Thailand, The First Time, Part 3
Part 3 The South
As the honeymoon couple and the French people left the group we were joined by a brash young American and his wife and a slightly less brash, but equally obnoxious Brit and his partner. These two couples seemed to hit it off and hung out together most of the time (TG). Funny how birds of a feather flock together! There were also four fairly nondescript Aussie girls that would probably be best described as ‘scrubbers’ (and that’s being kind) and that didn’t appeal at all to the two pre-existing Aussie girls in the group who went into a sort of tailspin / decline, pining after our recently departed fellow-travellers. On the bright side Lars and Helena had stayed on and Lars and I had discovered a shared interest in football that helped us to pass some happy hours on our travels whenever we could find a bar to watch some football and sink a few cold ones. One day we found some Thai kids playing football and joined in. Each time a goal was scored we would pick up the goal scorer and chair him around the pitch for high fives while the other kids squealed in delight. Lara GF Helena, was a classic blonde Scandinavian beauty with spectacular looks and a warm personality. She had no problem with Lars coming to watch football in a bar with me and would usually stay and read her book and then join us later / après match for a drink. That day she stood on the sidelines and took photos of us playing soccer with the kids with their beautiful big wide open Thai smiles. Those photos actually triggered this memory. Again, we’d probably be arrested for trying a stunt like that these days.
The precocious Sandy had also jumped ship / train / songthaew in Bangkok and was last seen heading for Ko Samet to give her bikini (and her magnificent boobs) a good airing. Lars and Helena remained in touch with her by email and SMS and would eventually decide to bail and head for Samet themselves. I hope to write another submission on this topic – Ko Samet that is, not Sandy’s magnificent boobs – as I would subsequently come to know the former quite intimately, whereas the latter were only ever admired from a distance.
Before we set off for the southern leg of our tour we had a free day and one final night out in Bangkok to say farewell to our departing travelling companions and our much loved leader, Nelly. But first, that afternoon I decided that it was time to put my bad luck behind me and go and visit one of the renowned massage parlours on Rachadapisek Road that I had read about in my travel guide book and where surely the ‘service’ would be more professional. This time I smiled, made my excuses and waved to my taxi tout / ping pong friend as I exited the hotel, walked around the corner, hailed a taxi from the street and told the driver where I wanted to go. He insisted that he knew a better place so off we went to J One in Praya Thai. This time I told the driver to drop me outside and I would make my own arrangements thereafter. He insisted on accompanying me inside so I turned around and started walking away. He got the message and drove off in a right steaming hump (and with a serious scowl at me). I turned back and as I entered the cavernous building I was brought to a viewing area where my eyes almost popped out of my head. There were literally hundreds of girls all in glamorous evening dresses as though ready to go to a ball (sic) and all smiling at / for me and willing me to select them. And not a mobile phone in sight. Happy / halcyon days. I was almost overwhelmed by the choice of stunning looking girls and dizzy with the different price tiers that applied to different sections of the fishbowl. In fact it was more like an aquarium than a fishbowl but eventually I made my choice and what followed was probably more in line with my expectations from day one. And it was a case of third time lucky too as there were no contraceptive quality control issues to report. Whew!
This reminds me of the old joke (with a nod towards Dances with Wolves) about the little red Indian boy who asked the big chief how he came to name each of his children. The big chief sat down, puffed on his pipe, stared off into the middle distance and began to explain to his youngest son that after making a baby with his squaw he would leave the wig warm and the first thing he set eyes upon would become the name of his next child.
‘….and that’s how your sisters got the names, Running Cloud and Half Moon. And why your older brothers, the two young braves, are called Broken Arrow and Two Dogs Fighting.’ Then he slowly turned, looked at his youngest son and said: ‘But why all these questions, Broken Rubber!’
Relaxed and ready, I later joined the group for our final night out. We had a delicious meal at a traditional Thai restaurant. After some more drinks and as the night was coming to an end, we headed back to our hotel. I was meandering along behind the main group, chewing on a street food chicken skewer when a young Thai lady pulled up beside me on her motorbike to see if I was interested in any of the, ahem… services she could offer. I politely declined at which point she reached into the trunk on her bike, removed a few napkins that she politely handed me and then sped off into the night in search of customers elsewhere. The group, who had all stopped to witness this exchange, were highly amused. I was more so bemused but hey, this is / was Thailand.
The next day the Southern leg of our tour kicked off with another overnight train ride from Hua Lampong station to some point in the deep south of the country. Again the bar car was made full use of as we got to know our new travel companions better before retiring to our couchettes. We were woken by a steward for breakfast on the train next morning and upon arrival at the Southern train station we were taken by song thaew to a small port where we boarded a boat that would take us to a small Muslim island the name of which escapes me. However, it became apparent as soon as we left the port in our old, converted fishing boat, that the weather was rapidly deteriorating. What followed was a terrifying experience as the sea became turbulent and a real storm blew in. The boatmen seemed unperturbed by the conditions and the increasing banging and cracking from the boats old timbers as we were tossed about on monstrous waves. I’m convinced that they would have continued to push on for the island – or the bottom of the Andaman Sea – whichever came first. Our tour leader, Helen, under increasing duress and pressure from her terrified charges, eventually persuaded the boatmen to abandon their quest and turn back. This was probably the only good decision that she made in the whole week but I was greatly relieved to get back on terra firma and off that rickety boat that could well have led me to my Waterloo – or a watery grave.
