First of all let me start by saying that "I love Thailand". I fell in love in the summer of 1967 when I was sent to Ubon Royal Thai Airbase courtesy of the United States Government and more specifically the United States Air Force.
When I first arrived in country I was a young lad of 21 years old. I had not even heard of the country Thailand 6 months earlier. The Air Force gave us a brochure (I still have it) describing our relationship with the Thailand over the years. It started with the King of Siam offering President Lincoln elephants for use during the civil war. Needless to say I found the country and the people to be a lot more than what was in the brochure.
To say that things were primitive would be an understatement. We lived in chicken coop type barracks, made mostly of screen wire and some louvers strategically located to keep the rain from blowing in. The Thais were not living a whole let better. Most of the bungalows were neat. Nothing fancy. Of course there was no air conditioning at all and all the ice was kept stored in rice hulls so it would not melt as quickly. Consequently, a lot of the ice had traces of hull and other foreign matter.
Now I guess you are asking why anyone would enjoy something like this. Well I have given it a great deal of thought and it can be summed up in a couple of words….THE PEOPLE. I know, they have their faults and really strange ways some of the time, but by in large they are a fun people to be with.
As you can imagine, I also really and truly fell in love with the Thai women. This happened more than once over the course of a year. I realized very early on that you were not supposed to keep them and that was rather hard to do. I spent time with one girl down town for a brief period and that did not last. She had a gambling habit and played cards to all hours of the night. Being the young red-blooded male that I was, this did not set very well with me and I moved out after a couple of weeks. I liked her a lot but not enough to be deprived of the company of the ladies.
I did manage to get through the first year without getting in a whole lot of trouble and basically had a great time with the bar girls and the bath house girls too for that matter. But I was hooked.
I do remember that the prices were not all that steep while I was there. The basic one night stay with the bar girls was 100 baht at the time. That was $5.00 U.S. The bar fine had not yet been implemented and when it was tried we were able to work around it so to speak. It usually meant leaving the bar ahead of "your date". I was very fond of one girl in particular and she would some times just give me the key to her bungalow and I would go ahead of her and she would meet met later.
I do remember being very sad the day I had to depart Ubon and I immediately started planning my return but first I had to get through Bangkok and that was a story by itself. When we arrived in Ubon we flew in on military aircraft and had gone directly to our base. All departures out of country were from Bangkok and we were put on commercial jets. You had to spend two to three days in Bangkok in order to get out and that was great. We went to all the temples and did the bars at night. Never in my wildest dreams would I have ever imagined anything like Bangkok. To say it is captivating is an understatement. Once you get it in your system, there is no getting it out.
Bangkok was a little expensive compared to Ubon but it had a whole lot more to offer too. The girls were the prettiest and most all could speak English. We did the bars and the bath houses and at one point even stumbled into a gay bar called "The Old Sea Hag". It was by accident but we had our beer and slipped out without any incidents. We had a good laugh over it later.
Well I got back to the States and immediately put in a volunteer statement to return to Southeast Asia. All my cronies laughed because they were sure I could not get out of my stateside duty. Well I had the last laugh because in less than two months I had orders to go back to Thailand. The only difference, this time I would be going to Korat and not Ubon. I really did not care as long as it was back to the "land of smiles".
Korat was not Ubon. It was hot. It was dusty and it was bigger. At that time it was not much bigger but it was bigger than Ubon. The bar scene was different too. All the bars were in a row on both sides of the street. This area if I remember correctly was just west of the Siripatana Hotel. You could walk the whole area and look in each bar as you went. The favorite back then was "The Crazy Horse". I spent a lot of time in there. There were others but this was favorite of the group I ran with.
I do remember that on both tours (Ubon and Korat) the girls required we abide with certain rules while in their company. There was touching while in the bars and definitely none outside the bars. We were to keep low key so to speak and keep our proper distance.
I moved in with one girl briefly while in Korat. It didn't last long and the reason was I was working nights and she was working nights too. As soon as I headed to work she headed to the bars or at least that is what I found out. I came home early one night and found the "boy friend" at the bungalow. I did not make a scene, just gathered my personal belongings and went back to the base. She and I hooked (so to speak) a couple of times after that so she had a chance to "save face". I really did like her but she could not be trusted. This was the case with most of the bar girls and the quicker you realized this the better off you were.
I tired on a couple of occasions to get into the minds of some of the girls I came to know. This was not a good idea. It usually meant a lot of tears and could ruin the mood real quick. I did not pursue it very often as it appeared to be painful. I really did care for a lot of the girls. When you spend a year in one place you get to know them as people. They just happened to choose a career field that was different from any that most of young lads had been exposed to.
I went back to Thailand back in March of this year. I rode the train to Korat and found it was nothing like what I remember. It had grown. I brought my wife with me this time and we did the tourist thing. We did not do the bars. Temples and shopping were on the agenda this time. I do think the sex business is a whole lot more open now than it was 30 years ago. I doubt if anything has really changed with the girls. They are still pretty, young and they all have their reasons for being in the profession. I suppose to talk with them would be just a painful as it was with the girls I talked with years ago.
Two of my fondest memories do not involve the bar girl scene. I will try and relate these two you as best as I can. I was in downtown Ubon. Had spent the night down there with a Bar Girl and the roosters had awakened me prior to sunrise. I got up and left the girl in this cheap hotel bed (I had paid in advance). Started to the bus stop to catch a bus back to base when I ran upon a lady and young daughter heading home from the market. The little girl was 6 or 7 years of age and she was struggling with her share of the load. She had a couple of baskets if I remember correctly and they were quite full. The bus stop was some distance away and as I could see that she was all but in tears I extended my hand to take her baskets. The smile from that little girl was priceless. The connection was great and I have always cherished the thought that maybe that little act of kindness meant as much to her as she grew older as it did to me. I don't recall mother saying anything one way or the other.
While in Korat, we had house girls (we had house boys in Ubon). I had a really young thing who was absolutely scared to death of G.I.'s. She spoke no English and I could speak a little Thai so we got along o.k. Usually at Christmas time we gave them a little something. A lot of the guys bought their house girls extra washing powders, shoe polish and this sort of stuff. I decided I wanted to do something special for my house girl so I took her downtown Korat (with a chaperone of course) and I bought her a complete outfit. I mean complete too. From the foundations to the shoes. I will never forget that as long as I live. This little gesture opened a lot of doors for me. I was invited to a lot festivities that I had not been invited to before. I reaped a lot by just sowing a little. Funny how you remember the small things.
I wonder where all of those people are now? Whatever happens to bargirls from years gone by.