By The Cynic
I’m just back from my third trip to Thailand, Land of Smiles, Land of Things, People and Occurrences That Confuse Me Every Time!
I need to type, type, and type! I need to figure out how I feel, the confusion, the bewilderment and the reasons this country will always draw such strong emotions from me! Love, hate, delight and horror!
But for now, I only want to write about my first time to LOS, and how I contracted The Cynicism. Later I will chart its development into a full-blown condition.
I went on my first trip to Thailand with a friend, nearly 2 years ago. He was a frequent visitor, gay, and a sex tourist with a network of “friends” in LOS that he’d met over the years. No hang ups about that for me; I’m straight, but we’ve known each other for years and it was understood that when on holiday, he’d go his way, I’d go mine. And we could spend some time together too.
In reply to my incessant, excited questions in the weeks leading up to the trip, he explained to me about the culture and etiquette there. Beautiful people, he said. Salt of the earth; so happy despite extreme poverty, he said. He had made some wonderful friends there in the years he’d been visiting LOS.
So, my head filled with this friend’s concept of Thailand, off we went. At the time, I was glad to be with someone so experienced and clued in to the Thai way. What did I know then? F**k all. I had never even looked at web sites, or spoken to any other tourists who had been there. At this point, I might add, neither had my mate. But as this was his 5th visit, surely he knew the story!
I won’t go into a day-by-day detailed trip report. It’s not needed here. I met my friend’s mates, all male obviously. First impressions; they didn’t look like poor street urchins to me. More like quite well dressed and well fed young men. I don’t know. What did I expect? We went for a meal, drinks. He paid the bills. Always does, they have so little money. Don’t they? He asked me to go half with the bill. OK, they’re poor. And I’m a decent person.
I went my own way, mostly, in search of the lovely girls. My mate’s friend (he calls him his guide, straight bloke, only a platonic friend) took me to a massage parlour. Christmas time! I had to pay the 1800 baht for him. After the fun, we go to an expensive restaurant (his choice); I pay. Because he guided me to the place? Because he has no money? Go with the flow; my mate has told me that it is expected that the farang pays for everything. Because they are poor. And he should know, he’s been here so many times. Oh. Yeah. Right.
We decided to visit Chiang Mai. We buy the airline tickets; my mate paid for his own…and for the tickets for the other two. I observe, say nothing. At that time, I wasn’t a very well travelled person; the novelty of being on a jumbo jet was still there! I noticed how comfortable and familiar Ya seemed to be, with the airport and with flying. My friend said he’d been to India a couple of times before, guiding other friends. And also to Vietnam. But he’s poor?
Let’s just say that, at this stage, I was starting to form my own opinions. My friend, normally a quite intelligent guy, seemed to have left his brains in Don Muang! Or was I still missing something here? Maybe I was….
I’d befriended a waitress in my hotel in Bangkok, a lovely Isaan girl called Fon. A beautiful smile. Fon had explained to me, in her not too bad English, the salary scales and cost of living in Thailand. One memorable moment; I ordered coffee in the bar at the hotel. She laughs. I say, what’s funny. She says, cost of coffee, I can eat for one week! Yes, I’m beginning to get the picture here. A small piece of it, anyhow.
So here we are in Chiang Mai, me, my friend, his guide and his boy for the week. All four of us. Cosy. We hire a jeep, I chauffeur everyone around. Always get lost trying to find the damned hotel in the evenings! Damned traffic, crazy motorbike drivers! The so-called guide is less than useless, myopically staring at road signs. Is he a guide? Can he read a damned road map? We make many U-turns. In my opinion, the guy is no asset to me. An ashtray on a motorbike. Or in a Mitsubishi 4×4?
Every stop, we eat. My friend and I split the bill. Cover charges into the sights? We pay. Because they’re poor, aren’t they? When we visit the lovely elephant park, we even have to buy bananas for the guys, so they could feed the beasts!
