a no-frills arm, Thai Smile. I’ve flown them short-haul and they are the same as any of the other cheapies (Air Asia works, I like Scoot better).
How reliable is Thai?
A friend is due to arrive in Bangkok from Heathrow later this afternoon on Thai Airways. I just checked his flight online. It departed Heathrow 1 hour, 40 minutes late due to late arrival from Bangkok. It had arrived 2 hours late. Upon further investigation, it had left Swampy 3 hours late! I know these days most flights seem to depart 30 – 40 minutes later than the official departure times. In contrast, flights on EVA between Heathrow and Bangkok don’t seem to have these problems. I hope it’s just a glitch but Thai Airways seems to be gaining a reputation for being unreliable.
Flying between Bangkok and the UK.
Here in England with airfares high, last year two adults and two 7-year-olds’ tickets averaged at £540. Next year it will cost us on average £900, flying in late July. Last year, Thai Airways said they would be flying direct from Manchester. That has yet to happen. In my opinion it would be a winner as currently there aren’t any direct flights between Bangkok and Manchester.
Saving your hearing.
One trick for overly loud gogos / bars / concert is wearing my Air Pods Pro Gen 2 and switching to transparency mode. It lets sound through but cuts off everything above 85 db.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
You know it’s high season when a lady in one of the remaining old-school bars quotes 5,000 baht short-time. That’s what one maiden in Sexy Night quoted a punter this week. As I like to say, all power to the girls to earn as much as they can – while I do wonder if such an asking price in an old-school bar may put some off. The bars are booming so perhaps it’s just basic economic theory at play and a moot point. Maybe the girls will become like hotels, with distinct high-season rates and low season rates? I can think of few analogies comparing hotel rates and ladies fees but let’s try and retain a bit of class and not spell them out.
Two bars which once required you to buy a drink before entering – Baccara and Crazy House – have long done away with the policy. I guess it was introduced to reduce the number of lookyloos who didn’t just stick their head inside the curtain, but did a very slow walk through the bar before leaving without buying a drink.
There is one big difference between Nana Plaza and Patpong & Soi Cowboy? There is no space available for lease in Nana Plaza at all. Nada, not a vacant square metre. If they could build another floor on top of the complex (or below ground), I’ve no doubt all the leases would be signed up before the paint had dried. Patpong has heaps of vacant spaces and leases available and on Soi Cowboy, what was Lighthouse, a prime spot in the centre of the soi, remains empty. Incredibly, the middle of Soi Cowboy has been described as a dead zone and people tend to gravitate away from it, almost as if what was Lighthouse is haunted.
Last night was the massive Billboard & Butterflies “Playmates Party”, a Playboy Bunny extravaganza held each December to celebrate the boss’ birthday. And let me be clear that when I say exrtavaganza, this is not hyperbole. I had emails come in overnight from friends who made it along and they said it was quite incredible and at a whole new level to previous parties. The owners had 200,000 baht in 20-baht notes that they were throwing around the bar and the air was said to be thick with banknotes, so much so that some of the dancers were carrying plastic bags stuffed with notes! I’ll have photos in next week’s column but before then, it’s worth stopping into Butterflies this week to see the Kung Pole-Dancing show, which runs on the hour from 10 PM. As of this month, Kung’s show is performed nightly apart from Mondays and Tuesdays. With Butterflies’ new lights, it’s a very impressive show indeed – see Kung on the pole in the photo above.
It was a long, happy birthday for the owner of Mandarin, Red Dragon & Shark this past Tuesday when all three bars brought out cake and drag queens for their parties. Most of the partying happened at Red Dragon where everyone was decked out in Roaring 20s-style dress. A costume contest awarded prizes to the best-looking flappers while a participant in the Drag Queen Thailand put on a show. After a few hours at Nana Plaza, the party moved to Soi Cowboy where it all played out again.
Shark Club, still semi-comatose from Covid a year ago, has hit its stride and made its final adjustments for high season. The upstairs stage is open again with all-new seating, tables and sounds. A handful of girls dance upstairs nightly and the upper stage plays host to shows that will probably bore expats but are what many tourists come to Thailand to see. And while there may not be many ladies upstairs, there is plenty to see.
As December began, Shark dropped its 95-baht happy hour and draft beer and changed its opening time from 5 PM (outside) to 7:30 PM (inside & out). And, this month, if you spend 2,000 baht in Shark, you get a voucher to play Shark’s dart game to win carnival-style prizes.
