It's no secret that many are attracted to Thailand because of its nightlife, which is largely centered around bars.
There are, of course, different types of bar in Thailand, ranging from wine bars and pub-like waterholes down to open-fronted bars teeming with scantily-clad hostesses. But the reality is that a large percentage of male tourists come for the latter – the “lady bar”.
And it's in these bars that many a tourist gets themselves into a pickle.
I've been here since 2008, and one could say I've seen it all, but I probably haven't; after all, Thailand never ceases to amaze me!
But I have learned a thing or two over the years, and seen some situations I'm glad I didn't personally end up in.
So whether you're going to party in Pattaya's Walking Street, Bangkok's Soi Cowboy, or Phuket's Patong, here's some friendly advice that might come in handy.
1. Pay Your Bill as You Drink
If I had 100 Baht for every disputed bar bill in a red light area of Thailand I'd be living like a king.
Most disputes arise because patrons choose to pay at the end of their drinking session rather than paying as they go.
Here's the typical scenario: You sit down at a table in the bar. A couple of hostesses sit and chat to you while you drink. You buy them a drink or two, and you neck a few yourself. Each order is written on a bill and placed in a pot on your table.
Then, when it's time to leave, you're shocked to see the bill; because you could have sworn you only had three, not five, and the girls only had two each, not four.
Did the girls slip in a couple of unauthorized drinks? Did the bartender add a couple to your tally on purpose?
Now you find yourself in a difficult position.
If you question the bill, you are questioning the ability of the bar staff to keep track of your orders / their integrity of charging correctly. This will cause them to lose face and potentially get angry.
You're also leaving yourself open to criticism as a “cheap Charlie”, as if you are trying to avoid paying your bill.
But, you feel like you've been ripped off. So you question the bill, and get a moody response that goes something like; “This your bill. It correct. You have to pay”.
At this point there are two options.
- Refuse to pay and argue your position, risking a confrontation with the owner or mama-san (an older woman in charge of the bar girls), or, depending on the bar, the bouncers.
- Pay the bill, smile, say thank you and put it down to experience.
You should choose option 2.
But here's the thing: This situation is completely avoidable if you pay your bill drink-by-drink.
I must say, not all bars will be hostile in this situation, especially if you're a regular patron. Mistakes do happen and can be resolved through diplomacy. But why leave yourself open to a potential dispute when it is easily avoidable.
2. Avoid Confrontation, Argue with Your Feet Instead
Following on from tip 1 above, here's my advice for winning a dispute without confrontation.
My advice is to pay the bill, even if you are sure there is a mistake or scam going on.
You don't want to argue or get into a fight. You don't want to fall out with a local bar owner, the girls that work there, or have to fight with the bouncers. Worse still, you don't want the bar to call the police.
What will you lose? A few hundred Baht? Even if it's one or two thousand Baht, you can still win in the long run.
The best way to win the argument is not to go back.
Bars and restaurants need customers. If they don't exercise good customer service and deal with complaints in a sympathetic and polite manner and work to resolve the situation in the best interest of a customer, they will lose business.
So argue with your feet instead. Tell your friends what happened and they might avoid the bar, too. In short, take your business elsewhere.
3. Don't Grope the Girls
Yes, the girls in the bar are there to attract men in to drink, and to buy them drinks. Yes, the girls are sexually provocative. And yes, some of the girls can be taken out of the bar for extra curricular activity (subject to a bar fine. A fee paid to the bar). However, groping is not okay.
I've seen many an angry bar girl shout at an overbearing patron who can't keep his hands to himself. You may find affection is initiated by the girl, with a hand round the waist, a hand on the leg, or a hug, in which case you can duly reciprocate.
However, constant wandering hands to boobs and bottoms is not a good idea and may land you in a spot of bother. If you want to touch private parts, you should negotiate a rendezvous outside of the bar. No pay no play.
I don't want to sound like your mom, but be respectful. These girls (women) are daughters, and most of them mothers. Many bars, and certainly the go-gos, are highly sexually charged places, but the girls are human beings and deserve common courtesy like everyone else.
4. Be Streetwise
Such bars are usually located in the red light areas of tourist hotspots, and as with any tourist area in any country of the world, you should keep a level of vigilance when it comes to your belongings.
The problem is that the more people drink the less care they tend to take of themselves and their belongings.
Be streetwise and try to maintain a level of awareness of your surroundings. Don't leave your bag, phone or wallet unattended for any period of time. While the majority of people aren't thieves, you never know when an opportunist might be in your vicinity.
It has to be said that some men lose all control in these bars. As testosterone begins to swell, so does the ego. You're king of the hill, surrounded by merry maidens and endless cheap booze. The wallet comes out, the cash gets flashed, and a lot of attention is drawn.
This may annoy other patrons, or even bar staff or bouncers. Someone might even feel a tad jealous, or simply take a disliking to such behavior.
While having fun and being friendly is perfectly fine, getting loud and unruly isn't culturally acceptable. Try to maintain some integrity, so as not to attract the wrong type of attention and a potentially unwanted situation.
5. Don't be a Cheap Charlie
As documented in my Nightlife Post, bar girls get a commission on each drink that you buy them.
In short, she isn't just sitting with you because you're a “handsome man”. She wants a drink. A drink for a lady may be charged at a more expensive rate that a standard drink – thus is the price of company.
Once you know this it makes the whole experience feel a little transactional, and can make you feel reluctant to buy a drink or two for any interested party.
But don't do what I have seen a fair number of times, and that is a guy chatting and flirting with a girl for 10 minutes or more and then refusing to buy her a drink. That's just cheap.
These girls have to get paid, just like we all do. They aren't there for the good of their health, that's for sure. No money no honey…you know the saying!
Locals talk, too. The bars know each other, and so do women from different bars. Gaining a reputation as someone who wants to play but doesn't like to pay isn't going to promote good relations.
6. Stay Level-Headed
While you should buy the lady in your company a drink, be careful not to become a “kid in a sweet shop”.
This is a common situation for new tourists and men entering a bar when already a bit merry. It's warm, you don't have work in the morning, there is cheap beer and beautiful women on tap. Needless to say it is easy for a man to get carried away, and these ladies are well trained in spotting an easy target.
Before you know it, you'll be surrounded by three or four women, all making you feeling like royalty while simultaneously running up your bar bill, which you can hopefully pay at the end of the night.
Unless money isn't an issue for you, I'd recommend sticking to a nightly budget. This can be managed by paying for drinks as they are ordered, as per point 1 in this article.
7. Don't Drink & Ride / Drive
Obvious, I know, but the heat, the cheap booze and the women make men lose their heads. Moreover, a small Honda Click is really easy to ride and kinda feels more akin to riding a bike than a proper motorbike or a car.
So you think nothing of riding home. But don't do it. It just isn't worth it. Taxis are so cheap, and, more often than not, you're in walking distance of your hotel.
Remember, you're not just endangering your own life but the lives of others too.
As I said at the beginning of the post, this isn't the only type of bar in Thailand. If you're not interested in lady bars (bar girls) or watching go-go dancing, you can go to a regular bar or pub, a sports bar or even a trendy wine bar. There is something for everyone here.
But if you are going to visit the “lady bars” in Thailand, these tips will no doubt serve you well for a safe, fun night out.
Got some advice from experience? Please do share it in the comments section below.
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Read More Nightlife Tips:
Get the full lowdown on the nightlife scene in Thailand. Read this post.