Pattaya Memoires 8
10. Emerald Tour (1)
I was excited and jetlagged when I first touched Thai soil late October, now about 6 years ago. It was my first long distance flight ever and I flew 12 hours from Schiphol to Don Muang, where I arrived at about 8 am local time. I was to stay 28 days in the Kingdom. The heat struck me hard when I left the airport building, never before had I experienced something like this, and to be honest I didn't like it at all. What an ignorant fool I was … But I reckoned I wasn't used to this and it would get better over time. I did not consider taking a limo to the Bangkok city centre but I went straight to a taxi driver and asked him to put on the meter. The taxi was decorated with many pictures of the Buddha and HM the King, all kinds of amulets and even a couple of statues were glued to the dashboard. I inquired with the driver about this, but soon found out that the nice man did not understand one bloody word of English. About half an hour later I reached my hotel, the Bangkok Center Hotel on Rama IV road, opposite the Bangkok Railway station.
I had to wait in Bangkok for 2 days after which I would meet the rest of the group of people I would travel through Thailand with. I had enrolled for an organized tour through the country, the so-called "Emerald Tour" organized by a Dutch travel agency. We would start in Bangkok but I arrived a couple of days early. The group would consist of 11 female and 10 male bachelors, that was the only thing I knew about my future travel companions. 19 of them were Dutch, I was the only Belgian. I didn't know anybody of this group so I was very excited but I still had 2 days to kill. I dropped off my suitcase in my hotel room and went outside, tired but eager to see the city. Right outside the hotel a couple of tuk-tuk drivers were waiting for customers. I read about the fuel, gem, and other scams but in fact I didn't care and was about to try things out. A driver came up to me and asked if he could take me to a gem store. I would have to go inside, he didn't care if I bought something or not, and in return for bringing me to the store the driver would receive a fuel coupon from the store owner. This did not really sound like a scam to me, more like an agreement, so I went for it because I did not feel like I had anything to lose. Actually I enjoyed the ride, it was a lot cooler than walking and it took me to parts of the city I would otherwise have never been to. When we arrived at our destination I went into the gem store, looked around for a couple of minutes and returned outside to the driver. I didn't buy anything. The driver thanked me and asked me if he could drop me off at a silk store nearby. I agreed. After having visited this store the driver asked me do another one, after which he would, as a compensation for my time, take me anywhere in Bangkok free of charge. Again I agreed and after the last visit to a shop, I asked the driver to drop me off at Sukhumvit Soi 33. That was completely on the other side of town, but the driver said it was ok and he took me to that location for free.
I had lunch at a stall and after that I decided to explore Sukhumvit. In fact, there was not that much to see, being it afternoon and all. After a nice walk I arrived at the famous Soi Cowboy. The street was dead with everything still closed. At the end however, there seemed to be like a bar behind trees with a terrace which seemed to be open. I went in and ordered a Singha. I was the only customer in the bar. After a couple of minutes 2 farangs with their Thai girlfriends came in. They sat a couple of metres away from me and I started a conversation. The men were both 60 something retired Australians living just outside Bangkok. We had a very nice talk and they told me all kinds of interesting stories and places to go. I complained about the fact that everything was closed in this part of town in the afternoon and that there was no fun to be had and even if one could find a place that was open, there were almost no customers. The Australian men told me about the Biergarten in Sukhumvit Soi 7. I had never heard of that place before. They told me the bar was packed with women and girls all day and night long. They also advised me to be careful. They told me not to look too long at one particular lady, because when she thinks one is interested, she will come over to talk and it will be very very hard to get rid of her, at least without being impolite or even rude. I liked the idea of a bar packed with women on an ordinary afternoon so I asked the guys if they didn't feel like visiting the Biergarten with me. They agreed and we took the skytrain. Entering the Biergarten I felt like a movie star on a red carpet. Wow !! Both sides of the entrance were full of pretty girls trying to catch my attention. I followed the advice of my fellow farangs and went straight through to the big u-shaped bar, not looking at any girl in particular. We were lucky to find a couple of free seats at the bar. I looked around and enjoyed the scenery and a Singha. After an hour or so the Aussies and I split up and agreed to meet each other that night at 21 hrs in the Rainbow I bar in Nana Plaza. I got back to my hotel, showered, changed, watched some TV and then got back to Sukhumvit to grab a bite before going to Nana. I chose an outside restaurant and ordered a big fish that looked very tasty. The fish came with rice and a very small plate with some sauce. Looking at the big plate of rice I thought I didn't have enough sauce so I poured the contents of the little plate over the rice and mixed it. I was hungry and put a spoonful of rice in my mouth. Big mistake ! Smoke was coming out of my ears, my eyes were popping out and tears were rolling over my cheeks, my nose was leaking and I felt like my mouth was on fire. What an ignorant fool I was … The sauce, I guess it was "nam phla", was extremely spicy, then I realized why so little of it was served, it was full of very small red chunks of chilli peppers but I noticed this too late. A couple of farangs sitting a few tables away saw the whole thing and were smiling and laughing at me. Guess there was no way to hide that I was an absolute newbie to Thailand. Luckily I did not pour the sauce on the fish so I could eat it without having to call the fire department after I finished my meal. After I paid for the food I went to Rainbow I but unfortunately I did not meet the Australians. I waited for over an hour but they did not show up. I never saw nor heard from them again.
