In an ever-evolving city, one establishment that has remained a constant for over five decades is Bangkok’s infamous Thermae Freelancer Bar.
This historic bar, located in the basement of the Ruamchitt Plaza Hotel is a throwback to the Bangkok of old. The bar dates back to the 1960s when it started as a popular hangout joint for American soldiers. Back then, Americans serving in Vietnam would visit Bangkok to relax, get drunk, and most of all, have a chance to meet the many local Thai women that were offering their pay for play services.
Ever wondered what the Thermae was like all those years ago? Well, quite simply very much like it still is today! I doubt the bar has changed much since the swinging 60s — judging by the age of the staff, some of them have been around since the war years too. As you traverse the semi-spiral staircase and descend into the darkness through the battered old oak doors, it literally does feel like you have stepped back in time.
Inside, the bar is drab and dank. Your shoes stick to the floor, the furniture is dilapidated, and the paint is peeling off the walls. However, if those walls could talk the stories they could relay would legendary. I don’t think there is another bar in Bangkok that could tell the tales of the Thermae. Tales of Isan girls leaving behind the simple life to seek their fortune, Western guys losing their wealth. Lives created, lives lost. Love stories, hard-luck stories and heartbreak the Thermae has heard them all — and then some!
Once inside the bar, you are in for an exciting experience, to say the least. What greets you would be a feminist’s worst nightmare back in the West, and you can only describe it as a meat market. Pretty young girls line up side by side in a giant circle that encompasses the whole bar. Within the loop, mainly Japanese men snake along almost conga like performing frantic laps ogling the girls until they find one that catches their eye. Once a suitable candidate has been identified, they break off from the conga with their fellow countrymen and move in for the kill. It really is a spectacle!
If you have completed a few laps and nothing has caught your eye, or you find the idea of doing the conga with Japanese men a little too weird for your liking, fear not. Within the centre of the bar is a seating area where you can grab a stool and survey the talent on offer at a less frenetic pace. Should a particular lady appeal to you, all you have to do is make eye contact and a quick smile. Either she will come to you, or if she smiles back, you can approach her and ask her if she would like to join you. Buying lady drinks is not compulsory; it’s totally at your discretion. If you would simply instead like to get down to business, that’s fine also. The Thermae is a place where anything goes.
It is safe to say that most of the girls at the Thermae have Yen signs in their eyes and are fixated by Japanese men who are prepared to lace their designer handbags with wads of Baht. However, they certainly aren’t adverse to Western men.
A bonus is that the bar has a short time hotel attached to it, which can be accessed without having to leave the premises. The hotel is located at the back allowing you to discretely get up to mischief and then leave alone through the front door nobody none the wiser.
If you’re in town and have never visited or you’re a first time visitor to Bangkok, it is worth a visit, purely for the entertainment factor alone. The Thermae is a dying breed in Bangkok and chances to experience old school SE Asian naughty nightlife from a bygone era are quickly diminishing. Grab the opportunity while you still can. You won’t regret it.