A Little Knowledge

My executive lifestyle has taken its toll this week, hence little activity on the site. I got back to Bangkok last night, and made it to Nana in time to drink way too much, and stayed out way too late with a couple of sleazy reprobates. I have a hangover the size of Belgium, but must write.

A Little Knowledge is a Dangerous Thing

Learning to speak Thai if you’re going to spend any amount of time here is a huge help. Even “survival Thai” will make things ten times easier, and open up a lot more possibilities.

Unfortunately, the more Thai we learn, the more dangerous we become. Knowing precisely how to insult a mamasan in her native tongue is a recipe for disaster – as a buddy found out in a certain Nana Plaza bar recently. He narrowly escaped a beating, but ironically if he’d been cursing in English they probably wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.

I found myself in a similar situation last night, having slept too little and drunk too much. Incredibly, as I staggered past Thermae at around 5.30am, there were still a few young ladies touting for business outside.

My offer of ฿100 for the “holey trinity”, complete with altogether too many Thai swear words, was not well received.


Wandering the streets of a more “civilised” Asian capital recently, I felt like Superman must have felt in the criminally-underrated Superman 2, after losing his super powers.

Tons of hot Asian chicks, 99% of whom were showing zero interest. In Bangkok, you can ascertain whether a girl’s interested just by making eye contact – whether in a bar, in a disco, on the street, on the skytrain or wherever. To have hordes of hotties positively avoiding my eye was a sobering experience. It’s good to be back.

That Dress

Chotiros Suriyawong in That Dress This has been a big issue in the local news recently, and is not at all a cheap excuse to use this frankly wonderful photograph.

Obscure Thai actress, Chotiros Suriyawong (pictured), wore the dress to the Subhanahongsa Awards – Thailand’s equivalent to the Oscars – in Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). She’s also a liberal arts student at Thammasat University, Bangkok. Form an orderly queue outside the campus, guys.

Of course, this being Thailand, the reaction has been predictably insane. “I don’t want my actresses to dress that way,” said Somsak Techaratanaprasert – president of the Sahamongkol film production house. “We are not a porn production house, and it goes against Thai culture.” Presumably this is the same culture that has play-for-pay girls (and ladyboys) dancing stark naked for leery punters (Thai and farang) every night, across the country.

Somsak has ordered her role in Sahamongkol’s latest movie to be edited out. University officials (the awards where the dress was worn were held 162 miles away from the university) have stopped short of suspending or dismissing our heroine, but have instead ordered her to perform 15 days of community service, reading to the blind. Of course, the blind are the one section of the local community unable to truly appreciate her presence. Amazing Thailand.

The Taxi Driver

I’d been out in Nana Plaza the night before Valentine’s Day, but the bars were closing and it was time to move on. The friendly ladies of the Nana Hotel car park held no particular appeal, so I decided to call it a night, and jumped into a cab.

The male, mid-thirties, Thai taxi driver grinned at me in the mirror. “You have Thai wife? Girlfriend?”, he asked.

“No – I don’t want a girlfriend. I butterfly – having many girls is better”, I smiled.

He laughed. “Yes, I like to have many girls. I have five girls at the moment”, he boasted. “Do you like big boobs?”

“Don’t we all?”

“Look at those ones!” – he was pointing and shouting out of the window now, to a rather generously put-together young lady wandering down Soi 4.

I agreed with him that they were indeed impressive feats of either biology, engineering or both.

“So which of your five girls will you see for Valentine’s Day tomorrow?” – I wanted to know whether he’d try and fit them all in.

“Oh, I don’t want to see any of them. I’m going to Pattaya. Short time, short time, short time!”.

Quite the character.

The Cultural Divide

Thai men can be tricky to figure out. Sometimes I’ll be out in a bar or a nightclub, and a gang of Thai lads will come over wanting to shake hands with the farang – other times, like at Saphan Kwai, there can be a distinctly hostile feeling in the air. To be fair, as a race we do fly uninvited to their country, loaded with unfathomable wealth, and spend our time mostly shagging their womenfolk. I know very few farangs here with male Thai friends.

I had quite a shock when I first encountered the “toilet massage” service offered in the men’s toilets of many Thai nightclubs. I walked in to take a leak, stood at the urinal letting it all out, and suddenly felt a warm damp sensation on the back of my neck. A distinctly male Thai attendant had draped a hot towel on my shoulders, and then proceeded to massage my shoulders and back. I somehow managed to finish the job off without soaking my shoes, then staggered to the sink to wash my hands – after which I was physically picked up and shaken as this giant Thai cracked every bone in my neck and spine. And then held his hand out for a tip.

