It was 2002, I was burned out from my computer career. My friends had been talking about Thailand and how I should go. One friend said he busted my balls for a year to get me to go. I had some time off work, so I got my passport, plane ticket and was ready.
At least that is what I thought. My friends knew a guy who ran a beer bar in BKK for two years and arranged a meeting before my departure. He brought his Thai wife to a bar and we had a few drinks. What should I do in Thailand I asked. Hey just go and the rest will take care of itself he said. What about his wife? What did she say? In her broken English over the roar of the local pub she said don't pay more than 1000 baht for a girl. OK lots to go on here. I'm off in two days. I did the Sterling Men's Weekend. I did the Landmark Forum. My friend said that the real weekend is a trip to Thailand. You will experience things you will never see here. OK sounds good.
It was post 911. Get on a plane. Where is the tightened airport security? It is much more stringent in present times. I land in Taipei and get my connecting flight to Bangkok. When will all of this flying end? Finally I am in Bangkok. My friends suggested going to Phuket right away, and checking out Bangkok later. OK, now to get a flight to Phuket. I am stopped by countless people in navy blue uniforms asking me where I want to go. I say no thanks, and keep going to the Thai Airways counter to ask about a ticket to Phuket. All booked they say, after several times. I meet an American expat who lives in Phuket, and is trying to get there too. What can you tell me that I should know, I ask. Well if you are in Bangkok, check out Nana plaza. I write it in my book. If you don't feel comfortable bringing a girl to your hotel at first, get a short time. They will have a place in the back of the bar where you can go. Good advice. Thanks.
Finally I get a flight to Phuket on Phuket Air. Land in Phuket. All the people on flights get on busses, taxis, etc. I am approached by a guy who wants 500 baht to drive me into Phuket. I say 400 baht. He says no. I say thanks, I will wait. Then he says OK. Bargaining works good so far. Take me to the hotel my friends stayed at. Him and his buddy talk in Thai, then they say they don't know it. Fair enough. Let's go. There are stickers all over the windshield, so I figure these must be taxi permits, later I see all cars have them. Â We drive to Phuket and stop at a travel agent. I reiterate that I want to stay at the Hotel that my friends stayed at. That hotel out of business the woman says. They take me to a hotel outside Kata beach. Finally some sleep.
The next morning I wake up, have some breakfast and go for a walk. I find a place that rents scooters, rent one, and go for a spin. Up this road, down that road, to get my bearings. Hey, that's the place my friends stayed at. Looks like they are still in business. Oh well, I guess tour operators can't know everything.
I went back to my hotel, had a shower, changed my clothes, and decided that a nice cold beer or two might hit the spot. There were some open bars next to the hotel, so I dropped in there. It was nice and quiet, I was the only one there so it would be just perfect. I sat down and got a beer, and several fine young ladies materialized out of nowhere. They lined up at the front of the bar and started doing dances for passers by. One lady approached me, and asked me if I wanted to go with her. I thought, I am here so I may as well get my feet wet. I harkened back to the expat in the airport saying that if I didn't feel comfortable bringing a girl back to my hotel, get a short time in the bar. I negotiated a short time rate for some activity in the back of the bar. There were a lot more girls in the back of the bar that had to clear out so that we could take care of things. Once they were all cleared out she handed me a towel and motioned for me to wash myself. There was no shower, just a tap and a bucket of water. I doused myself in water with a ladle from the bucket. In the process, I dropped the towel on the floor and it became soaking wet. When I returned to the girl of my dreams, she asked me what happened to the towel. I motioned that I dropped it and it became wet. She let out a wrath of what were probably unpleasant Thai words. We took care of business amongst the the hole ridden walls with various creatures scurrying through. I got my clothes on and headed back to the front again. I was joined by two lovelies that I played connect with for a while. They won the first few games and once I got the hang of it and started winning, they grew tired of it quickly. Several beers later, I was ready to depart to my hotel room. Of course the young lovely that I was with wanted to come back with me and asked if her friend could come too. I said ok but just for massage. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink, say no more, say no more. In my drunken stupor during the evenings activities, I turned the air conditioning on full blast when the ladies asked me to turn it down. I woke up at one point chilled to the bone, no pun intended. I could only wonder how my beauties could sleep, wrapped up in their towels under such conditions. The ladies departed the next morning. Every time I drove my scooter past the bar after that, the scornful wet towel lady screamed at me "You take 2 ladies!" with one or both hands flailing in the air.
I stayed in Kata for the next few days and had a great time. I would get up, get some breakfast consisting of fruit from the local stalls, perhaps with some fish. At about 10:00 AM, the sun would be blasting out a full 36 degrees. I would go to the local inconvenience store, get 2 quarts of beer, and 2 large bottles of water. I would then head off to the beach to suntan for a few hours. Later on in the afternoon, I would lunch on a bbq chicken leg and a bag of som tam. I learned that the best way to order your som tam was to point to a chili and then hold up the number of fingers that you wanted to be added. I was good with 5, which was light weight. The locals mentioned that 15 was a good number. Then I would take my trusty scooter out for a spin in the cooler afternoon air.
