Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Koh Samui's Night Scene
-NO LONGER A BACKWATER
Chuwit Is Selling His Brothels
Rumor Of The Month
October's Follies in review
Hard For The Money
MIDNITE HOUR's first report this month is from down South in the resort of Koh Samui. The face of this island is changing so rapidly, we felt it was worthy of a note to the 'archives' -a point-in-time snapshot- in the remote chance some future Historian-Of-Trivial-Things might happen upon this.
Historically, Koh Samui with it's several splendid white sand beaches has not had a Night Entertainment Scene, let alone specific Night Entertainment Areas. However over the last two decades, growth of tourism has been so rapid, and the infrastructure has been modernized on such a grand scale, it was inevitable that the world of Night Entertainment would become a major tourist offering.
In the '70's and early 80's travellers to Koh Samui would (at a minimum) bring a roll of cord to hang out their laundry in front of their 60-baht-per-night a-frame hooches, candles for lighting after the generators were turned off at 9:00 PM, and, most importantly, a flashlight. (The bungalow-style hotels with quaint names like "Joy", "Coconut Bangalow" (sic), "Magic", and "Bungalow Bill's" usually provided the mosquito nets.) Before sunset, a walk up and down either the Lamai or Chaweng beach front was necessary to determine at which bungalow's restaurant you would be having dinner. But food had nothing to do with it, the bungalow restaurants that did the best business were the ones with the best movies on the BetaMax or the VCR - and each day, they would update their signs or blackboards with the evening's movie fare and put them out on the beach front in hopes of attracting a good crowd later that evening. And that was it, as far as "nightlife" in Koh Samui. After the video ended, the flashlights were, of course, most useful in finding your way down the wet sand and surf and through the dark coconut suan and eventually back to your own thatched hooch, sometimes half a mile away.
If you needed supplies such as laundry detergent or batteries, you could rent a motorcycle or jump on a song thaew and be across the island to the main town of Na Thon in about a half an hour. But even in Na Thon, the biggest town on the island, there was no Nightlife. While Na Thon was, and is, the administrative center, it was -at least for the tourist- only a transit point. The Song Serm ferry landed there and offloaded locals and farang alike, and took an equal number back to Surat Thani on the mainland. Those just arriving were barraged by song thaew drivers calling, 'ChawengChawengChaweng,' or 'LamaiLamaiLamai,' and the bulk of new arrivals were trundled off to one or the other destination to begin their beach front bungalow search. This was long before the vehicle ferry and the airport - and it was virtually the only way on , off, or around the island.
But as the 1970's wore on into the '80's and the developers began to see the potential for an island 'Riviera'-style resort, the old-style thatched bungalows began to disappear, the beach front coconut plantations were bought up, and even many of the local fishing villages were pushed aside. As our stringer, Duke d'Yenakat said in his posting from Lamai last month, "There were two kinds of people that went to Koh Samui; those that went to enjoy it and those that went to make money off of it." The island of Koh Samui went from a "best-kept-secret" to a backpacker "must-see" to an internationally known resort in less than two decades. Not that it could have been otherwise, but they -we- have completely and complacently traded 'adventure' for 'comfort'.
And one of the 'comforts' that began appearing in increasing numbers in the 1980's was the 'bar beer'. Greatly facilitated by newly available provincial electricity, colored lights and refrigerated beer were suddenly available after sunset - and even after the last bungalow video-movies were over. Nevertheless, the bar beer phenomenon was slow to catch on - the bungalows that had restaurants were also now 'electrified' and they too were offering at least cold Singh beer, if not 'after hours activities'. "Nightlife" had arrived, even if it only had it's toe in the door.
As Koh Samui's construction boom became a construction explosion, Chaweng Beach, more so than Lamai Beach, was transmogrified. Contributing factors to the Chaweng Phenomenon are it's size, and proximity to both the new airport and the vehicle ferry terminal. Today's Chaweng is a solid mile of construction - from it's northern tip to it's southern cove, there is no undeveloped property. If you want to walk out on the sand, or go swimming, you will have to walk through the grounds of someone's development. There are no more coconut trees, let alone coconut plantations - it has become a monolithic manmade strip-mall running the full length of it's beach front. But these new structures are not all bungalow-style hotels as in days of old, they are pharmacies, hospitals, bodybuilding gyms, clinics, 7-Eleven's, bookstores, restaurants, coffeeshops, bar beers, souvenir shops, Internet cafes - you name it. There are even two A-Go-Go Bars, a blues bar, several Discos and a Tesco-Lotus superstore.