Anyway, I was recently trying to explain to a Thai guy that this kind of thing doesn’t happen so much in the UK. In fact, it’s pretty unthinkable. If you attempted to massage the average British male clubber’s shoulders as he stood “shaking hands with the big fella”, he’d likely turn round and knock you out, pissing on your shoes as he did so. This poor Thai couldn’t quite comprehend why. The East/West thing (or Thailand/Farangland thing) is such a massive cultural difference, but sometimes it’s difficult to know where the culture ends and sheer sexual harassment begins.

I went for a haircut this week. I sat down in the chair, and the very male middle-aged Thai barber reached around to unfasten the top buttons of my shirt, so that he could tuck the towel and sheet in more easily. He didn’t do that straight away though – he grabbed a tuft of my chest hair first, and told me how sexy it was. Already distinctly uncomfortable, he then proceeded to tell me how astonishingly handsome I was, as he clipped and snipped away.

Once that was over with (and not a moment too soon), I paid the ฿60 and made to leave – but not before being cut off at the door and physically embraced in a bear-hug by said barber. Cultural divide, or did I just get gayed?

Turning Japanese

Japanese cash You just can’t seem to get away from it any more. From the gogo girls of Bangkok’s various fleshpots to the coyote girls of Ratchada, they spurn us. Wherever cute, pouting ladies of negotiable affection are to be found, hordes of Japanese punters seem to descend sooner or later, over-paying and over-tipping to the point where the girls seem to have no interest in we lowly farangs – regardless of how much we’ve got in our pants. I mean, wallets.

Okay, it’s not quite an emergency situation yet – plenty to go around, and all that – but it’s interesting to look at how this happens. Most Thai girls I’ve spoken to have no particular interest in Japanese men – I suspect the ideal situation for most of them would be to have a regular Thai boyfriend with a farang sponsor in the background, but how many of them are candid enough to admit it? Still, the lure of five thousand baht for short-time converts just enough of the cuties to vex even the most patient of us.

I’ve got a few Japanese friends, who I’ve had some good laughs about this whole situation with. I gather that it’s largely the Japanese working ex-pats who want to flaunt their wealth who set the ludicrously high prices. Incidentally, they’ve ruined the scene here for regular Japanese tourists, who now have to pay the same prices – as do any other Asian-looking guys who the girls suspect of hailing from the Land of the Rising Sun. Americans/Europeans of Asian descent just confuse the hell out of them.

Nevertheless, the time has come for we paleskins to make a stand! Gentlemen, a revolution awaits! Tonight, we storm Soi Thaniya and pay ten thousand baht short-time! That’ll show ’em, huh?

Who’s with me? Anyone? Hello?

Bringing The Missus

It’s an all-too-common sight, but it still cracks me up every time. I’ll be sat in one of Bangkok’s gogo bars, with a beer in hand, when the curtain opens and a farang couple walk in.

They’ve probably had a romantic overpriced Thai meal somewhere, a few drinks, and decided they “might as well” sample the naughty nightlife. And it all begins so innocently. They’re all grins and smiles, they wai the waitresses and the dancers in healthy measure, and eventually sit down facing the stage. This is when I usually start the stopwatch.

Because within minutes, the bloke is going to be physically drooling at the lovelies on stage, and his lady-friend’s initial good-natured smile is going to droop into some kind of primeval snarl. Outnumbered and outgunned, her sexual universe has been turned inside-out. She probably considers herself quite a catch at home, but is slowly realising that the only men looking at her are openly smirking at her discomfort. White women are invisible in Thailand.

The bloke is eventually dragged out of the bar, usually after just one drink – which he may, if he’s lucky, be permitted to finish. You’ve got to feel for him. A friend of mine visited Thailand with his farang girlfriend a while back, and later confessed that his one abiding memory of the trip was the regret at not having the balls to sneak out of the hotel and hook up with a Thai girl while his girlfriend slept.

Try spotting the couples out and about in Bangkok, and guessing how long they’ve been here. If they look relatively happy, they’ve probably just arrived. After the first day or two though, the woman is generally pulling a face like a slapped arse, and the bloke is staring at every Thai girl that passes by when he thinks the missus isn’t looking, silently wondering whether he could, just possibly, come here alone next time…

Dicing With Death

Flicking through the archives of Bangkok Eyes, I came across an article I’d missed on previous visits – the June 2005 issue opened with a piece on Bangkok’s “Bareback Riders”. The guys who insist on not using condoms.

The constantly revolving doors of Bangkok’s “clap clinics” are surely testament enough to the idiocy of this approach, and I know several guys who’ve had girls pull a “pregnancy scare” on them – usually as a pretext to demanding cash, supposedly either for childcare or an abortion. None of the girls have actually been pregnant, of course. Just another bargirl scam.

