Around The Traps In S.E. Asia: Part 9
It’s an apps world:
Whether we like it or not, social media, and its associated apps, are so ingrained into our lives these days we probably wouldn’t know how we’d exist without them. Messenger, What’s App, Viber, WeChat, and Line, whatever your preference is there’s a host of apps out there to keep people almost instantly in contact with friends, acquaintances, business associates, employees, boyfriends, girlfriends, gigs, tricks, and short time gals. The Thais seem to have a love affair with Line and the constant ting tong of messages arriving, wherever you go in the LOS, tells me as much. Maybe it’s just considered a part of the sanook of Thai culture. Whatever it is, there was a time when I couldn’t stand the incessant sound of that damned ting tong. Times have changed though as I’ve come to realise the Line app is quite a handy tool. As I see it, the main benefit of Line is that you no longer need to hand out your mobile phone number to short time freelancers, on the internet dating sites. Just give them your Line ID and when they get to the point, as they invariably do, of becoming a serial message pest, one just blocks or deletes and you’ll never hear from them again. Which is far better than handing out one’s phone number.
A recent example of putting this process into effect came about when I got back on ThaiFriendly for a bit of short time action. Sao was an early thirties freelancer who lived in Patong. After a couple of how are you’s on the website, we exchanged Line ID’s. The following day she messaged me around 11 AM and asked if I wanted a ‘boom boom?” With nothing much else on my plate for the day I asked her if she’d like to come over to my condo and after agreeing to a short time price, she said she’d “Go now.” Now, of course, to a Thai freelancer doesn’t actually mean now. It could mean anything within the next three hours. At 12.30 PM she messaged me saying “She going now but have to take son to school first.” I realised there was every possibility she wouldn’t show up on my doorstep for another hour or so (this is the average Thai hooker’s approach to time keeping) so with my stomach growling with hunger pains I messaged her back saying “I’m going for lunch, see you another day.” She must have been desperate for the 1500 THB because she messaged me back almost immediately asking “what time you back from lunch?” I told her “not sure, maybe 2 PM” and she seemed to take that as hint when she replied “Okay, I go back Patong.”
As it turned out I was back at my condo by around 2 PM and, low and behold, within five minutes of arriving I received a message from Sao telling me she was “nearly there.” Some of these ladies are quite savvy with the apps as they’re able to send a Google Maps attachment of their current location and give approximate times before they arrive at the meeting point. A few minutes later Sao was knocking on my apartment door. Hailing from Surat Thani, she was your typical dark-skinned southern girl and even though in her early thirties she looked in reasonable nick with a slim figure and a nice sized, silicone-enhanced chest. An hour or so later, after providing a reasonable service, Sao was on her way. She’d been quite affectionate but there were a couple of things about her which put me off wanting to see her again. There was no doubt she was a full-time, working freelancer around the clubs of Patong as her breath and pores reeked of alcohol. Some of these girls drink so much hard liquor there’s a constant smell of fermentation about them. The other thing was she was just a bit too slim for my liking, a definite sign of a meth user. Thankfully I’d only seen her during the day, when she was sober. For the four days following our liaison I received Line messages from Sao, almost exactly at the same time each afternoon (made me wonder if she sent out routine messages to a bunch of Johns each day). “Hi, how are you?” “What you do now?” “Where you go today?” Maintaining a polite, but distant manner I always replied “Hi, how are you?” “I’m good thanks, going to Phuket Town.” To which she’d reply “What you do in Phuket Town?” My reply was always “taking care of my business” which basically meant mind your own fxxking business. Sao was becoming a serial message pest and I knew why, she was desperate to make another 1500 THB (perhaps I overpaid). In the end she messaged me asking, “When I can see you again?” I had no intention of seeing her again as I could clearly see she was a borderline psychotic (probably from the drug use) and one of those real possessive types. It was then I put the real value of the Line app to work and deleted her from my contacts list. Problem solved and no more pestering messages.
The quieter side of town:
One of the benefits of living in Kathu is it’s basically in the midpoint between Patong Beach and Phuket Town. If I want to involve myself in the tourist chaos of the strip, its only a fifteen-minute ride over the hill to the beachside circus. When I’ve had my fill of the rip-off prices, traffic mayhem, and tourist foolishness, I hop back on my bike and escape to my quiet dugout on the golf course. If I go the other way, towards the eastern side of Phuket, I’m invariably heading into the more mainstream part of the island. This basically means less tourists, less rip-offs, fewer whores, and more normal Thai folk.
A place I’ve taken a bit of a liking to for some late afternoon exercise is the peak (Monkey Hill View Point) at the northern end of Phuket Town with all the TV channel towers on it. A few tourists make their way there to throw peanuts at the monkeys but it’s predominantly a location for the Phuket Town locals to get their daily exercise. There’s a paved road which goes all the way from the parking area at the bottom of the hill, to the TV towers at the top. It’s roughly a 2.4 km hike up an easy incline in which you can dodge the monkeys swinging down out of the trees to grab anything they can from an unsuspecting tourist. Keep your mobile phones and baseball caps securely sealed in your backpack. For those feeling like more of a substantial hiking challenge, there’s a jungle track which branches off the paved road, just 200 metres from the parking area, and winds it’s way around the side of the peak before coming out just above the viewing platform at the top. There are a few steep sections to negotiate but haul ropes have been put in place to make things a little easier.
