These are just reflections and thoughts on a trip I made to Thailand, the Philippines and Malaysia. I had never been to Thailand before, so did not know what to expect. I do have several friends who go top Thailand quite often and thought I might ‘ fit in ‘ quite well.
The fun began in the departure lounge at Heathrow. It was noticeable that my fellow passengers looked a little different from those you normally find on an international flight. There seemed to be a fair percentage of rather odd looking males of indeterminate middle age. One guy in a wheelchair, who was dressed from head to toe in black leather and sported long blond hair, blasted his way the length of the departure lounge with little regard for the safety and comfort of others.
On the flight I found myself seated next to a short, bald gentleman who was a little overweight. His most striking attribute was his rather odd and uncoordinated outfit. I will never forget his too short RED trousers. He insisted on talking throughout the flight, droning on about how he no longer bothered with bar girls as they just seemed to want his money and how they failed to appreciate his less than obvious charms. He seemed to reflect a mix of anger, resentment, defeated resignation and surreal optimism which I found to be quite prevalent amongst some other older western males I met during my travels in Thailand encompassing Bangkok and Pattaya.
On landing at Bangkok my next objective was to get to the ‘ fabulous ‘ Nana Hotel. Well, what did I know? I took a coupon taxi which seemed the safest option. Later I learned about the airport bus, a much cheaper and perfectly reliable option. I mean, do I care if a bunch of dubious hookers think I’m a ‘ Cheap Charlie ‘? The Nan Hotel was great. What a fun palace. Quality entertainment 24 hours a day. Seems like everything goes on there, or in the car park, or over the road at the Nana Plaza. Even booking into this place was an event, done against the background of some Canadian guy producing some quality bullshit about trying to get the reception girl to assist him in the import of a Harley Davidson motorcycle. She seemed singularly unimpressed. Goodness knows what other forms of chat up lines she may have heard over time.
I stayed in the Nana for 4 nights at the beginning of my trip. During this time I strolled up and down the Sukhumvit Road by day and night, discovered the Sky Train ( great ), the water busses on the river ( again, great ) and the tuktuk ( not great ), but not the busses or the underground railway. I went on a Temple Tour that ended up at the Gems Factory outlet, from whence I never really got back to where I started. I was learning rapidly about the way Thailand works. As a Farang I guess you need a calm but firm personality, a sense of humour and a big bag of patience. At the same time I feel the Thais must become exasperated by the way tourists always seem to try and bargain prices down. Outside one temple complex I bought a string of postcards from a nice Thai lady for 50 baht. Some other people on the same tour were trying to bargain this price down. For goodness sake, this is less than £1 in England. The seller and I exchanged glances of disbelief. How much goodwill can be destroyed by arguing over a few pence or cents?
As things worked out at the completion of my Temple tour I ended up being dropped in the Khao Sarn Road. Fascinating place and sure enough one could buy fake degrees there. In fact one could buy all sorts of fake documents there. In particular I was struck by a very good facsimile of a UK picture driving licence that could be bought. This is a very useful form of identification in England. It was from here that I took a tuktuk back to the Nana as I had no idea where I was and I thought riding in a tuktuk might be fun! The fun started as soon as I approached a driver. He was a youngish guy sporting that famous insincere Thai smile ( took me about one day in the country to work that one out ). He frowned. Oh no, from here to Nana is a long way, will be 400 baht. I declined the offer and he comes after me. OK, we agree on 300 baht ( this process is the same the world over, it’s too much but who cares? ) and off we go. We sped through the traffic. I saw his face in his rear view mirror and the smile had gone. Then in a flash it returned. He handed me a leaflet of naked ladies, a leaflet identical to many others I had thrust into path by other tuktuk drivers during my stay in Bangkok. Could he take me massage parlour he knows, very nice girls etc etc. I declined, again the smile has gone, replaced by that cold frown. 5 minutes later and the smile was back and he was into his next pitch. Could he take me to see tailors shop? Apparently all I had to do was go into the shop for 5 minutes and he would get coupon for petrol for his tuktuk. Well, how much fuel does one of those things use? Exactly, he was taking the proverbial, but for a laugh I agreed to go along with him. I was in no hurry. We arrived at the tailors and in I go. Now, I’m a cockney by birth and consequently have more flannel than a sheet factory and more front than Brighton. I was in that shop for considerably more than 10 minutes, yap yap yap and of course bought nothing. I know they try to scam in Thailand but they ain’t nothing compared to my home town of Bethnal Green. Anyway, I exited the tailors and my driver is grinning from ear to ear. We get back to Nana, and yup, he’s angling for a tip. Well, he’s got so much front I just have to tip him. In a way I came to quite like him, but in another way he played a bad hand as I would never get in a tuktuk again!
