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Thieves Market Bangkok – Edition 2011

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind


The recent past has been very hectic for us with a relocation to a remote island for ourselves. Koh Chang
is our new home and after well over a decade of Bangkok, we did decide that it was about time to flee the hustle of the huge city. We gained a roomier place to live and will face higher costs for food and other items. Island prices are known to be inflated a bit, but Koh Chang really did it within reason unlike Phuket or Samui.

However, our first trip back took us to our favorite shopping area – and we hat a long wish-list to browse for. Wall-plugs, faucets, tools and personal gear for us three were to be had here at fractions of the island prices and well worth the traveling expenses.;(

Our good friends Klaus and Shella left  the island in their roomy SUV and gave us a ride to the outskirts of Bangkok, from where we took a taxi. They were going back to beautiful Penang in Malaysia, where they establish an alternative residence for them.

It was a Saturday night and the timing couldn't have been more perfect for us as the real "Thieves Market" was about to start in a short while. It starts every Saturday evening around sunset time and runs until midday on Sundays. Our previous report covers the night part of it, so here we start at 6 A.M. on Sunday morning to give you an update.

No less than four huge backpacks were brought empty and a merciful ATM supplied the much needed cash for the task. We shopped until after midnight like tourists on steroids and accomplished about 50% of the items on our shopping list. The heavy plumbing things went straight in my shouldered backpack, accompanied by needed tools, whilst our rollered biggies held the bulkier items. It was a hellish task, but we were quite successful. We checked into some cheap 300 Baht hotel with porn feeds onto the TV and free condoms provided. They gave us wild looks, when we occupied the room with our baby in tow. :D

We were so exhausted and slept a bit immediately. This would not have been a place of choice for us, but the close proximity to the action gave us the chance to be there again with the first rays of sunlight. The 300 Baht really didn't dent our budget too much, as we saved multiples of that with every load we added to our limited cargo space. Faucets, tools and acrylic sealant weigh too much for a fun stroll, but brave Melona carried Teddy in his carrier as there is no way to survive here with a stroller or such.

A morning coffee taken at a roadside table, gave us the energy to dive in for the remaining things. I made an oath to check into some nice, clean, real hotel after the market to compensate for the stress. The monks were strolling barefeet in groups according to their custom and religion. The were raking in handouts from early morning shoppers and stallholders alike. You'll never see them there, if you not make it to the site prior to 7 A.M.!

There were so many groups of monks in their robes, the Thieves Market was theirs after dawn. Their chants sounded so familiar to us, but may appear most exotic to first time visitors or tourists. We noticed they were stopping a short while for an extra chant, if a giver was generous enough.

This time we weren't looking for antiques or such, but we snapped away some scenes for you to give you impressions. Nothing has changed since 2009, when I wrote the first report on this spectacle.

Hordes of people roamed as well as the morning progressed. The dealers were wedged away in the hallways and on the pavement.

Teddy behaved (rare occasion!) in Mommy's baby-carrier out front, constantly checking if I keep the pace. Melonas backpack filled up gradually as well and we run out of storage space, what a dilemma – so many great deals! ;(

Some eateries were hidden under market umbrellas. But we didn't feel like sampling Chinese snacks – those come with the risk to have the need to find a toilet quick, and there are hardly any to be found here.

Novelty items were out in abundance as usual, copied trademarks are a normality in Thailand. Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook's owner) may have gotten himself a pair of flip-flops with his brand, would he ever have made it here.

Shorts, house pants, boxers and other garments for a fraction of a US-$. All brand new and even with the GAP or Puma labels attached inside.

My department looked like this, no room for a circular saw – but a replacement for my broken down sander will help me next week to clear coat some of my furnitures back on the island.

These practical joke items sell well with Thai people! Energy Savings Plugs with capacities up to Millions of Watts , only the very uneducated believe this crap. Scams are also very frequent here, as the scamsters are generally left unharmed by the local cops.

We were now facing a situation with countless plastic bags dangling from the handles of our roller equipped backpacks and could barely make it back to the main road. Fresh squeezed vitamin boosts were very welcome for a few coins.

We noticed the market changes a bit towards a less hard core Thieves Market on Sunday, gone are the cellular phones, digital cameras and laptops. Out came more snacks and fruit vendors with their delicious loads. Very tempting indeed!

We rewarded ourselves after this ordeal with a nice hotel room near Sathorn Road, where we had some meeting to attend on the following morning. Smart repackaging of bought goods enabled us to fill the four original backpacks to the brim. We have saved a fortune versus shopping the same items onour island or in a nearby town.

This is the real "Thieves Market", where contraband and stolen goods change hands in the night and in broad daylight. Don't be mislead by some tourist brochures that point you to another location (tourist trap). Bus line number 8 takes you from Victory Monument (BTS) to Worachak Road. That is within a stone-throw of the market. The market covers several blocks and has no clear borders, but it stretches for miles and several blocks. On the flanks are Phayabaan Klang Hospital or Klong Thom Center. Ask for either one if you come by taxi.

Soi Cowboy in Bangkok – Sin City, Thailand

Friday, February 26th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind

We at SIAMPEDIA do not venture into the fields of promoting objectionable entertainment for adults. But we do also not close our eyes in the face of reality and visitor’s desires, when exploring the “City of Angels”. So please click elsewhere for a destination description, if prostitution bothers you and your type and focus of nightly entertainment is potentially found to be in other locations. Here we will try to give a short breakdown on one of the most famous redlight-districts in Asia:

It wasn’t until the mid 70’s, that this formerly insignificant short stretch of road in Bangkok was named “Soi Cowboy”.

