Tis’ the season to be jolly, and few Bangkok establishments reflect the holiday spirit better than the dozen or so bars at the foot of Soi 4. The ones clustered around the entrance to Nana Plaza in particular are packed with reveling expats and tourists most nights cheering on some English Premier League contest on the big screens. Or maybe nursing a Tiger beer on one of the stools facing out onto the sidewalk, swapping raucous stories with fellow boozers as they watch the jet-lagged, gawking new ar-rivals wander by.
Despite earnest efforts, I have never become a bar regular here. For one thing, I don’t care for soccer (excuse me, football). A bunch of sweaty fellows running about kicking a ball back…and…forth, back…and…forth, and if you can endure this monotony for a half hour or so, you just might see a goal scored. Nor am I fond of beer, a beverage totally alien to my sweet tooth. (Some people throw up after consuming five or six bot-tles. I can vomit after but five or six swallows.)
But it’s not the booze or cable sports that draw people to the Soi. Such enjoyments are commonplace in any Western nation. One doesn’t need to fly halfway across the planet just to guzzle down a Heineken. What at-tracts the customers is the exotic female presence that garnishes these watering holes. For newcomers fresh off the plane, these bar companions can appear very alluring (and become even more so after the third round of drinks has been consumed). I was myself overwhelmed my first few weeks here back in 2011. It’s a kid-in-a-candy-store experience. But rec-ently I’ve noticed a disturbing change.
It began when I found myself able to walk past the bars with barely a glance at the women seated out front. At first I thought I had finally be-come numb to the ubiquitous boozing and sex trade that is the hallmark of my neighborhood. But then when I started taking a closer look at what was on display, I realized the girls are simply not that pretty anymore. Meander through a Bangkok shopping mall and your neck will be sore from swiveling your head from side to side as one slim beauty after another passes by. Alas, that kind of eye candy is now absent in the bars, some of whose occupants are just plain dumpy while others have a trashy air about them — even by Soi 4 standards. Personally I’m glad they keep their heads buried in their smartphones instead of trying to entice the passing tourists. The few times one of them has looked up and beckoned to me, I’ve had to repress a shudder.
It is not just me who has noticed this deterioration. Other long-term ex-pats are complaining too, and a local blogger has devoted an entire post to the problem (see below link). The best explanation is that because of Thailand’s improving economy, young women now have more oppor-tunities and are increasingly opting for jobs that do not require them to have sex with aged, pot-bellied Westerners. If you can imagine that. This leaves the ones who are usually less ambitious (and, quite possibly, less concerned about their personal appearance) to man the Soi ramparts. The dregs, if you will.
For those still seeking a measure of beauty, the go-gos are probably the best option, though it sounds like they are also are suffering from a de-cline in quality. But it is all relative. For example, I’d take an average looking go-go dancer over a “cute” bar girl (an oxymoron nowadays) any time. Gyrating in front of customers night after night under the flashing strobe lights requires a firmer body and better looks than what’s needed to skulk on a bar stool in some dark corner of a drinking joint.
For those contemplating a visit to Bangkok in the near future to sample the “cuisine”, by all means stop in at a one of the street-side bars and take in the atmosphere. Just do your…shopping elsewhere.
Related Posts You May Enjoy
Stickman Blogger: Woof Woof!
Holiday Vacation Notice: Next posting will be Sunday, January 12, 2014.
In one of my recent posts, I mentioned that Pretty Lady Go-Go in Nana Plaza — one of the few locations where one can enjoy vintage Rock & Roll — was being remodeled. The work finished in early November and a couple weeks ago I ventured in for the first time. The new name of the place is Spellbound.
The main floor is X-shaped, giving a clear view of the girls and avoiding the crowded cattle-like shuffling that passes for dancing in such places as Rainbow IV. The music also appears to be unchanged. On the surface, it looks like a winning renovation.
Until you try to sit down. The person in charge of the go-go’s makeover must have had a prior career designing church choir lofts. Climbing the steps past the stark, narrow “pews”, I half expected to see hymnals lying on the seats. Not very inviting.
