Former manager of two legendary Patpong bars talks about his extraordinary life and why Bangkok’s most infamous street lost its glitter.
For more than a decade, during the 80s and 90s, nowhere captured the spirit, fun, excitement and the sheer outrageousness of Patpong more enthusiastically or famously than Peppermint and Limelight, one a disco, the other a go-go bar.
Running their immensely popular nightly shows back then was ‘Sombat’ Wayne Napier, an extrovert Australian whose lively character and diverse background was tailor-made for Bangkok’s most notorious street in its heyday.
Sombat, as he prefers to be called, boasts an extraordinary career that ranges from boxer, bouncer, model and male escort to teacher, lecturer, writer – and manager/ part owner of two legendary nightspots, where he made hundreds of friends as well as the odd foe, one of whom, quite literally, shot him the back.
Now retired in Pattaya, Sombat lives a quiet and healthy life, controlling his diet and going on lengthy daily treks on his bicycle.
Born: Australia (Non-Citizen status) prefer to be called a Honky (HK).
Date of Birth: I’ve told so many lies about this one I forget the actual date….passports been missing for quite some time.
What brought you to Thailand? A Thai girl walked into my travel agency in HK….that’s all it took to change my holiday itinerary.
How long have you been here? On and off best part of 40 years.
What’s keeping you in Thailand? I wish I knew
Did you ever think as a young man that you’d end up in SE Asia? I did end up here as a young man
Where do you live now, and for how long? Pattaya. I’d need to talk to my secretary about how long I’ve been here as she keeps all my info on tap…..
Night Club Service Boy, Boxer. Night Club Doorman / Bouncer, Discotheque – Manager, Dance Instructor, Model, Actor / Stuntman, Chippendales Dancer, Male escort, Personal Fitness Trainer, Race Horse partnership / Professional Gambler, Discotheque - PR Manager – Manager, Cocktail Lounge – Manager, Cruise Lines Thailand - General Manager, Bar / Bistro / Discotheque / Restaurant – Manager, Party House / Café - Owner – Director, Go Go Bar (2)
SEMI-RETIRED (aged 43)
Writer / Translator, High School – Teacher, University - Faculty Member – Lecturer.
SEMI-RETIRED (age 48)
Go Go Bar (4) – Manager, Sports Bar – Manager, Real Estate Agent / Property Management.
RETIRED (age 54)
Of all those jobs, which was the most enjoyable? I would say modeling, both with money and side benefits. A few hours a day (most days) would reap in bundles of cash and the women...well, they were stunners. I got to travel to many countries, meet people with different cultures and cuisines. I was chauffeur driven back and forth from jobs to hotels, wined and dined all at the expense of the clients who booked me.
Chippendales was a blast with plenty of both, money and side benefits. Watching your horse flashing past the winning post in 1st place was exhilarating and also very rewarding money-wise.
Entertaining in bars and clubs with music, beautiful women and a variety of misfit friends is more like a pastime than a job, and the money rolls in.
Teaching makes you feel very special as you are assisting in young people’s futures but unfortunately the money is merely enough to survive. I often wondered why teachers got paid so little when many of their students become doctors, lawyers, and politicians, all earning exuberant salaries.
How does your time as manager / part owner of Limelight and Peppermint rank in your life experiences? It was another stepping stone to add to my survival course of life. The memories remain through the many friends made, many now members of FB Limelight & Peppermint Entertainment Venues.
What was special about your bars? The people it attracted, superstars from all over the world - Sylvester Stallone, Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, just to name a few. But it was the expats who created the ambience and the music; hundreds of beautiful, sexy girls were as one on the dance floor. No go go bar ever had velvet seats and VIP booths, a resident DJ and monthly tabs for regulars until Limelight upped the anti in all areas.
What are your favorite memories of Patpong? Too many to mention, I’d have to cut down a forest of trees to print them all.
And worst memory? The night market being set up - it ruined everything. From that moment on things took a downward spiral, there was no coming back from that….pure greed was the driving force behind ruining Patpong
Most memorable characters? Way too many to mention but I would like to give a special thanks in recognizing all the friends who have sadly passed way and who helped keep the doors of Limelight & Peppermint running for so many years. I’d say may they rest in peace but these guys are partying in heaven for sure.
With your nights filled with booze and partying, did your health suffer? You can’t kid yourself that drinking two bottles of whisky and 20-50 shooters every day isn’t going to affect your health. I’d hate to have an X-ray, I’m sure it would make medical history!
So how did you stay reasonably healthy? Well, I ran in Lumpini Park as often as possible but I’d have to say the curricular activities played a big role in keeping the heart rate pumping!
Any major health scares? Pancreatic Cancer, a bullet in the back, a kidney that malfunctions, several broken bones ….. all in a day’s work
When did you close your bars, and why? 1999. In the previous years, business hours tightened to work against us, and leases sky rocketed to push us out.
Are you still in touch with any your former employees and dancers? Yes many have reunited via FB and several have approached me on the street … all very grateful, polite and thank me for giving them an opportunity in life that never would have eventuated without Limelight & Peppermint.
Do you miss those great Patpong days? One always misses the good times but sometimes dwelling on the past also has bad memories so I just move on taking one day at a time. The good memories are shared on FB with many of my friends and customers, so at times you get to relive the past…
Other than Peppermint and Limelight, what were Patpong’s best bars? Gold Finger, Superstar, Crown Royal, too many to recall.
Could Patpong make a comeback? I’d like to think Peppermint would have a chance, but with the lease prices tripled, Thai baht as it is, many other variables I guess in reality it’s just a dream…
So how are you filling your days now? Health living, cycling, running, swimming, gym and some extracurricular activities have always been high on my list. No animal based product on my diet for a few years makes a huge difference to all my body functions. Going on 70 feeling 30 still….
How’s life in Pattaya since the lockdown? What lockdown???... 555 (ha ha ha). I still have my exercise routine so nothing much affecting me. Love sitting at home these days glued to Multi Media TV box….
When will Pattaya be back to its old self? Never. It’s died a slow death just like Patpong did… too many obstacles to overcome. It was dying well before covid.
Any favorite Pattaya hangouts? No I’ve moved away from most, entertain myself at home these days and loving it. It’s like a whole new life for me.
Do you have many good friends in Pattaya? Mostly cycling friends. Many of my long term friends have moved to greener pastures, Vietnam, Philippines, Cambodia… less hassles.
Any regrets in your life? Hell yes, but I can’t change them. I chose to work in an environment that marriage and children couldn’t co-exist. I always called it the fast lane going nowhere, same day different crap.
Can you imagine living anywhere else? I would love to settle back into HK but the cost of living and my age are negatives to resettle.
What’s next for you? Does anybody ever really know the answer? Just to wake up every morning, jump on the bike, try and make the remainder of my journey a safe, healthy and enjoyable one.