By the early part of the decade, the Plaza had about twenty bars and bar fines had gone up from $8 in the 80s to $14 in the 90s.
Benchmark bars like Bubble Gum, Asian Intrigue and XTC were pulling in the punters – Mon Cherie and Private Dancer likewise. Bars began to demonstrate the branding long associated with Patpong: Woodstock epitomised this with great music delivered through quality sound systems to the idylls of go-go girls, a la Memphis Queen.
Hollywood Royal brought flair and dare to the Plaza around the mid-90s: imaginative shows that transcended into the erotic theatre that one can witness today. One of the best names ever heard at the Plaza, from a purely overt obscenely savage and boorish personal perspective is Slitz! A Gogo – awkward and concise in equal measure.
By the time of the Economic Crash in 1997, Nana held thirty throbbing bars within its confines. Most nights it was standing room only, and from the bar owners point of view, this thankfully was not a euphemism.
By late ’97 the crisis hit all Asian markets hard, but the currency devaluation resulted in a cost
advantage for Thai tourism over alternative destinations and tourist arrivals from the European and North America markets began to grow rapidly in early 1998. Undoubtedly led by the sudden affluence of the US dollar, which saw a remarkable correction from 25 baht to 56 baht in mere months.
There were more than enough punters to go around the three brassy strips in Bangkok, American writer Paul Theroux wrote, “ … in Bangkok, even the most diffident got laid”
It was reported by a Harvard Business Review in 2000 that 60% of tourists visited Thailand for sex and the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) have been playing catch up ever since with their counter active marketing slogans trying to quash that lusty worst-kept secret.
Prostitution in Thailand is illegal and one of the biggest lies ever peddled within the Kingdom was that it was American servicemen – who interjaculated an estimated $16m of their salaries into the Thai sex industry during the Vietnam War – that were the catalyst for the horrible sex tourist coming to these shores to pollute and defile en masse.
“Oldest game in the world” is the ringing cliche that holds firm here too, unsurprisingly. Figures suggest that the foreign sex trade accounts for 20% of the prostitution scene in Thailand. Perhaps it is that the red-light districts for foreigners are laid out in such a way that they look sordid and then they typically descend into shitholes that gives others the conveniently crafted opprobrious outlook.
Nana had reached its zenith towards the end of the nineties; there were around 40 bars over the three floors of the Plaza, bars and related service industries spilled out into Soi Four, beyond the Raja Hotel Complex and towards the increasingly frequent hotels and guest houses. A legitimate micro-economy was alive. Punters, straight from the airport came to this tiny area, visited the two other strips then went home empty.
It should have been a time for rejoice, for maximising the foot-flow, striving and strengthening to become the clear red-light district favourite, but a shameless and negative reputation including the Patpong-style guerrilla hustlers who worked the area made a bigger noise. As competition rose, standards dropped, scumbaggery prevailed and customers began to look elsewhere. Phuket, and of course, Pattaya: easily reached in a few hours by cab for just a few dollars. By the end of 2006, with 13.82m visitors per year, Suvarnabhumi International Airport opened and made Pattaya even closer.
It became quite carnivalesque through to the end of the noughties; midgets, elephants, ladyboys and aggressive props were the first things that met you. By late 2007 the tourists simply weren’t coming. There was of course competition from other parts of Bangkok, and the overall appalling behaviour from those who were there to appease not abuse customers held a curiously strong hand. Desperation was an aroma that hung heavily in the air, as did the bouquet from the strain on waste management infrastructure.
*This article is the 2nd of a 3 part series about Nana Plaza