This meant that Helen had to quickly recalibrate the itinerary and so after an interminable wait in the back of the songthaew while it poured monsoon like rain Helen had us playing children’s guessing word games (instead of bringing us to a bar as Nelly would have done). We eventually went directly to Phuket city where hotel beds were available. The bad weather followed us there so on a wet and windy afternoon I ventured forth from the hotel to the nearest knocking massage shop. I figured that now that I had put my bad luck to bed (in a manner of speaking) that it should be plain sailing from here on. My chosen lady was enthusiastic and skilled but to my astonishment, she suddenly whipped off the condom in the middle of the action and insisted on, ahem… a natural finish! Once again I staggered out of the massage shop and into the nearest bar feeling even more dazed and confused than ever.
My memories of the rest of that week in Southern Thailand are a bit hazy but even 21 years later I am very clear in my mind that my experiences in the South weren’t a patch on the first week spent in the north of Thailand. This may have had something to do with the company, the weather, the tour leader, etc., but if anybody ever asks me for travel recommendations in Thailand I never hesitate in bigging up the simpler attractions of the North.
We had another homestay experience in the south that again paled by comparison with the previous week. The house we stayed in had recently been flooded and there was a horrible musty damp smell and in truth was probably not even really habitable and something of a health hazard that I was very glad to see the back of.
The highlight was probably the short hop from Ko Samui and its unique and charming open-air airport to Phuket. Still the bad weather lingered though as we ticked off whatever attractions and sights were to be seen such as forested waterfalls and the Big Buddha but little else lingers in my memory. Even the beachside bars were for the most part wet, windy and dull.
Finally our tour brought us to Karon Beach for an unscheduled stop / final night. Eventually the weather relented and we were rewarded with a spectacular sunset as we sipped cocktails near the beach on the final night of our group holiday. I was enjoying the moment so much that I went to order a second cocktail. The schoolteacher / leader reverted to type with a horrified look on her face as she rushed up to the bar and told me to cancel my order as we were on a timetable to go somewhere else for dinner! Whose holiday did I think it was anyway ! She subsequently brought us to Patong to finish the night but somehow managed to steer us clear of Bangla Road and the livelier side of Patong as she obviously had taken it as part of her brief to also protect our morals as well as boring us to sleep.
The tour ended the next day at Karon Beach and we bade each other our farewells. In truth, I was happy to say goodbye to some of the group, especially the leader, and do my own thing. Most of the group travelled back to Bangkok from Phuket but some of us, including Lars and Helena stayed on for a few more days of R&R at Karon Beach as we had open tickets for the flight to Bangkok that only needed 24 hours’ notice to reschedule. I got so badly sunburned on the first day there that I had no option anyway but to stay on for a few more days as my shoulders were badly burned and literally too sore to take the weight of my backpack. So I was unexpectedly stuck in Karon Beach for a few extra days. You could be stuck in worse places though!
I made another foray to Patong one night under my own steam and had a much more entertaining night than Helen could ever have conjured up. Starting with a few beers and some pool in a suitably decadent bar I then found a very lively gogo bar and engaged a buxom young lady / dancer in conversation. When I offered to buy her a lady drink she responded with an unusual tactic. She told me that it was bad luck for her to accept a drink from her first customer of the evening unless said customer was going to barfine her ! It worked as I fell for her charms hook, line and sinker. There was a great selection of dancers in the bar and I would have happily stayed for a few more hours of fun but off we went on her motorbike to seal the deal. She lived nearby and I was mortified to see mama and younger sister waving at us from the balcony as she parked up her bike and led me indoors. I soon got over myself / the embarrassment as I realised that this is just how things are in Thailand. At least her room was downstairs so I didn’t need to actually meet the family. What followed was an enjoyable liaison with none of the nasty contraceptive surprises that I had come to expect. I eventually sidled back to Karon Beach very happy with my unusual evening’s entertainment. I even thought about sending a postcard to Helen ‘Wish you weren’t here…’
After another day spent in the shade / dodging the sun and reading a book at Karon Beach I ventured out for a walk along the seafront one evening as the sun was setting. On my way back, I spotted a small beer bar enclave of maybe 10 or 12 units with three or four girls at each of the tiny bars. I decided to investigate further. The bars were just setting up for the night and there weren’t many customers about. I received lots of attention, smiles and waves from the first bar I passed but kept going and had a good butcher’s at the assorted talent in all of the other little bars before returning to the first bar, where the music (and the girls) was more to my liking, and ordered a drink. A lovely young lady with dusky looks and smouldering eyes came to join me for a chat that then led to a game of Connect Four which I had never actually played before. As she schooled me in the rules I must have got lucky and won the first few games. She then upped the stakes and suggested a small wager. If she won I would buy her one lady drink.
‘And what if I win?’ I enquired.
‘Then I give you one kiss’ she smiled coyly and winked at me.