But as happens with haphazard, explosive development, there is no single area of Chaweng that could be called a Night Entertainment Area - the various Night Entertainment Venues being spread out the full length of the beach front road. It is also worthy of mention that being farther from the flagpole, there is much less evidence of the self-righteous mental midgets that believe they can micro-manage 'sin' in general, and the Nightlife Scene in particular, by telling everyone what time his or her bedtime is... This tends to confirm, along with our other visits to outlying provinces that the aura of the current Autocracy's pinch-witted zeal casts it's tedious shadow almost exclusively over the Bangkok area.
With nearly a million people a year now visiting Koh Samui, the demographics of the island have changed - at any given time, the population of Koh Samui is predominantly foreign - and it's center of gravity is at Chaweng Beach -- the town of Na Thon having become a comparative backwater. Having taken advantage of every square inch, and every available minute, Chaweng is unquestionably the Nightlife Capital of Koh Samui.
Lamai Beach's development has, thank the Heavens, come at a much slower pace And it is at Lamai that we established our beachhead - in hopes of at least being able to savor the remaining nostalgic glimpse of coconut trees, or perhaps an old, familiar sign or two, or drink a smoothie at one of the 'pioneer' bungalow restaurants. And as it works out, all this is still possible, but just.
Being relatively frequent return visitors over the years, we have made our own predictions as to what the future would bring re: the development of Lamai Beach. Our predictions were replete with what could, and could not possibly come to pass. But once again our sage, all-knowing views of the future were rudely contradicted by the reality of Economic Darwinism. To wit - there ARE concrete & brick 'bungalows' on the water's edge with air-conditioning, and they ARE charging 4,700 baht per night. There ARE Taxi-Meters, and they WILL take you where you want to go using the meter (unless of course it is raining, or it is very late at night and you want to go to a disco across the island). There IS satellite television and it DOES have CNN and the Beeb. And so it goes, but it was in the area of Night Entertainment that we saw the biggest surprises.
Lamai's slower pace of development has mimicked Chaweng in most respects, differing mostly in degree, but the Night Scene has progressed along more orderly lines. While there are bar beers and other Night Entertainment Venues scattered the length of Lamai, the bulk of the bars has distilled into three distinct Night Entertainment Areas. The three bar beer areas didn't pop up overnight, or even over the last 3 years, but the surprising aspect is that they have lasted this long, and that they have continued to grow to 'critical mass' and qualify as stand-alone Night Entertainment Areas on their own. And as such, MIDNITE HOUR feels it is appropriate to take note and to make a permanent entry into the archives.
The adjoining Lamai Beach Area Map shows the three Night Entertainment Areas (A, B, & C), which correspond to :-
Bar Beer Central Night Entertainment Area,
Variety Bars Night Entertainment Area, and
Soi MacDonalds Night Entertainment Area.
These circular areas are represented just below as clickable 'thumbnails'. You can view the individual Night Entertainment Areas by clicking on these.
Lamai Beach Area Map
CLICK* On 'Thumbnails' to VIEW MAPS
Lamai Beach being a brand new bar area for MIDNITE HOUR, we were once again on the lookout for some original bar names - names that have aspired to something more than 'Lek Bar' or 'Sweetheart Bar'. We were not disappointed - we found three completely original bar names - interesting, if not completely comprehensible. Top on the list was Gow Badger International Bar. (Huh?) Second on the list was Mellowheads, with the bronze going to Fubar. Runners-up were Huggies and Backstage Rockbar.
Perhaps more apropos the Stickman Weekly column (faithfully read by yours truly), we saw several signs posted at the tour offices in Lamai offering, "Visa Renewal - 24 hours. Ranong". (Ranong being a large town north of Phukhet at the point where Thailand, Burma and the Andaman Sea come together.) Who would'a thunk...?
