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Thai Stereotypes

  • Written by Mac BKK
  • July 2nd, 2009
  • 18 min read


Thailand has its good and bad sides just like any place. I would say its good sides weigh heavier than its bad sides because otherwise I find it hard to explain why so many people from all over the world choose to live or holiday there. So all in all it must be that Thailand is actually a pretty great place. That happens to be what I think personally.

But there are annoying aspects. How to settle disagreements? How to make a legitimate complaint? How to be treated fairly in certain situations? This can be troublesome. And there are annoying people too. I’d like to point out three stereotypes of the “annoying people” that can be found in Thailand: #1 The nosy and imprudent taxi driver, #2 The corrupt policeman and #3 The cold hearted, scheming bargirl. Then I’d like to tell a few stories that show that you should not be too hung up on stereotypes.

* * *

The taxi driver

It was a taxi ride from Bangkok to Pattaya and I was hung over the way only a four-day stint in the bars around Sukhumvit, after a long autumn/winter in dark Scandinavia, can make you hung over. It’s simply impossible not to get a bit over excited during those first days of holidaying and things easily get a bit out of control; at least for me they do. Have you seen video of cows being let out to pasture after a long winter in the barn? That’s pretty much how I feel when I descend upon Bangkok every year in January. Late nights, booze, women, wake up, a few drinks by the pool in the afternoon, a massage, then at it again, giddy with joy. It takes its toll. So what was needed was a place to relax for a while and what better location for this than Pattaya, right?

I got into a cab on Soi 11 and the driver was a man in his forties. Now I have been in quite a few taxis in Thailand and I feel the drivers can often be a bit intrusive, to say the least, and that they are often not that concerned with the comfort of their passengers. Not all cabdrivers are like this but there is a definite risk that you get a bad one. So I quickly negotiated the fare and the particulars regarding the toll-way and who would pay for that and I made sure he had spare change for this at hand and then I put on my sunglasses and said to the driver, not in an unfriendly way mind you, that I was hung over like hell and that I had to sleep.

This guy was very understanding, He didn’t pester me with tiresome questions about where I come from, what I do, and whether I have a girlfriend in Thailand or at home or both. He didn’t smoke in the car and he didn’t blast my head to pieces with ear shattering Thai music. He put the radio on at a low volume, spoke only once on his mobile phone and in a hushed voice and for only about two minutes and pretty much left me in peace, just like I desired.

Even better, when we stopped for gas he went inside and got some stuff in a 7/11 and when he came back and saw I was awake he gave me an iced-coffee he had bought for me. “Birdy. Very good for hangover”, he said. I enjoyed the coffee drink and for a moment felt shitty because I’d thought badly of him from the beginning, but very glad I had made sure not to let it show.

As we approached Pattaya we chatted for a bit and I found that this was actually a very friendly guy who was pleasant and polite and quite interesting. He knew of the King of Sweden because at that moment the Swedish King was a guest at the King of Thailand’s and my driver was excited to have a Swedish customer in his car. I had a pleasant and relaxing ride down to Sin City and I told my driver so and gave him a decent tip, because since he had been a good service provider I wanted to be a good customer in return.

* * *

The police officer

My friend and I had spent two days in the sleepy town Nong Khai and we were on the train and heading back to Bangkok. I usually fly because when you’re on vacation your time is valuable and I don’t want to waste any on transportation that’s not optimal in terms of speed. Why would I want to be on a bus when I could be at a beach or in a bar? So normally I would have been in a cab to Udon Thani to catch a flight back to Bangkok from there. But my friend had convinced me that an overnight train ride in the VIP section of the train was sort of an experience in its own right. And his promise that there’d be beer sealed the deal.

If I recall correctly it cost a thousand baht each for a two person private compartment. If you travel alone you can get a compartment for yourself if you pay five hundred baht for the empty seat, or you can pay only the one thousand and take your chances with whatever fellow traveller you might end up with (And no – it most likely won’t be Miss Thailand).

The train leaves in the early afternoon from Nong Khai and arrives in Bangkok early the next morning. If you factor that you don’t need a hotel room for the night the cost of a thousand baht is very low. I’ve heard there are similar options between Bangkok and Chiang Mai but I have never tried it myself. To be sure of getting a VIP compartment it’s apparently recommended that you buy a ticket in advance, or so I was told. We bought ours in the early morning on the day of departure.

It’s called a VIP compartment but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s anything fancy. It’s a small compartment with less than enough room to stretch your legs while seated and a sink and a small table. The back of the two-seat sofa folds up to function as the upper bed and the seat of the sofa functions as the lower bed. The word “bed” is a stretch; it’s actually more like a padded board. Attendants come in at around 10 PM to 11 PM and make the compartments ready for the night. The quilts, pillows and linens were of adequate quality and completely clean.

But before bed there was the beer. They had no imported beer and because Chang is most likely highly toxic and Singha is most likely also toxic but not to the same degree we settled for large bottles of Singha. It was cold and tasted quite good. I don’t really remember the price but I have a feeling it was reasonable.