So to the nightlife. I ventured only once into the Nana Plaza. It was one of the weirdest experiences I have ever had. The beer bars on the ground floor seem reasonable, but the upper floors are, to me at least, somewhat surreal, akin to a sexual zoo, a form of freak show. The girls on the upper floors had a strange ethereal quality to them, oddly costumed, slight and vacant faced, numbered like items at auction. The beer bar girls were vibrant and real, but these girls were like a blank canvas painted to another’s whim. I left feeling slightly disturbed, as if I had just glimpsed through a trap door to heart of Bangkok’s darkness. From now on I only went to the beer bars off the Sukhumvit Road, and of course the Nana bar and Disco. The bar of the Nana Hotel was full of all kinds bizarre characters, some of whom could have leapt straight from the pages of Damon Runyon. The drunks, the aging freelance prostitutes, the expats with their tales and advice, the angry, the forlorn, the whole merry-go-round of dissolute human life seems to pass through there. I chatted to a few western guys in that bar, and they really upped my learning curve. There was one who had just been ‘ done over’ by his last Thai girlfriend and who was now, against his better judgment, falling for one of the barmaids. There was the greying expat who gave me a ton of useful advice. It was he who told me about the skytrain and the river. He also gave me his view of Thai ladies. In essence, given the choice of saving your life or cutting your balls off, they would cut your balls off EVERY TIME. I do not know if this is true or not. The guy may have been exorcising his own demons and prejudices, but he seemed pretty level headed to me. We certainly agreed about the Nana Plaza.
It was while chatting to this guy, and some others, that I met her. I can’t remember her name, but she was in that bar with her sister and some other girls. She looked like she should work in a factory or office, the nice girl next door type. But she is not the nice girl next door type. Last year she was ‘ working’ in Pattaya. We chatted, she was pleasant, I thought nothing of it. Then as the night wore on, her sister sidled up to me. Would I like to spend the night with the sister I was talking to? No thanks. My new friend did not look too happy, but never mind. I thought no more of it. Two nights later I was browsing the Sois off the Sukhumvit road, dropping into bars here and there. I popped into one that was showing English football, grabbed a beer and focused on the telly. A girl approached and I had to tell I was watching the football rather than her. Then it hit me. She was with the girl I was with before. We greeted each other like long lost friends, though we weren’t. In no time at all she was lounging on me with my arm round her waist, while I chatted to an American guy she was friends with who was an unemployed web designer ( he said! ) apparently so broke that she had to lend him money for a drink. Now, according to him, I am a good listener, lucky me! She was not too happy, though, as I wasn’t paying her much attention. So she had to pop back to her friends and ‘mama san ‘ now and then, but kept coming back to claim ‘ ownership ‘. Weird. She drifted away to chat to another, younger guy. Fair enough, I hardly knew her, except that she comes back to check I am there, to pat my knee in a proprietary fashion. Then another girl arrived in the bar with two friends. She was in her early thirties, nice figure and face. She was seated opposite me, we started flirting and joshing. Bam, girl number one, that I have never done anything with other than chat, is in my face glaring daggers. Pardon me ma’am, but you were chatting to another guy. Oh dear, I have just become a butterfly without really trying. She left with the younger guy. Never mind, I’ll get over it. Chatted to the new girl. She was a little crazy, like me. She was also plainly ‘ on ‘ something, so I joshed her by imitating sniffing a line of coke. Oh yeah, she’d done that. Maybe, maybe not. Like all druggies she was ultimately boring, so it was bye bye time.
By now I was beginning to realise something. A lot of the western guys I was meeting seemed to be quite lacking in the social skills department. The natural rhythmic flow of conversation was not there, the timing of humour, the natural joshing just was not there. There were drunks, there were plenty of bores only too glad to find a good listener. No wonder bar girls go for the money They need compensation for putting up with these people, let alone sleeping with them!
Breakfast at the Nana was always good fun, watching the cheesy geezers arrive with their ‘ little friends ‘ . One morning stood out, however. The restaurant was crowded and the waiter asked if I minded a couple sharing my table? Of course I didn’t. I nearly choked on my bacon when I saw them, though. He was German, I think about 60 years old with a pony tail. She, even allowing for their naturally youthful appearance, was a Thai girl in her early teens. Even their behaviour had some weird father daughter connotations. Well, what can you say?