Speaking of opening hours changes, the most significant change in decades – the move to 4 AM closing in tourist areas across Thailand – goes into effect this coming Friday and, in Bangkok and Pattaya at least, bar owners and workers are less than thrilled. While I noted a few weeks back that some Patpong bar owners had been rubbing their hands together with the idea of getting a leg up on Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza –both of which will not be allowed to stay open until 4 AM (legally) – further reflection has even those operators viewing the extra hour as more of annoyance than benefit.
I note that more readers are commenting on how there seems to be more amateur photographers than ever taking photos in and around the bar areas. This is hardly something new but some of you tell me it’s getting worse. Nana Plaza has taken steps to preserve people’s privacy by prohibiting photography in the plaza. Is it beyond the realms of possibility that Cowboy and Patpong could follow in Nana’s footsteps and try to enforce a no photography policy? For various reasons I don’t think that will happen so if privacy is a big issue and you don’t want to be photographed or caught on video in a bar area, Nana would be the safe bet.
Over in Patpong, Bada Bing’s bosses had mulled the idea of turning their other Patpong bar, Radio City, into a dance club for mainstream visitors out late. But the idea has been shelved, at least for now. The bosses want to see how busy, if at all, their bars are in the final two hours before making any changes. Radio City recently got an influx of new girls, so they don’t want to slow the momentum. But if, say, Bada Bing is busy at 3:00 or 4:00 AM and Radio City is not, then the slower venue could be refitted within a few days for a new concept in January or February.
Pink Panther, meanwhile, might not even bother to stay open until 4 AM its manager said on Friday. The bar often closes before it’s required to and management doesn’t see much benefit from an extra 60 minutes. On Friday nights, Pink Panther has around 35 attractive dancers. Other nights – including Saturday, it should be noted – expect fewer. “If we have a busy Friday, many girls don’t come Saturday,” the boss says. So there’s good reason to think there wouldn’t be many ladies left on the poles at 4 AM.
Bada Bing’s founder also is a partner in Pattaya’s Lucifer, 808 and The Tunnel, all nightclubs that, you’d think, would benefit from legal 4 AM closing. But the fact is, discos already stay open until the wee hours, and sometimes all the way through until the sun comes up. Pointing to news stories that cited estimates that entertainment revenue – in Phuket, not Bangkok – could jump 35 – 50% with the later closing times, the discotheque boss rolled his eyes. “If business increases 50%, the first person that will show up at your door is the taxman who suddenly discovered your business.”
If you are into the all-night party scene and are young enough to survive night after night of leaving the club when it begins to get light, then the new hours on Walking Street are something to cheer. The Lucifer / 808 boss said it could mean some clubs – not his – could still be rocking at 8 or 9 AM.
Still in Pattaya, the Soi Buakhao area long has been famous for really cheap beer. But Bar39 in the Tree Town Market may have set the record, at least recently. Every day from 6 – 8 PM, the beer bar outside the Escape Music Bar has all local beers for a ridiculously low 39 baht. Don’t like Chang, Singha, Leo, San Miguel Light, or Heineken? The other choices on the menu for those two hours will set you back just 49 baht. You can find out more about the drink deals at Bar39 on their Facebook page.
A Pattaya-based friend who knows the bar industry as well as anyone acknowledges that while Sin City is busy, he questions what’s going through the minds of business owners and potential investors in the bar industry. Strolling around Pattaya, he says there are signs up outside a number of bars – gogo bars included – advertising that they are for sale. It’s high season and town is packed, yet he came across many bars for sale. It’s not really what you expect at this time of year.
A few weeks back I mentioned the new Las Vegas beer bar complex which is to be developed on Soi Diana, directly opposite Soi LK Metro. Their target date for opening was early January. Passers-by tell me there’s never more than one or two people working on the site and they don’t appear to be making much progress. As Yoda would say, but a dirt lot it is. Corrugated steel surrounds the patch to prevent lookyloos and Stickman spies from tracking progress. Rents start at 85,000 baht / month which includes everything (security, music and internet, TVs, electricity, water, garbage). Does it include a lawyer to defend the operators if Las Vegas casinos take an interest? The complex is looking to use the names and logos of Las Vegas casinos. That strikes me as taking a silly and unnecessary risk. Just as much of an issue is that the landlord sets the prices drinks can be sold at and there is an “approved vendor” for the bar owners to buy stock from. Interesting business model where the landlord tells you how much you can price product at and where you have to buy it from! I don’t like to appear cynical but this project has me scratching my head. Nonetheless, I wish the landlord luck.
Down in Hua Hin, a quick update on the plans to open local branches of Scruffy Murphy’s, Whisgars, Birds & Craft. Unfortunately, construction has been put on hold for reasons outside the developer’s control. They remain committed to the project and the revised timeline means construction is hoped to be completed in mid-2024.
