Stickman Weekly, December 17, 2023
Last week’s photo was taken of the Suda Thai restaurant in Sukhumvit soi 14. It has been around for decades and those who knew it back in the day say it has barely changed. The grandmother / family matriarch is still about as she pushes on towards a century. Suda has become quite touristy and after 7:00 PM you may have to wait for a table. It has quite a following amongst foreigners but I’ll go against the grain and say that the food is merely ok and to my mind, nothing special. For inexpensive Thai food in the area, I much prefer Foodland. Today’s photo is one of the easiest I have ever run – shame on any long-time readers who don’t know where this is!
Stick’s Inbox – The Best Readers’ Emails From The Past Week
Patpong truly was a great place during the ’80s. I first visited in 1980 and a number of times during the ’80s with my last visit in 1989. Yes, I tried Soi Cowboy and Nana Plaza and while they were good, they were not Patpong. For me, Patpong’s fall from grace started when the night market was plonked in the middle of soi 1.
Patpong history lesson.
When I came to live in Thailand back in 1983, Nana Plaza was non-existent. The ground floor had some travel agents and a Lebanese restaurant. Second floor had 2 or 3 bars and that was it. Cowboy had a few bars that were only frequented by local expats, with no tourists to be seen. Patpong was booming, especially Patpong 1. Superstar was beyond doubt the best gogo bar in Thailand. Opposite you had Supergirl, where several times per night a hatch opened in the ceiling and a Harley Davidson was lowered down on to the stage with some heavy chains. On the Harley was an attractive couple who engaged in a full-on sex show. Next to Supergirl you had the Bunnyhouse and the Kangaroo bar, both upstairs for oral relief. If you walked into the Bunnyhouse at lunch hour you would find 5 or 6 guys sitting next to each other on the bench along the wall, in full suit and ties with their briefcases on the floor and their pants around their ankles, each with a girl on her knees in front on them. These were bank and insurance industry employees from the Silom business district around the corner, enjoying their lunch break. One rule in both the Kangaroo and the Bunnyhouse was that you only paid if you came. The going rate was 300 baht. What we used to do (don’t forget, we were young, silly and horny) was first go to one, get our relief and then go next door to the other and have them work for an hour before finishing. After that, pick up a girl (or two) in one of the gogo bars with a 300 baht barfine and 500 baht for her all night. Short-time was unheard of. This was also before HIV so condoms were never used. As they say, good old times when I was neither good nor old. The decline started when the night market opened. It never recovered from that. In the late ’80s, Nana started to develop after Woodstock opened. Cowboy also slowly started to develop, got more bars and started to attract some tourists. Patpong 1 just slowly began to fade away while Patpong 2 seemed to hold its own a bit better.
Every bar area has its place.
Nana will always be the dominant player, but I don’t see it as a competition. Each of the bar zones has its own identity and Patpong has a certain level of sophistication. You find revelers, but you won’t find the hooligans found in the other areas. It’s kind of like smoking a good cigar, a nice break from Sukhumvit.
Patpong, lipstick, pig.
One thing I’ve never understood. The Patpong area is probably worth billions of baht. Who owns it? Why hasn’t it been sold or leased for the development you can see up and down the other side of Silom? Slapping a new coat of paint on those old rowhouses or putting up fancy lighting is just lipstick on a pig.
More Readers’ Emails
Sukhumvit from soi 3 to soi 15 is a real mix of cultures. Thais, Japanese, Caucasians, Koreans and of course, Africans. I had a chat with one of the African guys at a late night street bar a few days ago. He was dealing. It’s not my thing, but I do like a chat. I asked him if there was a main guy – like a Mr. Big that organises them. He was evasive (of course). I told him about 2016’s Operation Black Eagle when Lumpini Police arrested every black person they could see. At that time, there were a few dozen dealers dotted along the street. But now? I estimate between 800 – 1,000 guys along the main road and up the sois. He agreed. There are too many. It’s all over the forums. Which means Lumpini Police will be forced to act to save face. I don’t get the hysteria from some people. They’re never pushy. Just a quiet, “What’s up, bro?”, as you pass by. It’s not intimidating at all. On the plus side, that means the street circus is more interesting. Thai girls, Filipinas, ladyboys, Vietnamese, Africans (of all different shapes and sizes) and even a handful of Muslim girls, some hiding half their face.