One last thing before I left Bangkok for Pattaya. Of an evening outside the Nana Plaza a group of little girls sell single roses for 20 baht a time. One in particular was a real star, cheeky with loads of front. I bought a rose off her every night I was there, and on my last night I bought two. Wow, big deal, 40 baht! But she was put out and tried to sell me only one. I bought a few flowers and reaped a hundred times that amount in goodwill from the naughty ladies around. Now there’s a lesson.
Now down to Pattaya. I Stayed in a cheap hotel at the end of Soi 8 that has a swimming pool on the roof. Wonderful! Go figure. Now, having never been to Pattaya before how the heck was I to know about Soi 8? Anyway, I went walking to North Pattaya. Um, I think, nice quiet place, so I grabbed something to eat in a nice German owned restaurant. Then I set off in the other direction and things got progressively more interesting until I arrived at a place quaintly named Walking Street. Well, what can one say. Have you ever been to Blackpool in England? Well, Walking Street is like the Blackpool of SEX! Talk about nice and sleazy, but you already know that. It blew my mind and I never went back ( yeah, what a liar I am ). Whilst there I nipped off to the left where there was a series of not very busy beer bars. I ended up playing endless games of Connect 4 with a Bar Girl who looked like she should be behind a counter at Marks and Spencer. But she had the tell tale tattoo on the left shoulder. Surreal!
My stay in Pattaya was bizarre, but I had a great time. Hooked up with an English guy who owned a lady boy bar and went on a bit of a bar crawl with him and a couple of other guys one night. One was from Exeter in England and the other was a Yank. Really nice guys. The guy from Exeter was going home and offered to pass on his lady to me as he was anxious to find her a nice guy for her when he was gone. What a great, realistic guy. Apparently lady boy bars are the most profitable. Are they, I don’t know.
I saw one really ugly scene in Pattaya, along the Beach Road. A really huge western guy was being kicked by a Thai guy while a Thai ‘ lady ‘ threw bricks or rocks at him while screaming at the top of her head It was not nice, and made me wonder just why some people take their impressionable teenage children on holiday there
The Bar girls were great. I had a ton of laughs down there, got told I was a little crazy by one ( heck, how crazy do you have to be for one of them to call you crazy??! ), and I met one who was really crazy and I really related to. She said she felt real connection to me, want to boom boom, she fed up with boom boom farang, blah blah blah. Did she really like me? I don’t know, but she did kiss me with open lips. Anybody who knows hookers will realise they just do not tend to do that. Anyway I wasn’t going to do that and she left really upset. Ah well, never mind! I have heard people gripe about these girls but I really don’t know why. Go out, buy a few drinks, relax, have a great time. I just loved the place. Quality entertainment, especially from the German married couples who seem to obtain a Thai girl for the duration of their stay to provide them BOTH with the kind of entertainment I guess they just can’t find at home in Frankfurt, or elsewhere!
Anyway, time to leave and head for the Philippines, courtesy of Air Asia, via KLIA Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur airport is fantastic, quite the best I have ever been to. Flew out to Clark International Airport, which was not busy at all! This is the old US airbase. Just down the road is a crazy place called Angeles City, where there just happen to be a lot of Go Go bars! My hotel was crap and expensive compared to Thailand, the poverty was obvious and a little disturbing, especially the pathetic street children with their vacant and resigned faces, only a singlet and pair of shorts to their name, no hope or life in their eyes, begging silently and passively to survive. There were few private vehicles, most people travelled by Jeepney, and shacks seemed to sprout on every street corner. The streets were dirty, the electricity supply haphazard. I had to be frisked by a security guard toting a pump action shotgun before I was allowed into a shopping mall. But the Philippines has something that I never found in Thailand or Malaysia. CHARM. The Philippines has charm by the ton. There was just something about the people and the place. Life is difficult everyday in this country, but somehow the people survive and smile. Unlike Thailand it is a real smile. They might try to skim you for a few pesos, but they are not cynical like the Thais.
There were a ton of Gogo bars in Angeles. Some were big, some were small. The bar fine was apparently 1200 pesos, of which the girls got 500 to 550 pesos, plus what ever a customer cared to give them. This was for long time. I chatted to a waitress or three and found they got paid about 80 pesos for a nine hour shift. Plus commission on ladies drinks bought for them, and tips. This was not a lot of money in a country that had just slapped a 10% sales tax on everything while I was there. They are really up against it in the Philippines.
