2015 – The Year That Was
The New Year has been ushered in with all the fanfare and hoopla one would expect with the celebration which comes when the clock hits midnight on the 31st of December. I’ve always maintained that if I happen to be in Thailand for the last week of the year I’ll just see it out in Bangkok and leave the rest of the world to scurry about the Land of Smiles in what is probably the most chaotic time for travel in this country. With the influx of foreign visitors at its maximum and millions of locals fleeing the big mango to celebrate with their families in the provinces one can guarantee the roads are bumper to bumper for miles and the bus stations and airports are bulging at the seams. Staying put in the City of Angels seems like a far better option during those few days of travel mayhem.
Looking for something to do to entertain myself I decided to head down to Rachaprasong for the “countdown.” It had been a couple of years since I’d done this and I’d completely forgotten the total mayhem and crowding which occurs around this most famous or infamous (depending on one’s view of recent Bangkok history) location in the lead up to the countdown and fireworks. The authorities block off an entire stretch of Ploenchit Road, from the Wireless Road intersection to the Siam BTS terminal, and turn it into Bangkok’s once a year version of Walking Street. The focal point being the Rachaprasong intersection with a huge neon clock erected above to ensure the revellers are informed to the second when we tick over from the old year to the new. It goes without saying the only way to get into this area on New Year’s Eve is by way of the BTS and it also goes without saying with all the revellers trying to make their way to the “action point” at the intersection the crowding on the trains resembles something akin to a peak hour Tokyo subway.
Rachaprasong Intersection and the countdown for 2015 (photo taken with handphone).
To be honest, I think I’ve become Bangkok’s version of the Grinch. I just don’t get why people feel the need to be packed in their thousands into a location to watch a clock above a congested street tick down to zero, zero, zero, and one. My guess is there’s a hell of a lot of people out there who don’t really have all that much going on their lives and cheering over a ticking clock is the high point of excitement for them? After jostling, dodging, weaving, and elbowing my way past the crowd gathered at the Erawan Shrine I decided I’d had my fill of the “countdown” and made a beeline for the quiet sanctity afforded by the 494 wine bar in the basement of the Hyatt Hotel. After ordering a drop of good New Zealand red I sat back and reflected on the year of 2015. From a personal standpoint it had been a fairly ho hum year. I done my usual six months of work offshore and I was still holed up in a city I’d been telling myself for the past two years I was going to remove myself from. That’s probably still a plan in the works but I’m less anxious about escaping the City of Angels these days. I think it’s simply a case of “if one isn’t totally sure about something, then it's better just to chill out and stay put.” Having had a good look around the region over the past two years, and in particular Vietnam, I’ve realised there’s always going to be positives and negatives for any location one may decide to reside in. Vietnam is definitely cheaper than Thailand in many aspects, perhaps with the exception of real estate in certain parts of Saigon, but when comparing the characteristics of the nationals of the two nations there is a definite hard-assed mentality about the Viets which I don’t see in the Thais. The Thai may infuriate with their dithering, simple-mindedness and overdone politeness but they at least seem to have a degree of patience which isn’t overly obvious in the Viets. A guy I know who’s spent a good amount of time in both countries explained it to me as such.
“The Thais are just more patient. They’re quite happy to wait for a foreigner to invest his money in the country, build up a business, a factory, or make a significant investment before trying to take it all off you. The Viets on the other hand, don’t have that kind of patience. They’ll try and get everything off you in the first three months you’re in country.” As harsh as it may sound, I think he’s got a point. The Viets don’t strike me as a very patient lot. They seem to be a bit like the Chinese in that they’re always in a hurry and if they see an opportunity for a short-cut they’ll take it thinking they’ll save either time or money. The thing is though that may well be the case but it is often a short term outlook which sacrifices quality and the maintenance of a higher standard. I saw that clearly in a Viet girlfriend I had a couple of years ago from Hanoi. Her entire life was based on short term expediency and the idea of putting a long term plan in place to improve her life through gaining new skills, or training, was meaningless. It was all about trying to get a monthly stipend from me and putting her hand out each time I went to an ATM machine. Any level-headed westerner will soon tire of that short term outlook and even though she was great in the sack I eventually parted company with her. No doubt she’s found a more willing cash cow to solve her short term outlook in life.
