Bangkok's Night Scene In Review
Politics & Nightlife
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As the list of the Benevolent Autocrat's abuses of power grew, so did the street mobs, who insured each and every misdeed was heralded far and wide. But the straw that broke the camel's back was when the Benevolent Autocrat got caught with his pants down, attempting to sell a Thai company from a foreign tax haven in order to avoid paying millions of dollars in taxes. At that juncture, the number of factions pressuring the Benevolent Autocrat to resign grew quickly --to include academics, the long-bullied Media, business leaders, student groups, and of course politicians, both in the opposition, and within his own party. At that point, it was only a matter of time before the Prime Minister would have to step down. As the situation continued to disintegrate, the inevitable and fateful audience at the Palace was arranged - and took place on 04 April 2006. Later that day, he announced his 'retirement' on the steps of Government House.
And now that a 'decent interval' has passed, MIDNITE HOUR takes a look back at the historical impact this political regime had on the Night Entertainment Scene over the last five + years.
Not long after the Benevolent Autocrat first took power in 2001, he installed a certain Mr Purachai to implement a 'Social Order Campaign'. In plain-speak, this translated as 'Crackdown'. This appointment marked the beginning of the reign of the hyper-chauvinists and xenophobes, and no one could have spearheaded the onslaught, no one could have fit the bill more perfectly than the newly appointed henchman, Purachai.
The Crackdown was broad in scope, but at it's center was it's hottest target - Thailand's Night Life. The Benevolent Autocrat believed that if he made a show of "restoring" the Nation's dignity by cracking down on the many perceived 'evils' of the Night Entertainment Sector, he would endear himself with voters 'till the end of days. Purachai, on the other hand, actually believed that what he was doing was 'real' - that the scapegoating, the blaming of the Westerner for all of Thailand's social ills was justified, and the only way to prosecute a solution. And together, they lunged ahead in a frenzy of real and feigned self-righteousness and outraged modesty.
But almost exactly two years into the first term of this Benevolent Autocracy, this 'Arrogant CEO of Corporation Thailand' became embroiled in an incident which civilized persons and nations would have thought impossible in a country like Thailand. In January of 2003, Mafia-backed paramilitary teams raided and demolished a tourist shopping and entertainment area in the heart of Bangkok. Over a hundred venues, sixty of them bars, were destroyed and looted right under the noses of Bangkok's Finest - one hundred and ninety-one of whom were there, present, unofficially, to insure that the mayhem proceeded with no outside interference.
The Benevolent Autocrat's response was two-fold, immediate, and loud. First, he proclaimed that no Mafia elements would ever operate on his watch; almost immediately resulting in the arrest of Brothel-Massage Parlor King Chuwit Kamolwisit, who owned the land on which the destroyed properties stood. Secondly, and subsequent to Vice Czar Chuwit Kamolwisit's threat to expose Police who regularly took massive bribes from him, the Benevolent Autocrat vowed to clean up the National Police Force within three months. Before the dust settled, it became all too apparent that the Military (the nation's elite 'Institutional' Mafia), the National Police (the nation's largest 'Institutional' Mafia) and the just-plain-Mafia were all involved up to their eyebrows in the whole sordid affair.
This resulted in the strangest three-way 'Mexican Standoff' in Thai legal history. A "Mutually Assured Destruction' truce was tacitly arrived at between Chuwit Kamolwisit (and his Mafia shell-companies), the National Police, and the Military. All three parties threatened to name names in high places, and each was fearful that the other would do so. The Police, who were (ho-ho-ho) entrusted to investigate, predictably refused to do so, which produced a total vacuum of evidence with which to work, and the inevitable stalemate developed. No court action ever resulted in punishment being meted out to any of the (commonly known) guilty parties, or to anyone at all, for that matter. This travesty, this slap in the face to the Rule Of Law, will never be rectified. Nor will it ever be forgotten by the InterNational Business Community.
This affair, the "Sukhumvit Square Incident" was, ultimately, all about the Night Entertainment Industry, and was to be pivotal in the Benevolent Autocrat's war on fun - it seems he had stuck his head in the dragon's mouth, and had failed to provide himself with an exit strategy.
