“Hello handsome man, where you go?”
Countless expats and tourists in Thailand have heard that compliment many times. In the past, bar girls easily charmed unsuspecting guys into parting with their hard-earned money. Nowadays, many just laugh and keep walking. Like it or not, Thailand is changing. Its reputation as a cheap adult playground may be slow to die, but there’s no doubt nightlife is nothing like it used to be and is now poor value for money.
FIRE – Financially Independent Retire Early – is a lifestyle that minimizes expenses while maximizing savings. One of the most obvious ways to lower your expenses in Thailand is to reduce your spending on nightlife, and there has never been a better time to do so. Let’s look at why bar girls and FIRE don’t mix.
Thailand Has Changed for the Better
Thailand’s economy has improved dramatically since the Asian financial crisis in 1997. Undeterred by all the naysayers on internet forums, countless coups, and economic disasters such as widespread flooding in 2011, Thailand’s economy has grown sixteen-fold in the last 30 years. The percentage of people living in poverty decreased from 65% in 1998 to only 7% in 2015. Unbelievably, the unemployment rate is less than 1%. As a result, the World Bank now recognizes Thailand as “one of the great development success stories” of the world.
The previously impoverished Isaan region, where most bars girls are from, has experienced the highest growth out of any region. Car ownership has never been higher, university education and health care have never been more accessible, and even the poorest people now walk around with high-end smart-phones. Being stuck at the bottom of the social ladder in Isaan isn’t the hardship it used to be.
Left behind by the economic expansion, some of the poorest and least educated girls end up as bar workers. In the past, ordinary girls used to work in bars. Now, it’s those left behind by society. Bar girls are similar to factory workers in the US who lost their jobs to automation. Unable to benefit from a modern economy for whatever reason, they are now left with scraps and forgotten. In fact, many workers in bars that target foreigners are so unemployable they would be unable to find any other job, even in the Thai nightlife industry. The Thai economy has truly left them behind. Bar workers know this and have become bitter and miserable.
Poor Value for Money
Decades ago, it was easy to enjoy a night out in Thailand’s bars. Girls and bar staff were friendly and everyone wanted to have a good time. Drinks were cheap, there was little pressure to pay for extras, and it was easy to find a companion to spend your whole night or trip with. Despite the language barrier, jokes were plentiful and girls and customers laughed, danced, and drank all night.
In contrast to Thailand’s economic improvement, nightlife has gone in the opposite direction. Drink prices have increased to Western levels. Thai smiles are gone. Attitudes are unfriendly and mercenary. Pressure to buy multiple lady-drinks and bar-fine shortly after sitting down is normal. Conversation is almost non-existent. Ages and weights have increased exponentially. All in all, not a pleasant experience.
Expats and tourists often say partying in Thailand is not cheap these days. Many don’t expect to spend 10,000 to 15,000B (300 to 470 USD) per night. A night out that consists of buying a few rounds of drinks at a bar and then going to a popular nightclub with a new friend is not cheap. If you say goodbye to your friend in the morning, you could easily spend more than 10,000B from start to finish. Do that every weekend and your monthly entertainment bill is quickly over 1,000 USD. Sure, if you are from somewhere like New York and often spend thousands of dollars per night on entertainment, Thailand will seem like a bargain. Local expats see those prices as excessive.
How Much Should a Night Out Cost?
Of course, when it comes to nightlife, the sky is the limit. Everyone has a different idea of how much a night out should cost. The first thing to remember though is partying with bar girls is exorbitant. Going out with normal companions will always be much cheaper than paying someone for their time.
As an example of a typical night out, it’s possible for two people to enjoy dinner and drinks at a local jazz club for 2,000 to 3,000B (60 – 95 USD). You can have a few rounds of drinks at some of the nicest rooftop bars in the country for the same amount. Nightclubs also only cost a few thousand Baht. As you can see, your costs drop dramatically if you are not paying someone to spend time with you.
What About Pattaya?
I know what you’re thinking – Pattaya, aka Sin City – is surely still good value for money.
As an expat in Bangkok, I used to laugh whenever I read about the gentrification of Pattaya. Internet forums ridicule the sayings, “Good guys in, bad guys out,” and “More quality tourists,” promoted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
A recent trip to Pattaya made me re-evaluate my preconceived notions about its seediness. I saw many positive changes that were a pleasant surprise. Beach road has been completely re-done. It is full of new restaurants, shopping centers, and hotels. The city upgraded the popular sidewalk along the beach with new trees and a wider space for walking. People were out running as the sun went down. The area didn’t have the sleazy feel it used to have.
The majority of tourists were Asian, Arab, and Indian. The Caucasians I did see were mostly Russian. Unquestionably, long gone are the days of Western sex tourists keeping the economy of Pattaya alive.
Open-air bars looked more like cesspools than entertainment areas. Some had hundreds of women but not one was attractive or under 40 years old. Bar girls since the heyday 20 years ago, now trapped for eternity. Society’s leftovers.
Some bars now embrace diversity and cater to ethnicities that were not welcome before. Others were completely empty except for a few 50-year-old Americans holding onto fatties who had worked there long enough they were belting out the words to Glory Days by Bruce Springsteen, the irony eluding them. Compared to modern shopping malls and restaurants that were full of young people who have no interest in 1980’s rock music or paying for companionship, it is easy to see the whole industry is dying.
Why Some People Can’t Stop
The bar industry in Thailand wouldn’t exist if there were no customers. But if it’s such poor value for money, why do many people still take part? Deep down, everyone knows being with someone who only wants your money is thoroughly unsatisfying. Going to bars regularly to find someone you can barely communicate with is almost soul-destroying. Even if you do find someone who speaks English well, or if you speak Thai yourself, chances are you won’t find anyone you can really connect with.
Part of the reason some people can’t stop is they are addicted. The hedonic treadmill explains how people adapt quickly to changes in conditions. If something in our life changes, sooner than later we think of the change as normal. This means we always want more. Things we once found thrilling we now take for granted – exotic foods, illicit drugs, and attractive sex partners. Once you start down the road of bar girls, you can’t get enough. The world of depravity can easily suck you in and relieve you of a lot more money than you thought possible. The financial and health consequences can be just as severe as with any other addiction. Stopping can be just as hard as quitting drugs.
Modern Thailand and FIRE
Relegated to bar work, it is sad a segment of Thai society is missing out on the economic prosperity the rest of the population is benefiting from. At the same time, it is possibly the golden-era for expats in Thailand to meet lovely middle-class girls who are well-educated and can speak English. More Thai people nowadays live comfortable lives than at any other time in history.
On the other hand, it may be the most difficult time in recent years for Western tourists to have a positive experience looking for women. Bar girls are unfit for most Westerners, and middle-class girls in any country usually don’t go for short-time tourists. Plenty of leftovers are still available though.
For FIRE in Thailand followers, there is no need to spend large amounts of money on unsatisfying and soul-destroying experiences with bar girls. It’s never been easier to have a Thai partner who is not looking for regular hand-outs.
If I had to choose between Thailand of the past and Thailand today, it would be an easy choice.
To find out more about how Thailand and the expats who live here have changed, you can start here.