From a travel point of view it had been quite a good year with trips to China, a number of internal trips around Thailand and, most recently, an interesting sojourn to Champasak Province in Laos. Champasak is in Southern Laos with the picturesque provincial town of Pakse being the main centre for travellers going to the area. Pakse sits on a wide stretch of the Mekong and is generally considered the starting point for trips within the area.
The three most popular outings from Pakse at the moment are a day trip to the Khmer Ruins of Wat Phu, some 49 km south of Pakse: http://www.megaworldasia.com/travel-gallery/wat-phu-pakse-laos/
The Khmer historical site at Wat Phu, Laos.
Perfect ambience, Beer Lao sundowner on the Mekong.
Two and three day trips to the massive waterfall area (the world’s widest cross border falls) at the Four Thousands Islands site on the border of Laos and Cambodia, approx. 163 km from Pakse.
Three to four day loop tours, by motorbike, to an as yet little known but very scenic area in Laos called the BOLAVE PLATEAU. A full trip report can be seen on my website by following this link: http://www.megaworldasia.com/latest-trip-report/the-bolaven-plateau-champasak-province-laos/
The beauty of Tad Fane Falls on the Bolaven Plateau in Laos.
Other trip reports from around the region:
In December I also managed to squeeze in a trip back to the real world – Melbourne, Australia – and a few days enduring the modern day hell by the sea called Pattaya. It was my first time back in the real world for nine years (I needed to get a business visa for working in India in 2016) and it’s still pretty much the same: clean, organised, relatively safe and as boring as hell. I guess it doesn’t help if one has no family or contacts in a place but after spending six nights at the Holiday Inn on Flinders Street and doing endless laps of the CBD in the free trams I was certainly glad to get on the flight back to Thailand. The only thing I had to do of note, apart from applying for my Indian visa, was visiting my long departed father’s grave at the Melbourne Central Cemetery. It had been 42 years since he’d passed away in, at the time, one of Australia’s most heavily publicised maritime disasters – the sinking of the coastal vessel the Blythe Star off the southern coast of Tasmania – and I needed to pay my final respects.
After a few days in Melbourne I concluded the following:
• Thai massages back in the real world are overly expensive and not half as good as in Thailand.
• Thai food in the real world is westernised and nowhere near as good as the mother country despite the claims of authenticity by the restaurant owners; too heavy on the coconut milk and sugar.
• There are no obvious underworld (local gangsters) types lurking around the cafés along Lygon Street; the type portrayed and glamorised in the Australian TV series “Underbelly.”
Melbourne, easy-paced and a breeze to move around in compared to Bangkok.
I hadn’t been in Pattaya for twelve months and needed to spend a few days there in the first half of December. Some guys love the place and fair enough, I suppose there’s a certain type of madness that appeals to some people. My main bugbear with Sin City is the traffic congestion. In the peak season it can be as bad as parts of Bangkok and, in some cases, worse. If you can confine all your activities to the area between Second and Beach Road then the influence of the traffic congestion can be neutralised to some extent as the one-way traffic flow tends to keep things moving. It’s only when ones ventures beyond this boundary and needs to cross over to the dark side the traffic situation becomes a total nightmare. It was always bad between the hours of 4 – 8 PM but it’s now been made doubly worse by the construction project along Sukhumvit Road. Pattaya now has its own great wall. The great wall of Pattaya is a three kilometre barricade running from Pattaya Nua to Pattaya Tai which completely blocks access to Pattaya Klang. Because of this, all traffic is mostly diverted to Pattaya Nua with the result being a constant log jam all the way back to the Dolphin Roundabout. Friends of mine living on the dark side tell me they hardly ever venture over to the beach side anymore, such is the stress created by the current traffic situation. Compounding this current traffic nightmare is the never-ending lines of busses ferrying the Chinese hordes to all points in Pattaya. It wasn’t so long ago the catchcry “the Chinese are coming” was being bandied about in anticipation of the projected increase in the number of mainland Chinese expected to swell the tourist arrival numbers in the LOS. Well it’s not that they’re coming anymore. They’re here and they’ve turned Pattaya into the traffic equivalent of hell by the sea. Beach Road in recent times was widened to three lanes but now that’s not even enough as convoys of busses disgorge the Chinese hordes for their play at the seaside. All along the stretch between Pattaya Nua and Pattaya Klang these busses are either parked up, pulling in or moving out and when you combine that with the songtaews moving in and around it’s simply traffic mayhem.
