For one reason and another, my twice yearly trips to the Kingdom haven’t been happening recently, but I have been fortunate enough to still be able to scrape in a pilgrimage at least once per year. I first came to the Kingdom in 2006, a newbie, as the side-kick of an experienced visitor in his early 30s. I was lost (and found, and hooked) after that that first visit and have rarely considered other destinations since that fateful trip. I can be in Las Vegas, in the early hours, in a great bar or club, those around me bally-hooing, raving, spending, needing, longing, they’re completely in the ‘now’…and I’ll smile…and my mind will wander off westward…9,000 miles and more over the Pacific…the fever rises, the sickness…lingers. Breakfast at the Paris, ring-side seat on the Strip? Nice place…but I drift off again…I’m sipping coffee on a pub patio in Pattaya, as a cooked breakfast lands in front of me and inwardly I shake my head at last night’s events…and what’s to come again tonight.
Please don’t get me wrong, I’m far from a jet-setter – I have a modest lifestyle – I just happened to have been in Vegas twice recently (one a work junket freebie, the other a friend’s 40th birthday trip). My modest lifestyle has, however, allowed me to budget for the regular trips to Thailand. The only reason in mentioning Vegas is to make the point that, no matter how pleasant, luxurious or decadent the surroundings, I always finding myself comparing how it stacks up against my experiences of Thailand. I often do it subconsciously, even if I’m ‘in the moment’ elsewhere. Thailand, it’s seeped into my DNA.
I was considering, quite seriously, a permanent move to Thailand from about 2010, up until about 2 years ago, until certain things I was reading in the Stickman subs, not least some of ‘Stick’s thoughts’ at the end of submissions, were causing the penny to drop and listen to reason…but I mean really listen. In my early 40s, in a reasonably well-paid career, my earning power is as high as it’s ever going to get. Jobs in my field are largely non-existent in Thailand, unless you get an overseas posting with a foreign company. Other earning options appeared limited, and I wasn’t at the point where I could realistically liquidate assets in the West and ‘retire early’ to the Kingdom, like many submissions were discussing up until 2 years ago. Some of those subs made very interesting reading, and I was amazed that some had convinced themselves that drawing down an income on a $200,000 – $400,000 lump would sustain a 35 – 40 year-old longer than a very few number of years. In those early years, unless you have the discipline of a Patpong S&M madam, you’ll always spend way more month-to-month than you planned to – especially as a younger retiree. An exit strategy, to include some sort of financial foot-hold in back in the West, would also be the very least of my considerations, but hey, life’s for living – why be a stick in the mud – there’s always a reason not to do something, right?
A while later, what started to really resonate with me was the view that I was already very fortunate to be visiting the Kingdom for 2 weeks a time, twice annually, and that I could really make the effort to enjoy and make the most of these trips. Not that I didn’t already enjoy them, of course. But after a few visits, I had slipped into certain routines, passing on an excursion or two if the hangover from the previous night was bad enough to be an excuse to join the soi 4 afternoon breakfast club instead. Sitting in the departure lounge at the end of trips, regretting what I hadn’t got around to doing, seemed to teach me a lesson I eventually took heed of. I couldn’t start to take my trips to Thailand for granted. This could easily be my last flight out of here – did I make the most of it? I started to understand that I probably had it better than Westerners who had actually taken the plunge and moved to the country full-time. They were living the dream, of course they were – and a clean-cut guy in reasonable physical (and financial) shape could go out and pull hotties – from the places you pull hotties from – every and any night of the week. But they had the disadvantages as well – Bangkok getting more expensive, little traction in mainstream society, probably (but not in all cases) earning less, risky local investments, less varied social pursuits, an unstable political situation and often facing the financial burdens of keeping a local lass and her dependents in the style to which they’ve become accustomed. I on the other hand was flying in to Disneyland, having a blast, and going home satiated in all ways with memories to sustain me over the coming months.
Curiously, though, in tandem with starting to let go of the idea of a permanent move, I also started to find myself appreciating certain things back in the UK more. With this shift in perspective, I made more of an effort socially; I stopped flaking out on stuff like nights out to concerts, movies, restaurants, etc. I stopped taking the natural beauty of the English countryside for granted and really started noticing it again. I got back in touch with mates I’d not seen for a while, I joined a running club – which became a revelation in terms of meeting interesting people – especially women! Guys, forget internet dating – join a running club…you will meet loads of women with a good mindset – for one thing they’re making an effort to look after themselves, and all that Lycra doesn’t hurt them, either. But, anyway, I wasn’t giving up on Thailand at all, I was just accepting that I could have great times there on a regular basis whilst not wishing my life away back home in the West – living life on that ‘6-month horizon’ so many of us aficionados do, past which lays the next flight to Bangkok.
