15th Anniversary of My First Thailand Trip (Random Thoughts – Part 1)
Admittedly, I am sporadic follower of this forum, though with that said I have been following Stickman since he was on the “chopsticks” server and over the past few days have been catching up on a number of varied / well-written posts. The good weather in NYC and the upcoming holiday weekend (AKA the start of the “season”) has provided me with a respite, which I am using to gather my thoughts with the 15-anniversary of my first trip to Thailand on the horizon.
Some color about me. Without casting any aspersions (negative or otherwise), I may be somewhat atypical. I am American, have lived only in major metropolitan areas (1994-2002 = LA and 2002-current NYC), have worked on Wall Street and am now in a senior position with a hedge fund. While my income is down from the prior glory days, during the good times (AKA my formative years – trips to Thailand) I figured that it would take me 2 – 3 weeks to earn what my school teacher mother would earn in a year. I have a Thai wife (10 years this December 24) and a 6-year old daughter that is the love of my life! Since my inaugural trip I have returned +/- 25-times with stays ranging from 1 week to 3 weeks.
To organize my ramblings I am offering my observations consistent with the following timelines: 1994-1997, 1998-2002 & 2002-2009:
My first trip to Thailand was in 1994 (pre-Internet [an important distinction]). At the time I was a junior banker with a since failed Wall Street firm and while short on cash, I was long on travel perks due to traveling in excess of 300-days per year on company business. The majority of the travel cost for the subject trip was covered using a Marriott Awards Certificate (airfare and hotel in Bangkok) and American Express “Membership Miles” (hotel in Phuket). It was important to make the distinction that my first trip to Thailand was made pre-Internet, as I am now going to admit that the trip was promulgated by the obvious reasons consistent with a single male with no time for a social life. There was virtually no concise information available at the time re: the nightlife and most guide books only offered a snippet with the appropriate caveat. One guidebook (I can’t remember which) offered up the name of a large massage parlour by the name of Mona Lisa. So off I go to Bangkok (by myself, as my travel companion was a last minute drop out due to passport issues).
Upon landing in Bangkok and working through the passport queue, my senses were immediately assaulted by the throngs of people 3-4 deep pitching transportation services and hotel accommodations. Lacking the confidence that seems to be inherent to most Americans that travel outside the confines of the English speaking world, I had no desire to find transport to my hotel on arrival, thus arranged an airport pick up. In that Marriott was picking up the tab and at the time the only Marriott in Thailand being on the river, this is where I stayed. Obviously, had I known that the river hotels were the Bangkok equivalent of BFE (especially, re: adult themed nightlife), I may have pursued alternative accommodations. The one thing that jumped out at me immediately was beauty of the Marriott Desk Clerks (a proud tradition that carried over nicely to the JW Marriott on Sukhumvit). After lounging at the pool for the day, I reserved a car / driver through the hotel (Mercedes @ $16 per hour) and off we go in search of tailored clothes and the one destination (see above) which I was able to glean from available reading material.
Bullet point observations:
- The traffic was unlike anything I experienced, as it literally took hours to go anywhere.
- @ Mona Lisa her name was Joy and her number was 174 (does anyone find it strange that I can’t remember what I had for lunch, yet can remember the number of a massage parlour girl from 15 years ago?). The tariff was 3,000 THB and I gave 1,000 THB tip. I saw her 3 times during the course of my trip.
- I never strayed far from the hotel sans a driver (lacked confidence) and never visited any of the defined “entertainment districts”.
- Phuket accommodations were also an unwise choice (re: the nightlife), as the Sheraton was located in Bang Toa Bay.
Even with my exposure limited to 3 trips to Mona Lisa (and 1 trip to Atami on advice of my driver) and the post realized fact that I essentially overpaid for everything, Thailand had me hooked!
The advent of the Internet was a boon to the sharing of information re: travel abroad (no pun intended) and as an early member of a web forum by the name of TSM (Travel and the Single Male), I found not only the best source of information available, but more importantly have forged relationships that I have maintained to this day (including one of my best friends and the emergence of a fantasy football league that today has roots going back to the early days of TSM). My second trip to Thailand in 1996 was actually a honeymoon trip (first wife) and was unremarkable other than an excellent stay and wine tasting at a hotel in Kata Beach (Phuket). It was my third trip in 1997 where fresh with information in my “pocket” from TSM and the opening of the JW Marriott on Sukhumvit that I started to spread my proverbial wings. Other than some new found confidence and a better suited hotel, I met *“M” (by schedule and a TSM contributor) for lunch @ Bourbon Street. “M” was a banker that subsequent to negotiating a deal for a client of his bank managed to negotiate a long term holiday. Among other things Mike was fluent in a number of languages (English not being his primary), a member of the famed Pegasus members club and had the city covered to a much greater extent than the info I brought with me from home. Not only did I make several trips to Pegasus as “M’s” guest, but he turned me on to Soi 33 as a later afternoon / early evening destination and several of Bangkok's better restaurants (including Italian that was on par with anything I could get in NYC/LA).
Bullet point observation:
- The pillars of what would one day become the skytrain gave me some future hope that there would be an alternative to the traffic.
- Being amused by a block in Bangkok where the clubs were all named after deceased artists.
- My first trip to a gogo.
- Discovering by accident the Pearl massage parlour in Phuket Town.
- Coffee in the Emporium on a Sunday while sitting by an escalator and watching with avid interest (AKA lust) a parade of some of the most consistently beautiful females anywhere in the world.
- The JW Marriott, a luxury “guest friendly” hotel with virtually no “walk of shame”.
*”M” now lives full time in Bangkok where he is a partner in a well-known company.
Part 2 to follow
Joseph S. Kohout, JR
" When buying and selling are controlled by legislation, the first things to be bought and sold are legislators."
" While good things may come to those who wait, only what is left by those who hustle."
I bet Thailand has changed a lot since then. Since '97, when I first visited, it has changed hugely.