My First Visit to Thailand
I distinctly remember the year and reason for my first visit to Thailand. The year was 2002. In fact I also remember the departure date of my trip. November 11. I was working in Northern Virginia at a job that allowed me significant freedom with my schedule and I had taken a trip to Romania earlier that summer. I was only in Bucharest for 23 hours. (Maybe another story some day).
I was interested in living part time in Costa Rica and was running the numbers about airline costs back and forth. I was then only a novice in the world of air miles and the way they affect the bottom line cost of air travel. I was aware that after becoming a “silver” member of Northwest Airlines mileage club I would be able to get free first class upgrades on flights between the US and Costa Rica. I ran the numbers and discovered that if I were to achieve “silver” status I could be flying back and forth to Costa Rica for about 300$ first class. I was in! I only had to figure out how to rack up 25K flown miles in the remainder of 2002 to qualify for “silver” status in 2003.
In immediate post 911 America, airline travel was lagging, and promotions ran high. I was able to purchase a round trip ticket from BWI to Bangkok for 750$ net! This great deal included DOUBLE MILEAGE! Wow! I could come very close to my 25K flown miles and have enough banked miles for a free ticket to Europe.
I didn’t want to waste too much money on Thailand while there. I gave myself 7 days on the ground, and I thought this was a bit much when I booked the ticket. I was only going to Thailand as a way to rack up some cheap miles. Looking back on it all, it was kind of a dumb thing to do, but it happened.
I only budgeted myself 1000K USD and planned to return to America with most of it. I found the cheapest hotel I could find. The Woodlands Inn, and made reservations for their economy single room. I think the price was 9.40$ per night and this included breakfast.
I’ll come back to the Woodlands Inn, but let me remind American readers of something important, and perhaps enlighten non Americans at the same time. Jet Lag. There is something I like to call “positive jet lag”. There is also “negative jet lag”. The principle is that when traveling from west to east, you will encounter “negative jet lag”. This is like going from New York to London for example. However when traveling in the opposite direction from BWI (Baltimore/Washington) to Bangkok you encounter “positive jet lag”. Bangkok is a 24 hour time difference from the eastern US. And they are exactly 12 hours opposite. So night is day and today is yesterday. You get the idea. I still haven’t figured it out correctly.
Here is where the weirdness begins. My flight left at 9am from BWI. That meant I had to be at the airport at 7am. That meant I had to be up at 330 am to travel from Northern Virginia to BWI with a little time to spare. It is 3 hours from BWI to Detroit, 2 hour layover, and 13 hours to Narita, 2 hours layover, and 7.5 hours to Bangkok, 45 minutes to deplane and clear customs.
I had gotten very little sleep the night before my flight. I was then awake for 27 hours before arriving in Bangkok with very little sleep on either the Narita, or Bangkok legs of the flight.
I arrived at 1040pm Los time. I changed a few dollars at the Thai Farmers kiosk in the airport, and negotiated a taxi ride to the Woodlands for 15$. I didn’t plan on Bangkok being so dark at night so that was a surprise! I also didn’t realize that the Woodlands would be in such an out of the way place. It is located with its “front” in sort of an alley. Each time the taxi would turn we would go deeper and deeper into this dark city, farther and farther from anywhere that looked like it could hold a hotel. But we finally arrived at the Woodlands. I will always remember how happy I was to see the front of the hotel. I will always remember my first whiff of the rotten spoiled grease stench mixed with rainwater that seems to be synonymous with Bangkok, at least in my memories.
Remember that I knew no-one in Bangkok, and had only information that I had captured from the net as my reference guides.
I checked into the Woodlands which happens to be a Muslim hotel. I am not sure if that matters, but there it is. The staff was courteous, professional and my stay at this hotel would be pleasant and economical.
It is about 1215am. I haven’t slept for 30 hours. Due to “positive jet lag” I am wide awake! Positive jet lag energizes you! There is nothing to due at the Woodlands hotel at 1215am. There are no bars, restaurants, nothing. There are however some tuktuks outside.
For some crazy ass reason I left the hotel with only about 2400 baht / 60 USD on me. I also neglected to take a business card with me from the hotel. You guys can see this coming, can’t you?
I whizzed off into the night with the tuktuk driver and I requested Patpong as my destination. I don’t remember why I didn’t say Nana, but Patpong came out of my mouth. We arrived at Patpong as everything was shutting down. Girls were jumping on to the back of motorcycles, lights were getting turned off, and there I stood, looking like a giant sucker needing to be robbed. I felt very vulnerable and threatened there for some reason. I felt as if the whole nefarious world was sizing me up to figure out who gets to rob and roll me. Maybe it was an unfair Asian bias of some kind, maybe just paranoia, who knows, but I felt like I need to get out of this situation fast.
Along comes a very small tout about 55 years old offering to take me to a very nice “bar” called the butterfly. I knew he was a tout, I knew he would get a cut of whatever I bought, but I felt that if I made myself his “customer” I could get safely somewhere, and it would likely be better than looking like a sitting duck in this end of the world place called Patpong after closing. So I asked him how far? He said “very close”. To me very close is 25 yards, and I figured to him it was 50 or 75 yards.
So I agreed to follow him. We went around one corner then the next, each street becoming darker and smaller and farther away from any witnesses to my mugging and killing. It is weird, I should have said bye after the first corner was turned, but I felt any minute there would be a bar and all would be OK.
I had a horribly eerie feeling and started to unbutton my shirt sleeves very slowly and casually every few steps. I also started to turn up my sleeves on discreet turn at a time. I felt if I got jumped at least I could try to throw hands with my attackers and at list get mugged or killed with some self respect as opposed to just getting done in like a complete and total bitch.
