Delightful Pattaya – At the Music Pub
One night in Kum Punn, Pattaya's delightful Thai live music pub, just between me and the band sits a group of three Thai girls and two western guys. They don't seem to be bar hooligans, more like office people on a night out, the guys in their early thirties. Still, one farang man is totally plastered. He looks completely glassy and tends to slide off the chair. His Thai "girlfriend", dancing in front of him, keeps holding him aseat with one hand, the other hand is occupied with a cigarette. Now and then she feeds him beer and nicotine.
The other three people at the table almost ignore the intoxicated guy. But I am really alarmed at his look. I am about to step in and demand they take him to hotel or condo. But if they ignore him, maybe they know it's not serious? His girlfriend grins and ditches his head so that it bops back and forth, willingless.
It's a nasty, nasty look.
Would you step in? <Not in a million years – Stick> Other waiters and customers look with concerned faces – only the "girlfriend" is having fun.
She walks him to the toilet. Yes, he can still move, but he stumbles on like a drugged bear. She holds him with one hand only, the other is occupied with the ciggy. After a long while they come back and she pops him onto the chair. Then she disappears, obviously to the toilet herself. Now the guy sits there on his chair, helpless, still fighting hard against gravity, but none of the other three considers stabilizing his position. I don'to either.
When the "girlfriend" finally returns, the other three quickly march out of the pub. She now finally drops her cigarette, sits on his lap and against the music noise yells at him to produce his wallet. It comes up eventually. She takes out a few bills and pays the restaurant. She makes his head bop back and forth another few times, then leads him out like a bear on a nosering, past a row of concerned-looking Thai waiters.
It's a nasty look indeed.
Day and Night
Monothemed as it seems, Pattaya still appeals with a unique combination: in the daytime you can lay at the beach on nice natural sand in natural casuarina shadow (a rarity in itself) and in the night soak up great live music at Kum Punn and a few others.
Funny, the Thai-oriented live music pub Kum Punn seems to be run by the same business that controls the Sabaidee body massage factory. And if I had to choose one best Thai music live band on the pub circuit, I'd now opt for the band that starts in Kum Punn at around 10 PM.
The best of all housebands in history was the 10 PM band in Khon Khaen's Top West in 2003 / 2004, but with the demise of their memorable, hyperactive percussionist, that group went downhill until it disappeared completely.
Of the big name acts, I've seen Pamela Bowden, Mai Pirumporn and Carabao in concert. Pamela and Mai were not special at all, even though they came with a brass section. Any decent pub band is more fun – and that includes Pattaya's Kum Punn pub.
Now in Kum Punn you might say they smooth down the spicy Thai music a bit, what with the string synthesizer and mellowy polyphonal vocals. You might call them the Starbucks of Thai music, offering Luukthung Vanilla Frappuccino and Carabao Strawberry Double Cream. Other luuktung classics get reggaed here.
The atmosphere at Kum Punn is nice enough. At least it's not such a huge hangar like the slightly predictable Tawan Daeng music pubs across Thailand, including Bangkok, Khon Khaen, Udon Thanee, Phitsanolok and Chiang Mai. Kum Punn's your typical Thai country western deco with wood and bamboo, two levels, a gallery and of course a huge TV screen showing football. Fitting the ambiance, the 10 PM band even has a country-rock set now, with tunes from John Denver and the Eagles, complete with synthesized banjo and a real fiddle.
One thing is sure: Unlike in Khon Khaen or Udon Thanee, at Pattaya's Kum Punn pub the single visitor is quite unlikely to get "adopted" by a table of partying Thais, eternally regretting him for having to drink khon diao. You get "adopted" occasionally in Kum Punn, but then your new friends might seem somehow demi-monde and less fresh than those who feed you whiskey and grilled pork slices up in Isaan.
This time around, funny enough, Mr Pothole Research gets "adopted" by a cute waitress from Roi Et. She has winning innocent good-girl charm, so different from what you get elsewhere in town. She likes to talk to him even though farangs are not so rare there (the Thai-Farang ratio recently moved down from 98:2 to 95:5). She says she studies at the local business school; English, computers and accounting.
She can't understand that he comes alone.
"You no have lady here?"
"Yang my mee… You know the band Carabao", he asks back?
"YES!", she beams, "Oh wow, YOU know Carabao too?"
"Sure, why not", he shrugs, "And do you know their song 'Mae Sai'?"
"Of course!", she jubilees! "Wow, a European who knows Carabao and 'Mae Sai'! I like that song too!"
"Oh, it's their only song I can actually name."
This he says not. Instead: "Could you ask the band to play 'Mae Sai' for me? The sad ballad fits well into their mellow soundscape. But I don't know how to write it down."
"SURE!" she beams and produces a paper slip that seems the required form for song requests. Writes down something, walks to the stage and hands the slip to the bass player with the red dyed hair.
No fifteen minutes later, the first, melancholic 'Mae Sai' piano chords fill the hall. Across ten tables, PR and Miss Roi Et exchange big smiles. He orders another Mai Tai and another fruit plate. Thailand!
Over time, PR and Miss Roi-Et become acquaintances even though they don't talk much. Actually, most of the time she is not the waitress responsible for his table, so short visits are possible only. "Back again", she would beam upon noticing him, moving towards his table with a huge smile and a deep wai. After a few days she even starts to hold his arm.
"Nice to see you again", he'd go, "Not yet back in Roi-Sawng?" The mild joke always produced her innocent laughter as refreshing as a summer rain.
He does not know how to handle her deep wais though. He has trained himself hard NOT to wai back service people and younger people, but she is not responsible for his table anyway, they are more like buddys who share a knack for the same Thai music. He finally can't help to wai her back, even though it might be a tourist stupidity.
"You know what", he says to her, "If we had met on Dongtan beach and we find out that we both like Carabao, I would have invited you to Kum Punn! But now we are here already, and you are busy non-stop <logging Tom Yam Plaa and 3 liter beer pillars around. Too bad!"
"I mean – do you have a free day when we can go out for dinner and music?"
"I free 3 AM everyday", she says with her open, innocent smile.
I love your photos, I really do. And I enjoyed this story very much. These local live music establishments are best visited upcountry and being alone is no problem!