The Great Wall of Pattaya, a 3-km barricade along Sukhumvit Road blocking access to Pattaya Klang.
Busloads of Chinese hordes clogging the roads of Pattaya.
The Chinese hordes have obviously become the new tourist cash cow for the country and the Thais, being a cunning lot, have worked out a system for ferrying them around in large groups from one point to another. Instead of trying to deal with individual minded western travellers, which makes things harder to relieve them of their cash, organised groups are much easier to control and therefore fleece. And they are everywhere on their hectic daily schedule of being ferried from one point to another for their photo opportunities; Beach Road for a swim and a jet ski ride during the day, the view point (Buddha Hill) at sunset and then a quick stroll down Walking Street in the early evening. Yes, even the sanctity of downtown whore-mongering Pattaya isn’t safe anymore as long lines of hordes led by the ever present flag bearer march up and down the length of Walking Street. If this is the new direction in tourism for Thailand then all I can say is they are welcome to it, as long as they stay confined to Pattaya.
Another Chinese horde being led along Walking Street for a gawk in the early evening.
Still if one has a bit of local knowledge it’s not too difficult to find places to go to avoid the hordes. The Benjamit Café, just off Soi Buakhao, is still serving the best coffee in town for 55 THB. The rooftop pool at Mike's Shopping Mall is a great spot during the day for a swim and a bit of tanning time, free of pestering beach-side hawkers. The Queen Vic on Soi 6 still serves great western meals and the wooded trails around Pattaya Hill provide a quiet, shade-filled area for a bit of exercise in the late afternoons. And the restaurant/bar directly opposite Soi Diamond with its street-side seating offers the chance for some prime time people watching along Walking Street in the evenings. The following is a series of shots capturing the current mood of Pattaya:
A TukCom ladyboy checks her apps.
A friendly Beach Road maiden in the cooler ambience of the late afternoon.
The boys getting ready for a day’s outing.
They say advertising sells. Even the idea there’s paradise in hell?
The girls (?) ready to serve you on Soi 6 back lane.
Twilight along the beach with the new swimming barricades in place for the protection of the Chinese hordes.
A popular seafront watering hole in the early evening.
Asian women and their phone addictions. Foreground; a Chinese tourist, background; a local.
A familiar sight in bars along Walking Street; devoid of customers while the porker bar staff stare in to their phones.
Bar touts along Walking Street, bored and disinterested.
One of the pretty ones, probably a showgirl.
A rather tired old piece of Neon along Walking Street.
Price vs. value:
Having spent the recent Xmas / New Year period in Bangkok and checked out the current P4P scene in the bars and clubs around the lower Sukhumvit area I thought it might be worth adding my two cents worth to a recent Stickman column: “Is it worth the 5000 Baht?”
My own take on it when it comes to paying for a bit of slap and tickle is if it’s thought of purely in terms of price then it probably isn’t. Having said that though, the prices one pays in Bangkok are probably higher than are being charged in other tourist hotspots in Thailand. And when one compares prices to other naughty nightlife areas in the region – such as Kuala Lumpur and Saigon – it’s probably about the same. If one makes a comparison with Singapore, then Bangkok prices are actually quite a bit cheaper for an equivalent sexual liaison. I think perhaps a better way of looking at it is actually price vs. value. In this regard 5000 THB can seem a lot for a relatively short encounter and what one often gets from a young go-go bar lass can leave you feeling as though it was a complete waste of time and money. On the other hand I’ve had short times with early thirties go-go gals who I’ve had excellent service from and who I’d rate as great value for 5000 baht. In defence of the often maligned go-go bar, even though they may seem like a meat market at least you get the opportunity to have a close inspection of the goods before hiring. It’s a safe bet any ladies who just myopically shuffle around the chrome will probably be non-performers in the bedroom. Those who show a bit of enthusiasm in their dance routine will probably be more active in the sack. If one gets to a go-go bar early enough, as I normally do, then the effects of the alcohol can be negated by bar-fining them before they’ve had a chance to knock back too many Tequilas. I normally make my selection and hit the road by 9.30 PM.