His boast to clean up the National Police within three months was quickly changed to 'one year', and then even more hastily changed to 'five years' --and of course, he himself has not lasted another five years.....
Brothel-Massage Parlor Czar and Mafia ringleader Chuwit Kamolwisit was released and never tried; he has now become a prominent National politician (if there is anything more incredible, more portentous, more preposterous, or more laughable than this, I have yet, in my lifetime, to hear it).
The Military, to include the seven senior officers found to be up to their elbows in side-deals and "security contracts", were all let out on bail, or just let out - no trial or military hearings will be forthcoming.
But all outrageous details aside, the key point to be made on the Sukhumvit Square Incident is that the Benevolent Autocrat, who once thought himself omnipotent, found he was powerless to break this logjam, even he could not cross decades-old boundaries into the realms of the Institutional Mafias, or even put the collar on some of the nation's more outrageous "Influental People". The outside world not only saw for the first time that the Benevolent Autocrat could be backed down - they had seen him publicly emasculated, de-nutted, in the face of the 'traditional' ways things got done. But there was no way he was going to sit still for this, he would soon launch a 'diversionary' tactic, a face-saving public relations putsch so Draconian that it belies belief.
A little more than a month later, the Benevolent Autocrat announced his "War On Drugs", which was ostensibly aimed at ridding Thailand of amphetamines being produced in Burma, China, Laos and Thailand. While a major part of this war would be 'fought' in and around Thailand's Night Entertainment Areas, the largest efforts would be "in the field". In less than three months, the combined National Police Force, who had been given a 'free hand', and a 'wink and a nod', had summarily shot and killed 2,271 suspects. These suspects never even made it into the back of a Police van. Yes, we said 'suspects'. That the National Police were dispensing "extra-judicial" final solutions on-the-spot, and the fact that many dead 'suspects' were found handcuffed was proof enough Police death squads were roaming the country in full force. The National Police cries of protestation, that they shot in self defense, were heard on a daily basis - to the point they became, quietly, grimly, the National laughingstock. It was later conclusively confirmed that the Police were given "quotas". No, we are not making this up - they were mandated to bring their monthly quota of suspects in dead, or alive - 'body-count' was just as acceptable as 'record of arrest '.
While the youngest victim of this Government-sanctioned massacre was 16 months, the case that caught the international spotlight was a 9 year-old boy who was shot dead by a Policeman. Incredibly, the investigators, who naturally were Police, changed their story - the deadly round, a standard Police issue .38 caliber suddenly became a round from 'another' caliber of gun. No charges were ever laid - no one will ever be punished for the boy's murder. Again, the mind boggles.
After three months of this unbridled, indiscriminate carnage by the National Police, the Benevolent Autocrat proclaimed, "Victory!" in the War On Drugs. But not before setting off alarm bells in the capitols of the world, virtually every human rights organization in the world, UN Agencies,and the worldwide Media. All of this seems absolutely incredible in these modern times, and I invite any and all interested readers to 'google' - Thaksin, "War On Drugs" - and read the incredible accounts from myriad independent sources.
The Benevolent Autocrat's War On Drugs as it applied to the Night Entertainment Industry paled by comparison - at least in terms of body-count. But, even though he lost the services of his main Social Order Campaign flunky, Purachai, the zeal with which the Government continued to violate human rights, and exhibit outrageous disregard for Rule of Law while in pursuit of the Night Entertainment Industry didn't go unnoticed. --And this harassment continued long after the Benevolent Autocrat's now infamous 2003 human slaughter outrage had been halted.
Victory was never declared on the War On Drugs as it pertained to the Night Entertainment front. The favorite tactic used on Night Entertainment Venues by Bangkok's Finest during the 2003 - 2005 Crackdown years - was the "Urine Swoop", where plain clothes Police would sweep into one or more Nitespots in a Night Entertainment Area (Usually an expat area for high profile media coverage). Once inside the Nitespot, they would seal the exits and forcibly insist that all patrons (foreign and local), and all staff, produce urine samples while under their baleful, leering 'surveillance'.
