The Perfect Storm
Now this is something I alluded to in my last submission about there never being another "Pattaya". To some of you this may sound like nostalgic BS, to others that weren't there, well, you'll just never know. But to the many of us that were you will understand exactly what I am talking about.
There was a time when a number of events, coincidences, times and people came together and what transpired was what once was a little sleepy fishing place became the best place to be in the world at that particular time. It was so unique I doubt I will
experience it again in my lifetime, certainly not in Thailand and it may come to pass that such an event never happens again.
Like all great events in history, if you weren't there you really can't be fully immersed or comprehend the mood and feelings of that time. Like the moon landing or the assassination of JFK. you can watch the news reels, hear the audio and read the newspapers, but unless you were there and experienced first-hand everything that unfolded in the days, weeks, months and in most cases years afterwards, you are only a bystander. Like the first time you had sex. I could show you every magazine, photo and video in the world but if ya ain't done it, well then you just don't know what it's like. All the theoretical knowledge and second hand information is worth jack without practical application. Now I wouldn't compare the glory days of Bangkok and Pattaya to important historical events, but for those that were there, we definitely knew there was something special going on and I would go so far as to say it was magical.
Now to be honest I won't and can't really talk about Bangkok for as far as I am aware I missed its pinnacle. From what I have heard and my understanding of it is that the '70s and '80s were the time that Bangkok was at its best. Now like all things this is highly subjective and many may disagree. Besides, I do not know and have not had the pleasure of speaking to anyone that travelled to South-East Asia in the '60s so they may have a far different story to tell. My old man was conscripted and did a couple of years at Nui Dat in Vietnam but his Asian experience was worlds away from mine. As I only started coming here in the mid-90s, to many of our esteemed Stickmanites I am still green as grass and wet behind the ears. It is my belief though that the '70s and '80s were Bangkok's hey-day. My own experiences in Bangkok were fantastic of course but you can only gauge something on its own merits and your personal experience. In much the same way I guess that people travelling to Bangkok and Pattaya for the first time still think it's the best place on earth… the vets however, that have been there and lived it and breathed it, will only shake their heads and offer that all knowing smile.
On to Pattaya. I have always loved it and I think it was special even before its magical days. The geography, the beaches, the weather and the fact that you have so much crammed in to a few square kilometres, sandwiched between two roads and any number of sois. This was back when Jomtien and Naklua weren't doing much. There was bugger all happening in Soi Buakhao and the only reason you went past 3rd road was in the taxi back to Don Meuang. Sure, Bangkok is good but Pattaya is great and I think I got to see it at its best. It is difficult to put in to words what made that time so special but everything just came together all at once. The girls, the atmosphere, the people travelling there, the whole setup was just spot on and the joint was rocking. And it wasn't just about the girls either. Sure, that was the icing on the cake but there was a whole lot more going on than just taking a girl back to your room.
On that note, "monger" is a term I am not particularly fond of. To be honest I loathe it. I realise it has entered common usage but I think back then there was more substance to the people coming to Thailand. A lot of people at that time weren't
strictly there for that and as I said it wasn't just about the girls. Now my glasses may be especially rose-tinted, maybe my memory is foggy or perhaps I was just very lucky, but you met very few dickheads back then. Most people you met out
and about or on the drink were great blokes with plenty of funny stories to share and a good time was had by all. Don't get me started on the girls either and I won't bore you with the stories of how much better they were back then.
That horse has been flogged to death. Suffice to say that for whatever reason at that time, Pattaya for me was the best place in the whole wide world and I think that plenty would agree with me. I can't put an exact year on when it was best
(well I think there was quite a few of them), again that is very subjective and I believe both Bangkok and Pattaya had incredibly long windows of when they were peaking. I do know however when it started to go south. It is my firm belief, and
I am truly sorry if you started coming after then, that 2005/6 was really about the time Pattaya and by extension Bangkok really started to slide. It didn't happen instantaneously. As best as I can tell though that was the beginning of the
end. I am not bitter about it and they are still terrific places to play but the "glory days" are certainly long gone. It is how you deal with the fall out that is most important.
I have been thinking about this and I guess the closest thing I could compare it to would be to those that were at Woodstock. They knew they were involved in something special at the time but it wasn't until years later they realised how special. Were there music events as important and as good as, if not better than Woodstock? Probably. Have other events been talked about as much as Woodstock? Not likely. And what about those people that were there? Well, most would have appreciated the fact that they experienced something that no one would again, were ecstatic about the fact they saw it and moved on with their lives. Others chased the dream and looked for the next Woodstock over and over again and maybe would have found something close but ultimately would perhaps be disappointed that they couldn't recapture the magic of those times. Some would have gone to other music festivals and bitched and moaned and said "Well, it will never be good as Woodstock"… Sound familiar? Well those of us that lived through the best of Bangkok and Pattaya I guess are going through something similar now. Except in some cases our "Woodstock" went for more than a decade and for a few even longer than that! When you've been that high for that long, the come down is brutal. In the same way some just accepted that they saw Thailand at its best and thought well, it is what it is and just got on with it. Some of us travelled elsewhere and most of you would have read the travel reports. We went to Vietnam and Cambodia, the Philippines, some of us even tried China and Eastern Europe and South America and these are all great places but the chemistry for some reason just isn't the same and for me it's just not Pattaya. The final group we all know pretty well – you see them sitting in beer bars all over Thailand, telling you the beer is not cold enough, the girls aren't pretty enough, everything is too expensive now and things just aren't the way they were. Well to some extent that is very true but nobody wants to hear you bitch about it.
Last week Stick talked about the state of the Bangkok bar scene. Really, the scene all over Thailand is in serious decline. Many of us, myself included, automatically think of how good it was and would like to compare "now and then". That is very tempting but I don't think it is entirely fair. It would be highly unlikely to have the same set of circumstances that created those days. The bars in Bangkok need to have a good hard look at themselves, it's true, and if they don't make some drastic changes and quickly it may never recover. Thailand though will never be the way it was (unfortunately nothing ever is) and I don't think that the perfect set of situations and events that made it as good as it was may ever collide all in the same place at the same time ever again. It really was the perfect storm. As I said at the start, probably not in my lifetime, certainly not in Thailand and the way the world is today I would posit, not anywhere at all will I experience something like those crazy times. Then again it is what it is.
Thanks for your time.
I also feel that things started to change for the worse in Pattaya around 2005 / 2006. From my perspective I'd say that in Bangkok things started going (slowly) downhill from 2001, although I imagine guys around longer than me might say the decline started earlier.
I very much agree with the point you make about how people back in the heyday were different from the people you meet today. That absolutely resonates with me. In the early days of this website, say from 1999 through until around 2003, I met a lot of readers who contacted me. I enjoyed meeting most and some are still friends today, a few are even amongst my closest friends in Thailand. In more recent years I have not had such good experiences and some of those I have met I really would not want to see again. In some cases I even regret meeting them in the first place. Those who came here before Internet became so popular were, for want of a word, different – in a good way.
One point that needs to be made is that while the gogo bars are very much on the way down, mainstream bars are more numerous, more fun and I think overall offer a better experience today than they used to. And more than ever it is easy for foreigners out for a good time to meet locals. This is the other side of change in Thailand that is not always talked about. Where once but a tiny percentage of local women were served up to foreign men, now it is so much easier for the average Western Joe to meet regular Thai women in mainstream bars – and that opens up all sorts of entertainment options. It does however mean you need at least a little something about you. Merely putting your hand in your wallet is not enough!