It is located one block north of Sukhumvit Road between the Soi’s 21 and 23. Soi 21 is better known as Asoke Road. The great optional connections with the Skytrain (BTS) and the subway system (MRT), which care for easy access for all visitors are used by many. This in case, the visitors don’t stay right around the corner, where the “Grand Millennium” and other fine hotels offer luxury hotel rooms. A former USAF soldier by the name of T.G. Edwards, who listened to the nickname “Cowboy”, started the first bar in this road.

His tall frame and trademark Cowboy hat started a nightlife legacy in Bangkok. Soon, the Soi Cowboy competed with older red light quarters, namely the Patpong called area, which expatriates and informed tourists alike began to shun for it’s prices and sleaze factor. Patpong was a bit more difficult to access and the touts in Patpong were overly aggressive.

Soi Cowboy appeared to the tourists a bit more clean and classy, the early establishments here hired the best looking dancers and waitresses, mostly originating from the poorer Isaan provinces. Lao was more widespread, than Thai here, at least amongst the growing crowd of charming hostesses.

Other fellow foreigners followed Cowboy’s footprint and opened bars, where girls in sexy swimwear-style of costumes danced on chrome poles on a podium within. With prostitution being officially illegal and banned in Thailand;)

….the girls usually were available for a given period of time in the customer’s own accommodation, after the customer paid a “bar-fine” to the establishment.

Money is invested, where more money is to be made. So bar owners invested in ritzier furniture, mirrored walls and flashy neons on the outside. Soi Cowboy developed quick into a true magnet for mainly male single travelers and foreign residents. Local males were not admitted by most bars, unless they were in the company of a foreigner. Occasional scandals are a normality in every redlight-zone on this planet. Soi Cowboy had quite a few of police raids, bar-brawls and machete wielding motorcycle taxi drivers over the years.

Everything went well until Thaksin Shinawatra’s “Social Order Campaign” just after the Millennium disturbed the mushrooming growth of Soi Cowboy. It’s foreign shareholders were thorns in the flesh of local Thai pimps and bar owners from other amusement sectors within Bangkok. Rumors surfaced, that hard lobbying of those domestic redlight-lords was geared to eradicate Soi Cowboy as the prime entertainment area of the capital.

With their concept of better equipped bars, comfy seating and a constantly changing, but always stunning array of dancers; Soi Cowboy topped the statistics with the knowledgeable and informed crowd in Bangkok. Customer satisfaction, good air-conditioning and a strict control over rowdies and other annoyances helped Soi Cowboy to establish itself as a prime place for adult entertainment amongst foreigners.

The campaign peaked in reduced opening times, earlier closures and a much disputed smoking ban towards 2008.

Soi Cowboy was also ignored completely by the rulers and lawmakers, when they zoned the cities amusement districts. At least 40 bars and several other businesses, like restaurants, were threatened by new, restrictive and Government imposed rules. Those were Police enforced and fines for bars violating these were hefty. 1.000 bar girls and countless other owners and staff feared the dark clouds over their heads.

Soi Cowboy as a district for nighttime fun survived with clipped wings, the unjustly treatment as a non-entertainment area lost some of it’s clout with the Government in turmoil and Mr. Shinawatra as a fugitive and convicted person.

Newly opened establishments featured often a catchier facade, it became a custom for the owners to position some girls directly in front to attract pedestrians.

Soi Cowboy is and was a predominant red-light zone, but with its mix of GoGo-bars, Snooker-halls and Live-music-venues plus Eateries, it became an option for couples and groups of female fun-seekers as well. Females in general are welcomed guests in all establishments, although their main focus remained at all times on the unaccompanied male traveler.

Closing times were a constant issue, presently 01 A.M. or 02 A.M. are enforced. In old times, the action went much longer here, but the unfair zoning reduced this significantly.
Cross-dressers, drag-queens, Kathoeys or ladyboys in general are rather frequenting other locations like Patpong. Soi Cowboy always had a reputation for a heterosexually structured clientele. Although the occasional non-female actor in a bikini could be spotted.

There used to be a heavily frequented German style beerhouse with restaurant on the end of Soi Cowboy at Soi 23, but that has relocated to Sukhumvit Soi 11 meanwhile, into much larger premises (Old German Beerhouse). It left some vacuum here, but there are enough options available for hungry revelers.

Spice Girls came to fame shortly after its opening, when actor Nicolas Cage had sequences of the blockbuster movie hit “Bangkok Dangerous” filmed here. While some bars have a reputation for tricky girls, the frontally pictured ones have been visited by the author and no such tricking was witnessed.
In general, one seems safer with the larger establishments on Soi Cowboy.

Elephants are present on most days since T.G.Edwards pioneered this Soi. Walked or ridden by their “Mahouts”, helpers sell food for the pachyderms to bystanders and let you take a picture for a small fee. This form of exploitation is widespread in Bangkok, although yearly calls by the city administration for action against this exploitation remain notoriously unheard.

With Patpong being a center of thugs, pickpockets and bag snatchers, Soi Cowboy is relatively harmless and safe to visit.

While the closest BTS (Sky Train) station is called Asoke, the MRT (subway) equivalent near here, was named “Sukhumvit”!