Will I Visit Thailand Again?
I’ve read with great interest so many of the readers’ submissions over the last few years since I discovered your website. At times I’ve grimaced and others I’ve laughed out loud, but so many of those moments I’ve recognised myself. There’s an old truism that men will be men, Thailand is the proof of that They say there’s no fool like an old fool, but equally there’s no fool like a happy old fool.
The first time I visited Thailand was 2012. Having travelled extensively I finally caved in to my friend’s pleas to come and sample the beer and nightlife of The land of Smiles. Being a foodie I fully intended to visit Ko Samui or similar for authentic food one day but it was quite low on my list. Sitting in bars all day shooting the shit and downing beer has always been a favourite pastime but of course most places in the world have a bar and a stool to perch on. Being based in the UK but also having a home in Tokyo means I’m not green when it comes to dealing with Asia and I’m not overwhelmed by Asian metropolises and all the sights and sounds that often lure jaded Europeans into their clutches.
The first time I set foot in Bangkok I was astounded by just how friendly and hospitable Thai people are. I think sometimes we forget how hard it is to experience relaxed and friendly locals in, for instance, China, where asking for directions can get you a weird reaction. In Thailand I seem to make new friends with every visit, some of whom I have met up with two or three times a year over several years for beers and food, in fact I almost feel part of the real Thailand when I go out with ex-receptionists from a hotel I’ve stayed at or beer girls who I meet around a pool table, befriend and end up visiting their family. I’ve literally lost count of the number of weddings and events I’ve been invited to by Thai friends whose names I struggle to pronounce! This could happen anywhere, but I’m damn sure it wouldn’t happen as easily as it does in Thailand.
We’ve all run the treadmill of holiday “friendships”, bought several fridges and scooters, none of which we’ve ever seen. I’ve bailed relatives out of prison and bought new iPhones (whilst also shopping for lingerie) receiving no benefit from the former and a lot from the latter. I’ve spent a week in a village with no power at night, swam across rivers to catch fish for tea and played pool while dawn and then drunk a bottle of Sangsom over breakfast. I’ve speed-drunk shots in some ladies villages with drunken Thais who had hardly seen a white man before, not even really sure whereabouts in Thailand I actually was, indeed I may have technically been in Laos! There were plenty of times I’ve sat through a temple ceremony with a solemn face before being dragged off by a pair of scantily-dressed ladies to dance the night away until dawn. Once I was involved in a standoff with Thai police during Marshal law where the drunken bar owner refused to shut at 10 PM and barricaded the door. We had a whip around to stop him being carted off to the local nick by armed riot police. Seemed hilarious at the time, but with hindsight a bit more edgy when the Johnny Walker hilarious goggles were handed back in the morning.
All of these things I haven’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t do in my home town or in Tokyo. Thailand is a land with so many possibilities every day. Strolling down Patpong 2 on my way to my favourite first night bar, fresh off a long haul flight, I never feel tired. The possibilities for the night make me feel 25, not 55.
I’ve got a usual routine. Taxi into Sukhumvit from Suvarnabhum, I tend to vary my hotels from medium level to apartments, as I visit 2/3 times a year I get bored. These days I like a pool with sun-loungers, tending to read in the sun in the later part of the holiday when the daytime drinking gets too much.my first visit of the holiday is always the same street bar on soi 2, Patpong. I don’t usually visit Patpong now so much after the first night unless I’m meeting friends at this bar, the girls there have a sixth sense for when in the year I might visit and as if by magic are busy sending me messages on LINE the moment I’m thinking about booking a ticket. Apparently they miss me every day. I’d like to think their screams and shouts of “doctor!” are genuine expressions of happiness and anticipation of my funny jokes and comedy bar fly routine. But I always have a third person view of myself as a large crocodile skin wallet with legs stuffed with baht sauntering towards a date with a gang of personal shoppers! It can only end one way.
The money never bothered me, how many baht to the pound was never really an issue, happy hour prices are nice but I’ll sit there 6 hours both sides of happy hour if it’s fun. I‘ve bought 1,000 lady drinks and maybe I’ll buy a thousand more. I put a 1,000 smiles on a 1,000 faces and mine too. I’ve spent 30,000 baht in a night and I’ve spent 300.
Almost before my ass hits my favourite bar stool, freshly vacated by some other annoyed punter to shouts from the girls of “Please move along, reserved for the doctooooooor!” I’ve bought a round for everyone, the old girl on the till, the new girl from Udon Thani, the baker and candlestick maker. It’s part of the game. We drink together, we laugh together and when the bar shuts we sometimes eat together. It’s my gang and we look out for each other. Then it’s a tuktuk back to Sukhumvit and a well-deserved lay in. I occasionally go to a gogo bar but to be honest it’s a little hard-nosed for me. I’m still pretty fit and look young for my age so I’m in with a chance at girl roulette if I’m feeling game.
Girl roulette plays like this. You have a shower, brush your teeth, put on a clean shirt on, dab of aftershave. Step out into the wave of heat on your soi and the world is your oyster. This must be the only modern city in the world where supermodels and being a holiday millionaire are within the grasp pf the ordinary Joe. You simply spin the wheel a trip to Soi Cowboy or nana, the dice land on Nana. Nana it is. Spin again Garden bar on soi 7 for a bit of people watching or Hillary bar for a game of pool. Spin again. Black bob or blonde with tattoos. Blonde it is, my pool partner looks a lot fitter and younger than any pool partner a man in his 50’s is likely to find in my home town. The only thing I’m certain of is I’ll be 1000’s of baht lighter by dawn. I could be eating amazing food in Milan or drinking fine wines in Paris. But I’m here laughing with guys I’ve only met hours before and buying drinks for a hot chick and her friends like they actually know me.
Why do I do it?. Couldn’t honestly tell you. Will I do it again? Of course. Does the virus change the game. Nah, I’ll still fly into Thailand if and when I can. Will Vicky the gogo girl suddenly decide she wants to get back into village life? Nah, she’ll be back in Pattaya and Bangkok looking for money or a meal ticket. She’ll still go back to the village with more money than the other girls have ever seen. They in turn will be booking a van to Bangkok as soon as whichever hopeless, feckless husband her mom found for her leaves for a girl in the next town. We’ll all end up in a pool bar with stories to tell and fish suppers to wash down with beer.
My mortgages are paid off. I’ve got the Porsche and the designer kitchen. I’m not rich but I am comfortable. When my laptop comes up with flights to interesting places like Morocco, Peru, Norway or Alaska it usually rests on the ‘search prices to Bangkok’, at least once a year, just another little bit of lunacy…..like George Best said, “I spent it on booze, girls and rock n roll and wasted the rest.” So after Covid if there’s just one bar left in Pattaya with two old mamasans and a fake Smirnoff bottle, I’ll probably see you there. I’ll be at the bar with a new gang and another story.
There’s not much room for savings in a coffin once you’re inside it.