Life’s a beach:
With the advent of the high season, my favourite spot for a dip during the quieter monsoon months, the northern end of Patong Beach, has now become a nightmare of traffic congestion and holidaymakers. Seeking to escape to a quieter stretch of beach, I now must trek over one more hill to Karon. The extra 10 minutes on the motorbike is worth it though as the water and sand over there seem to be a lot cleaner. The other definite bonus of hanging out at the northern end of Karon is there’s none those pesky jet skis running about.
One definite positive of the high season on Phuket are all the glamorous looking Russians birds strutting about in their bikinis on the beaches. In this respect, the northern end of Patong Beach is a great spot for some late afternoon bird watching and sunset photography. <That looks so different from when I stayed there for a few months in 1998 when most of the females were overweight and ageing German frauleins and Scandinavians – Stick>
The crowds and traffic congestion are a definite pain in the butt, however one only needs to ride a short way out of the main action areas and a quieter spot can be found. One such place I go to quite regularly for a sundowner is Tri Trang Beach. It’s a picturesque, uncrowded little bay just 3 km out of Patong. For a great view back across to Patong and a cold Chang, there are a couple of nice little bars on the hill above Tri Trang Beach. For anyone who’s interested, follow the Patong Beach Road to the south and head out on the road to paradise Beach. Tri Trang Beach is on the way.
With quite a bit of spare time on my hands lately, I decided to broaden my camera skills by getting into video. After picking up Sony’s latest offering in 4K camcorders, I’ve been out and about in Patong filming the beach scenes and the night-time action along Soi Bangla.
For all the hedonists out there, follow this link to a 4K video of the action along Soi Bangla: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bn5hMXcdGa8 Don’t forget to hit the LIKE BUTTON, and SUSCRIBE to get the latest offerings.
The Mandalay Loop trip:
For those of you who enjoy my “off the beaten track travel tales” on my travel blog: megaworldasia, one place that was conspicuously absent on the site was travel reports on Burma. In December 2017 I decided to rectify that and so made a ten-day trip to northern Myanmar. I flew from Bangkok to Mandalay and then did a giant loop, starting in Mandalay, and then traveling through Monywa, Bagan, Pindaya, Mount Popa, Inle lake, and finally back to Mandalay. Follow these links for in-depth trip reports:
MOUNT POPA: http://www.megaworldasia.com/burma/mount-popa/
Video of Lake Inle: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q0Z9kz3ls_0&t=18s
Balloons over Bagan: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Dt9a1KLOLM
The midnight flit:
Since my return to live in Phuket I’ve often thought about my earlier time here in the 1990s and whether I’d bump into any of the characters I knew from then. So far, I haven’t. As I ride around the streets and sois, I’m always on the lookout for one of the businesses I was familiar with back then; mainly dive shops. Back in the day – the 1990s – Phuket was ranked in the top ten of destinations in the world for scuba diving. My first LOS Diaries book gives an insight to the scuba industry from those halcyon days, when business was booming: http://www.megaworldasia.com/books/the-los-diaries-part-one/
Back then, Patong Beach was at the forefront of the industry with dive shops almost on every stretch of road, and on every corner. In 1998 I think the official count for dive shops in Patong Beach was in the order of fifty, give or take, and it was certainly a reflection of the tourist demographics of the day. How times change. As mainstream tourism took over in Phuket the independent, adventure-seeking, western traveller moved on to less developed places – Laos and Vietnam – and was replaced by the Russian and Chinese package tourist. With this demographic shift, the numbers wanting to go scuba diving shrunk so significantly there’s barely a dive shop to be seen in Patong these days. What remains of the scuba industry moved over the hill to Chalong where rents are more affordable, and the jetty is only a few hundred meters away. Still, the odd remnant remains of what was once a thriving industry in Patong. Albeit, some 20 years earlier.
One of the last holdouts in Patong – Warm Water Divers – has a small shop tucked into a cranny along Song Roi Pee Road. A month or so ago, I spotted the sign – a couple of hundred meters along from Christin Massage – and decided to check things out. Where there was once a carpark fronting a building filled with dive shops from one end to the other, there was now a host of tourist trinket sellers, tattoo, and massage shops. The car park had been built out with the trinket sellers and tucked into a corner, at the back end of the small soi, was the dive shop. As I stopped my bike to assess where I could park, a head appeared out of the tattoo shop and in a friendly manner said, “You can park around the back at the rear of the massage shop.”
