Introspection and Reflection in Sin-City
Having lived in Thailand for 5 years more than a decade ago, I am currently back for a visit and I have found myself in Sin-City (out of necessity rather than choice due to requiring a good friend’s professional help). As a known haven for western retirees I decided to use this trip to weigh up central Pattaya as a potential retirement destination.
The naughty nightlife and the bar scene have never interested me despite the years I spent in-country. Even when I first came to Siam, I travelled the length and breadth of the Kingdom and not once did I visit a chrome pole palace, nor Patpong, Nana, or Cowboy.
That changed as an expat when I got a job offer in Bangkok and I occasionally went on a boys’ night out or gave visitors from home the obligatory nightlife tour.
I finally visited Pattaya after a year of working in the Big Mango as a former colleague was working in Chonburi. Later, I often stopped over on the way to or back from Samet. It was always the kind of place that was fine for 24 hours of dining and people watching, but then I had to get out. Well, now I am back and in the middle of a 2-week vacation to see what (if anything) has changed (including my own perspective).
I must be one of a minority of farang currently in the city who has not entered a go-go during his stay or partaken of female company and to be honest I feel much better and appreciate Pattaya more because of it. Working in the Gulf has made this more of a gastronomic tour, eating all those hard to get western foods I miss from home, as well as an opportunity to eat Thai, reasonable Italian, and affordable Japanese cuisine (and I have not been disappointed).
Friends have said that it kind of seems a waste but to be honest I see the nightlife as being very destructive for both the ladies and the Johns who use them. The farang I meet usually try to present their barfines as girlfriends rather than prostitutes in some attempt to justify what most in our home countries perceive as unacceptable (and would not be something to be made public back home, nor in mainstream Thai society).
Looking around I see lots of guys in their 50s, 60s, and older still in the bars. Trying to relieve their youth or have the kind of experiences they wish had been available in their younger days. Are they the lucky ones? Isn’t that what we should all be trying to do in our golden years?
A few are smartly dressed, some unclean and unkempt, and many look bizarre – dressed like they should be riding skateboards or BMX bikes. However, they are not alone as there are plenty of sex tourists (and non) who are much younger, often showing little awareness of or respect for Thai culture by entering malls and shops shirtless and little respect for their hosts and other foreign visitors with their raucous antics disturbing guests in the middle of the night (even in some of the better hotels and apartment complexes). But who am I to judge a book by its cover and shouldn’t they be allowed to let off a little steam?
I for one cannot deal with the vacuous small talk made in hostess bars, nor can I deal with listening to sex talk on the part of visitors and expats, or indeed a general lack of consideration for those around us – it is draining. As someone on the cusp of early retirement this had led to some soul searching as to my next move.
By returning to Thailand, the relatively cheap cost of living could hasten my retirement by a year despite the strength of the Baht. However, would Thailand, and more specifically Pattaya, be fulfilling? I am the kind of person who can always keep himself active so stopping work will not be a problem. The crux of the matter is where would I fit in?
My previous experiences in Bangkok taught me that you need to be wary of farang just as much if not more than most Thais (simply because they are the people you are more likely to be socializing and interacting with). Many seem to have a heightened sense of self-importance and are pumped up and ready to kick off at the slightest thing. Is this due to having money (in the case of the 2-week millionaires) and the testosterone and ego-boosting presence of a Thai woman 20 years their junior on their arms?
I spent lunchtime at the hotel bar (just a single beer and some crispy pork belly and rice) and the other farangs there soon turned the conversation to what they did last night, to whom etc.. if you get my drift. Then I thought do I really want to be around these people in my later years? Boasting how you haggled for a discount for a night with a rice farmer’s daughter and made her perform all kinds of acts. Is that how you would want men to talk about your mothers, sisters, or daughters? Making this known to everybody in a restaurant and saying it in front of the English-speaking Thai staff. If I had a family, would I want to introduce these people as my friends?
For me, the nightlife can never be fun. It is demeaning, exploitative and destructive. It is not just a farang problem as the Thai scene is all pervasive. As a foreigner I cannot judge the Thais, but I can uphold farang (from the West) to the standards expected of us (including discretion)… and we should know better.
As for Pattaya? Little has changed. It wasn’t the big revelation I was expecting. Bars have come and gone, new buildings have gone up, Indians and the Chinese are conspicuous, but everything else is the same.
If I were to retire in Thailand it would have to be in a place with the amenities and comforts that Pattaya offers but I need to be away from sexpat-central, it is just saddening and exhausting. There have been moments of brief respite, taking a walk down a small residential soi and then another turn and finding oneself in a typical Thai mooban with neighbours chatting over walls, kids playing in the street. Just a few minutes from one of the main drags, but a different world altogether. Instead of staying in central areas perhaps I should venture over to the “dark-side” – the other side of Sukhumvit Road (a complete unknown to me) or explore the outer suburbs of Pattaya?
Like many have said “Thailand is great for vacations but not as your primary residence”. For this farang, the same assertion can be made about what I have seen so far of central Pattaya. I am not moralizing, it is what it is, but for me it is too intense and in your face. It is great to visit for a day a weekend, or a night out, but to live there? No thanks.
You’ve hit a lot of nails very firmly on the head.
The author of this article cannot be contacted.