This style is not unique. Many other go-gos are infected with it. The pro-blem comes when you try to sit in one of their upper rows where there is no room to stretch your legs. Then when you bend them, your knees are pressed against the stanchions. This is not quite the case at Spellbound — I still had a good three to four centimeters clearance —but I’m not a large person. It’s hard to imagine tourists and my fellow ex-pats, many of whom would never be mistaken for fitness fanatics, being able to wedge themselves in and maintain this exacting posture for long periods.
The new cushioned seat backs at Spellbound are another concern, with little give and positioned at an uncompromising ninety degree angle. It results in this weird feeling of leaning slightly forward, somewhat like those sedated captives in Alien Resurrection whose heads were forced out over the waiting eggs.
This disregard for comfort is partially understandable. The typical go-go customer in Bangkok is usually a half-soused European or Aussie who may not even recall the names of the places they’ve visited during the evening, much less whether they had a good time. So who cares if they can actually relax so long as they keep buying drinks for themselves and the girls? (And if they end up taking one of the dancers back to their ho-tel room, any and all prior annoyances are quickly forgiven.) But with Nana Plaza nowadays seeing a influx of tourists who are not into the sex trade — meaning they might actually have standards — this attitude is becoming outdated.
I’ve occasionally read about the money and effort it takes to operate a go-go in this city. Just keeping the girls in line can be a full-time job. But I have to wonder if any of these business-savvy owners ever actually sit in their establishments or try to discover what their customers prefer. Too many subscribe to the same tired formula of cramped seating and over-priced drinks while featuring a few halfway-cute girls listlessly moving about to obnoxiously loud music. Take it or leave it. If they tried to run a business in the U.S. in this fashion, they’d last maybe two months. Pro-bably end up managing a popcorn stand in some shopping mall.
It would be refreshing to see an owner with vision and originality enter the go-go game. I think there’s a crying need for a new direction.
Visitors to this wondrous Thai megalopolis often wax ecstatic about the food, shopping and entertainment. Much of this praise is well deserved as Bangkok does have much to offer. In fact, it can be argued there is some-thing here for everyone, provided they look hard enough.
Except for vintage Rock & Roll.
Some might dispute this statement, pointing out that a few of the bars on Soi 4, for example, feature this retro music. But alas, not on any regular basis. It is certainly true you can on rare occasions catch whiffs of The Who, Stones or some 1970s genre pop on this street as you weave your way around the streetwalkers. But by the time you’ve entered the bar, set-tled in, and are halfway through your first drink, Roger Daltrey is but a distant memory. In his place are some angry-sounding black guys spitting out f-word expletives.
What about the live bands? No shortage of them in this city, and if you don’t mind hearing a spirited group of Filipinos mangle the lyrics of a golden oldie, you can have a reasonably good time. But performing a cre-dible version of Behind Blue Eyes, to cite but one example, is a level or two beyond their talent. Then when they retire backstage for a break, at least one establishment — Check Inn 99 — plays hip hop. Maybe this is to ensure the band receives an enthusiastic welcome upon their return.
This leaves the go-gos as a last refuge for the rock-deprived oldster. It is a daunting scene. As best as I can determine, there’s a city ordinance pro-hibiting them from featuring rock, pop, heavy metal, or even grunge. In other words, anything that might contain even a whiff of a melody. Am-bling around Nana Plaza at night, with nothing but electronic thumping emanating from every open door, is the auditory equivalent of a mug-ging. Little wonder that the tiny pharmacy across the street is always out of Excederin and Advil.
There is one notable exception to this: Pretty Lady located on the left side of Nana Plaza’s ground floor. Rock & Roll is not played all night, but at least there’s a fighting chance of reliving one’s musical adolescence. Un-fortunately, the place is at present undergoing yet another renovation. Or maybe the Bangkok Hip Hop Preservation Police are attempting to shut it down.
At my favorite pool hall down on Sukhumvit (Sports Academy), the floor above is being completely remodeled. Even into the late afternoon there is sometimes heavy, deafening drilling that causes the hostesses to cover their ears, as if this racket is somehow more offensive than the hip hop that is too often inflicted upon the customers. The good news is that the remodeling will soon be finished and the fellow making all that loath-some noise with the drill will begin a new career as a go-go DJ.