I could tell by the accent and the black singlet with a silver fern, the guy was a New Zealander. After parking my bike I joined him in the massage shop and, as it was early evening, we decided to grab a couple of Changs while we talked. Rex was a bit of a newbie, only in country for 18 months, but he was fully immersed in the Patong scene having bought the tattoo and massage businesses a few months earlier. Over the following weeks, as I got to know Rex better, I started learning more about the difficulties he was encountering running his businesses and paying the two hundred thousand baht monthly rent. It seems Rex hadn’t had all his ducks in a row when he signed up to buy the businesses. He was quite open in admitting he’d paid too much – well over a two million THB figure – and to make matters worse, a few months down the track, he still didn’t have the lease in his name. Turns out the leaseholder, who he’d paid the money to, wasn’t doing anything to change the lease over and compounding this, she wasn’t passing on the rent money to the building’s owner. Rex was copping grief from two parties and the vixen he’d paid all the money to had later said “you have to pay five hundred thousand baht more for new lease.” Rex quickly realised that having no lease, also meant there was no commitment to keep paying the rent. He’d stopped passing money over to the scammer some two months earlier, but there were regular threats the police would come down and put a chain on the door if he didn’t pay up.
After a two-week caving trip to Laos I took a run down to Patong Beach to see Rex. When I drove up the small soi, all I could see was a massage shop in darkness and a chain across the door. Interested to know what had happened, I rang Rex.
“Yeah, mate, we got out by the skin of our teeth. Our lawyer called us on Thursday evening to warn us the cops were coming to put a chain on the door the following day. As soon as she got off the phone, the girlfriend told me, “We start packing now, truck coming at midnight to pick up everything.”
After packing the truck, with all their gear from the massage shop, they were on their way to somewhere in Isarn by 6 AM the following morning. The simple lesson here for any foreigner considering getting into a business in Thailand is, first and foremost, get yourself a good local lawyer to assess the viability and legitimacy of the business before throwing away your hard-earned cash.
Off the beaten track in Laos:
Full trip report: http://www.megaworldasia.com/latest-trip-report/bing-cave/
Laos continues to be my favourite “off the beaten track” destination in South-East Asia. For DYI adventure, it can’t be beaten (maybe parts of Vietnam) and the travellers coming here are a testament to that. Tired of the manufactured, conveyor belt, controlled tourism in Thailand? No problems. Go to Laos, hire a motorbike and head off into the wilds on your own, or as a group. What Thailand once was twenty years ago, Laos now is. Here are very few Chinese and Russian package tour groups to be seen in Laos (perhaps except for Vientiane, where there’s an international airport and a shopping mall).
The independent, western traveller / backpacker continues to be the mainstay of the tourism industry in Laos. The French, German, British, Aussie, Scandinavian, and Americans that used to be seen regularly in Thailand are now in Laos. Ask most of them and they’ll tell you they’re “done with Thailand” and won’t be back. Not to the mainstream tourist areas at least, they’ll leave those to the Chinese and Russian tour groups. And it’s not just the younger set who are enjoying the more laid back, adventure based feel of Laos. In Thakhek, one of my favourite Laotian destinations, there are plenty of the older genre (50 – 60 year olds) to be seen enjoying a Beer Lao at the open air bars while the sunsets across the Mekong.
THAKHEK UPDATE: http://www.megaworldasia.com/laos/thakhek/
The killer roads in Thailand:
I was sent this link very recently by Pattaya Gary. What was ironic was that a couple of hours later, I was involved in a minor accident on my motorbike when a minivan driver suddenly changed lanes, forcing another farang on a motorbike across my path. Luckily, we weren’t injured and there was no damage to our bikes. The Thai minivan driver, as is so often the case, sped off without a care in the world.
Having lived in Phuket for just over 12 months I would say the roads here, just like the rest of Thailand, are seriously hazardous to drive on. Keeping the emotion out of the debate, there a few things to consider when assessing the way many of the locals drive. First and foremost, the most reckless guys on the road in Phuket are the minivan drivers. These guys are always in a hurry, swerving in and out of traffic, tooting their horns, and they hardly ever indicate when they suddenly change lanes. Without doubt, they’re the most selfish and inconsiderate drivers on the roads in Phuket. Maybe they are under constant time pressure to get from one place to another? Who knows, but one would think that the tourists inside these vans would be happier with a safer approach to driving.
Motorbikes: Most of the guys speeding around, weaving in and out of traffic, running red lights, and generally driving with no understanding of the road rules, are the young punks under 25 years of age. They also happen to be the ones most often involved in accidents. In the past 6 months I’ve seen two motorbike accidents where the result was the death of the rider. The common denominator on both occasions was speed and a young punk under 25 years of age. Oh, and for good measure, both weren’t wearing a helmet.
I would be quite confident in saying that 50% of the population, especially in rural areas, don’t have motorbike licenses. And if they don’t have a license then, for sure, they have no understanding of the basic road rules.
In Phuket, the police checkpoints are a joke. They stop tourists to check for motorbike licenses and wearing helmets, but very few of the locals. Why? Because most of the low-end, shit kickers riding around without helmets, and no license, don’t have the 400 THB to give to the police. But tourists do, of course.
The only way to drive on the roads in Thailand, if you‘re a foreigner, is to keep your wits about you at all times and be constantly vigilant. Because if you don’t, and you switch off for even one second, you can be sure some Thai idiot will be cutting across your lane, pulling out without indicating, or running a red light.
Stay safe and never give up.
Your S.E. Asian commentator,
I’ve said it before and I will say it again – your reports have the effect of making me miss Thailand and almost contemplating, what if…..?!