Nana Plaza In Focus
In less than 6 weeks Nana Plaza will change ownership when the Nana Group takes over the master lease from the existing leaseholder, Nana Castle.
All indications are that the plaza will undergo major changes and the plaza will see some much needed improvements. Maintenance has been neglected for years and the plaza will be given more than a mere facelift, it promises to be brought in to the 21st century.
The new leaseholders hope the new renovated Nana Plaza will set it apart from the city's other foreigner-oriented bar areas.
Keen to record a small piece of Bangkok's bar history, I wandered down to the plaza this week with camera in hand to capture it before the handover.
The closer you get to Nana Plaza, the more evidence you see of Bangkok's famed nightlife.
Sex toys are openly sold on the street, venues have signs with names with a distinct nightlife flavour but perhaps the biggest clue of all is on the streets where there are as many Thai + Farang couples as there are Thai + Thai walking hand in hand.
The fun part, even after all these years, is guessing whether she is on the game or not.
You look at the way she dresses, the way she carries herself, the way she walks and the way she hangs on to him.
And if she is clinging on to him like she is sending a message that he is her property, you just know where they met.
First impressions count for so much, but at Nana Plaza they aren't great and I still haven't decided if the plaza looks worse by day or by night.
By day you can see the bird's nest of wires, McDonalds burger wrappers in one corner and the remnants of crumbs that were once a Big Mac stinking out another.
The amount of rubbish and general shit that has been discarded in the plaza and left to rot along with the general state of disrepair the plaza has fallen into is clearly seen when strolling through in daylight.
After nightfall the rubbish may be hidden in the shadows, but Nana's sorry state doesn't improve much.
Much of the neon is dying and the main sign out front is on its last legs, the few letters still illuminated hanging on for dear life.
It really is a great thing the lease has been sold to a group with plans, money and a genuine determination to turn it all around.
The sun hasn't dropped below the horizon and the day shift, some of whom can be a little scary, are still on duty.
Much is mentioned about the changing face of customers in the naughty bar areas these days.
Two young white guys and their girlfriends enjoy a drink at the appropriately named Big Dogs.
To the dude on the right, can't you afford a shirt?
To the dude on the left, I thought skinheads covered in tattoos were supposed to look scary?
Arguably the best seat in the house, right at the front corner of Big Dogs, looking out over the soi 4 and the only entranceway into the plaza.
It's where you can watch the ladyboys who are, for the time being at least, loitering a little further down the road.
It's the best spot to watch the show, as girls are dropped off in the soi on the back of their boyfriend's motorbike and excited punters descend on the plaza, all wondering who they will go home with tonight.
With 5 ladyboy venues in the plaza today, no photo essay would be complete without at least one ladyboy featured.
Casanova was the plaza's first ladyboy bar and many of the girls who sit outside trying to convince customers to venture inside the bar, or go upstairs to their room are familiar faces.
The 6 foot plus bird featured here has been a fixture outside Casanova for as long as I can remember.
Early each night she sits with her face to the mirror, intently making herself up for the best part of 2 hours.
The sun drops below the horizon and the last vestiges of light bounce around.
Girls grab a bite to eat and catch up with friends at the railing.
It's getting late Down Under, lunch time in Europe, early morning in the US, and it's the last chance to chat with sponsors before the phone mysteriously develops a problem as girls become unavailable for the next several hours.
The beer bars on Nana's ground floor have never struck me as fun spots, as say the outside bars at Cowboy do.
Just why this is I don't know, but it might have something to do with the view.
Sitting there in the middle of the plaza with two levels of bars above you, it feels like you're in a fish bowl with everyone looking at you. No thanks.
I spy a girl in a changing room hurriedly getting ready before the music comes on.
Some bars impose fines by the minute on girls who are not on stage when the first song starts so there can be a stampede in the minutes before the DJ jumps into his booth.
It's almost time for the bars to open and those who have already changed linger on the balcony, strutting around, joking with the doormen and generally showing off.
It might not be a job to be proud of, but there's still face to be made.
The biggest and most expensive tats, the flashest phone, the best looking and the most generous customers, anything will do.
With the sound system about to leap into life, it's excitement for some, nerves for others.
Veterans bounce around laughing while girls fresh off the farm sit in a dark corner and slug down a few shots, their way of dealing with what will follow.
Some bars have opened and I time it just right.
Shooting from one side of the plaza to the other is not lost on security, some of whom would like nothing more than the chance to have a go at a customer.
Sitting inside a bar the girls are curious about the camera and start posing.
There I am, inside a gogo bar, and the girls are posing.
What am I to do?
I start firing and no-one bats an eyelid.
I'm surrounded by girls keen to see the shots and see how they look.
Email addresses are written down for copies of the photos to be sent - and most scraps of paper have a phone number too...
It's all about rapport and if you can make the girls feel comfortable with you, make them smile and make them laugh, they are happy for you to take their photo.
With most girls now having multiple online presences - Facebook, MSN, and Skype, they will usually ask for copies to post on Facebook which it was reported this week has more users in Bangkok than any other city.
It's getting late and the last skytrain will be pulling out soon.
I scurry off towards the Ploenchit BTS station but not before I take in the scene out front of the plaza.
The ladyboys are still absent, and the crackdown appears to have been more effective than those behind it could have hoped for.
There's a small army of smiling girls milling around and a no shortage of guys hitting on them.
Guys linger, keen to learn about her life story and you can see her thinking,
Do you want me or not?!
I had intended to shoot the plaza before it was taken over and before it undergoes major change, but things didn't work out that way.
Whether you're standing outside, walking up the stairways or leaning on the rails, Nana Plaza really isn't that aesthetically pleasing and I ended up capturing the people of Nana instead.