Urine was tested on the spot, and patrons who were found to test 'positive' were required to bribe their way out immediately, or, if they were short of cash, have someone come to 'bail them out' at the Police Stations, where bribes were substantially more expensive. If Night Venue staff were caught 'using', they, and the Night Entertainment Venue would be required to bribe their way out. If the Night Entertainment Venue was unable to pay (a substantially greater amount than an individual) they would be arbitrarily closed down by the Police. The exception to this was when Bangkok's Finest felt the need to be seen to be 'effective', and the Venue would be closed down regardless. In that these urine swoops were always 'high-visibility', it was seemingly good for both the Benevolent Autocracy and the Police, in terms of being able to play the role, to show they were 'accomplishing good'.
But the Benevolent Autocrat seemed not to care that the real and lasting damage from the adverse worldwide publicity from these unlawful "guilty-until-proven-innocent" urine swoops was that "tourism", one of Thailand's primary foreign exchange earners, had been turned on it's nose. To this day we at MIDNITE HOUR continue to receive correspondence asking if it is safe to come to holiday in Thailand, or will they be arrested in some bar and be forced to undergo an urinalysis?
Uncounted interviews with Night Entertainment Venue dancers and staff have revealed to MIDNITE HOUR that the Benevolent Autocrat's War On Drugs caused the street price of amphetamines to rise by 200% to 300%. All the Benevolent Autocrat's chest-beating, all the declarations of "Victory!", all the more-than-2,000 murders, all the human rights violations, all this, and in the final analysis, it added up to a tripling of the cost of the amphetamines at the street level. -And yet this grandly promoted, tragic, disgusting, murderous failure was spun by the Benevolent Autocrat's public relations gurus as "Victory!" Could anything at all be more shameful? "Victory!", indeed.
This deadly interlude in Thai history was certainly a feather in that little square-faced man's hat, something that he will be able to wear to the grave with great pride. At his grave, however, will be the waiting ghosts of those 2000 or so, who were summarily shot in the fields, in the back streets and sois, in their cars, and in their own homes. Incredible. To this day, there is no other word for it.
If it was the Benevolent Autocrat's intention to have the world forget his massive loss of face in not being able to stand down the local Mafias, he succeeded. But he also succeeded in outraging almost all around him, and while many Thai voters may conveniently have forgotten, and while even some resident farang have 'put it in the past', the perpetrators of these deadly crimes, to include the man ultimately responsible, remain unpunished - and that's an historical fact.
But the Urine Swoops weren't the only tactic being used by the Benevolent Autocracy to teach the Night Entertainment Industry a lesson for ruining Thailand's reputation at home and abroad, destroying the moral fiber of the country and spreading AIDS and other diseases (the xenophobic politicos had, typically, found their scapegoat, and then proceeded to proclaim that the Foreigner bars were exclusively to blame for the woeful moral state of the nation). This elaborate smear campaign against the providers of virtually all Night Entertainment for the foreigner was the basis, and justification for, all future planned Crackdown measures. And, in retrospect, it is apparent that each of these Crackdown measures was designed to demonstrate how the Benevolent Autocracy had come to the country's moral rescue.
Of the series of measures leveled against Thailand's Night Entertainment Venues from 2001 through to 2005 (some of a smaller scale, others of a grander magnitude), one of the most highly hyped, and subsequently most spectacularly flawed Crackdown measures was that of "Entertainment Zones". On first implementation, the Zones weren't even specified. Later, after the Zones were drawn out, they were changed, then retracted, then reissued, and changed again. But the kicker is, in the final analysis, they were never implemented....
The three Entertainment Zones, once they were actually defined, were Patpong 1, the Royal City Avenue (RCA), and Rachadapisek Road.
It was never any coincidence that Patpong Road was privately owned, and to impose Governmental control within a private area against a very influential family would have been politically disastrous.
It was never any coincidence that RCA was smack-dab in the middle of a Military (Institutional Mafia) area, and very nearly impossible to close down.