So here I am on my scooter and the sun is sinking low. My backpack is in the front basket and blocking the headlight from lighting the road in front of me. I pull over to the side of the road. Natch, I stand up and start to adjust my rucksack in the basket, and lo and behold, the bike comes crashing down on my calf. Had those few beers before taken leave of my senses? My senses were back in full swing now, sending excruciating pain signals back to my brain. Well, it can't be all that bad, maybe tomorrow I will have a small scuff. Next day's reality check – my leg looks like I should be in some freak show that travels from town to town. What about Thailand's hospitals? Don't know. I'll be OK. Besides I read about all the people in hospitals and did not want to be one of them. I hobble around for the next 5 days. But I must go.
My next destination is Krabi. I buy a ticket that takes me on a bus to the ferry that will take me to the big K. My Tilac sees me to the bus and gives me a long blank stare as I depart. Her face is emotion less and so is mine as the bus drives away. Weird. I still remember her face. I talked to a few Aussies on the ferry as we cruise to Krabi. When I get to Krabi, I jump on a bus to take us to town. I ride all the way to the end of town. When I ask where is a nice hotel, the driver points to across the street where the bus has stopped. Just like in Kata, when I asked where is a good bite to eat, they pointed across the street. So nice that all the amenities are always just across the street in the Kingdom.
So I am in my newfound hotel in Krabi (actually Ao Nang beach). There are marvelous cliffs all around a vast expanse of beach. I settle up to the snack bar for a bite to eat, and a cold beer. The TV set is tuned to a sports channel, and I watch snowmobile racing from the northern States. How ironic. Why are Thais tuned in to snowmobile racing? Why am I watching it? I don't miss the snow. After my snack, I figure some exploring is in order. I walk up to a beer bar about 100 yards up the road. A nice open air affair, perfect place to have a few more beverages. The beer bar is run by a ladyboy, whose sister from the upcountry owns it. Easy to tell, but I ask the girls if that is a ladyboy, a quick acknowledgement is given, followed by an ensuing hush. I guess these topics are not widely discussed. I hang around the for a little while longer. One girl asks me to buy her a drink as well as her friend. Her friend asks me to buy her a drink and so forth. Soon, I have bought the whole bar a drink, but still no takers for the night. I ask for my bill. 1400 baht. I guess buying everyone a drink wasn't such a good idea. I pay the bill, stumble out to the road, pointed in the direction of my hotel. Ladyboy runs out, jumps on a scooter and offers me a lift. I say that I can walk (not really) as it only just a bit away. Ladyboy insists, and gives me a lift just down the road. Geographically pinpointing the location of tourist's hotels must be important I thought. I thank ladyboy for the lift, and insist on requisite solo sleep for the evening.
The next day, I head off towards the centre of town to rent a scooter. The girl touting scooter rentals insists on leaving a passport as ID, but a photocopy of the picture page does in an easy pinch after the refusal of leaving said article. I'm off for a leisurely buzz of the surrounding country roads. No back pack in the front basket this time. My leg is still smarting from the last encounter with heavy metal. The evening finds me back at the beer bar. I start on consumables in the form of beer bottles, but the lovelies are maintaining a cool demeanor. I start to play some pool. The winner (me) gets to play ladyboy. I try to keep the table, and after a few games, ladyboy wins and then coyly asks the question "What would you like now?". As saving face is most important in the Kingdom, I reply in a hardly audible tone, "I am sorry but I am not interested". Ladyboy turns quickly, advancing towards the bar and shrieks a painful "You don't like ladyboy!". Uh oh! What have I done? Stepped on a hornet's nest? All is silent except for the din of 70's rock through blown ghetto blaster speakers. In a snap, the uneasiness subsides. All of a sudden the flies are attracted to the proverbial you know what. I pick a nice looking lady and engage in a game of pool. She looks really sexy with a Marlboro sticking out of her mouth as she bends over to take her shot. You know the rest.