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Night Entertainment Areas - for the month ending 1 OCTOBER, 2004 :
The entire ground level of the building at the Suriwong Road end of Patpongs 1 & 2 has been gutted by construction crews (Immediately below the Red Parrot). We heard three rumors :- it would be all bars, there would be no bars, and some of the area would be bars. Take your pick - but we will be keeping a close eye on this and let you know. PATPONG I
On The Ramp, the Matador Cocktail Lounge, closed last month for renovations, has reopened. Welcome them back to partytown. PATPONG II
We guessed correctly last month - the New Rainbow Bar (Rainbow 1) was in fact in the process of putting up new neon - the makeshift sign now gone, the new, official one reads just plain "Rainbow Bar". History buffs will be saying, "What goes around, comes around," - this is exactly what they were calling themselves 22 years ago, when they first moved into Nana Plaza from Sukhumvit Road near Soi 14.
Carnival on the 3rd floor has their new mural completed and the new neon is all aglow - now if they could only get it to work like it's supposed to... NANA PLAZA
The Ton Thong Cocktail Bar located in the Thai restaurant of the same name, is not a Night Entertainment Venue per-se, while it is a comfortable place to sit for a drink, it does not offer any separate entertainment. SOI DEAD ARTISTS (Soi 33)
Cheers Bar, after attempting "part time" opening, has failed to answer the bell for the next round. They were comparative 'old timers' at Easy Square, coming in only a month after the trail-blazer, Nice Bar. Greener pastures, guys. EASY SQUARE
Likewise, Dao Bar Beer has taken down it's Christmas light sets and packed away the karaoke machine. Only darkness shines out from within. EASY SQUARE
Apisara, only one lok wide, has packed it in. Their old premises residing in abiding darkness. EASY SQUARE
The Basement, which never got around to putting up their sign, don't need to take it down again. They saw their last check-bin sometime in the middle of September. EASY SQUARE
Also falling on it's sword this month is the 4 U Bar bar beer - a long, cold steel barrier of roller-shutters hides what was the biggest bar in the Square. EASY SQUARE
This last September, The Grim Reaper pulled the shroud over the D & D Bar bar beer - leaving only leaves and dust to sworl at the base of their roller-shutters. EASY SQUARE
Mam & Mam Bar Beer shoved their last chit in the cup this last month -and it looks like they got a good head start- the place has already been stripped clean of anything of use. Hope they find things more to their liking a little further down the road a piece... EASY SQUARE
The Roxy Bar & Club, who do most of their business curbside, where customers sit on large pillows, are now doing next to no business at all now that the rains are virtually a daily (nightly) occurrence. SOI KATOEY
A "For Sale" sign has been put up on the door next to Speed (the old g-4 Club, which closed for the last time in July 2003). SOI KATOEY
The Balcony measures success by the square foot. One of the earlier bars to put tables and chairs outside, they found it worked so well, they put more of the same across the soi in front of the unused section of the old Rome Club. And that worked so well, they expanded out the other way and have their tables and chairs alongside the curb in front of Helene's Place (by agreement, of course). Keep on keeping on. SOI KATOEY
Paddy's Irish Bar has hung it's colors (literally) over the door that used to read "Happiness". This is not so much a 'goodbye' to Happiness and 'hello' to Paddy's, as it is some incomprehensible game of musical chairs, which also involves the aforementioned Buddy Bar and the below-mentioned Sweethearts, who for the month of June were calling themselves Paddy's Irish Bar. As outsiders looking in, we'll happily call them whatever they have nailed over the door. Keep on rocking... QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
Just next door, Sweethearts have battened down the hatches and boarded up the windows. But they don't look like they have gone anyplace - we'll check back later and see if they haven't reappeared. QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
Gone but not gone is the Banana Bar. Just when it looked like they had gone down for the third time, they threw their roller shutters up to the ceiling and rolled their red carpet out onto the bricks. Welcome back to the longest mile. QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
The Sugar Shak, presumably having found a buyer after her three-month search, has boogied off to Phu Khet - all things being equal. But we don't know yet who the new folk are, or what they will be doing in the old Sugar Shak digs. QUEEN'S PARK PLAZA
Bully's Pub has, as was advertised, opened just around the corner from Soi 4 (Nana) on Sukhumvit Road in the old Blue Wave digs. We wish them all aces as they throw their hat in the ring.
Another relatively new pub on the scene is the Black Swan, located -somewhat unfortunately- under the Asoke Skytrain stairs, near Soi 14, Sukhumvit Road. Nevertheless, it is a well-appointed pub, so if pub life is yours, it would be well worth a visit.
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge
Copyright © 2004, BANGKOK EYES / bangkokeyes.com