I went to the Biergarten in Soi 7 to check the bar out in the evening. Now it was really packed. I had to wait a couple of minutes before finding a free seat. There I met Nat. She was 36 and spoke English very well. We had a very good talk and an very enjoyable evening together. After talking for a couple of hours and having too many beers, I took Nat to my hotel room. When I woke up however, Nat had left the building, along with my digital camera and about 2000 baht cash. Fuck!! The bitch ran off while I was sleeping. Welcome to Thailand. This was my first encounter with a lady of the night in Thailand and it wasn't a good one. I learned my lesson the hard way. You hear the story about farang getting ripped off a lot and yes, I have also been a victim. Strangely she just took my cash and camera, she did not bother to steal my credit cards, passport and Sony Ericsson P800 (a smartphone which was very hot and expensive back then). Later I met an American expat up in Chiang Mai. I told him the story and he found this awkward, he told me she must have liked me otherwise she would have stolen everything that had any value or that she could sell. He said that maybe she needed the money really really badly so she decided to steal from me. Anyway, I wouldn't let the fact that I lost some cash and a cheap camera to a thief / hooker ruin my holiday. However … I fucked this woman bareback. What an ignorant fool I was … Thinking back on that and talking to some people about it scared the hell out of me. What if the was HIV positive ? That was possible as she was 36 AND a freelancer. The thought of that made my face turn pale and my hands sweat, I felt like vomiting. Getting my blood tested was useless, as an incubation period of at least 3 months has to be taken into account. I decided to put the idea of possibly being infected by HIV out of my head, but I cannot deny that in the 3 months that followed I regularly thought about it anyway and I every time this happened it scared the living daylights out of me. Back in Belgium I took a test approximately 4 months later and to my relief I was healthy. Anyway, after that night never ever again I bedded a bargirl not wearing a condom !!
The same day I decided to go to Panthip Plaza on Petchaburi Road to buy a new digital camera. First I tried a taxi but the driver did not understand where I wanted to go. I told him "Panthip", but he looked at me like I came from Mars. I guess I did not have the tones right. I believe the first syllable should have been pronounced with a high tone or something. Not being able to communicate with the cabdriver I crossed Rama IV and went inside the Railway Station building. There was a tourist office there where people spoke English. I explained I wanted to go to Panthip and the nice lady behind the counter told me to go outside and wait for bus 5 which would take me directly to Panthip. I thanked her and 10 minutes later I was on the bus. The bus driver however did understand where I wanted to go. It was the first time I took a bus in Bangkok. It was hot, very cheap (5 baht back then) and the bus looked and sounded like it could break down any second. When we arrived at Panthip the driver stopped in the middle of the road to let me out. Good service, I thought. And all that for just 5 baht. I enjoyed my time in Panthip and bought a digital camera which ran on AA batteries. I like AA batteries because you can never run out of power simply because you can buy AAs at every corner of every street in the whole world.
That night I visited Soi Cowboy but I did not take anyone out. I went to bed rather early because I was excited. In the morning I would meet my Dutch travel companions for the first time !!
To be continued …
That first trip sounds most eventful!