How the African hookers operate.
Effectively banned from your own country.
You raise an interesting point about the threshold needed to relocate back to the UK with a Thai spouse. This was started by Theresa May when she was Home Secretary, and now effectively means that I – and I am sure many others – am effectively banned from living in my own country. Nice, hmm? I call the last three Home Secretaries – May, Priti Patel and Suella Braverman – the Three Witches. Evil women. I don’t know if there’s a different rule for pensioners. If not then the government pension (one of the lowest in Europe), by not reaching the threshold needed also blocks UK citizens from returning. At the same time, from what I’ve observed you would need that kind of income to survive there now unless you had a place to live, maybe somewhere you’d paid off the mortgage for and retained while you were in Thailand.
High season challenges.
I wanted to share a peculiar experience I had yesterday at a Thai massage shop on Sukhumvit Road. The shop was quite busy, and I opted for a foot massage. Towards the end of my session, the masseuse requested that I vacate the massage chair for a customer who was waiting. I was then moved to a low stool next to the cash counter to complete the last five minutes of my massage. This unexpected incident was so bizarre that I found myself laughing throughout the remainder of my time in the shop. I share this experience not just as an anecdote but as a reflection of how the high season impacts service quality and customer experience in busy tourist areas. Such incidents, while humorous at times, can also be indicative of the challenges businesses face in managing high customer volumes.
New taxation rule tip.
As expats knows, funds sent into Thailand may come under scrutiny from the start of next year. Exchange your funds abroad into USDT or other stable tethered coin, send to a local exchange in Thailand (many accept USDT) and simply get cash or local deposit into a Thai bank account. No funds coming in from abroad no tax. Maybe this tip will come in handy with some of your readers.
This Week’s News, Views & Gossip
In 2008, Nicholas Cage starred in Bangkok Dangerous, a remake of a Thai movie of the same name released in 1999. Expats made much fun of the title – the very thought of Bangkok being dangerous was considered absurd! But after a couple of serious incidents in the Nana area this past week, is the idea that Bangkok is safe something we need to rethink? Right out in front of Nana Plaza, shortly after 3 AM, late Tuesday night / early Wednesday morning, a heated argument between a foreign man and a Thai got nasty. The foreigner – nationality unknown – stabbed two Nana Plaza security guards who had intervened. One of the guards suffered a painful but non-fatal leg wound. The other got a gash to his side. Both are said to be recovering. The knife-wielding farang didn’t fare so well. After he was disarmed, Thai men piled in and made sure he’d never forget the time he lost the plot out front of the world’s largest adult playground. Video posted of the incident online show quite the melee with security guards laid out on the ground, freelancers screeching and Thai men piling on the foreigner. The cops hauled the foreigner off to jail, where he remains. He faces illegal weapons, assault and attempted murder charges. Word on the street is that he’ll pay compensation to the two guards, get deported and be blacklisted from ever returning to Thailand.
But this week’s violence in the Nana area doesn’t end there. Less than 48 hours later, a little after 8 PM on Thursday night, sleepy soi 8 burst in to life after a nasty incident involving a couple of foreigners, believed to be an Australian and a Canadian. Something agitated the fat, Singha-vest-wearing Aussie covered in tattoos who king hit the Canadian who stumbled out on to the soi and collapsed, his head smashing in to the ground where he laid unconscious in a pile of blood. The assault took place inside Viva and observers believe the two men were not known to one another. Police were called and the Aussie roughian was hand-cuffed and taken away.
Neither of these incidents made the mainstream press. With nightlife extended to 4 AM in designated entertainment areas and nightlife areas sure to come under extra scrutiny, these incidents would support those who argue against bars opening later. That said, the incident on soi 8 happened early evening. Since Friday, bars in the Patpong area can legally stay open until 4 AM. The 4 AM closing time does not apply to Nana Plaza, Soi Cowboy and other bars along Sukhumvit as that is not a designated entertainment area. Strictly speaking, they should all be closed by 2 AM but many bars have been staying open until 3 AM recently.