The toilet situation: very important when beer is a factor in the situation you’re in. There was a hole-in-the-floor style toilet down the hall in the wagon. To do more than take a leak would in my opinion be a real challenge. Luckily I limited myself to peeing like a Chang, from all the Singha, and that worked out fine enough.

My friend drank beer just like I did and once when he was away to the toilet and I thought he was coming back I looked up and there stood, instead of my friend, one of Thailand’s Finest. Yes, indeed, a policeman, a copper, the long arm of the Law. This was no traditional boy in brown but a boy in black instead. But that only made him look even more intimidating to me.

He was a handsome devil. I’m as straight as they come but I freely admit I can see on a guy when he’s good looking and this guy was. Maybe 30 years old, taller than most Thais, built like a Muay Thai champion and carrying a huge .45 at his hip. A Thai Alpha male in uniform. Nothing good can possibly come out of this encounter – was my immediate reaction as I tried to force the smile on my face to look somewhat sincere, or at least to not look terrified.

He started querying me about where we were from (Sweden for me and America for my friend), where my friend was (Toilet) where we were going (Bangkok), where in Bangkok we were staying (Well, we're going to go on to Pattaya and stay there), etc. He was very polite and not at all threatening but this did nothing to calm me down, it only made him seem smoother and potentially more dangerous.

My main fear, as I didn’t recognise the black uniform and because we were on a train from a border town heading towards the capitol, was that he was some sort of customs officer looking for contraband. Not that we had any on us, not that I know of, but you just don’t want to be in a situation like that in the first place. What if a joint or a small bag of white powder or pills somehow found its way into one of our bags to force the negotiation of a steep fine? That’s one of the ultimate nightmares in Thailand, getting caught with your hand in the YaaBaa-jar.

But upon hearing that we were going on to Pattaya the officer seemed pleased and asked if we had arranged for transportation. No we hadn’t, I confessed. He made a call and my Thai is far too bad to catch the conversation but he turned to me and asked if his cousin could drive us to Pattaya for 1200 baht all costs included. I was relieved and readily agreed because for one it would please him and also because as far as I know 1200 baht from the train station in Bangkok to Pattaya is a good deal. And we would pay only upon arrival which felt reassuring.

When we got to Bangkok in the morning he was there to guide us to the waiting car and he even helped me carry one of my two bags. My friend and I both shook hands with the officer and then we had a pleasant ride to Pattaya in a very nice car for a decent price. All arranged for by a guy who initially scared the hell out of me.

* * *

The bar-girl

Now I know what you guys are thinking. You’re thinking the following:

“OK, so this smartass has told two stories about Thais he thought might be bad and then turned out to be good and now he intends to tell a story about a bargirl that also turns out to be some sort of good Samaritan as if such a creature exists in the real world. Is he for real, this guy?”

And you’re right! That’s exactly what I’m going to do. But bear with me. Now, I’m not gullible and I know you really shouldn’t trust any bargirl. I was careful even as a newbie and the more I learned about the scene the more jaded and protective of myself I became. I know that the vast majority of these girls will take you to the cleaners given half a chance. Some will steal from you, many will try to cheat you, all will lie to you. But this one was… yes, you know what’s coming… wait for it… she was… different!

This was some years ago and I was on my third trip to LOS and I stayed for a week in Patong Beach, Phuket. I had a great time in Phuket and it was one of my best trips ever, in part because I had managed to secure an 8 week holiday by piling a lot of overtime up and adding it to my legally mandated 5 weeks of annual vacation time (Take that, Yanks!). I don’t really know why I haven’t been back to Phuket since then.

That particular evening I had dinner in a small restaurant and I remember having a really spicy dish with chicken and green curry and rice. Then I hit Soi Bangla and a few of the beer bars there. I think my favourite one was that Aussie bar where that Aussie woman got into trouble recently. I got a bit tanked and then went to the Tiger disco. Phuket is in my opinion freelancer territory. Or is it that I was younger and newer to the scene back then? Anyway, I never spent much time in the gogos in Phuket and I don’t remember hooking up in any of the beer bars, those were for the pre-club drinking. The discos were where I found my action and Tiger was my venue of choice.

I noticed Mem immediately. She stood out from the crowd even here where the crowd was packed with 18-25 year old beauties. She was just so damn hot I couldn’t believe it. She had a beautiful face, a body to die for and she danced so sexily I think there was a puddle of drool on the floor where I stood. Now I’m not much of a dancer myself. I don’t enjoy it very much and I certainly don’t enjoy it in places where dancing means trying to show off as much as possible. I’m more like a spider that instinctively seeks out the darkest corner. There I lurk with my back against the wall and a drink in my hand and observe and plot my game.