One night, looking for some action, Ya and I go in search of ladies. My friend has told me he’s given Ya a couple of thousand baht to get laid. Ok with me. At the place, I get my girl. He says, you pay for me? I’m a little confused here. I pay the 1800 baht. Later, my friend says there was a “misunderstanding” here. I don’t think so pal. He offers to give me the money. I refuse; it’s not the point.
I know he never broached the subject of this with Ya; the leech ended up with a couple of thousand baht and got laid!
Following morning, I need to have a little talk with my mate. It’s been building up inside me, this thing. What the f**k’s going on here?
We sit down. We talk. I talk. I need to talk, badly.
I know my mate gives 1000 baht + to the guy he’s bedding each night. I know he gives the “guide” over 20,000 baht for the couple of weeks he’s in LOS. And he puts a similar amount into a bank account for him during the year. (For what? Sorry’ I really have to ask that question. Every time.) Oh yeah, and plus expenses. All expenses. From jumbo jet flights to 10 baht bottles of water. Expenses.
I have not, on any occasion, seen either of these two guys spend a single sating!
I also know my waitress friend in Bangkok earns about 5,000 baht a month. She’s a happy sort of girl. She gets by, asks for nothing from me so far. She can eat for a week in Thailand for what I pay for a coffee in a 4-star hotel. She’s getting by.
I’m not stupid. I do have a brain. It works- most of the time. I’m not a mean, miserable Cheap Charlie type of guy. I always pay my way, buy my round, and wouldn’t feel right in myself if I didn’t. I like to be treated in a similar manner. Is this unreasonable?
Now, I’m not so confused/naive/ any more. I don’t like this. It doesn’t sit right with me. I pay to hire a jeep, chauffeur a couple of guys around and bear the cost of their day-to-day living? They don’t even buy me a beer at the end of a long day’s driving? Not friggin’ likely! I explain how, when I hang out with him and his mates, my holiday money balance starts depleting…like rapidly!
My friend starts to see my point. I think. They are his good friends. He will pay their expenses. We need some time apart. I go get drunk; it’s the thing to do. Do some thinking; that lovely, deep, “I need to figure this out” type of thinking that one can experience with copious amounts of Singha.
Now, in retrospect, there was something else there too; buried deep in all the new emotions and heady feelings that go with a visit to a new, strange country and culture. I was jealous. Yes, green eyed and dyed, jealous. Jealous that my closest friend of more than ten years standing seemed to be paying an awful lot more attention to these leeches than to me! My friend and I have always had a good relationship; neither one of us living in the other’s ear, neither of us taking any advantage of the other. He seemed so concerned that everything was just so for THEM! Go to restaurants where the food would be alright for their sensitive palate; visit places that THEY would like!
Er Hello! I’m here too! It’s my holiday as well! And at least I’m paying for it! Yes, I admit now, it hurt, just a bit.
Fast-forward a few days. We’re back in Bangkok. Different hotels, no problem, I’m straight; he wants other things in life. No problem. I call around to his hotel; he’s gone to the cinema. Me and some of his mates go for a few beers. The guide, Ya, comes along. One of the mates buys me a beer. I start to remember what that’s like, someone actually buying a cold one for ME! (Readers, forgive my sarcasm, The Cynicism is at the very early stages, but it will thrive with proper nurturing, soon to go full-blown, never to be granted remission.) We drink. We drink some more.
The band are good, young talented. Energetic rock music played well. The guide is in my ear. Ya looks a little glum. Out of sync with the atmosphere. What’s wrong? A few beers, I’m mellow, I’ll listen. His child’s maternal grandfather has died, he tells me. Must go funeral. Long, long way. 20 hours by train. Somewhere down South, I think. Heck, why not fly? Too expensive, too expensive.