In Bangkok, bars in the Silom, Rachadapisek and RCA areas can now stay open until 4 AM. In terms of areas in Bangkok popular with foreigners, only Patpong bars can stay open late. Outside of Bangkok, bars in Pattaya and Phuket can also stay open until 4 AM, if they wish. Interestingly, many within the industry aren’t fussed. What happened in the Nana area this week shows once again that no good happens late at night and the extra hour(s) may bring more trouble than revenue – and may not even be profitable when utilities and other expenses are considered.
Will staff who work through until 4:00 AM be compensated for the extra couple of hours? Word on the street is that in most cases, they will not.
7 CenterPoint, the Sukhumvit soi 7 beer bar complex, has expanded over recent months and the bar count is now in excess of 30. There are plans for even more bars as well with further expansion to include some eateries. November was a very good month with some bars in the area having their best month ever. However, the bars in the section that was once the old Biergarten have not taken off. This has been acknowledged by the complex operators who plan to increase signage and marketing in an attempt to attract more people to the area. Perhaps the biggest selling point is that 7 CenterPoint is more relaxed than other beer bar areas.
On Sukhumvit soi 8, the now demolished Wannawit School (opposite Det 5), will be developed similar to what Artbox was in Chuwit Park, food stalls, craft goods etc.
The two weeks before Christmas can see things slow down a little in the bars; the calm before the storm so to speak. Not this year. Both Nana and Cowboy were wall-to-wall tourists this week. Most of Nana’s gogo bars don’t get started until 8 PM so, usually, the plaza is still quiet and peaceful as the night begins. On Wednesday, the Nana middle- and top-floor balconies were rammed at 8 PM, before the music even came on in many bars.
As noted earlier, Nana Plaza bars have been going strong until 3 AM in recent weeks. With the girls working later, both Mandarin and Red Dragon moved their opening time back from the long-standing 7:30 PM to 8 PM.
There will be a whole raft of Christmas party announcements next week, including already scheduled bashes at Mandarin, Red Dragon and Shark. With that said, Christmas night is not usually a huge night for the bars and the parties tend to be an excuse to dress the girls in Sexy Santa outfits. The real party comes a week later on New Year’s Eve.
There was drama inside a Bangkok gogo bar this week when a foreign bar owner acted out his own “Star Wars” episode, “The Farang Strikes Back”. It seems a mamasan who also ran her own coyote agency had been padding her bottom line at the expense of her own girls and without the immediate notice of the foreign owner. She had been charging the bar 800 baht a night for each girl but keeping 200 baht of it for herself as an “agency fee”. The standard agency cut in Bangkok is 100 baht a girl. So, she was basically stealing from the girls and sowing discontent. The owner reckoned the scam cost him about 40,000 baht a month, cash that could have gone to hiring more of his own girls. Once the bar owner discovered it, he hatched a plan to not only fire the mamasan, but take her girls away. First he paid the bar’s security guards to back his plan. Mama was then brought outside the bar “where it was quieter” to “talk”. There he gave the woman her marching orders, along with 15,000 baht severance pay. He then blocked her from re-entering the bar and the security guards kept her out. Once back inside, he told the mama’s girls they instantly would get a raise if they stayed and worked for the bar, to which they all agreed. The closing credits came down on the saga with the DJ firing up a dance version of Ray Charles’ “Hit the Road Jack”.
Despite its comical ending, “Revenge of the Farang” sparked a serious conversation about how much a coyote dancer is really worth to a bar. Many bar owners simply strive to fill their stages with as many girls as they can get, thinking a thin stage means less business. But if you’re paying 21,600 baht a month for an agency girl, then shouldn’t she generate at least that much in revenue?
This week saw a new hire and a sudden departure of foreign gogo bar managers at Nana Plaza. Mathieu, the 33-year-old who had been at the helm of Spanky’s off and on this past year, walked off the job without notice. Those who know the Frenchman said he’d been planning his departure for months.
Gone are the days when any clown could acquire a bar and make million baht monthly profits without much effort. All these owners had to do was appoint a trustworthy guy like Dave the Rave to run the bar and the owner could just stick his head in the bar from time to time. Back in his heyday, Dave’s salary was well in excess of 100,000 baht a month. Today, there are foreign gogo bar owners offering starting wages at the incredibly insulting level of 40,000 baht a month – and some have the audacity to believe they are being generous! Spanky’s is an exception, offering a salary on a par with what you’d expect to earn in such a position in more developed countries. Some bars offer bonuses and / or profit shares as incentives, but certainly the salaries being paid to some foreign bar managers are a pittance.