One night I ended up in a place called the Blue Nile Club. This place was not so much a Gogo bar as a Gogo warehouse. They seemed to have industrial quantities of dancers. Some were hot, most were not. Actually, they all seemed pretty knackered to me. I think closing time was about 5 am. I ended up drinking with the manager, Wee George, and his Scouse mate. Georgie was alright, but the other guy was like all Scousers, lairey when in drink. There was a shy but pretty waitress tending to them. The Scousers lady friend suggested I buy the girl a ladies drink. Believe it or not the girl became agitated and said no. I had to tell her not to be so stupid and that for me buying a few drinks was no big deal. She then had to consult someone how to charge for her drink. I mean, this girl had been working there for 3 months, and she was definitely in the wrong job. But she had no choice, as she was trying to help her parents. She asked if I was married. I mean, it was pathetic. She was 19 and I was 53! When she asked the Scouser, of course, just had to start screaming in her ear and intimidating her. For the one and only time on my trip I felt sorry for someone. I was genuinely worried for her future. I should have bar fined her and cut her loose for the night, so she could at least get some sleep, but by then the Scouser was kicking off big time, so I settled up and got out quick!
So, off I went to Malaysia. I flew down to Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Sabah, and from there to Miri in Sarawak, where I was met by my Malaysian …….Girlfriend! Now you understand why I had been such a good boy. She is a lovely girl, so why would I want to fool around behind her back? From Miri we slowly made our way down to the state capital Kuching. On the way we saw countless relatives and of course spent some time in her longhouse. She is Iban, or Dayak, whichever you prefer. About a hundred years ago her ancestors were still headhunters. To this day the Iban are tough, independent people with a very egalitarian view of the world. Woe betide the Iban politician who does not visit the longhouse at election time! They are shamanistic people whose men drink to much. Four or five days in the jungle with those guys and you start to lose it. They hunt wild boar , they catch baby crocodile to sell to the crocodile farm, they’ll shoot a monkey and barbecue it. They did that the day after we left. They believe in the spirits of the jungle and of the water, and in shamanistic healers. That is OK, and I would have dismissed it just like any other westerner. But then I met a lady with a powerful corporate job who earned really serious money, and she too began to discuss with my girlfriend the spirits of the jungle and the power they could wield. The pair of them grew up in the jungle and fought their way to a better life through education.
Sarawak is a rich state. They have oil palm, timber, natural gas and offshore oil fields. There was no action there, unless you went to the local Karaoke bars. You would not want to go to them as an unaccompanied westerner. Just before I left Kuching to go to Thailand to get my flight home I saw a rather quaint sight. A couple of western guys like the type you see in Thailand were seated in a café by the waterfront. They were eyeing up the passing young ladies. Sorry boys, they don’t need your money there!
I was back in Bangkok for my last night. It was the King’s birthday. Everything was shut. No little flower girls outside the Nana Hotel, just disconsolate punters hanging around. Apparently no alcohol was supposed to be sold that night, but the good old Nana Hotel was serving. Hooray, a few final Mai Thais for me! As a parting shot some old hag who was at least as old as me approached and asked me to buy her a drink. To my eternal shame I refused. On reflection that was inelegant. But by that time I had had enough. My parting shot was to a taxi driver outside the Nana, who showed me the usual leaflet of naked girls etc. etc. I just turned round and told him to f**k off as I wasn’t no f**king sex tourist! Oh dear, time to go home, so I did. But not before I saw some poor old geezer dumped right at the check in desk at Don Muang by his rather too young Thai lady
What did I make of it all? Well, I think it was great. The Thais are OK, as are the Filippinos and Malaysians. They are all different, just as the French and English are different. Just do not expect too much from them. My girlfriend has terrible problems with her family. Because she lives in the west they think she is endlessly wealthy. This is a universal problem, whether you go to Jamaica, Latin America, or Africa. I work with African guys who dread going home because of the financial demands that will be made on them, Indians likewise.
Here’s one for the guys who write complaining about bar girl behaviour. Selling yourself is not a nice way to make a living. You are going to meet some pretty weird and nasty people. After 6 months you are going to start being pretty psychologically disturbed, and that’s not allowing for what may have happened to you before. How on the earth can anyone expect a disturbed bargirl to form a normal relationship with someone? Oh, and if you’re looking for really exotic countries and really beautiful women, try South America. Thailand really cannot compete with the thunder of the samba drums in the night , and the sultry flashing tempestuous Latin women!
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