It was never any coincidence that the Rachadapisek Road was home to the above-mentioned Chuwit Kamolwisit's Brothel-Massage Parlor empire - ho, ho, ho....
It was obvious to anyone in-the-know that the Benevolent Autocrat would not be confronting any of his new-found adversaries, or attempting to assert his will against established and influential persons in the private sector.
There were many other examples of Crackdown initiatives launched by the Benevolent Autocracy against the Night Entertainment Industry, all aimed at making it more difficult to do business in Thailand. These included the progressive shortening of operating hours (both opening and closing times), the restriction on issuing any new A Go-Go licenses, the raising of license fees, the forcible registration of women working in Night Entertainment Venues as "prostitutes", and the restriction on renewal of existing licenses, just to name a few.
But there was one example which epitomized the absurd extremes to which the Benevolent Autocracy would go, and illustrates the perverted mind-set, the rarified and plainly disconnected mentality of the individuals who were prosecuting the Benevolent Autocrat's Social Order Campaign. One ditzy, brand-spanking-new MP stated that all Spas and Health Massage Parlors would have to "prove" to the Administration that they were not morally corrupt, and were in fact fully "supportive of the Social Order Program" - and, specifically, not providing sexual services. And in order to prove this, they would be required to "volunteer" to close at the more 'respectable' hour of 10:00 p.m. instead of their previous closing time of 02:00 a.m. We suppose this ditzy MP never suspected that sexual services might be administered before ten in the evening. We also suspect that Ms Ditzy had nary a thought that these Spas would be closed during their busiest peak period, and as a result, would be losing more than two thirds of their nightly income, and would certainly be bankrupt at month's end. --And it was precisely this mind-set that was becoming more and more pervasive; the message to all was, "What have you done lately to show your solidarity with our Program?"
But in the meantime, while all this measured harassment of the Night Entertainment Scene was under way, the political horizon was no longer bright and sunny. In fact, since the Benevolent Autocrat's humiliating backing-down by the Institutional Mafias over the Sukhumvit Square debacle, it might be more accurate to say it was going to Hell in a hand-basket. But after the catastrophic slaughter of drug suspects in early 2003, the Benevolent Autocracy began having more and more foundation-wrenching problems - the "Nation's CEO' was becoming an easier and easier target - from his ever-growing list of enemies. From corruption scandals, accusations of nepotism, additional accusations of wealth-hiding and stock manipulations, conflicts of interest, disagreeing factions within his ruling Party, manipulations within the Judiciary, partisan and biased attempts to rewrite parts of the Constitution, the Benevolent Autocrat suing any member of the public for millions of dollars who dared to publicly disagree with him, and finally, an outrageously mismanaged, and increasingly restive Islamic South. The whole seamy organization was being bared, bit-by-bit, to the public, and, as it were, slowly coming apart at the seams. And by late 2005, the opposition was no longer being polite about proffering these accusations to the Benevolent Autocrat directly, and to the Media. --And this had an immediate knock-on effect in the Night Entertainment arena.
While Khun Sonthi was busily organizing his ever-growing protest groups in Lumphini Park and around the city, Bangkok's Finest were shrewdly and accurately reading the handwriting on the wall. As the Benevolent Autocrat found he had to spend more and more of his waking day fielding the unfriendly fire, he had less time, and even less interest in pursuing Night Life issues under his Social Order Program. As a result, the uneasy truce (the shaky equilibrium that existed between the Benevolent Autocrat and Bangkok's Finestsince the Sukhumvit Square Incident), was shifting in favor of the Police - they were becoming more autonomous, and more liberal (& more willing to accept money) for such things as closing times and "show content". By early 2006, many of the Nitespots that were previously required to close at 01:00 a.m. were quietly, then publicly closing once again at 02:00 a.m. Likewise, those Bar Beers that were previously forced to close at midnight were, more and more, allowed to stay open later, sometimes to 01:00 a.m., and even occasionally 02:00 a.m.