If I was finding life more agreeable back in the UK, why keep going to Thailand? Well, when it feels you’ve had 5 years worth of fun in 2 weeks, it becomes hard to look at other destinations with any real intent. Where else does a single bloke go on holiday and what does he get for his money…or time…for that matter? In Europe, there’s the Spanish and Greek islands and resorts. The US has Cancun, Vegas, etc. Australia – Bali. They’re nice places with good weather but the female company factor – whether or not we’re talking P4P – is generally going to cost real money. I don’t scuba or jet-ski, so those things don’t factor for me. I probably should declare here a significantly serious case of jasmine fever. Always have had. Ever since I saw those lovely ‘Foo-Fat’ twins (really, that was their name!) in primary school. And you should have seen them as teenagers! Then there was the Chinese girl from the ‘other’ school, lovely in her tartan skirt, who punched me in the ribs after I accidentally toppled into her little brother when the bus took the corner too fast. I was lost after that. And then there was Karen – the ex-ballerina of Hong Kong nobility, reduced to a career in the corporate world. Working for a large architectural engineering firm, two of us sat in a car, looking across the road at the new site, waiting for the rain to stop. ‘Its hot. Do you mind if I take off my stockings?’, she said in her cut-glass accent. I don’t know what sort of sound the 23 year-old geek-me made that day, but the image of her removing her high heels, unclipping those black diaphanous nylons from her garter belt and rolling them down those lovely muscular legs remains undiminished in Le Banque Centrale De Wanke. Withdrawals only!! Sometimes, when the office was quiet and she came to me to explain some design feature or drawing revision, she would often sit on my lap…
Sorry, I completely lost myself there. Back to the subject of frequently returning to Thailand – one thing I did do – subconsciously in the first few trips and consciously thereafter – was not allow myself to become jaded with Thailand. From the moment I get through Immigration at Suvarnabumni, I go into my ‘Thailand’ mode, and stop stressing about the small stuff. I’ve paid too much and travelled too far to play ‘pissy westerner’. Taxi doesn’t want to use the meter? Ask him nicely, and if still no, forget it. Traffic? Better here than the A406 in London in the rain. Thais push in front of me in 7-11? – it's not personal. Surly hotel receptionist? I’m smiling about that ‘soapy’ later. Sulky look from a go-go dancer? – ditto. If the vibe is not what I’m looking for somewhere, I keep moving.
What I find myself, is that some places (a music bar, eating joint or a go-go) that I write-off my list because there’s no fun to be found, can come good again on re-visits – due to new management or whatever. Happy re-discoveries are by no means unheard of in my experience. And there’s the venues that are consistently fun and enjoyable – the old reliables…my old reliables. I’m not going to name places, as these things are so subjective. Hell, people write off whole districts of Bangkok and never venture there during holiday trips or even while living in the city, so I’m not going to try and sell the Silom and Sathorn districts to people if they know different. All I know is that the hottest Thai MILF I’m ever likely to spend a night with was found on a recent visit in a touristy bar with crap music on Patpong soi 1. But what do I know? I just like to mix it up. I move hotels every 3 or so days while in Bangkok, to renew surroundings and experience different parts of the city. Over 9 or so years, I’ve racked up quite a number of stays in different hotels around Bangkok – which now allows me the experience to be able to really narrow down what I want.
I’m arriving on my latest visit just before the start of the 2014 World Cup. The military coup is in place…but there was a military coup declared just before my first visit in 2006, so it hasn’t fazed or deterred me.
I’ve found some amazing deals on Agoda for places I’ve stayed at before – huge serviced apartments with balconies, gyms, pools, etc for $45-70 a night. More great deals in Pattaya as well. Honestly, even if I didn’t go out, I’d be happy to chill out in some of these places with the football and some bottles of BeerLao. If Miss Spain from Stick’s recent Girl of the Week pick wanted to watch the game with me, that would be okay as well. Mentioning the World Cup, I imagine this will help the party atmosphere over the fortnight I am there. I hear the Thais really get into it. I have a couple of platonic female friends working at a well-known medical facility in Bangkok, and if the photos of them and their all-female colleagues decked out in their ‘team colours’ for the last World Cup are any indication, there should be some fine sights indeed around the bars.
A recent post I really enjoyed (and am totally on the same page with) was my good friend Anonymous’s, entitled ‘In Defence of Bangkok (and The Biergarten too)’. The guy is so spot-on in his view about the so-called ‘Golden Age’. I would say myself that Bangkok has been in a state of flux – as opposed to ‘decline’ since I’ve been coming, and I simply adapt as necessary to have the good time I want to have. The guy also mentions ‘keeping a low profile’ and this is definitely my MO – I’m convinced it has minimised any of the attendant ‘hassles’ that seem to befall others but at the same time, doesn’t seem to stop who I want to find me…find me. The great recent submission by Mega, entitled ’20 Years On’ also extolls the importance of being ‘the grey man’ in the Land of Smiles. I imagine he means the way to go is by being a shadowy, subversive John Le Carre hero, rather than Roger Moore crashing through the boat roof onto that wedding cake in View to a Kill. Roll on World Cup 2014!
Peace Out, Hunch
I absolutely agree with the point about how holidaying in Thailand a couple of times a year allows you to fill your boots and then get back to your homeland, invariably a fully developed country, meaning you can experience the best of both worlds. Too many expats (and particularly retirees) scoff off about their homeland as if it is the worst place on the planet in what so often seems to me to be a silly attempt to justify their choice to move to Thailand and lead the lifestyle they do.