Tha Bangkok of the Baltics

Riga, Latvia is quite a place. I had previously been there with my cousin Andy in September 2004 and had a great time and would tell anyone who would listen that Riga was a fun town but super shady, really Russian and a place where you can’t trust anybody. Latvians do have a reputation for being slightly dishonest and shady. This past weekend was no exception as I flew from Kiev to my three friends in Riga for a night out on the town.

We stayed at a cool little hostel called Hostel Doma right in the center of the old town which was a great location to walk everywhere. It was also fun because Saturday was El Classico which was an awesome victory for Barcelona versus Real Madrid. As usual in Riga, there were some shady goings ons as there was a big fight between the owner of the British pub we were watching the game at and some rowdy Russians. This was a sign of things to come.

As you walk the streets of Riga you are approached by many different people for different things such as pretty girls offering to take you to some club or to a strip club or just to have a drink with you. Forget it, they’re all working girls or scammers and if you were to go with them it’d be sayonara to you and if not, certainly a lot of Lats-Latvian money which has an awful exchange rate to the dollar anyway.

So we decided to head up the the rooftop bar at the Hotel Latvija which is the best hotel in town. I went there in 2004 and remember it was pretty nice. We ran into some American pro basketball players, one who played at Illinois and the other from Texas AM who were playing in Latvia and had lived there for a while. They directed us to this other place called Essential right next door and said how great it was. The place was pretty sweet but massive and certainly lots of shady things were going on…the usual drug deals, prostitutes and the likes. We managed to have a great time just people watching and whatnot before heading home and attempting to avoid the craziness that is Riga.

I always say the thing about Russia and the former Soviet Republics is that you never quite feel settled because there is always this feeling of uncertainty and uncomfortableness. Riga is very much like that and you always feel like you’re being watched or that the guys who all look like they want to kill you-do in fact want to kill you. Or that the girls who act all nice are just setting you up for something like some sort of scam of ambush-which again in fact they are.

Bottom line is Riga is sketchy, much like Bangkok, hence the nickname. However, the city itself is pretty but again, you never quite feel at ease. But that’s kind of the fun about it.

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  1. Good post Lee, I know your feelings on former Soviet areas. My experience in Riga was pretty relaxed to be honest, but in Belarus I had that feeling of tension and the ‘anything can happen at any time’ as well, not to mention in those areas you fear the police messing with you almost as much as a lot of them are just unsavory characters with a badge. To be honest more then any other place I felt that in Budapest, that feeling that all the rough necks you see want to beat the crap out of you and take your money, I love that city for the most part because of the beautiful women and buildings, but I have never felt very safe there at all.

  2. Jordan Hargrave says

    Just missed you in Riga! I’m in Tallinn today leaving for Riga and Kaliningrad this afternoon. Minsk on Saturday!

  3. I have been in Tallinn since Sunday. I am leaving at 7pm tonight to fly to Stockholm…too bad we missed each other, if you happen to see this before you leave I’ll be around the old town square the rest of the afternoon.

  4. That’s a real shame you had such a bad experience there. I was born there and have visited Riga and the rest of Latvia many times along with my British husband and daughter. We love it! We have never had any trouble, nobody has ever tried to get money out of us, everyone has been extremely friendly and we all can’t wait to go back. Maybe next time you should try to drive around the countryside which is beautiful, try some National Parks like Kemeri and Gaujas, towns of Ventspils and Sigulda.
    And talking about clubs, yes, Essential does have a reputation for overcrowding and drugs. Try Havana in the old town (if it still exists), it’s tiny and visited almost only by locals.
    And I might be taking this too personally, but I really wouldn’t refer to myself, my family or any of my friends there as shady (although no doubtedly Riga, as any other city, contains all sorts of characters).

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