How It Was
Hit It Was
Some recollections of an earlier era in Bangkok may interest readers and in the older element even bring back memories.
I first visited the city in 1966 as military aircrew and found myself accommodated believe it or not in the Nana. Used by the RAF and USAF for aircrew stopovers it had taken over in 1965 from the Malaysia which was deemed to be too scruffy. Over the next 2 years I visited regularly from Singapore for work and play and then managed to find myself a job based in Bangkok and involving regular travel around the region. I had a full-time room in the Nana which was much smaller then (extended in the 80s) for the 5 years to 1973, became a fast bad speaker of Thai and got to know the night scene pretty well. Some observations on those times:- Infinitely quieter – imagine standing on Sukhumvit and having to wait 5 mins for a taxi – by day – and be able to see it a 1/4 mile away. Probably 10 times fewer hotels, the Dusit Thani and Siam Intercontinental were recent additions. Alcohol was regarded as expensive, at B20/$ a small/large beer cost B12/20 in a bar – much cheaper in the shops. Yes, large beers were served in bars. Singha had the market with Krathing Torng a weak competitor. Bar-fines were B100 and the girl price B200 – short times were hardly known. Taxis were B5 Nana to Erawan, B10 to Patpong and B15 anywhere. Patrons of the night-life scene were mostly US military either based in Thailand or on R & R from Vietnam. The latter were obviously the wilder on their 5 day break. There was also a constant stream of visitors from the 6 large USAF bases in-country – Korat, Takhli, Ubon, Udorn, Nakorn Phanom and Sataheep. The latter was a major factor in the rise of Pattaya as a resort. The north-east I believe has hardly yet recovered economically from the closure of the first five in the 70s. The R & R Office was next to the Nana Hotel and the lower Sukhumvit area was then as now a focus of the bar scene. Lots of GIs married bar girls, a few non-bar girls, and for years afterwards every USAF base worldwide had a Thai colony. Some of these marriages lasted no time at all, others seemed to be going strong several years later, few I suspect will go on into old age. I remember hardly any European or US tourists – only a few backpacking overlanders. The bars were more scattered than now. Petburi New Road (it WAS new then) had large 'dance' halls with hundreds of be-numbered girls. Thai Heaven was one of the biggest. On Sukhumvit bars were scattered all the way along to about Soi 30. Sorry About That at the entrance to Soi 5 was always busy but in some of the smaller I was often the only customer. Asoke was a quiet corner. Patpong was there but one street only, no night market, and much less pushy. Soi 20 had a couple of R & R hotels including the Windsor and a few bars sprang up around them. Overall my memory is of a more relaxed atmosphere and less pressure to spend quickly. Then as now closure times were dependant on the whim of politicians and there was a thriving after hours migration. The Thermae was there of course – a bit scruffy, the old Imperial Hotel Coffee Shop in Soi Ruam Rudee was probably the chief attraction until the hotel burnt down about 1970. The Dewdrop Inn next to the Erawan was always full and the Nana Coffee Shop took over from the Imperial. Incidentally several of the Nana staff from those days are still there e.g. two of the female receptionists, three in the cashiers office, the manager, and also the guy who wears the white jacket and runs the outside bar. One of the staff attended my wedding and is still a good friend. Yes, I married a Thai girl and it lasted 5 years. I have a fine daughter from the marriage who has yet to visit Thailand. I still visit the country regularly, as a married accompanied pensioner, so these are very different types of visits. I've seen more of tourist Thailand in recent years than I ever did as a young resident. With all its faults still a great place.
Things sure have changed!