The bottom line is you’ve got far more control over the situation than one can expect when shopping at the freelancer venues on Soi 11 and the Rachaprasong area. These locations are the domain of what I call the “idiot whores of Thailand.” When it comes to value with these overpriced, pretentious little twats, there is none. As mentioned, the idiot whore is one which is often encountered in the clubs along Soi 11 and pseudo hi-so venues such as Spasso at the Hyatt Hotel. They are ladies who’re constantly suffering a crisis of identity and even though they’ve been working on their backs for the past 10 – 15 years they live in a fantasy world where they’ve convinced themselves they’re out of work models, actresses and airline cabin crew. The problem this identity crisis creates is in providing an adequate level of service for the overinflated prices they expect for their drunken, aging personas; prices between 6,000 – 10,000 THB often being quoted. Due to the fact they’ve yet to come to terms with what they’re doing to earn a living, the idea they’re supposed to provide some sort of value for their job description is hardly considered. Their main priorities each night are getting drunk and creating an unending array of distractions to their potential customers. Anything to avoid providing an adequate service for the overinflated price tags they have. There’s only one thing which is certain if you drag one of these idiot whores back to your hotel room at 5 AM in the morning; they’ll be reeking of booze and they’ll fall asleep – often in their clothes. If you are lucky enough to get one of them to actually attend to your needs, this is how it usually goes (I know because I’ve timed it): after a quick shower you’ll get a lousy 5 – 7 minutes of oral action (normally with a condom on) followed by 7 – 10 minutes of cowgirl position after which time she’ll complain she’s either tired or jaeb kaa (sore legs). It’s then left up to you to do all the work to satisfy yourself.
A favoured watering hole for the idiot whores of Soi 11
I guess it’s all to do with the face thing and not wanting to front up to what it actually is they do to earn a living. The problem with this though is their constant state of denial has them convinced they’re just ladies who are down on their luck and are they’re actually ideal girlfriend material for anyone who wants to “take care” of them. And therein lies the conundrum; the guys hiring these idiot whores for a liaison have different interpretation in what is expected if one is paying good money for a bit of slap and tickle. It’s actually a clash of divergent expectations where the idiot whores view all prospective clientele as a potential long term cash cow. It’s a silly little nonsensical game where these ladies who are just “down on their luck” take exception to being called a hooker, prostitute or whore but don’t have any qualms about asking you for 6,000 – 8,000 THB to take them back to your hotel room. The truth is though most are career whores, the money is just the end in itself and not a means to an end and most are chronic alcoholics who, after years on the game, are tired, burnt out and offer a lousy service. For any new chums in town, do yourselves a favour and give these idiot whores, you’ll find hanging out at the bars and clubs along Soi 11, a wide berth as there’s no value in them whatsoever. You’ll get more value from making a smart selection at a go-go bar or better still going to a soapy massage establishment on Rachada Road.
Love isn’t part of the equation:
When it comes to the idea of saving a lady from a life of degradation in the bar areas of this country, just keep in mind it only works if you’ve got deep pockets and a lot of patience. Yes you almost certainly elevate her and her family’s economic standing, but be realistic to understand it’s only down to the improved financial aspect you’ve delivered to her. Real love, in the sense which we understand in the western world, isn’t part of the equation. It’s just short term expediency for her. No one really saves anyone anyway, it’s just that people take advantage of a lifeline which is offered to them and run with it as long as they can. So don’t feel too bad about not being able to save a bar girl. The fact is most of them don’t have the wherewithal to save themselves, not in the true sense anyway. Self-improvement by applying themselves to developing personal skills and abilities? Nope, not going to happen. Not unless it’s the short term expediency aspect such as an English language course to enable them to meet wealthier clientele. She looked for a better financial option because that was always her intention anyway. The only thing I would like to say to the sugar daddy that “saved” my ex is thank you for taking a self-absorbed, narcissistic, alcoholic, gold digging whore off my hands. It certainly saved my bank account and sanity. And her improved financial standing has done nothing to change what she is; the conceited manner and attitude make it so. As it happens with many of these poorly educated girls from the rice farms of the North-East, a financial windfall only worsens their deluded arrogance. You weren’t able to save a bar girl? How about the fact that in not doing so you were saved from a life of emotional turmoil, lies and deceit? Move on, think nothing of it. Like a bird taking a dump on your shoulder, flick it off as quickly as possible. It’s meaningless; there are more important things in life to consider. Only remember this; in the world of Thai prostitutes, you may be one of many. You never lose the girl, you just lose your turn. And I will take self-improvement, through developing one’s own skills and abilities, any day of the week over a woman who is just looking for financial hand out.