Forewarned Is Forearmed
As a regular reader of Stickman submissions I have learned a great deal about Thailand. While many of the submissions are negative and add no value to the reader experience most are enlightening, entertaining and downright funny when recalling some of
the bizarre situations that some fellas get themselves into. I have mostly enjoyed the intelligent and insightful observations of those with something truly to contribute, as well as the compassion and understanding that they demonstrate.
I wouldn’t say I was a particularly well travelled person, having first gone abroad at the age of 30. I am coming up to my 35th birthday and I am looking forward to my second trip to Thailand in November. I have been to Madrid, New York and Las Vegas and each place offered its own unique experience. I can also say that to anyone thinking of travelling to any place, don’t be put off by misconceptions, just go and see for yourself, and take advantage of great forums and sites like stickman – I wish I had discovered this site before my first visit (Nov 2005) – really just to make sense of certain aspects of the culture and society.
I say misconceptions because for example, before going to NY I kind of expected the people to be unaccommodating and unfriendly – you know, the big city experience, and as they don’t get much bigger than NY… How wrong was I? I found New Yorkers probably the most friendly and receptive of people I have met. My misconceptions came from the notion that, having lived in London, and with NY being so much bigger….the people would be much worse. It turned out to be the opposite and I guess it is because they have nothing to prove….they are just not impressed. While the city speaks for itself in terms of the impression it makes on one taking their first walk along 7th avenue and Broadway or cruising on the Hudson river.
Being me, I still didn’t learn. When a very good friend of mine suggested going to Thailand, I immediately recoiled at the thought. I don’t know why but this seems to be a consistent reaction amongst my peers and people I speak to about the country. Unfortunately I think this stems from the underlying association with the sex trade and publicity about mail order brides etc – which is unfortunate, as it is unfair to tar a whole nation of men and women with the same brush and judge a society on any one single facet. It is a very narrow and unjust view and yes, this was my way of thinking for so long.
Anyway, my first visit to Thailand was last November, staying one night in Bangkok before flying to Phuket. I went with my friend – we are of same age and I have known him for years. We are both from the UK, from Liverpool in North West England.
We stayed in a town named Kata, and it has a tranquil beach, a scattering of restaurants and hotels that are not overbearing, some tailors shops and some open air bars. If you visit you must go to the fantastic beachside Ska Reggae bar and the adjoining restaurant which I dined at every day – the food was wonderful and very reasonably priced considering the location, with a meal averaging 100 baht. The choice of location (Kata) owed more to my need to have a very chilled out break, having had a hectic year. But this had to be balanced with being not too far from a busier night life – which I was told through my travel agent would be Patong. I don’t think we could have done better than we did really. My friend had been to Thailand the year before – his first time – but he had stayed in Pattaya and Ko Samui. However, not being totally ignorant, I tried to suss the situation out months before actually booking by asking people if they had ever been to Thailand. Fortunately my boss had! Now before I go any further, I feel it is necessary to paint a very quick picture of myself – to explain my objections how my choice of location came about.
I like to think I am an open minded person and always willing to acknowledge my ignorance and address it whenever the situation calls for it. I am compassionate and have a strong sense of humanity and I am a generous person. I am also very conservative by nature, but not in way that makes me uptight or prudish – at least I don’t think so. Anyway, having raised the subject of where I was holidaying, my boss was more than keen to enlighten me on his travels (he went with his wife). I mentioned the possibility of staying in Pattaya – as my friend had stayed before, albeit only a few days – but my boss was quick to point out that it may not be to my liking – he had hated it and couldn’t wait to leave when he passed through Pattaya. He more or less summed it up as being very much in your face and geared largely to sex tourism, which we all know is true! I was a little annoyed at my friend about this, because he never considered that I may not like it there, whereas my boss felt inclined to warn me. We are different in many ways my friend and I and I think this is why we get on.
Anyway, when I heard this from my boss I was adamant that this was a place I was going to avoid – it is not my bag, simple as that. My friend is not as conservative as me and enjoyed his stay in Pattaya (well obviously he would), but respected my wishes when I expressed my concerns and went with the Phuket trip – I think he was just happy to go back to Thailand.
I will say, even at the point of boarding the plane I was apprehensive and weary about the reputation that Thailand has amongst many westerners. Yet when I got there I was unprepared for it – in a good way!
The first night didn’t really count – having literally just stayed the night in Bangkok – a big hotel in the Sukhumvit area (I can say that like a seasoned visitor – only because Sukhumvit – is referred to so much on this site) – a hotel called Bel Air Princess which was very nice. We had a little walk around some of the bars – which I really enjoyed but was quick to note the female attention we were receiving which kind of put me on my guard. Anyway, we were well behaved and ended up in a small bar run be a couple of expat old boys (one of them was from Newcastle) before adjourning back to the hotel at around 2 – I think we were due to fly to Phuket at around midday the following day.