Objectively, it’s a simple enough issue. Using a condom means you’re far less likely to get chlamydia, gonorrhoea, syphilis, herpes, HPV, and of course the big one – HIV, amongst other delights. You’ll also avoid hearing the patter of tiny feet any time soon.

So who are these guys? Disturbingly, they seem to be you and I. I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this issue, and the vast majority of guys admit to having either forgotten to don the party-balloon when drunk, abandoned their use once they’ve been going steady with a “good girl” for a while (who may still have a Thai boyfriend on the side, don’t kid yourself), or have simply had occasions where they plain don’t care. I can’t even claim 100% responsibility myself.

But the odd farang forgetting to don his trusty rubber companion wouldn’t make much of a difference if it weren’t for the attitude of the girls. Bangkok Eyes’ source material reveals a staggering 92% of one punter’s conquests were willing to make the beast with two backs, entirely unprotected. It’s generally accepted that we farangs are more likely to agree to condom use than Thai men, so what percentage of the girls are spreading it around with their unsheathed Thai lovers? Even more than 92%?

Sure, maybe it feels better without. And the majority of infections are now easily curable – HPV, herpes and HIV aside (although on the HIV front, could a certain pack of leading virologists and Nobel laureates be right?). Either way, it seems that the vast majority of us are at least occasionally dicing with death. Or is it just my insane peer group? Would be interested to hear readers’ own stories on this one.

The Altruistic Approach

I know people who live here in Bangkok who’ve never paid a bar-fine. They can’t comprehend why anyone would ever even want to. They’d far prefer to either hook up with a freelancer or try the more old-fashioned technique of pulling a “good girl” from a disco down at Ratchada, RCA or wherever. Or from the internet. Or on the skytrain. Or in a 7-11. Or from a coffee stand. I love this city.

I also love the gogo bars. This confuses some people. Gogo girls will generally want a little more cash than freelancers. Many see this as an unnecessary expense, when “street meat” can be acquired from The Miracle Mile for as little as ฿1000 all night. I see it as an investment.

Today’s the 4th day of 2007. On the evening of the 1st, a gogo girl of my acquaintance called me from her bar on Soi Cowboy asking if I would be visiting her bar that night. I told her I hadn’t planned to. No problem, she said, and paid her own barfine before coming over and staying long enough to get her wages docked for turning up late the following night. Total cost: ฿100 taxi money, which I practically had to force her to accept. Why? Because the first time I met her, I bought her a few lady-drinks and paid her what I thought she deserved. I’ve seen her maybe a dozen times since, and she’s refused to take my money almost every time.

On the night of the 2nd, a mere hour or so after my Cowboy girl left, I was on Sukhumvit soi 4 on my way to sample the Guinness at the new Irish bar, Hanrahan’s – incidentally, it’s very good. I literally bumped into a Nana Plaza gogo girl who I’d been with a few times before as she was buying a t-shirt from a street stall. I offered to pay for the t-shirt. A few hours later she was in my bed, making my toes curl. She left the following evening, refusing to take a single baht, and thanking me again for the t-shirt.

So yeah, as a one-off price, gogo girls are that little bit more expensive. But they’re often orders of magnitude more attractive than the easily available alternatives, and a one-off gesture can lead to weeks or months of frankly astonishingly good value. “Today free, you jai dee”, they tell me. Who am I to argue with them?

Last night I gave my aching body the night off. Tonight I might hit Patpong. Happy new year everybody.

The Gogo Bars of Saphan Kwai (Sutthisan)

Most of you will know Soi Cowboy, Patpong and Nana Plaza. Many westerners seem to think that, as far as Bangkok’s gogo bars are concerned, that’s it – notwithstanding a couple of outliers, eg. Soi 22’s Tina bar and Soi 7/1’s Magic Table.

But there is another, less well-known strip of gogo bars close to Saphan Kwai BTS station, but with a difference – they cater not to we farangs, but to Thai men…

Lost in Saphan Kwai

Getting to the Saphan Kwai BTS station was easy enough – it’s the second-last stop heading north on the Skytrain’s Sukhumvit line. Finding the bars themselves was a little trickier. We wandered from the station back to a footbridge by the intersection (had we gone ten yards further, we’d have spotted the bars), crossed the street, and wandered back, still not entirely sure what we were looking for.

Looking lost outside Saphan Kwai’s Big C, my drinking buddy suggested we ask a taxi driver. I predicted that the driver would rather take us somewhere he’d get a kickback. We asked a taxi driver. He wanted to take us somewhere else, and pretended he didn’t know where the Saphan Kwai bars were. Sigh.