But if some foreign bar owners are miserly, what about Thai bar bosses? One Thai-owned bar group recently had a foreign manager running two gogo bars and overseeing a nightclub who was paid just 30,000 a month. He was subjected to the same ridiculous (and not legal) “cut” system that bars inflict on dancing girls. The underpaid farang said his latest paycheck was cut 800 baht for being a few minutes late twice, despite working 27 days a month. Seriously, who would be willing to accept that nonsense?
Eyebrows were raised after comments in last week’s column that some ladies in some Bangkok gogo bars are asking for 5,000 baht short-time. This needs clarification. First of all, this is not a standard rate in Sexy Night as had been intimated. Certainly, one lady tried that on but it’s not the norm in that bar where most ladies ask between 2,000 and 3,000 baht.
The 5,000 baht asking price in some bars is the barfine and the lady’s fee packaged together along with the request that it be paid upfront. Often it is the mamasan brokering the deal and clipping the ticket, pocketing 500 or even 1,000 baht for herself. Breaking the 5,000 baht down, it’s usually around 1,000 baht for the barfine and 4,000 baht for the lady’s fee but like I say, often the mamasan is taking a big cut. I’ll repeat what I have said a few times and my apologies if I sound like a broken record. The bar absolutely should NOT allow staff to package the barfine with the lady’s fee like this. Technically, this is human trafficking which potentially puts the bar and its owners in the gun (even if the owner was not aware it was going on). There have been a couple of high-profile cases this year involving foreign-owned bars where the owner of the bar, or in one case, the wife of the owner, has been arrested under similar circumstances. Packaging up the barfine and lady’s fee, and asking for it to be paid before the happy couple leaves the bar is happening in quite a few bars these days. But that doesn’t make it right. And to allay any punters’ concerns, in situations like this, no, the punter has not done anything wrong / broken the law.
On this note, there have been more reports that lasses in popular chrome pole bars on Sukhumvit are requesting 4,000 baht for an hour of their time. And there is no shortage of punters ready and willing to pay the asking price. And an hour really does mean an hour, and no longer – with many bars expecting the lady to be back in the bar and on stage within an hour. Old-timers / long-term expats who remember when 1K meant all night are squirming when they hear these prices while at the same time, I think many retirees in Thailand may be out of touch with what people earn these days. As I mentioned when chatting about this very issue with a friend in Bangkok this week, minimum wage in New Zealand (which is not one of the wealthier Western countries) is close to 100K baht / month – and less than 3% of those in full-time employment earn so little. Stacking supermarket shelves and other menial jobs earns you more. That’s why to most people living in the West, Thailand still feels like a very inexpensive holiday option (even if it is not the crazy cheap bargain it once was) and the 4,000 baht asking fee doesn’t make them blink.
If my email inbox this past week is anything to go by, the number of friendly Africans lingering on Sukhumvit has exploded. As an email published this week alluded to, how long will it be before there is a crackdown and most are busted?
Speaking of our African friends, word is that of the many African ladies lingering around lower Sukhumvit, the most-represented nationality appears to be Tanzania. Word is that an hour of their time will set you back 2,000 baht. Some are concerned about these ladies ripping off a guy and doing a runner but my feeling is that this is not very likely. These ladies do not want to come to the attention of the police which is exactly what will happen if they rip someone off. That said, you need to take precautions – in more ways than one!
A few months back a long-time reader reported that The Landmark had become totally dominated by Arab guests to the extent that it changed the vibe in the property. Said gentleman was back at The Landmark this week and reported that there were far fewer Arab guests compared to his last visit in August. Back then, at least 90% of the visitors were Arabs, whereas this time he estimated their number at about one third. So The Landmark still has a lot of Arab guests, but perhaps that should not be unexpected due to its proximity to soi 3 and the Arab district.
Down in Pattaya, it’s the gentlemen’s clubs, not the gogo bars that attract many expats. These gentlemen’s clubs are going upmarket and some mix gogo dancing with quality pool tables and screens, surprisingly nice décor and the guaranteed way to attract pensioners, free food! One big player in this new breed of higher-end bars is GentsClubs.com, which operates Club Fate, Eden, Maggie Mays, The Camel Toe, Buzzin Lounge and the curiously named CatFlaps. It’s at the latter where, every Saturday, you can indulge in a smoked BBQ beef brisket free, if you spend 750 baht on drinks. The food starts at 3 PM. More info at the Gents Clubs website.
