The Miracle Of That First Thai Trip
By Arch Stanton
I am heading back to Thailand for my fourth trip in 12 months on 20 May and this time two newbies will be coming with me. Oh, the wonders that await them. It got me thinking about the first time I landed in LOS.
The first time I set foot in Thailand was after crossing the border from Malaysia. I was on a 15-hour minibus hell-journey from Penang to Koh Pha-Ngan. Malaysia had been fun and I was expecting more of the same – but with a beach holiday
thrown in – when I got to Thailand.
The purpose of the holiday was to trace by granddad’s trip upcountry during WW2 after he was captured by the Japanese during the fall of Singapore in 1942. I was recording the events as a surprise for his 90th birthday. On the way
north to Kanchanaburi, where he worked on the death railway, I would be stopping off at KPN and Bangkok.
On the minibus trip I met two English lads who had been travelling round SE Asia for the last six months and they gave me the lowdown on what to expect. Naturally the talk turned to women and we bantered about the standard of the western
female backpackers, how easy they were to pull and so on. Thai girls were never mentioned and never crossed my mind for a second.
Then one of my new-found acquaintances said: “The only thing you have to watch out for are the Thai girls.” He went onto explain in slightly less direct language, that all Thai girls are either hookers or thieves.
We arrived at Surat Thani pier and took the ferry across to KPN, then straight into a tuk tuk to Hat Rin where we walked through the centre to Palita Lodge bungalows. Then something odd began to happen. I noticed that all the small clothes
shops, restaurants and internet tourist buildings were manned almost exclusively by young Thai women who watched our every step with fixed eyes, a dreamy curiosity and the most brilliant of smiles that it hit me like a bolt of sunshine. Two girls
called to us out of their window, giggling and laughing, and another pinched my leg and laughed as she walked by. “Ignore them,” I was told. Assuming if I spoke to them I would get caught up in some elaborate scam, or find myself
with a blade in my belly, I followed the advice – advice with I now know to be so pig-ignorant as to demand a redefinition of the term.
More and more of these events followed, to the point when I began to think “these girls can’t be on the game. This place just doesn’t seem like that.” I began to question the advice I had been given.
The straw that broke the camel’s back took place the following night. That’s when I met my first Thai girlfriend. K was sitting on the beach alone drinking a beer and, after having a gutful of the tree-trunk thighed English
women nattering about reality TV shows, I decided to chat to her instead.
We spent the next 10 days together and travelled together up to Bangkok and Kanchanaburi. She had been on holiday alone on KPN and was financially independent. Had I known what I know now, I probably would have assumed that she was receiving
her cash from a pining boyfriend in Europe or enjoying her bar-wages. Thankfully, I was ignorant of these facts, because I would have assumed wrong.
But we connected so well and I found it so easy to spend time with her, that it all seemed too good to be true. I kept asking myself ‘where’s the catch?’ But as hard as I searched, I couldn’t find one. And we were
going 50-50 on the costs of everything. Where was the catch?
Arriving in Kanchanaburi, we hunted for the grave of one of my granddad’s best friends who died out there during WW2. We eventually found it. I went to look for the register and when I came back K had laid flowers all around the headstone. That
touched me more than anything all my previous English girlfriends had done put together. And I had only known K for 10 days!
When the time came for me to continue my trip onto Cambodia I felt a tear in my stomach like nothing I have ever felt before. SO many things compelled me to stay, and not just the girl. But I had to go. On the last day I left K by the bus
stop with my bags while I bought batteries from the 7/11, half-expecting her and the bags to be gone when I returned, certain that the past 10 days had been too good to be true. Of course she was still there when I returned and I got on the bus
and waved goodbye to both her and Thailand. At the time, I thought I would never return. Ha Ha.
Later, over the border, I searched my bag for my camera and couldn’t find it. In a way I felt a sense of relief. I had found what the catch was at last! Then my fingers caught the strap at the bottom of the bag and I pulled out camera.
Nothing had been stolen at all. I was just a messy packer. I am still in touch with K regularly and we meet up every time I go back. Last time I was over there I spent the evening with K, her American boyfriend and his friends.
So where was the catch? On all my subsequent visits, through all the girls I’ve been with, the question keeps rearing its head. And the answer is that there is NO catch. Thailand really is the place you have always dreamed of.
It is a unique phenomenon with Thailand that no matter how many times you return, each trip feels fresh and exciting. Everything is different and yet so many much-loved markers remain exactly the same, such as the exercises at dusk at Fort
Sumen in Bangkok. I have travelled through dozens of countries and none offer the amazing highs and wonderful lows of Thailand – the smiles, the food, the beaches, the massages, the rivers and forests, the crowded, insane city roads and the serene
Even now I sometimes have an occasional feeling of fear that everything I have been through in Thailand was a dream, that I must have imagined how good the place really is. Every time I step foot in that country I am afraid that I’ll
find it has all changed, that it’s just like every other place. And for several hours I manage to convince myself of this and walk round with a grey cloud of depression hanging over me, wondering where the amazing country I once knew has
gone, that all the best elements have finally been superseded by the onward march of socialist globalism. Then a laugh, a ‘haallloooohh’ and a cheeky smile later and I realise it was just my own fears getting the better of me.
Each time I step off my flight at BKK airport I feel a rush, a complete change, like Dorothy in Wizard of Oz, stepping out of her house, full of greyness and worry, into the brilliant colour of the Thai sunshine, but with sanuk instead
of dancing munchkins. (I suppose that makes the ex-pats the wicked witches).
I am reminded of the first person to ever tell me about Thailand. After making it sound like an impossible paradise, I told him that I really didn’t believe how good he made it sound, that everything was exaggerated. “You know
the best thing about Thailand,” he replied. “No matter how good I make it sound, I can only ever undersell it. When you finally get there, you’ll think I have done it a disservice, that I never really explained how amazing
the place really is.” He was right. And my friends are in for an amazing, and possibly life-changing, experience.
You ought to get a job with the TAT.