Ok, I’m slightly drunk, kind of feeling no pain. I want some sanuk, no long faces. And I’m a ROOKIE! A proper newborn baby, still pure and unwise! The Cynicism, remember, is at this stage no more than a tiny cell in my body. Magnanimously, I tell the guy that my friend and I will pay for the flights. (His girlfriend had to go to the funeral too. Of course). Thank you, thank you! Now can we just enjoy a few beers?
The next morning, though sober again, maybe a little regretful, I approached my friend with his guide’s dilemma. The Cynicism was whispering but I didn’t listen. I would be as good as my word. I’m like that. My mate had no problem
with this. Well, I didn’t expect he would. Nothing was too good for these guys, no expense spared.
We go to the travel agent. The flights will cost more than 15,000 baht. At this point I must back out of the deal, more expensive than I’d thought, and I wasn’t too flush with cash on that last week. My mate paid the bill. Many “thanks, thanks! Very good friend” came from Ya, the man who would now fly.
Fast-forward to a day or so later. My waitress friend Fon has a day off and wants to show her new farang friend around Bangkok. She meets me at the hotel, all smiles. She gives me a cute little wooden box with elephants on it. For picks, she explains. (I told her I played the guitar). A lovely gesture, I thought. The Cynicism, which had started to grow, said Yeah, but what’s the payback, lady?
We spent a lovely day in Bangkok. She took me on the water taxis. I could never figure these out on my own. She looked surprised when I handed her money to pay for the rides. No, is cheap she said. At this stage, seeing the inside of a Thai’s wallet/purse was so alien to me, I was amazed to see her pay the man! And it seemed to be important to her that she did pay. We sat on a bank of the river. She disappeared for a few minutes. She arrived back with bags of food. And that big grin! What’s going on here? Shouldn’t I, the farang, be paying for this?
Throughout the day, we conversed, using a Thai-English dictionary. I took photos. She was very keen to improve her English; it would help her get a good job. It was all quite innocent fun, really. Fon seemed to have little interest in the opposite sex; she became visibly uncomfortable when I discussed sex tourism. She really seemed like an innocent, somewhat naive Isaan farm girl, with a great big heart!
She had the usual dreams of travelling to England. I asked if she had ever been on a ‘plane before. She laughed. Looked at me like I’m crazy. No! How do you travel home to Isaan? For me, train! No problem! Actually, No problem seemed to be one of Fon’s favourite phrases, said always with that huge smile! She seemed so carefree, good humoured and never once did I hear her moan about anything.
I spoke to her of my newly formed opinions of the Thais I’d acquainted. Her face clouded a little, she said she not like take advantage. Good heart more important! I was impressed that she had understood what I’d been talking about, but, yeah, The Cynicism was on alert! And it was prodding me in the ribs, saying, “Pal, are you not learning anything on this trip?”
We parted later that evening. The day had hardly cost me a few baht, and, I must admit, was a very pleasant agreeable experience. Fon was very insistent that I call to the hotel to see her before I went back home. This will be the sting! The Cynicism said…
Before I called to Fon on my last day, I went to a store and bought her a small heart on a chain. It cost about 2,000 baht. Sucker, The Cynicism jeered. I don’t care, I replied. It’s not exactly a hugely extravagant gift by any standards; let’s give the girl a break here! Maybe they’re not all the same! Yeah, right, The Cynicism said.
When I met Fon, she immediately produced this flower bracelet thing and tried to put it on my wrist! Safe journey! So that’s why she was so insistent on seeing me! She then produced a small handbag! For your mother! (I had mentioned before that I might get a handbag for my mother). I gave her the little heart chain. Her face lit up like she had won the Lotto! We parted soon after that, she seemed genuinely sorry to see me go. (Not sad; I have never seen Fon sad). She made sure I had my flower thing for good luck. The wrist size was way off; I had to carry the thing!
As I walked down Silom Road, The Cynicism was notably silent. Proved wrong? There had been no sting, no sad story. Nothing.