Speaking of inexpensive food, Buddy’s Bar & Grill (5 locations) have a couple of parties over the next week, on the 22nd at Soi 89 and the 25th at Soi 22. Each features a massive holiday buffet of turkey, ham, roast pork, ribs, salmon and a tons of side dishes for 390 baht each. Shots are 100 baht and there are free Christmas cookies and egg nog. Each party starts at 7:30 PM.
A reader and his Thai wife visiting Bangkok from abroad decided to dine in an Isaan food restaurant. His wife started rattling off her order to the wait staff, who looked at her as though she was speaking a foreign language. That’s because she was. She asked them in English if they spoke Thai. They both shook their heads and took off to find someone who did. It has been difficult to find Thais to work in service jobs for quite some time. Said reader also commented that he stayed at Le Méridien in Silom where many service staff are Indians. He estimated between a third to as many as half of service staff appeared to be Indian. They could of course be Burmese as many Burmese have an “Indian look”.
Having trouble filling service positions with foreign staff is not something new in Thailand and has been an issue for 12 or 13 years. It does, however, sound like it is even more difficult now. Plenty of Thais are not thrilled about this. A good friend of my girlfriend complains when she has to order Thai food in English in a restaurant because the server does not speak Thai (and may not speak great English either). At the same time, she does not mind ordering in English from a non-Thai speaker in a foreign food restaurant. Make of that what you will!
When I think of a country where mask-wearing is taken particularly seriously, Japan comes to mind. My understanding is that the Japanese have long had a culture of donning a mask at the slightest cough or sore throat, and throughout Covid they have been keen wearers of masks. A long-time reader who visited Japan this week was surprised. In his observation, almost 4 years since the pandemic began, there are far more Thais wearing face-masks than Japanese. Are Thais more concerned about their own health / the health of others? I don’t actually think that’s the case and is not the reason for Thais wearing masks. There is something in the Thai psyche where they become totally obsessed about things – and that includes wearing a face-mask. For so many Thais, it’s like they get an idea in their head and they not only can never let it go, they cling to it like it is a sacred truth that they will defend it to the death. In this case it is mask-wearing. I could name a few other areas where many Thais are totally obsessed but it would only get me in trouble so I will refrain from saying more. Some might say it’s face – no pun intended – but I’m not sure that’s the case.
Speaking of the concept of face in Thailand, would perhaps hypersensitivity be a better way to describe it?
Thailand doesn’t have a great selection of beers. As I said to a friend recently, we probably have a greater variety of beers across all the pubs in my corner of provincial New Zealand than is available in all pubs nationwide in Thailand. But things are getting better in Thailand with a couple of new beers on the market from Carabao. One keen beer-swilling reader had this to say, “The Carabao lager is now officially my new favourite beer of choice. Roasted malt and caramel notes, a bit of sweetness but not too much.” Never heard such a description for beer before but then I am not a beer drinker so what would I know? The new Carabao beers are not widely available yet, but it is believed that 7 Eleven will stock them before long.
Thailand-Related News Articles
Quote of the week comes from a friend, “If it weren’t for corruption, Thailand would be nowhere!”
Foreign visitors departing Thailand can now use the electronic Immigration gates at Suvarnabhumi Airport.
A Thai MP has been sentenced to 6 years in the monkey house for insulting the monarchy.
Pollution in Thailand is getting bad again, as it always does at this time of year.
Phuket Police arrest a thief who stole a New Zealander’s motorcycle with several hundred thousand baht worth of valuables under the seat.
The visa-free entry policy for Indians has seen Indian visitor numbers increase to 1.5 million this year.
This coming week I’ll be getting in touch with the owners of this site to see what their plans are for the future. With a bit of luck they would like me to continue writing the column and it will be business as usual in the new year. If not, that means there’s just a couple more columns to go and I have a long, lazy summer to look forward to. With a bit of luck I’ll know what’s happening by the time next week’s column comes around.
Your Bangkok commentator,
Stick can be contacted at : firstname.lastname@example.org