Deus ex machina

And then came our unlikely saviour – a scruffy-looking Thai chap who asked if we were lost. He led us to the bars, a fairly long walk, chatted amicably all the way, even stopping to tell a lost farang woman which bus to take to Khao San road.

We tipped him ฿200, which we practically had to force him to accept. He didn’t want our money. He wasn’t getting a kickback. He just wanted to help. We invited him to join us in the first bar; he laughed and declined. And so our adventure began.

Back to the Golden Age

The first bar was called “something” 99 – in Thai script. My buddy thought it may have said “Tilac 99”, but who knows. We ventured inside – it wasn’t too different from an old-style Patpong bar. Stage with dancing girls in bikinis, check. Except these girls actually danced. A bottle of Heineken cost ฿120, but it was a large bottle. They don’t sell small bottles. Bargain.

A waiter came over with a big grin and asked us whether we’d like to meet the ladies. We told him we’d rather wait and settle in first. Yes, the girls will not approach unless invited. Having listened to a diatribe on exactly what’s wrong with the modern gogo bar recently, it seemed we had found an oasis of old-style gogos – no pushy girls, no pushy mamasans, no overweight trolls in bikinis claiming to be dancers, and half-price drinks. Not bad.

Over the following hours we explored more and more of the bars around here – Inter, RCA and RCA 2, Spicy, and countless more whose names escape me. I’ll have to go back with a notebook. Bikinis were the order of the day in most bars, but at least one bar had topless girls, while another had a Patpong-style “razor blade” show.

Cheap at half the price

As far as female companionship goes, the deal was a fairly uniform ฿1,500 for short-time, paid to the bar rather than the girl. This includes the bar-fine. Long-time is ฿2,000. I would not be surprised if many of the girls would baulk at the idea of going with a farang though.

We were made welcome by the staff of all of these bars. Some of the girls eyed us with suspicion, some with amusement, and some just took it in their stride, flirting and chatting away (in Thai, of course) as they would with anyone else.

Trouble brewing

The male Thai customers, on the other hand, did not seem impressed with our presence. I would even go so far as to suggest that there could have been trouble if one of us had barfined, or even flirted too much with a Thai gent’s “favourite”. In the last bar, we were receiving positively evil glares. If looks could kill…

Sensing an end to the evening, we ducked out into a taxi and headed for the more familiar, reassuring surroundings of Soi Cowboy. It was an adventure, and we’ll definitely return.

The Lowdown

As mentioned, speaking Thai is a must. You will not get very far without it. Keep an eye out for hostile Thai customers, and watch your back. That said, it was fascinating to see the other side of Bangkok’s “naughty nightlife”, and was incredibly cheap, all things considered.

To find the bars, get off at Saphan Kwai BTS station, and double back on yourself following the skytrain line to the next main road junction. Turn left at that junction until you get to the corner, and you’re there.

The Miracle Mile

So it hits 2am (or 1am, or even 1.27am – closing time is consistent only in its inconsistence!), and as the lights go up in the gogo bars, there is but one question on the minds of those still standing. Where now?

See, in a bizarre application of Thai logic, most of the bars around Sukhumvit are all forced to close by 2am. But the ramshackle street bars which reliably appear after midnight on Sukhumvit Road itself, stretching in the main from soi 3 to around soi 15, will be open until dawn.

Apparently the powers that be are none too keen on the late-night crowd drinking in proper indoor bars, with clean bathrooms, trained staff, security and so on. Instead they must sit out on the street in the rough-and-ready pavement-bars, and attend to calls of nature in “soi toilet”. Amazing Thailand, indeed.

But these mobile booze carts, with their garden-furniture tables and chairs, are not just a haven for the “one last beer” farangs. There are a lot of bars in Sukhumvit, and many will contain hordes of “ladies of negotiable affection”, looking for a partner for the evening. Not all of these delightful creatues find success before 2am, and so the gogo gives way to the free-for-all which we fondly refer to as “The Miracle Mile”.

Sit down somewhere between sois 3/1 and 5, order a cheap bottle of beer from a stall, maybe some cheap Thai food, and wait for the gogo girls to come out of Nana Plaza. Some will be on their way home, thankful for a night away from making the beast with two backs that is their bread and butter. Others may be open to offers – hoping for a more comfortable place to sleep than the squalid room they share with their three “sisters”. And others again may just be happily watching the world go by, open to conversation and perhaps more.

There is no bar-fine on the street, and gogo girls can be (but are not always) of a few levels of beauty higher than your average freelancer. Find a weary gogo girl who’s just looking for a nice farang-size double bed for the night, and you may even get a freebie – the holy grail of the Sukhumvit prowler. Just watch out for the ladyboys…