She splits in the morning and we arrange to go for a tour on scooter in the afternoon. Noonish, I venture to the beer bar, but not a sign of life. My footsteps from above heed a call from the lower level "Hey come on down!". I walk down behind the bar to the lower level where I find my lovely and her companions engaged in a game of cards. Looks like she is losing her last night's windfall to her co-workers. We saddle up on the trusty scooter and head off to the local attractions. One of which is a Buddhist temple with a shrine under construction on the top of a cliff. After we make offerings by buying gold leaf and rubbing it on statues, the lovely stays below as I make my way straight up 1200 steps to the shrine above. On the way up, I meet several tourist folk and exchange pleasantries. I meet several Monks who speak Thai and French. Luckily my previous life as a courier de bois enables me conversation with the Monks in their second language. When I reach the top, I am drenched in sweat and my leg stings in pain. It is well worth the magnificent panoramic view from the shrine. I take my shirt off and rinse it under a water tap in an effort to cool off. It seems that walking around a shrine with no shirt on is not well received by the Monks. Note to self – definite no-no. When I return to the base, the girl asks me "What took you so long?". Well, maybe it was so nice. We head back in to the town of Krabi, stopping to take pictures along the way. In Krabi, we stop at the department store in town. Locals must leave their bags at the front of the store, but I am free to carry my back pack with me. Reverse discrimination in Thailand? Half a dozen lovelies watch as I look through some cargo pants. 7 bucks for a pair of shorts? Sold. My rental buys a pair of shoes and some sundries. The shoes have sequential numbered stickers on the bottom to match them up as a pair. Back at the bar, I say in jest "Are you sure they are they same size? They have different numbers on the bottom". She says "Now all my friends are laughing at me!". I only said to her. Is there secret Thai radar picking up everything?
Back at the shack, my impromptu security system unravels the next morning. The night before, I took all of my belongings and placed them in a cupboard with a stack of hangers on top. If the cupboard doors were opened, all of the hangers would spill out, making a large noise. I had told my lovely of the pamphlets I had collected of the places I had been. In the morning, she asked me if she could see them. I was unable to open the cupboard door discretely without triggering my own alarm system. It was somewhat comical. How did she know about that?
Next destination: Ko Phangan. I signed up for an air conditioned bus to take me to the ferry landing to get to Ko Phangan. What shows up? A minivan stuffed full of backpackers. I got my backpack into the van before the unlucky travelers had theirs put up on the roof, not tied down by much. Some where along the way of our cramped journey, the van got a flat. The driver limped the van to a nearby garage where they put us up on a hoist, all still inside, to fix the tire. After about half an hour up on the hoist, we were all getting quite hot inside the van. We pleaded to let us out, only to be assured that it would not be much longer. Finally after several more pleas, they lowered the hoist and finally let us out. In another five minutes, the tire was fixed and we were ready to go. Only in Thailand?
Ko Phangan was fantastic. It was beautiful everywhere I went. I rented a hut on the beach for 8 bucks a night. The family that ran the collective of huts were glued to the TV set every night watching Thai ghost movies. I sat and watched for a few minutes one night. They said it was a really good movie and asked me if I had seen it before. Sadly, I had not. I rented a scooter and buzzed around the area one day. When I returned the scooter, the boss man went over the scooter with a fine tooth comb and was shocked that there was no damage. Sorry Buddy, no cash cow here.
After lapping up Ko Phangan, I took a ferry back to the mainland then flew north to Chiang Mai. I arrived in the evening. When I gathered my backpack they basically started switching off the lights for the night. The parking lot cleared out and I was left sitting there in the dark. Fortunately, a lone taxi driver pulled in looking for a non-existent fare. I scooped a ride into town and the driver found me a hotel near the south moat of the old city. At about 11:00 PM, I went for a walk. The streets were empty, there was garbage rustling around in the wind. What kind of desolate place is this? I thought. The next morning was completely different. People, cars, scooters everywhere. It was Songkran Festival, and I was about to find out what that was all about. As soon as I left my hotel I was doused with water all day long. I parked myself at the moat wall, and watched the parades. I was amazed at the elaborate costumes as the many tribes presented themselves. After some time, I went in to the old city and sat down for a bite to eat. A local came and sat down. I offered him some food and he offered me some Thai whiskey. We sat and talked for a while and ate and drank. I woke up about two hours later with an empty bottle of Thai whiskey and no visitor. He was a tuktuk driver and had to go drive someone somewhere. My back pack was intact with all my belongings. My rubbery legs were no help in keeping my balance as I made my way back to my hotel. In fact, it was a miracle that I even found my hotel. The next day, the tuktuk driver took me around to all the touristy spots – elephant show, snake show, monkey college, gold and silver shops, bamboo shops. I liked the statues at the silver shops. The woman who was showing me around held the statues with a cloth. I found out later that it is forbidden for a woman to touch a likeness of Buddha.
A few days later, I rented a scooter and went to Doi Inthanon National Park. It is truly a beautiful place. On my way there, I stopped at the roadside to ask for directions, and ended up visiting with a family. Some of the younger people knew some English and we talked for hours about all things in our lives. I just made it to the gates of the park for a short time as the sun was getting low. The only un-nerving part of the trip was when I was doused with water on the highway while going 90 km/h.
With all the other things, I never spent any time in Bangkok. Next time.
They nailed it with the tourist slogan "Amazing Thailand!". As the Germans might say, I need to get to the flughafen more often..