As street protester and publisher Sonthi joined forces with M.G. Chamlong, it was immediately clear that their new (informally sanctioned, open-ended) coalition against the Benevolent Autocrat was not going to go away. And a full month before the Benevolent Autocrat actually resigned, Bangkok's Finest had essentially restored 02:00 a.m. closing, and many A Go-Go's had already returned to late-1990's-style "full" shows to augment their A Go-Go format.
And, as they say, this is where we came in. We would like very much to close with, "...and the rest is History", but instead, a word of caution: - the Benevolent Autocrat hasn't disappeared - he is still lurking in the shadows. His TRT Party is still the dominant political party in Thailand, and there is a great likelihood that this party will be reelected. We don't pretend to know how the Night Entertainment Industry will fare after the new election. What we do know is that for the time being, it is business (almost) as usual, and we do suspect that this is the end of the Thaksin Era of Night Entertainment harassment and suppression. Regardless of who is elected as Prime Minister next time around, even if it is someone from the ex-Benevolent Autocrat's TRT Party, it is highly unlikely the inevitable pendulum back-swing will be as severe as this last one.
Lastly, and most certainly not least, shake it, don't break it, gang - we don't believe the urine swoops of previous years will be discontinued anytime soon....that's something Bangkok's Finest like doing....
MIDNITE HOUR presents the NEWS on the Bangkok Night Scene; - the 'history-in-the-making' for all major Expat Night Entertainment Areas - for the month preceding :
PATPONG IThe Queen's Castle III is closed (again), this time ostensibly for renovations, but since they only reopened in May 2004 - after extensive 'renovations', they must either have very hungry termites there, or the furniture has not stood up very well under the nightly barrage of balloon darts. The sign, below, probably tells part of the story fairly accurately.
The Kitchen X, which originally opened in November of last year, and promptly closed this last February (2006), had some Vegas-strength neon fired up at ground zero when we passed by last night (see pic, below). We went upstairs to have a look around, and found the place lit up like a Christmas tree -and the smell of paint could knock a weaker man down. I spoke with the manager, who said that they would reopen as soon as the 8th of this month (May) if renovations weren't held up. There will be no change of name. The layout is like a bar, and a lounge, and it has several pool tables, and there will be dining, and dancing there, as well. -I've never seen a layout quite like it - I guess you could call the place same-same only different. We'll check back, and let you know if and when it does open. The renovations, by the way, are a great improvement - now if they can only, once and for all, find a way to get the Cassanova street touts out of the shared stairwell....
Spanky's Bar has some brand-new neon, and this is either a case of , or they intentionally put the apostrophe in the wrong place to differentiate it from the Nana Plaza Spankys (which doesn't have an apostrophe). As mentioned before, the two bars are not related.
The brand-spanking-new Vegas Member Club now occupies the old P.P. Thai Massage digs on the 4th floor, Cosmo's stairwell. You may remember reading here that the P.P. was drug-busted in February. The Vegas had all the appearances of being open, but we couldn't find anybody to talk to. As soon as we find out anything at all, we'll let you know. In the meantime, welcome them to the wolfpack....I think....
PATPONG I I
When it opened last month, we spurted out that the name of the place was the "You Deserve It" (how did we know? - it was on the sign....) The real name is Bar Bar, which makes it even more difficult, because a venue of that very name opened on Soi Katoey in July of last year. The two bars are not related. Well, we will just have to let them and the Sign Gestapos work it out. They also have some new neon up (since our last-month's photo), and a couple of S&M gargoyles to greet you all as you enter. We couldn't afford the 900 baht for the first drink, so we went to their website instead (good music), and found that they offer "Steel Show Cages, and rubber privacy booths, and crosses, and wheels, and benches, and break barriers, and nurseplay, and Japanese Bondage, and Candlewax, a strict Teacher, and Dommes and Slaves." What is all this stuff, anyway - this is worse than reading a play-by-play of a cricket match in the Nation.....
