It’s always been the case that Thailand, parts far and wide, experienced two distinct tourist seasons: Low Season, when the heat and rain are at their worst and the number of tourists dwindles, and High Season, when the climate is milder, breezier, and less-rainy and the unwashed masses flock here. In the low season, the prices of certain things drop drastically, and necessarily so. For example, in the tiny beach town of Ao Nang, Krabi, in the low season one could get a basic hotel room for $20 a night (in 2018), whereas that same hotel in the high season would be double that amount. Backpackers and budget tourists often arrange their trip around these different seasons, enduring the bad weather in order to take advantage of the cheaper prices.
The one city that seemed to be immune to the seasonal price change was Bangkok. For a long time, the cost of most things stayed fixed throughout the year in the capitol, as did the tourist foot traffic. Regardless of the month, it was always high season in Bangkok. But between 2010 and now, that changed, mainly because the world changed. For one thing, the military junta took over the government and cracked down on everything from craft beer to street vendors. It was as if they thought to themselves, “What are all the things tourists and foreigners like about Thailand? Make a list, and let’s ruin nearly everything on that list.” Additionally, there was a global economic slump that hit tourism hard. People simply didn’t have the funds to splurge on a vacation to the other side of the planet. At the same time, the Ruble lost value while the Yuan soared. For Thailand, that meant swapping out swarms of Russian tourists for Chinese. And the Chinese don’t behave like average tourists when they come here. They stick together in groups, led by a guide on a fixed agenda, and they don’t stray from it. No detours to the red light district, no sneaking out for a quickie massage, no boozefests in a local pub. No, no, no. Cue Amy Winehouse. In a recent conversation between business owners in Patpong, the questions that kept coming up were “Where is everyone?” and “Why is it so quiet?” The junta raining on everyone’s parade is one reason. The global economic slowdown is another. The Russian/Chinese tourist swap is another. But that’s not all. There’s more going on.
Last year, Bangkok made the list of the 100 most expensive cities for expats to live. Gone are the days when folks could come here and live like kings for a couple of weeks or months or years. The cost of living has skyrocketed in the last half-decade. Thus, frugal foreigners are gravitating to other countries where they can get more bang for their buck, more poon for their pound, more pussy for their peso, more yank for their Euro, more holler for their dollar. And speaking strictly about the red light districts, the old version of the “sexpat” is going extinct. Tinder has eliminated the need to go gogo-hopping in search of prey. In fact, a savvy lothario could easily pull tail from the comfort of his hotel room using online dating sites and social media. The red light district is an app now. Further, the demographic of the typical Patpong tourist is shifting away from the lonely solo punter to couples/families/groups of wide-eyed wanderers desperate to get a neck-craning glimpse through the doorway of a gogo bar, or if they’re brave enough, stop in for one beer, or to my eternal annoyance, hop onstage with the girls. But then they move on to the night market to spend their cash. Certainly, the RLD can’t survive this shift in tourist type. It will have to change to accommodate the new breed of visitor. It will have to metamorphose into something else, and right now that’s not happening.
So the new normal in Bangkok is, there’s now a low season and a high season. This year, high season seems to be starting late. Traditionally, things should get busy right after Christmas. But here we are entering the second week of January, and the streets of Silom are quiet. Or they’re lousy with lookie-loos and yet the gogos and eateries are empty. There are a few exceptions in Patpong. Shenanigans is jammed from open to close virtually every day of the week. King’s Castle 1 is typically standing room only by 9:30 every night. But that success isn’t shared by most of the other bars and restaurants in the area. It feels like everyone’s holding their breath, waiting for the crowds to come back. Hopefully by the time this posts to the interweb, there’ll already be an upswing. Fingers crossed. But if not, many bar owners, restaurateurs, and gogo dancers will have to make a change.
As someone who still loves to swig beer stage-side while a dozen hot ladies in short-shorts dance the boogie, I hope this year’s high season gets really, really high. Although having said that, it’s truly a catch-22. I need these places to stay in business, and a steady stream of foreigners would help that. However, I hate tourists. They’re uncouth and exasperating. And truthfully, less of them means easier pickings for me. That is, until it all goes belly-up and the girls take low-wage jobs in retail. It’s a thin line, and a bird on that wire is worth two in the Tesco.
The person in the best position right now is that hesitant traveler who’s been waffling about whether or not to come here. If you’re a lonesome lad in some cold European burg with no poontang prospects, you really should get on a plane. Snagging hotties in the red light here is akin to shooting the proverbial fish in the barrel. I hate to say that, because I really don’t want you here. But if you’re reading my stuff, I want to steer you right. So there you go.
Anyway, here’s to living the red light life day by day, not waxing about the past, not worrying for the future. As long as the beer is cold and the girls are warm, we have two reasons to be happy. So until next time, keep your balls clean and your glass full, and let’s toast another week above ground in what is—for the moment at least—still the greatest country in the world: Thailand.
Quick update: I’m posting this on a Sunday morning, on the heels of three straight crazy-busy days on Patpong. So be it, high season. Bring it on…I’m ready.