About ten minutes and many turns later we arrived at a small restaurant called the “butterfly”. I went inside and was introduced to the owner named Bong. There was nothing special about Bong, but at the time he embodied every stereotype of every Asian pimp drug lord that I had ever seen on TV. In fact he was just a guy running a little bar.
I ordered a Pepsi. I took one sip from this drink, and looked at my watch. 10 minutes went by, I was still conscious, I took another baby sip. No Mickey yet. I talked with Bong, and explained my reason for being in Bangkok, to find a cheap publisher for my paperback book. Explained to him that I loved his bar and this looked like a great place to bring all my friends for drinks. I was trying to make myself look like if I lived, I could bring in some good business for him.
All of these charades were unnecessary, but at the time I didn’t know whether or not I was playing for life or death or what. I also told Bong that I wanted to do some snorkeling while in Thailand and he motioned over 3-4 girls and told me that any one or all would be happy to go to the islands with me if I wanted. He also offered them to me if I wanted motioning to an upstairs room. I declined, not for morality, or quality of the girls, but because I was too damned scared for my life to think about going to any upstairs room in any dark lonely little bar.
Eventually, I had drank as many colas as I could, and finally it was time to go. This was 2-3 am. I paid my bill and left with Bong assuring me that the tout would take me directly to a taxi stand.
The tout tried to take me to more dinky bars, but I spotted a cab and sprinted for it. The driver didn’t know where the Woodlands hotel was, and the only place I could think of to say was the Thermae, well the Thermae was supposedly closed also so I said “Clinton Plaza.”
We arrived at a closed Clinton Plaza, but at least it was well lit, and looked halfways safe. There was also a little shopping area close by that had an all night restaurant. I ordered crab and pancakes and cola. I appreciated the safety and security of this all night place, but there is a limit on how many pancakes and crabs you can eat, even slowly. I paid up and departed.
I was now outside on Sukhumvit? I forget which street Clinton Plaza was on. Anyway, I walked from secure streetlight to streetlight, 25 yards at a time, up and down that street, I eventually walked a mile or more each way both sides, from lighted safety zone, to dinky little lighted oasis of streetlight all night long. Trying to look tough, or trying to look purposeful, not like a lost white man, not like a mark.
Eventually can you guess what happened? There began to shine so ever a small bit of morning light from the black horizon. The very rare cars seemed to somehow slightly increase with frequency. Eventually an old lady appeared to sell fried doughnuts. I didn’t want any f@#$king doughnuts, but I was happy to do business with her because I felt somehow protected by standing next to someone who obviously wasn’t going to do me in or whatever. The traffic grew, Bangkok awoke. I was saved. Maybe I was in danger at some point, maybe not. It is impossible to say. But I felt real stress, real pressure, and real adventure.
I didn’t knuckle under like some blind gay boy. I did my best to hold my composure, I used strategy, resources, and blind ass good luck to finally see the sun. Was my adventure all in my head? Was I just some wanna be Walter Mite playing out an Asian danger fantasy? Or was I actually in a weirdo situation that required some imagination and dignity to put it behind me?
Well as the sun rose, I began to forget about my weird long night skulking through a darkened Bangkok. It was light and I was ecstatic to see all that Bangkok had to offer.
I walked all around, who knows where?! I ate some fruit, a few shish kebabs, drank more sodas. Now I was beginning to feel the fatigue, but it wasn’t like I could have slept if I had wanted to. I was too wired. I finally found a pharmacy and bought a 10 mg Valium for a few dollars. Apparently I had bought a whole package, but all I wanted was 1 of them. I swallowed it in the pharmacy and made my way home to the Woodlands. I finally got some rest. But I was up again at 10pm.
Remember that Americans from the east coast are experiencing positive jet lag, AND our days are exactly 12 hours opposite Bangkok. So my body felt it was 10am in northern Virginia and I was ready to go again. But I had a much more mainstream experience for the rest of the trip.
Remember the 40 plus hours I was awake? Remember the walk all night and through the next day in the Bangkok sun, without a shower? Well, there was an effect. The inside of my thighs were about as raw and chapped up as you can imagine. They were beet red, and stung me greatly with every step by the end of that first day. <Nothing the readily available Canesteen cream won't fix – Stick>
You might be wondering if I ever met any “company” during my visit. I did at the end of my trip. But I felt that with my thighs so chapped up and chewed to pieces that I would be at risk of HIV exposure with all that raw and freshly chapped skin. How many times have you had sex with a woman to find her juices are now all over your crotch and inner thighs? I wasn’t about to have my excoriated and raw flesh swabbed with the juices of someone who is in a high risk group for HIV. I came to Bangkok for air miles, not to contract a dreaded disease!
Towards the end of my trip my thighs did heal, and I did find comfort in a woman or two. I realize that they are only actresses, but I took tremendous comfort with them, and they were incredibly good ambassadors not only of working girls, but of Thailand. I don’t imply their profession represents Thailand, but as they were on the low end of the social totem pole, and they still comported themselves with incredible kindness and dignity, I believe that speaks well for all of Thailand even if most of Thailand abhors the idea of its daughters working the sex trade.
I would go on to have other adventures on other trips to Thailand. I have been there 5 times now. I have a lot to learn about Thailand and probably always will. But I don’t consider myself a complete greenhorn either.
If there are any LOS greenhorns reading this story, you should take one lesson from my adventure. If you ever find yourself threatened by a situation or person, make yourself the customer of a Thai. Thais respect the business of their brethren. An old lady selling string or a man selling fruit will give you a temporary modicum of security against many threatening parties. Thais respect the business of their brethren. They won’t likely try to harm you if you are doing business with another Thai. Obviously this small rule has limitations on its effectiveness. But it is a good thing to keep in mind.
Now that's a funny way to make your first acquaintance with Thailand.