PATPONG I I
SOI COWBOYThe official name used to be The New A Go-Go Duck, and the A Go-Go had a large, well-neoned sign saying so. It adopted the English language name Shark sometime thereafter. Now it looks as if they have torn down the large Thai language neon, and the name is (at least semi-officially) the Shark now. (In that no one knew how to read the Thai sign, that's what everyone called it anyway). However, up in the left hand corner, they still have in very small letters, 'The New A Go-Go Duck Co. Ltd.' in Thai, which should cover all bases.... Rock on.
NANA PLAZANana Entertainment Plaza (just say, "Nana") finally fixed their neon, which hadn't been completely working for years. Not that anyone notices the sign when going into Nana, but the photo was worth snapping anyway - one for the archival records....
We snapped a pic of this young lady in one of the Nana A Go-Gos. Many of the customers thought she was one of the available hostesses. To their disappointment, she was neither a hostess nor available.
In a serious case of life imitating artlessness, these troubadours extraordinaire are making the rounds in and around Soi Nana. A bizarre, and recently, unavoidable part of the Night Scene....
SOI DEAD ARTISTS(Soi 33)Venus Club has reopened for real this time. But, although there was no name change, there was a change of ownership. The sign, below, will go a long way in explaining why the old owners are no longer doing business in Sin City. Let's welcome the new owners to partytown.
Matrix, closed in December of 2005, had a sign out saying they would reopen in February 2006. Somewhere along the line, that got changed to March (see photo below). Well, fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. A note to the owners - you guys are closed, whether you think you are or not. So is your bowling alley, in spite of what the sign taped to the window says. MIDNITE HOUR will no longer be carrying you on the rolls, and on the slim chance you ever reopen, we will duly note same at that time.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
Dali Pool has failed to answer the bell for the next round. In these hot season months, it's hard enough to drum up any business for the ground floor Venues, let alone the upstairs places. But it's not like they will be sucked into the black hole of oblivion entirely - the downstairs Dali Club is still keeping busy. Keep on keeping on....
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
These lovelies await the first assault of Nipponese at the Hole In 1 Club Japanese Club (full name), located deep in the Soi.
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
SOI DEAD ARTISTS
SOI KATOEYThe Cafe 4 Bangkok has some new neon - perhaps more artsy-phartsy than practical, but, then again, they seemed busy this last Saturday night, so what else really matters? Let the good times roll.
TOBACCO ROADEither the Emu Bar has up and done the 'Ned Kelly', or they are the first to relocate in response to the 'persistent rumor' that Tobacco Road (Soi Zero) is going to be ground zero for the Ploenchit Skytrain parking lot... (more about that as we get confirmation, closing dates, etc.). We hope that Emu & Co find things a little more to their liking a little further on down the road a piece.
QUEEN'S PARK PLAZAThe new Cho Cho 2 (rhymes with "Show Show") had their soft opening last week, and the official opening is going down right about.....now. And by the time you see this in print, they should have some new neon up and all aglow. But it's not as if these nice people are rushing into the Night Entertainment business with all the enthusiasm of someone who has never owned a bar before - they also own X-Bar next door. Speaking of which, the scuttlebutt is that the X-Bar will be renamed the Cho Cho 1 in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, let's hope Fate deals them all aces and faces in their joint undertakings.
The Lee Lee has some new neon - which is worth a note to the historical record. They have kept their old neon as well, which, to tell the truth, we like better. Same friendly staff and service, and the rock still rocks, and roll still rolls.
SUKHUMVIT 1 PLAZAThe Sexy Bar, previously upstairs, has popped up out of it's coffin and reincarnated in the Night Night Joop Joop digs on the ground floor. Modus Operandi unchanged. Let the Nightgames begin all over again.
SOI EDENThe night venue we reported abuilding last month has opened - The Ring Bar, and The Ring Fashion Massage have rolled out the red carpet, and even during the unseasonal rains, seem to be doing a good business. May the Nightwinds blow kindly....
OTHER NIGHTSPOTS OF NOTE
SUKHUMVIT RD - BETWEEN SOI 5 AND SOI 7
NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS DEPT.
WASHINGTON SQUARE(No News)
--- Datzit Fernow
William R. Morledge