We stayed in Kata for 11 days and spent much of it actually around Kata and Karon with a days outing to Phuket Town – although we didn’t really see much while there because we didn’t really do our homework on local attractions, in fact we just got lost around the shopping area and were just happy to find our tuktuk – which we hired to take us into the town and back to Kata. We did stop on the way to Phuket town to visit some temples which was very pleasant. It was rather amusing to see a Buddhist Monk in his robes donning a top of the range digital camera while we fumbled around with our 5 quid a pop disposable cameras – I did bring a camcorder but left it at the hotel….duh!
I was struck by the beauty and tranquility of Kata Beach (Kata Yai) and Kata Noi – which is a smaller and quieter beach up the road and particularly pleasant at sunset and first thing in the morning when all you can hear is the sound of the water lapping in and out. There are several open bars dotted about Kata and Karon, many of them hostess bars were you will be beckoned in by young ladies with the calling ‘hi hansom’man’ and ‘welcome’. If you ever do visit Kata make sure you check out the Muay Thai training school, were you can sit at a bar and watch local Thai boxers training – I don’t know the name of the bar but it is not difficult to find as it has a clearly noticeable Muay Thai boxing ring adjoining it.
If you want to go were the real action is then Patong beach is a ten minute tuktuk ride away – I actually walked from Kata to Patong on my own one day, cutting through Karon and up a windy mountain road passing the Meridien hotel (which looks splendid) and into Patong. However, I would not recommend you do this for several reasons, the first being that it is very dangerous, as there are no footpaths so you are on the road with traffic flying by you (I even had tuktuk drivers pulling up next to me and offering me a free lift into the town – must have thought I was some crazy tourist who had lost the plot or his wallet – it was probably sun stroke coming to think of it). The road is also almost entirely up hill once you get passed Karon; the journey is around 8-10km in all and I nearly stepped on a snake on the way up the mountain road. I personally found the whole experience very enjoyable, I felt like that guy Caine out of Kung Fu – but please do not do this.
Anyway, Patong, what can I say. It is a throbbing hive of activity and it was here that I saw lady boys for the first time, openly flaunting themselves at their public. Many of them are shockingly beautiful so I can well imagine how a guy could get ‘caught short’. However, I particularly enjoyed the actual beach and had the pleasure of witnessing a group of 20 chefs and kitchen workers in the full white outfits, Chefs hats and all, running into the sea with the pants rolled up holding large buckets and catching seafood for their restaurant. The fact the sun was just setting made it all the more lovely to see – this was when I did the crazy walk which brought me into Patong just as the sun was setting – I got a tuktuk back! Anyway, we spent a few days of the holiday drinking cocktails at a bar right on Patong beach (sorry I cannot remember the names of the bars I went to) but if you walk along Patong beach it is a certainty that you will come across this bar with its open air seating.
If you really want to see some sights then the Bangla road is probably the most entertaining. Here you will see all manner of things but in a somewhat controlled environment – it just kind of all feels safe and like ordered kaos. There seems to be an endless supply of bars and I noted a Scruffy Murphy's (which curiously enough we had no inclination to go to – maybe because there are so many of this type of bar in Liverpool – where we are from). One of the bars we did go to had dance stages were lady boys gyrate to loud music while flashing their bits at unsuspecting punters. If you have any hang ups on male sexual orientation, transvestites or transsexuals then do not go to Patong – in fact avoid Thailand! To all those that do not have such hang ups, then you will find Patong a vibrant and enjoyable experience. I would certainly recommend the beach front bar for a lazy day before the hectic night and there are tons of places to eat.
Most of the holiday was spent in Kata and Karon and local tourist information shops will try to flog day trips to you – don’t accept the first one you come across – instead, shop around and compare the trips that they are offering. These trips are all generally to the same places but are packaged differently. E.g. we went on the Phi Phi Island day trip which began with a minibus pickup from the hotel and a speedboat ride to several islands before ending up at Phi Phi Island (were I got the most ruthless sunburn even though I had factor 30 on, so factor up every 10 or so minutes and don’t rub in). This ended with a minibus back to the hotel and cost in all about 1200 baht each – which we reasoned was not bad considering we got to see a handful of beautiful Islands by speedboat (including what is referred to as James Bond Island – Man with Golden Gun was filmed there). We also had a nice lunch on one of the Islands, included in the price, and had a look around and a cocktail. We were offered a tour to Phi Phi by another operator at similar cost but it only covered a couple of islands compared to the one we went on – so check around. Another popular trip is to the Similan islands – will do this next time.
The only gripe I had with Kata town was being constantly accosted by the tailors. These guys do not give up and will harass you every time you make your trips to and from the hotel. This is not in an aggressive way but it gets tiresome after a while, just be polite and tell them you already bought a suit.