I have been asked to include more info on ladyboy bars in this column. I am not adverse to including information about upcoming events in ladyboy bars while this is not something I will actively seek out. To those of you who have asked, ladyboy bar info will only ever make an occasional mention. Most readers are not in to ladyboys.
On this topic, why is it that many customers of ladyboys are those who are muscled up to the max? Those who look like they’re preparing for a bodybuilding competition seem to make up a disproportionate number of ladyboy customers. And Japanese and other East Asians seem to be over-represented too. Why is that?
Got a sweet tooth? Like free stuff? The five Buddy’s Bar & Grill locations in Bangkok are giving away free milkshakes this coming Wednesday for National Milkshake Day. No purchase is necessary although you do have to drink it there. Meanwhile, on Friday, Buddy’s at Soi 89 will host its Christmas party with a huge buffet of turkey and ham for just 390 baht, the first of three on the calendar for the chain.
Is it possible to go low-carb with Thai food? Many Thai dishes are paired with rice which makes them carb-heavy. So what should you do if you prefer to eat low carb? Omit the rice altogether? Nah, that doesn’t work so well, especially with spicy dishes. I have been trying a low-carb diet recently (not keto, but just trying to keep carbs reasonably low) and what I have done is replace rice with 2 or 3 fried eggs. It works well.
With the new tax rules over funds being transferred in to Thailand due to come in to effect in 3 weeks, it has been suggested by some that a work-around for foreigners is to get funds transferred into their wife’s bank account instead of their own. My understanding was that this would not work, although I have been told I could be wrong about this. This issue is causing a lot of concern for a lot of people. From digging around, I get the impression the new law is being introduced to target Thais earning money overseas and not paying tax on it there or in Thailand. It’s not a case of foreigners being targeted per se, but foreigners will get caught up in the cross-fire. Besides, given that plenty of foreigners in Thailand have a shaky relationship with their Mrs, would it really be wise to transfer large lump sums in to her account?!
Thought the sky wasn’t quite as bright in Thailand this past week? You’d be right. The pollution is getting worse and the air quality monitors show pollution levels getting up in to the worrying zone. From now through until late March tends to be the worst time of year for air quality in Thailand.
I reported on the recent technical issues experienced by the ASEAN Now forum. Frustratingly, it had me looking at the site again which is something I had given up on long ago. I note that the technical issues are not entirely resolved. “Problem Loading Page” appeared again and again this week. While I know as well as anyone that there can be technical issues running a website, ASEAN Now’s technical team take their time getting things fixed. Also, the forum does seem slow but that might be geographical. I seem to recall their server may be based in Singapore (although I could be wrong about that). That would be good for speed when accessed from Thailand, but not so great from elsewhere. Checking out ASEAN Now reminds me a little of using the LINE app. Use it in Thailand and it’s super fast with local servers optimised for speed. But use it here in New Zealand and it’s slow. Few people use LINE here in New Zealand and I doubt there are any servers here. As such, it’s noticeably slower when used in this part of the world.
Bad news for Brits abroad with a foreign spouse after the UK has changed the threshold for Brits with a foreign spouse looking to relocate back to Blighty. Where once Brits taking their foreign spouse to the UK required a minimum annual income of £18,000, the new minimum annual income required has jumped to £38,000. This means a Brit living in Thailand who wishes to relocate with his Thai spouse back to the UK would need to show a salary of 140,000+ baht / month. One imagines there are plenty of Brits employed in Thailand with a Thai wife and family who don’t reach their threshold.
Thailand-Related News Articles
There was furore in Thailand after a German who had done the dirty with underage girls in Pattaya fled the country after allegedly paying a million baht bribe.
A documentary on Pattaya’s nightlife by Deutsche Welle has been geo-blocked in Thailand.
Top Thai cop Big Joke is looking in to the Pattaya sex exposé by Deutsche Welle.
Deutsche Welle asks why fewer Chinese are visiting Thailand.
Thai police have threatened to take legal action against a Chinese social media idol for saying Soi Nana is not safe.
An Aussie Hell’s Angels member and 2 Japanese Yakuza members were arrested in Bangkok this week.
The Sydney Morning Herald highlighted 10 things we’ll never understand about Thailand.
Today’s opening piece took me back to 2011 through to 2015 when I often roamed the bars with camera in hand. My pal sent me literally hundreds of photos from a couple of nights out in the Pong and what’s amazing is that he wasn’t there specifically to take photos. He was in town first and foremost to have a good time – and taking photos was very much secondary to enjoying a good night out. His wonderful shots reminded me of how much fun the bars can be. Ah, it would be nice to be in Bangkok right now!
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : email@example.com