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The Hazards of Karaoke in Thailand

Those of you who know me, know I enjoy singing. Whether it’s with a band, with friends around a campfire, or in a karaoke bar, I enjoy belting out a ballad as much as anyone. When I first arrived in Thailand, I was living in Phuket and had a friend who grew up in Chiang Mai. When I told her I was moving to Chiang Mai, the one piece of advice she gave me was to stay away from karaoke bars. I thought this was a little weird, but then started hearing the stories of people being ripped off.

After living in Chiang Mai for almost two years, I was driving by one of these places late at night and decided to just poke my head in and check it out. I figured if I was on my guard, I should be fine. I walked into the place and sat down on a sofa. An employee brought a drink list, which consisted of bottles of alcohol, not individual drinks, and a pretty Thai girl came up and sat next to me. The prices for the bottles weren’t outrageous … about $30 for a bottle of Johnny Walker Black. So, I ordered one. Then they asked me what I wanted to mix it with, and I ordered soda. Another pretty Thai girl came up and sat on my other side. Of course, I shared my bottle with them as we engaged in conversation. After a few minutes of this, I asked about karaoke. Turns out the karaoke rooms were upstairs and private. I wanted to sing and things didn’t seem too out of control. I went with my new friends into a karaoke booth and a young man came in and programmed the songs into the machine for us. He also brought us a few snacks … peanuts and chips. They had some English songs, and the Thai girls were singing some English songs as well as Thai songs. I have to admit, I was having a great time.

It was around then I began to wonder what all this was costing me. I asked to see the bill up to that point. After a few minutes of, “Don’t worry about it, just have fun!” Somebody finally brought the bill to me. Up to that point, which was one-and-a-half hours, my total was $250! Everything was itemized, and I was paying dearly for every little thing from the peanuts, to the mixers, to the girls’ time, and for the guy’s time who was programming songs into the machine (the songs also cost money). At that point, I paid my bill and learned my expensive lesson. I should have heeded my friend’s advice, but sometimes I’m too clever for my own good!

Only last month, four Chinese tourists were shocked when they received their bill at a local karaoke bar, which came to 14,000 baht ($425). After an altercation with the staff, the police came and they ended up only paying 7,000 baht.

Another incident involved a man from Korea who must’ve had a great time, because he spent 160,000 baht ($4,900). The police also got involved in this situation and he ended up getting about half of it back.

Sometimes, when people realize their bill is outrageously high, they refuse to pay. This can end up with the irate customer getting beaten up by half the staff. Something to keep in mind when you visit Thailand is it’s a really bad idea to get into a fight with a Thai person, no matter how tough you think you are. You will never end up fighting one-on-one. Other Thai people see what’s going on and join in the fray … usually on the side of their fellow countryman. In the Thai culture, most of the time, if you smile and deal with people in a friendly manner, you will reach an agreement. Getting angry, raising your voice, or getting in someone’s face is never a good idea.

Most of what I write in these blogs posts about Thailand is positive. Even my “Top 10 Things in Thailand I’m Not Crazy About” post were mostly just pet peeves, and things I don’t care for personally. In this case however, you may want to pay attention. I’m not saying every karaoke bar in Chiang Mai is run like this, but it is common enough to see reports in the news on a regular basis. I’ll pass on to you the same advice I received from my friend in Phuket. Hopefully, you’re smarter than me and can learn from the mistakes of others. When in Thailand, stay away from the karaoke bars!


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