I did actually get a suit made in Kata town before I left and have been very impressed with the quality and workmanship for the relatively little cost – get some hand made shirts as well to compliment the suit.
When I went to Thailand I was adamant that I was not going to use the services that are on offer from the bar girls. Boy was I wrong about that. My friend and I went to some of the beer bars around the town before going to what was obviously a hostess bar – a tiny bar with a pool table and a scattering of young women. My friend fully intended from the start to enjoy the female company on offer, whereas I was not. We barely got passed the point were the pavement ends and the bar begins when we were accosted by two girls smiling and greeting us. We were ushered to a table and joined by the two girls – it just happened and I don’t think we could have done much to stop it – but then with the easy mood of the evening and the warm welcome it was only polite to go along with it and I felt obliged because my friend wanted some loving.
The prices at the bar – drinks wise – were reasonable and fortunately for me the girl that sat next to me could speak some English, though not great but sufficient, considering my Thai was non-existent, and she was very nice looking. My friend was not so lucky as his counterpart spoke no English and relied on the other girl, but I actually thought she was prettier. Anyway, after several games of Jenga and pool we were all in good spirits and it all just kind of happened. We did not get drunk – as it didn’t seem appropriate and was not necessary anyway – unlike back home were the object of a night out seems to be to get legless in the shortest possible time at least cost. There were some utterings from what I now know to be a mamasan, strings of words such as, ‘You pay bar fine!’…‘You take girl home?’ The thing that struck me about the whole situation was how easy it all happened. I guess it is because they kind of treat you not like a punter who has just stumbled in off the street, but more like a boyfriend – this all makes it weirdly acceptable to a westerner with set views on the oldest profession.
Anyway it all made for a pleasant evening and we went back to our hotel rooms with our female companions. We, that is Me and Bee spent the night together, as did my friend and his ‘friend’. Now, I know that what I am about to say is going to sound weird, and all you hardened butterflies and cheap charlies and, well, just about everybody who reads stickman submissions is going to say ‘WHAT!’ But hey, what the hell. I did sleep with the woman (who told me she was 27 – even though she looked 21 and had a very youthful and beautiful body) but, despite the fact that we were both naked in bed I just wanted to hold her and pet her and horse around. We were at ease with each other from the start and she seemed to really enjoy this and, I don’t know, it just felt good….so yeah….no penetration! I know that I could have if I wanted but I was happy to just do what we did. I guess I was looking at her as a woman and a human being, as opposed to a piece of merchandise that I had purchased the utility of for the night, while in a weird way I was adhering to my own self imposed rule that I had taken with me from the west. Make of it what you will, I’m still not sure!
Anyway, the following morning, I paid her 1000 baht – which is apparently a standard charge and everyone was happy. Both bee and her friend left later in the morning and my friend and I went for breakfast and planned the day ahead. At this point it was sinking in what I had done, which was something I had always said I would never do – pay for the company of a woman. Yet I did, and it happened in a way that I was unprepared for and didn’t expect. I could have said no at the time, when I was in the bar, but somehow the whole situation, the place, the people, the mood that the warm summer evening and the fresh air creates and the beauty and ambience of the place kind of stacks the odds against you – somehow the usual rules belong in another place….far away….back home.
I didn’t go to the bar that following night, instead we had a night out in Patong – and no, not for the women, just to bar hop and enjoy the buzz of the place. I did go back to the bar in Kata a few nights later and bee was there with her friend and we pretty much stayed at the bar and had a laugh with them. Last orders quickly came and again the utterances of pay bar and take home – which we did. It was this night that we did go all the way and I think it was largely down to the great rapport and sense of fun we shared between us. And before you go, ‘oh here we go’, No, I did not have any illusions. The relationship was a contractual one, agreed and not spoken of. To me it was not the beginning of a love, or a courtship. It was fun between two people who acknowledged each other with respect and treated each other as human beings. I constantly reminded myself of what the situation was, but never regarded this girl at any time as anything less than a human being – albeit a very sexy and attractive one and good company to boot.
However, I am aware that this may be coming across as oh so sweet, but it is not really that simple (for the reasons that I learned later on when reading stickman). The main thing was that bee treated me like a boyfriend and my response was to treat her like my girlfriend. Now, I regard myself as a mature person and I have seen enough in my life that I assess and judge situations on merit and instinct and common sense – 99.9% of the time. I therefore found that I was able to keep my perspective on the situation by reminding myself that the overriding factor in this arrangement between myself and Bee was money and then fun – and that the fiscal aspect was conveniently forgotten while we treated each other akin to boyfriend and girlfriend. I found myself explaining to her that my friend and I did not go whoring in Patong – because she repeatedly told me that she and her friend had resigned themselves to the fact that we had dumped them for the ladies in Patong. In fact the real situation was that I was just enjoying a holiday, not looking for love or female company or a wife. She didn’t seem to grasp this – but then in hindsight that is understandable with what I now understand.
