My first trip to LOS was in 1999. Thailand was but one destination on a RTW year long journey. Close to my 21st birthday my plan was to head from Australia to Bali, Singapore and then up through Malaysia and into Thailand. I would then use Thailand as a base to explore other neighboring countries. Yes, I was in full backpacker mode.
At that point anything that I knew about the country was gleaned from your traditional sources. Magazines, guidebooks, but mostly word of mouth. I had heard about Thailand and its variety of activities vaguely through a guy I met on a trip to Holland the previous year. Through a thick cloud of smoke in an Amsterdam cafe this gentleman commented it was an incredibly beautiful place everyone should experience. I'm not sure if his grin, wink and nudge was from whatever influence he was under or about something else. He didn't elaborate further. However, the seeds had been planted and the groundwork was laid to make it a part of my trip.
Fast forward a year later sitting on a beach off the coast of Trang. I had been in Thailand for 6 weeks. I traversed from south to north and south again. I had been previously been certified in diving and on this leg of the journey enjoyed the gems off the coast of Satun, Trang, all the way up to the Similans. On a particular island off the coast of Trang I met an Aussie and a Welshman. They had been on extended travels as well. We decided to join forces and go north. A few days later we were on our way to Pattaya. Being young, idealistic, and totally conditioned by upbringing, Pattaya was a shock to say the least. I experienced a range of emotions that day of such intensity it is yet to be duplicated. In hindsight, it was much like lambs being led to slaughter.
As happens in Pattaya to many, once my hormones were pumping enough they produced a very efficient reaction to short circuit other important cognitive functions. We only planned on a few days there and then to move on. Being young, fit, nice guys we were especially handsome to all the lovely maidens. We wandered the streets of Pattaya slack jawed and wide eyed. You can probably guess what happened. Well, I'll admit my curiosity and physiology prevailed.
One night we went to a bar….I fell hard for my first barfine. She was a year younger than me, hot and liked to have fun. I wasn't that bad of a catch either. I had never experienced a woman like that. I was honest and naive. We spent a couple of days mainly in the hotel room occasionally coming out for fresh air, food, and drinks. We clicked and I fell for her. I had a dilemma now. I was falling in love/lust. What was I to do? Just leave this helpless beauty to all the savages? I let her know how I felt. I had told her that I was planning on staying a few months but essentially was a poor, young boy who had no clue about this part of the world or the world in general. We came to the conclusion that it would be best if she quit working.
I parted way with my friends from the beach and hit the road with Luk in tow. We spent a few months touring Thailand. We visited more than half the provinces and scores of national parks. She taught me Thai. I taught her English. She showed me her country. I had been in great, healthy relationships back in Farangland but this just blew my mind.
After a few months of touring one day Luk mentioned how she had to go see her family and asked if I would like to join her. I had no idea of the implications or ramifications of what I was doing. We went to her home and I was met with large smiles and lots of handshakes. Much of the next week and a half was spent fishing, eating, drinking, exploring the Cambodian border markets, motorbiking around the province, electrocuting frogs, climbing trees to pick mangoes and tilling rice fields in Sa Kaew.
One particular day it was time to show all of them what this young man was made of. I let Luk know of my desire and intention of giving the rice tiller a go. She tried her best to dissuade me but I was having none of it. It was an old, rusty tractor engine which had been converted into a rice tiller. I pointed at myself, the contraption and towards the fields. Let's just say to this day I have a profound appreciation for the rice I eat. At one point, while knee high in water I stopped what I was doing. I looked around. My teeth were chattering from the vibrations of the tiller. All there was were endless rice fields, blue skies, palm trees and uncle Toon wearing half a straw hat with his toothless grin staring at me. I let out a deep breath. I realized I was a long way from the West Side of Chicago. I spent four months all together with her. I couldn't stay indefinitely. I had plans to meet up with friends in Nepal. Thailand was just one of the countries on the itinerary. I told Luk I would be back in 3 months.
I moved on to Nepal and India and spent 2 months there. It was a blast but part of my heart was left in Isaan. I missed my tilak too mut. I took the next flight back. While in LOS I convinced myself this was going to be my home from now on. Luk's parents even offered the extra shack on their land for us to live in. This is when reality started to wiggle its way into my consciousness. Was this the path my life was supposed to take? Would it work out? What would I do here? Etc… My funds were dwindling. I knew I had to go back home. I had enough for another month or two but before I blew it all I wanted to leave Luk with something. I had no idea how to bring up money and Luk never asked. She got very uncomfortable with me bringing up the subject. I withdrew some cash and slipped it into her purse. The next morning I got a right slap in the face and a bucket of tears. She not work bar anymore. She was staying with me. It took some skillful speech skills based on our limited communication but eventually the donation to her family was met with a wai and a gaze to the floor. I felt like shit.
We left her home and headed out to do a few more weeks of exploring. Eventually we joined the multitude of others sobbing away at Don Meuang departures. She didn't immediately go back to Pattaya. Seems what I gave her was enough to get by for a little while. There was a phone box in the village. (This was right before the cell phone explosion). I used to call that number and then someone would go run to the shack and fetch whomever was being called. We spoke often. She cried lots. My heart hurt.
Several months later I called……she wasn't there.