Seemed like fair odds to me and as is the gamblers way, you win some, you lose some ! But to my surprise I didn’t win too many more games after that as the lady drinks flowed ! As the evening darkened to night, we were getting along just fine and I had forgotten all about the sunburn as I mused on the possibilities of the night ahead. Suddenly there was a bit of a commotion. Four guys arrived and the mamasan / bar manager sprang into action as she welcomed the new arrivals and immediately mustered all of her girls (including my new friend). Within ten seconds flat the four guys were seated at a table, each with a beer in front of him and a girl with a lady drink on each of their knees. Obviously they were regular / good, paying customers and worthy of the VIP treatment but the speed at which everything happened left me totally gobsmacked. I had never seen anything like it and to this day have never seen an operation swing into action with such speed and slickness. Maybe this team should be re-assembled and put in charge of the Covid vaccine distribution? Nobody else could do it faster or better! My erstwhile friend exchanged a rueful glance with me from her new perch, on another man’s knees, where a different game of connecting four punters with four bar girls was being played out, shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes as much as to say, ‘Sorry but this is what I gotta do.’
I stayed a little longer, finished my drink and wandered off into the night, smiling ruefully to myself. I later found another bar back in town that was playing Beatles music, stopped in for a beer and took a few beatings on the pool table from a beautiful bar girl who interestingly was not available to be bar-fined, although all of the other ladies in the bar were available. As we chatted she told me that as with many girls working in bars and from the North-East she had a child at home being cared for by her own mother while she worked in the deep South to support the family.
This girl had a simple, understated beauty and an easy-going style that immediately attracted me. She also had that rare quality of both inner and outer beauty and was easily the pick of the bunch at that bar – and then some. She dressed simply and conservatively and not in any way sluttish and didn’t use make-up. She didn’t need to. None of the other girls at the bar, who used all sorts of potions, lotions and war paint to doll themselves up in short skirts and low cut tops every evening could hold a candle to her. And none of them really interested me despite their persistent entreaties and salacious suggestions, although they were all friendly and good fun. We became very friendly and I returned to her bar each night for the rest of my stay. It was nice to just hang out, listen to good music, play pool (at which I was even worse than Connect Four) and have some drinks in a relaxed way with a lovely lady who apparently had no other agenda. Almost normal even!
I had forgotten all about her until I came to write this piece of my submission and I find now that I still can’t quite explain why I didn’t try to make something more of the situation. Clearly we got on well but wasn’t that her job? To get on well with customers and put them at their ease? Should I have pushed it a bit further with her and tried to develop a better connection / relationship? Almost certainly, yes. Why didn’t I invite her for lunch or a swim some day before her bar shift started? I know that she liked to go dancing at the local late club after her shift finished but clubbing was never my thing. But why didn’t I make an exception for this exceptional woman? Even now, 21 years later, I don’t have rational or coherent answers to these questions. Maybe it was sunstroke that fried my thinking? Maybe I had listened to too many ‘bar girl done me wrong’ tales and feared getting burned. Maybe it seemed inappropriate at the time to try to pursue something along the lines of a normal courtship given my ribald antics of the previous few weeks in Thailand? Maybe my pragmatic self subconsciously decided that it would be impossible to make anything of it given that I was imminently headed back to a cold and wet country thousands of miles away from her world? Whatever the reason(s) it seems clear to me now that I missed a golden opportunity and she was definitely (another) one that got away. Now with the wisdom that comes with the years (and not the beers), my older, wiser self tells me that if time travel were possible I’d jump on the first flight with Marty and the Doc, back to Karon Beach and give my forty year old self a good kick up the arse. Regrets, I’ve had a few……
Strangely, despite returning to Thailand maybe a dozen times over the years, I never returned to Karon Beach. Maybe she’s still there running her own bar with the help of her now fully grown daughter? I guess I’ll never know what became of her but she lit up my life for those few days of my holiday. She was in many respects the perfect woman and will remain so in my memory. Charming, lovely, gentle and fun-loving (and with a killer figure and looks hidden beneath that vanilla image). Sometimes we are just blessed and privileged to meet such great people on our travels.
Another day I took a side trip from Karon Beach to the Phi Phi islands by boat. I had a nice day out but was a bit disappointed that Phi Phi seemed to be over-developed and falling foul of excessive tourism. It had by then been catapulted into the limelight thanks to the film, The Beach. I did meet some very friendly traders at the beachfront shops and restaurants, and I bought some tee shorts and trinkets from one lovely lady that I had fun bargaining with. I often wondered if she survived the subsequent Tsunami that blitzed the islands in 2004. She would have been among the first in the line of the raging water. I sincerely hope she survived but suspect that the odds would have been stacked against her. I guess I’ll never know the answer to that question either.
My trip eventually drew towards a close after those long, lazy, happy days spent at Karon Beach and soon I was on a Thai airways flight back to Bangkok for a final night in the Big Mango before returning to my busy life in Farangland.
In part 4, the final part of my story, I will tell you about some important lessons learned in a massage parlour, why good food should be like good sex, a hair-raising trip around Bangkok and some final thoughts on Thailand and travel.