To anyone coming to Thailand for the first time it is important to be aware that in such situations a girl may expect you to be with her for the duration of the holiday – I believe that this is possible by working out some agreed amount at the end of your stay – which is cheaper than a night by night basis. This may be fine to your seasoned or returning visitor, perhaps on their own and wanting company during their stay, but I think to the first timer going for a holiday this is a bad idea and may prove to hard work when you actually just want ‘me time’. For instance, when we first met the girls one of the first questions they asked was how long we were staying for – and when we told them they seemed very excited and probably expected that we would accommodate them into our itinerary. Wrong!
Anyway, in the 11 nights I spent in Phuket, I spent 4 of them with Bee and these were scattered throughout the 11 days. I did not pursue any other women, even though the opportunities were there, and I thoroughly enjoyed my time there. I have to say that I saw bee on the last night in Phuket and it was, well quite bizarre in that it was upsetting to say goodbye. She gave me her email address and phone number and a bottle of Sang Som as a farewell – I bought her a simple bracelet to mark our friendship – no, not a gold one, but a token if anything amongst other items to remember me by. I tried throughout not to convey anything other than that I was in Thailand to holiday and enjoy myself – while treating bee with respect but not going along with any mad pretences that may lead her to believe that I was a potential husband or boyfriend – simply because that would be just daft – and unfair to her. Besides which, she may for all I know have had other sponsors, a husband or a complex situation going on – I know she had a young son she briefly mentioned.
I must also say that I have never been anywhere that is safe enough for shop vendors and bars to leave premises virtually open over night – they just seem to shut off the lights and go home – was kind of like being in an alternate universe for me. You could never do this in Liverpool or most cities or towns in the UK.
And my point is?
I am not sure what I have tried to get across in this submission but when all is said and done I enjoyed my stay in Thailand terribly and look forward to going back. I was over awed by the scenery and the harmony of the surroundings, I saw poverty and experienced the excess that is possible because of a privileged life a contrast – this contrast in itself makes one think and assess ones life in a much broader perspective – it is a rewarding experience. I know that I have only seen a tiny part of the country and perhaps not even the real Thailand!
I understood that girls like bee are befriending men like me out of necessity but didn’t fully appreciate her circumstance until I got back home (she told me that she was from Isaan region, Buriram). When I got back home it was with a wanting to know more about Thailand and how so many of its young women find their way into this way of life. I found many of the answers to my questions on this website and much of it was surprising while sad.
I am returning to Thailand in November, as part of a general trip around South East Asia – Siem Reap, Phom Phen and Ho Chi Minh city and spending the remainder in Kata town because I fell in love with it. Although I am aware that Kata is not indicative of Thailand as a whole. My visits to Cambodia and Vietnam owe to my huge interest in the Indochina wars and the events of recent history that have instilled in me a great admiration and respect for the people of these countries, while Siem Reap represents the ancient history of Cambodia and its feuding with neighbouring Thailand. Regarding the nightlife, this time around I am prepared and I will not be using the services of any women from any of these places – simply because I now appreciate that most of these women are doing what they do out of pure circumstance – which is driven by poverty and a duty being placed on them to be breadwinners for their families. I would be happier just to give them the money, but I am not a rich man. In the worst case women are being forced into it against their own volition, something which disturbs me only marginally less than the sex trade involving children – this almost put me off the trip, as it seems commonplace in Cambodia. But I do not believe that people like me with a genuine interest in the country should be put off by the perverts that flock there – otherwise that would be a double blow they are dealing to these countries. Decent and civilised human beings must be made aware of this terrible scourge and action really does need to be taken by the governments from both East and West to address this problem which unfortunately is not just restricted to Asia but is a global problem.
Anyway, regarding my conscious decision not to engage the services of working girls – this is the choice of one man, me, and this submission is not intended as a judgment on anybody else…after all , I have been there and done it too remember. I also do not want to come across as sanctimonious or self righteous, even though I am sure my comments may do. Suffice it to say, if you do choose to engage the company of bar girls at least treat them as human beings first and foremost, and with respect. Remind yourself continually – but not to the point that you ruin your holiday – that YOU ARE PAYING for the company of this woman and that no matter how much it feels like it is so much more, it is not, and it is all part of the wonderful illusion of heaven that Thailand experience all too easily creates. Just enjoy it and be safe, after all it is your holiday and you have probably worked all year like I have to go there.
I do intend to see much more of Thailand in the future.
Thanks to the experiences of all from whom I have benefited from through your submissions.
NOTE: The names of certain individuals mentioned in this submission have been changed to respect privacy.
No comments today….sorry, so busy.