August 2006. Ko Samui. I had made several trips to Thailand since my first trip. Fell in love with the place again. I learnt much more of the language, met a wide variety of people, lived, loved, learned and had loads of fun in the meanwhile. One night out in Samui, I met up with an Aussie guy who claimed to know Lamai inside out. We ended up going out. We had made our way to one of the clubs and spotted a couple of cuties at a table by themselves. The club was very dark and we were standing right in the line of the lasers. We drank and danced with the ladies but they seemed a little reserved. We kept on persisting simply because they were the two most beautiful women there (with whatever little we could see). We hung around dancing and drinking for an hour or so. The sound was too loud to have any conversation. The music shut down and all the little vampires filed outside and flapped away into the night. All four of us shuffled outside.
My senses were still overwhelmed. It took time to adjust to the balmy night air. The girl that I was dancing with stared at me bug-eyed. I didn't know why. I looked at her. She was a classic. I looked at her face and there was a faint sense of familiarity but I couldn't place it. Since my first trip to LOS 8 years prior I had grown 3 inches and was no longer Mr. skinny boy. My partner in crime mentioned a meal so all four of us went for a bite to eat. We sat down at the restaurant. We hadn't gotten past the formalities of exchanging names yet. I heard her talking but she had a very thick English accent that was hardly recognizable. She sat down next to me. As I was reading the menu……."(my name) kin tom yum het sai taohu, mai sai nam plaa mai? <Do you want Tom yum with mushroom and tofu, and without fish sauce – Stick> I was vegetarian for a long time. The hairs on my arm stood up. I looked over. Over her menu I see two big brown saucers for eyes staring at me. Sawasdee kha, (my name), my name is Luk. I looked over and then it hit me.
"Luk???" I asked. Her head slowly moved up and down. Her voice was different, more gravelly. She had picked up smoking somewhere along the way. Her voice was deeper from the ciggies, and what I assumed to be years in the life. She had very long hair, makeup and almost 8 years. Every other sentence had the words fxxxin' or shite with a very thick English accent. A far cry from the little tinkerbell I once knew. Her BF/sponsor had taught her the best of the English language (sarcastic). However she looked good. Years ago she had a body from hell… a little skinny but still sexy. She had filled out a little more where it counted. Petite with a little curve. Her face hadn't aged much. Imagining short hair and no makeup I saw the girl I was with years ago. The whole thing totally disarmed me. My mouth was open at a loss of words.
She was quiet also. "Jum dai mai ka?" She asked all demure.
All I could do was say "Luk?" Again. I then said her full Thai name. I didn't know I still remembered it.
She put her menu down, and without saying anything started to run her fingers through my hair over and over (I had long hair when we met, chopped since). She did it the EXACT same way she used to do it years ago. How did she remember? How did I remember how it felt? How the hell did she remember how I ordered tom yum and how many chilies I have in my som tam? This was weird.
Her friend was looking at her with her eyebrows scrunched and lip curled. Luk looked at her friend and in Thai/Lao said you know the picture on top of my TV at my home? This is that guy. Seems her friend was from the same village. I briefed my Aussie friend. After his 2 seconds of shock he tried to close the deal with Luk's friend. She either had someone else or was too interested in our unfolding drama to go with him. He left to continue his hunt.
I gathered bits of the story but I didn't want to "know too mut". She stayed in the village. Broken heart after me. Money was running low after a few months. Goes to help sister in Bangkok to make food. Not enough flow. Goes back to the bars. Had 2 serious boyfriends, both English. One met in Pattaya and the other in Samui. Been to UK 4 times, 2 x with each guy. Ultimately, the standard progression of a bargirl's life. She had just gotten back from England. Fully sponsored, new house where our previous shack would have been. Back on Samui to uuummm….."visit friends".
We ditched her friend and went back to my house to "talk" more. We ended up spending 4 nights together. Interesting and sad to hear from her mouth that she is not the same girl that I met years ago. No shit. I could see it for myself. This one affected me more though. On my subsequent visits to any nightlife area in LOS I had seen the downward spiral of some bargirls. I had very mixed feelings for Luk though, as we were each other's firsts and there was a good connection. We enjoyed 4 days together. Admittedly she is a shark now. Out to extract what she can while she can. We both decided to take it one day at a time as there were some strange feelings about life and each other floating around. However for me she cut me a break and shared her sponsorship with me for 4 days…LOL. We shared lots of stories had lots of good times. There was something oddly comfortable about being with each other. Perhaps almost like 2 lovers reuniting.
She knew I had wised up a bit since my first trip. It helped as there wasn't much BS. All in all, we had a good time and parted on good terms with good feelings all around. I had to get going to Bangkok and then back up to Chiang Mai. I was in country for 3 more months. She managed to come visit me in Chiang Mai for a few days at a later date and we coordinated an excursion into the provinces the last few days before I was to fly back home. She saw me off in Bangkok but not at the airport. We both agreed to not repeat the episode from almost 8 years prior. She waited around Bangkok a day or two for the arrival of her sponsor. I still get an occasional email. I've called twice, her once. She knows I am coming back. I'll see her again if her sponsor isn't around. Or maybe I can be the sick brother she is going to take care of if he is.
That's a great, but sad story, and it shows just what can happen to women who stay in the nightlife industry for a long time. These women in the bars who act like sharks didn't start that way…