This doesn’t work at all in the west. No one notices you. So you’ve got to be more on the offensive and my way, since I don’t dance there either, is to hang in the bar. Like the crocodile in the shrinking body of water during the yearly draught who knows the gazelles will have to come there to drink eventually and patiently waits; so I stand in the bar, confident that girls will have to come there to hydrate sooner or later. And when they do I offer to buy their drinks for them so they will feel obligated to spend some time with me before they move on. This is my window of opportunity and since I can’t do like in Thailand and offer them money outright I have to try to be charming. My success rate is not what I would like it to be (100%) but occasionally it works out fine. But I digress.

In Thailand it’s like the girls are completely different. They will try to be seen on the dance floor but they don’t really go for the guys who are up there showing off with fancy moves, strutting their stuff. Their eyes instead scan the crowd of passive spectators and all you need to do is to make the right eye contact with your lady of choice and she will be happy to join you for a drink. For the record: I’m talking freelancers here. Hi-so Bangkok girls probably behave just like girls in the west and other rules apply, but I wouldn’t know about that.

Anyway, Mem saw me in my corner and I made just the right eye contact to get her to come over and we got on really well right from the start. We had a few drinks, talked some amongst ourselves, then talked some with a few of her friends, then we settled on how much money I was to pay her if we went back to my hotel and had sex and she stayed for the night. The agreed sum was 1500 baht. And that, right there, is why I, standing in the corner, was more attractive to Mem than the guys strutting their stuff on the dance floor. She’s there to earn and doesn’t care for guys who are full of themselves and maybe think they shouldn’t have to pay for it. She wants me who actually prefers to pay for it because it’s easy and convenient and there are fewer strings attached. It was a match made in heaven.

We retreated speedily with her driving and me riding bitch on her motorcycle back to my hotel. This hotel had a funny policy worth mentioning. They had a “joiners fee” but they didn’t tell you about it in advance. I stayed there for 7 nights and when I settled the bill I thought it was a little dearer than I had expected so I looked on the receipt and it said: “Lady in room 6 nights – 1200 baht”. Lucky me I didn’t have to turn that receipt in to my employer for a refund.

Mem and I got up to my room and first I showered and then she showered and while she showered it hit me like a sledgehammer. Food poisoning. It must have been that crappy chicken with green curry I ate for dinner because I had been feeling a little queasy but tried to write it off as a consequence of alcohol but when I lied down on my bed I very suddenly got violently ill. Food poisoning is no joke. It’s like getting raped, by yourself, from the inside. You’re completely helpless and so sick you can’t focus a thought. Mem was in the bathroom but I had no choice but to run in there, stick my head in the toilet and … I’m going to spare you the details.

For the next hour I ran delirious back and forth to the toilet until I was emptied out. I told Mem she could go and take money in my jeans but she said no and I was too weak to argue although I wanted to be alone. It was embarrassing but after a while I felt she had already seen me at my most humbled and I accepted her presence.

When I could finally stay still in bed I alternated between shaking from freezing coldness and burning up, sweating buckets and I had a splitting headache. Mem would lie next to me and warm me with her body when I was cold and when I was warm she would go wet a towel to wipe me with and another to press against my forehead. She fed me a few aspirin she got from the reception and then water throughout the night until I had drunk all there was to drink, at which point she went and got more from somewhere. She stayed up the whole night and fussed over me like an angel of mercy, or so it seemed to me in my misery.

In the morning I fell into a deep sleep and slept throughout the day and woke in the afternoon and Mem was still there, watching over me. I felt much better. I felt well enough, only I felt weak. That’s the upside to food poisoning; it usually goes away fairly quickly. The downside is it makes up for its lack of perseverance with its crippling intensity. But once it’s over you just need some nutrients into your system and your strength returns.

I was really grateful to Mem and also a little embarrassed by having put her through all that so when we were about to depart I tried to give her 5000 baht. She immediately handed me all the money back and said no, I was not to pay her. I thought I was at least going to pay my dues and handed her 2000 baht but she refused it. I was confused and said we had agreed on 1500 after all. Yes, but that was for sex she explained, not for helping me when I was sick. If someone needs help you help and you don’t take money from them for it, she said.

Cynic that I am I suspected she was trying to wave the one time sum of money and “prove herself” to me and go for a sweeter long term deal. And I prefer to pay my dues precisely to avoid any long term commitments. But she seemed to really mean what she said. She would sell sex to someone who wanted it, but help for someone who needed it was free. I invited her to join me for a meal, not sure whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner, and she agreed. We had a nice meal and then she left. No asking for my phone number, no asking to see me again, just a “good luck to you” and a sweet smile and then she was off.

Now, this is a true story. I was as surprised when this happened as I’m sure you are reading about it, and it played with my mind quite a bit. Why did she, a working girl who sells sex for money, be that kind to a complete stranger and then refuse compensation? Why? I have but one answer: she was different.

* * *

So there you have them. My three examples that I say prove that although we should be vigilant and careful we should not always automatically assume the worst of people. And that for all Thai Stereotypes there are exceptions.

//Mac

Stickman's thoughts:

Excellent stories!