The Golden Days
On a recent visit to Bangkok I reflected on the changes that had occurred in the industry over the years. Yes, quite a few years, because I started visiting 45 years back. Much of the change is obvious like the growth of the farang night club area from Patpong up to Nana Plaza and then Soi Cowboy. Some other memories that came to mind when pottering around your town.
1. Hotels used to have room boys on every floor. Yes, the old chaps were actually called "boys." They usually slept near the lift, looked after keys, cleaned the rooms, served tea and drinks, and arranged massages. If one strangely didn't have what was referred to as a "sleeping partner", then invariably the room boy with a worried look on his face would offer one. If one turned the kind offer down, then in a rather seedy hotel a boy might even be suggested.
2. "Short time" which many girls seem to favour these days was very uncommon. A hostess who accompanied one to the hotel room expected to spend the night and look after you in the morning. Shoving the poor lady out earlier was bad form and could result in a dreadful loss of face and tears.
3. All hotels welcomed "joiners" as I have heard they are called. But in some upper crust establishments, the poor girl was expected to be delivered by the staff elevator. I recall this happening at the Dusit Thani just after it was built.
4. Dance halls were still quite common where one paid for the company of a taxi girl sitting with you, and extra tariff if she left with you. The girls wore long evening dresses with a number pinned on even for the afternoon tea dances. Their ballroom dancing skills certainly put mine to shame.
5. Some chaps didn't seem to worry quite so much about the age of consent as today, which certainly wasn't a good thing. But the hostess girls back then didn't have to carry ID cards so it was easily for them to lie.
6. Nor was it the fashion to wear condoms as much as in that pre AIDS period; although it was certainly recommended by the US Army when entertaining a hostess to avoid VD. Khun Mechai, of Cabbage and Condoms fame, later did a marvelous job of sensitizing the Thai public to the use of condoms both for disease prevention and family planning.
7. Sex enhancing pills were not generally around. One old farang I knew went to Chinatown for some powders that he claimed gave him "power": but thank God for today's little blue pills, without which most of us old chaps would have been sidelined years ago.
8. Dare I say it? Sex was more conventional. The typical girl be she a hostess or not would recoil at the mention of oral sex, saying that it went against her religious beliefs! And anal mating was almost unknown. Yes, there were katoeys around, but very few of them compared to the hundreds of ladyboys that seem to abound today.
9. Even in the wilder bars, say the ones inhabited by the GIs in Patpong, the girls were super polite, never mentioning for money before the deed and usually preferring it to be placed privately in their hand bag. Nor was a "tip of the taxi" pleaded for.
10. Massage parlors were abundant and, of course, reasonably priced. In some full service was available while in others only manual relief. In many soapies it was the custom to take two ladies, as a girl on her own might be scared to service a farang without an assistant. Of course, one couldn't expect any English to be spoken in such establishments.
11. "Freelancer" was a term I never heard. Hostess girls tended to be attached to a hotel, bar, or massage parlor. It was considered very dangerous to pick up someone on a street. The exception was the Grace Hotel coffee shop which had the wildest scene I ever encountered in Asia. After midnight, it was packed wall to wall with of hundreds of girls who had drifted in from bars elsewhere. It also had the glamour of an establishment in which one could meet the local farang business leaders like bank and hotel managers, travel agents, as well as diplomats….and probably spies.
12. "Good girls" simply never dated foreigners and if they did they would be heavily chaperoned as it would be very difficult for a respectable girl to get a husband if she had lost her virginity. For months I recall having to put up with a senior army nurse accompanying my movie and dinner dates with her young niece.
13. Strangely it wasn't very common back then for tourists or residents to eat Thai food, which was generally considered too "hot" for the Western palate. But, if there was no alternative, it was recommend that one could safely order Phad Thai throughout the country. Chinese restaurants were also usually found in most hotels. And while there was certainly not the plethora of restaurants one finds today, if one knew where to go there were some wonderfully priced French and German restaurants. Of course, now Thai restaurants amazingly abound in Europe and North America.
Bangkok has changed remarkably. Back in the late 60s Sukhumvit still lacked traffic lights, and a policeman would kindly stop the traffic when a farang wished to cross. One could taxi all across town, even to the airport, for ten baht. Barfines were 100 baht, the same price for massage parlor. But, I still enjoy visiting the town which has its charms if one knows where to go. While English is far more common these days, I find that it still helps to speak a bit of the lingo.
If there is any interest, I could I write a line or two about Pattaya's early days as it was a beach resort that I was very fond of in the 1970s, but certainly not since 1990. Chiang Mai was also a relaxing little town, while down south there was simply no Phuket tourist development outside of the main town. For some of the flavour of times gone by, I have been spending my remaining days up in Somerset Maughan country along the Irrawaddy and along both sides of the Mekong in the Golden Triangle. But these places now also seem to be developing a little too rapidly for my slower gait.
Wonderful recollection of your memories; what a time that sounds like! I hope those who say things haven't changed read this!