The Neon Lights of Soi Cowboy, Bangkok
Soi Cowboy is one of Bangkok's entertainment venues, catering to foreigners. For a long time is was Bangkok's 'third' place-to-go area, after the well known Patpong and Nana Plaza. However, nowadays, Soi Cowboy seems to be the only nightlife entertainment area that is being constantly upgraded and is attracting more and more visitors.
Soi Cowboy is located close to the Sukhumvit Road-Asoke Road intersection. It is a 300 meters long sidestreet being Asoke Road and Sukhumvit Soi 23. Up to around midnight it can easily be rearched by both the skytrain (Asoke Station) and the MRT subway (Sukhumvit Station).
Soi Cowboy at night. Notice some of the 'hello' girls, that will try to get you inside the bars. In the middle a man on a tricycle, looking for a place to sell his snacks.
We are living closeby, and walk through the soi almost daily, mostly during the daytime on our way to the skytrain station. During the daytime (for the last two years) it is obvious that a lot of upgrading and remodeling is going on, lots of new neon lights are being erected, and the sitting area outside the bars is constantly being enlarged. It more and more looks like Soi Cowboy is the future of Bangkok nightlife entertainment, after many years of being a more laid-back venue. A lot of the neon lights have been erected just over the last years, with different bars competing in size and flashiness.
Some of the neon lighting is quite elaborate. Bars at Soi Cowboy seem to compete nowadays in erecting more and more extravagant lighting.
Most bars seem to operate only at night, opening around 7 P.M. From the outside it is not quite clear what is going on inside. Mostly the format is a-go-go dancing or pole dancing. In some bars at times the girls dance completely naked. In other bar they go 'just' topless or wear bikini-like outfits. Shows are also given in some of the bars. As we said, nothing outside tells you which bars do what, so any visitor will have to find out for himself (or herself).
Despite the different types of entertainment, drink prices seem to be rather uniform. Most drinks will set you back between 120 and 150 baht. Nowadays you can also just relax outside the bars. So you can just experience the atmosphere of the place, without having to go and see all the 'sordid' activity going on inside the bars. Drinks outside will be somewhat cheaper. Some bars have 'happy hours' usually from opening till around 9 P.M. Most (never all) drinks will be between 50-100 baht. Some bars also offer draught beer all night (usually Chang beer, which has a higher than average alcohol level) at around 70 baht. Sometimes, you will get only a rather minuscule drink, instead of a full sized beer.
Spice Girls bar at Soi Cowboy
The visitors are mostly males or couples. Besides the 'farangs', foreigners now also include a lot of Japanese customers. While it is quite possible to just enjoy a few drinks and look at the dancing girls, many visitors obviously go there to pick up company for a few hours or for the night. Girls that are not on stage (there are usually two dancing shifts) will often introduce themselves, sit down with you, and encourage you to buy drinks for them (at 120-150 baht). Besides any arrangement you make with the girls themselves, a barfine of about 700 baht has to be paid to the establishment, after convincing a particular girl to go with you. Girls get a salary somewhere in the 8,000-10,000 baht a month range. However, if they do not get a certain quota of 'customers' and drinks, money will be deducted from their salary.
As we said before, you do not need to partake in any extracurricular activity. Just going there, having a few drinks, and enjoying the atmosphere, beats staying the night in your hotel room and watching television.
Detail of the neon lights at Midnite Bar, Soi Cowboy. Some artistic work.
Some advice when going into the bars. The noise may be rather deafening. To protect your hearing, insert some earplugs. Secondly, it is not 'dangerous' to wander inside. However, make it a habit to check you bill each time you order a drink. When walking through Soi Cowboy in the early hours of the night, watch out for the motorcycle taxis racing sometimes through the soi. Smoking is disallowed in most bars (except at Baccara bar upstairs), but you can enjoy a smoke while watching soccer games on TV, outside most bars.