I’ve emailed Fon several times; she’s mailed me back. I’ve met her in BKK on two subsequent occasions when I’ve visited. Same same. Just a somewhat na๏ve Isaan girl, always smiling, happy with a big heart and who loves practicing her English on me! Last time I visited, we went to a nice restaurant. She paid the bill; because now I have money, better hotel better job! She seemed proud of the fact that she could do this.
That night I went out for a few beers to a regular bar on Silom Road. A good few beers. I was chatting to the staff, getting on well with them, a couple of guys and a girl. They suggested we go for some beer and food when they finished their shift. I was up for this, though a little wary of what this was all about. Yeah, The Cynicism was smiling in the background, a knowing, and smug smile.
What followed was a great session! They took me to a real Thai place to eat and drink. We all got hammered! And guess what? They didn’t want the farang to pay! Sure, they allowed me to buy a round, but they all chipped in too and the food was on them. At the end of the night I was well the worse for wear! They made sure they got me a tuktuk back safely to my hotel! A great night!
The Cynicism was speechless!
Many times, I’ve tried to advise my friend on the foolishness and craziness of his ways in Thailand. I know he’s something of a loner here at home. He has few friends and is very much in the closet regarding his sexual predilections. So I know he’s like a child in a candy store with his lovely, Asian boys. However, as I never stop explaining to him, this is no excuse for being taken for a stupid farang, a walking ATM.
His insular ways have probably been the cause of his ignorance. From the first day he arrived in Bangkok on his first trip until now, he has never mixed or conversed with many other farangs. Although intelligent, I think the hormones started ruling the head and rationale from day one. He will learn, I hope.
The trip with me was probably a wake up call for him. Prior to this, I think he really believed he had friends there. Amazing, isn’t it, the human being’s ability for complete self-delusion! It’s sad really; he’s a very sincere, genuine friend, and it hurt me to see him make such a fool of himself. And to have his loneliness so exploited by greed.
Genuine friends can be found in Thailand. And it is so rewarding. Conversely, any one of us can choose to purchase company and surround ourselves with a bunch of leeches. Up to you!
On a subsequent visit, my friend’s eyes were opened somewhat. After having paid the boyfriend (very well) for two weeks service, the guy turned around on the last day and asked him for the cash to pay the hotel for half a day! It was only a couple of hundred baht. I think this blatant display of greed, coupled with my ranting about his “very good friends”, gave him pause for thought.
On that same visit, his faithful guide of seven trips to Thailand arrived at his hotel with a stranger. He was looking for a handout for his mate. I think my friend bought the guy a meal, but didn’t bankroll him. And, more importantly, he thought the guide was way out of line bringing a stranger to his hotel. I could almost hear the sound of the penny dropping from 6,000 miles away!
Yes, Thailand, can be called the Land of Smiles, but beware! There are daggers and diggers behind many of them!
I learned so much from this excellent site, and others. I learned from talking to other tourists. I learned that if you act like an ATM and a complete idiot, expect to be treated like one! I think in some ways the fault can lie with the farang.
Over the years, farangs seem to have encouraged this money extraction business. This same friend of mine tipped a girl in a travel agent a 1000 baht for helping us change our flights! She looked shocked…and thrilled! And well she might; it was probably 4 days wages for her! But, subsequently, I wonder, will she grow to expect this from the next farang? And how many of her friends will she relate the tale to? And how many of them will expect the same from the crazy, stupid farangs? And if the cash isn’t forthcoming, will the quality of service decline?
And then we all moan about the scams, rip offs etc..
And I’ve read hundreds of stories since on this type of behaviour, guys parting with ridiculous amounts of money (by Thai standards, always think Thai) for little or no reason. So really, who’s to bless, and who’s to blame?
In future submissions, I hope to explain how The Cynicism grew stronger and matured to full- grown. It took two more trips for this to happen. But that’s another day’s typing!
It is hard not to be cynical at times.