My initial visit to Thailand was in June 1999 after my divorce became official. I had not been dating for three years hoping to salvage my marriage. Seeing my loneliness, a friend invited me to Thailand where he said I could forget my troubles for a while, and have a really good time. I invited another friend who was also recently divorced, and the three of us headed off for Bangkok. I was only 47 years old in 1999 and was immediately surprised by the humidity as my glasses fogged up as soon as we got outside the airport. The taxi took us to the back entrance of our hotel. It was past 1:00 AM when we arrived at the hotel.
We stayed at a hotel called the Hotel 24 Inn, a lovely place with a great staff. The hotel was conveniently located one stop from Asoke and two stops from Nana. We were too excited to sleep that first night so were up early the next day. We walked the area just to get situated, and I remember being amazed at the sights, sounds and smells of Sukhumvit. As the character says in the Wizard of Oz: We weren’t in Kansas anymore!
The friend who had invited us to Bangkok suggested that we go to Nana Plaza after dinner. He described Nana by saying it was better than any strip club we had ever been to in the United States. With high hopes for a “lucky” night, we headed off to Nana Plaza.
Having been married for 14 years, and without female company for an additional three years, I was ready to meet some new ladies. I was hoping they would be attractive and not stuck up like so many women in the United States.
In those days, the middle area of Nana Plaza was open, with a lot of small cubicles serving as bars. After a few drinks, the fellow who had suggested our going to Nana got a call from his “girlfriend” and said he had to leave to go see her. So the two of us recently divorced newbies were left all alone to discover Nana on our own. We stayed at the open bar drinking for another hour or so, and once the alcohol had started to overcome our shyness, we decided to hit out first go-go bar.
We sheepishly walked in, and immediately a cute little Thai named Jane come over to us and started talking with us. We were both taken by Jane as she was thin; light-skinned and had one of those smiles that the Land of Smiles is famous for. For me, it was like sitting with an Asian model. She was absolutely delightful!
In those days, quite a few of the girls were topless which I loved but was also not used to. Remember this was my first trip to Bangkok. The three of us (Jane, my friend, and I) sat drinking for another two hours. Every now and then another bar girl would come over and ask to sit with us, but in those days I was very cautious having read about tourists being drugged and robbed. So instead of welcoming new girls, I just said, “No, thank you”, but I would buy the girl a drink and wished her good luck for the evening. Being such a novice, I thought it might upset Jane if we had other women sit with us.
Of course, my thinking changed the next night when Jane asked if one of her friends could sit with us. But this article is about my first night at Nana Plaza, so I’ll return to the narrative.
We were fortunate that Jane spoke English well enough and was able to answer the dozens of questions we had about how the bar worked. She pointed out that every girl was wearing a button with a number on it. She said we could take any girl out of the bar who was wearing a number. She explained that when a girl was taken out of the bar, the bar charged a fee because she would not be working during the time she was out. She also told us that the girls also got a fee for their services. These fees were negotiated between the girl and the customer. When asked what a customary fee amount was, she responded about 2,000 baht.
We asked about Jane’s personal life and surprise-surprise, she was from the countryside and had come to Bangkok a few years back looking to make money. She talked about country life, her family, the water buffalo, etc. – but by then my eyes were wandering the bar finding more and more girls, the majority of whom were attractive. I asked Jane again to confirm that any girl with a number could be taken out of the bar. She said that as the case, and I almost fainted from delight.
As I sat there drinking, I couldn’t believe how beautiful these girls were. One after the other, they were so attractive, and all seemed so friendly. When Jane went to the restroom, my friend turned to me and said, “I love this place! You don’t have to work at it to get a girl!” We both decided we would spend the next few days discovering the many bars in Nana. We wondered if the other bars could possibly have as many beautiful girls in them. Rather than go to other bars that night, we decided to return the next day and as we were both exhausted. I asked my friend if he was interested in Jane and he said yes, however he wanted to look around before deciding on whom to bring back to the hotel. We had only been to one bar that night, and there were so many in bars in Nana Plaza to explore.
My friend said he would pay the tab for the drinks, and that I could pay the tab the following night. I agreed and went to the restroom. While pissing away, a girl walked in to use the toilet. Soon, another girl walked in to use the mirror. I think that’s when I fell in love with Bangkok. I knew this was my kind of vacation spot. It’s always the little things in life that catch our attention.
When I came back, I noticed Jane had changed from her bikini into regular clothes. I asked her why she had changed, and she said because my friend had “bar-fined” her. She reminded me that she had explained to us earlier in the evening how girls had to be bar-fined to be taken out, and a price negotiated for the girl. I asked Jane if the drinks had been paid for, and when she said, “No”, I asked her how much we owed. She said she would get the “check bill”. Once Jane returned, I paid the bill and my friend asked me what I was doing. I said paying for the drinks. He said, “Don’t do that I already paid for the bill”. I said, “No you didn’t pay for the drinks. Jane said you bar-fined her, and we still needed to pay for the alcohol.”
The look on my friend’s face was priceless. I think these kinds of episodes are why so many tourists love traveling – the unexpected and the small surprises. My friend decided to take Jane home that night and they had a lovely evening.
I have returned to Bangkok every year since 1999, except 2020 when we were prevented by the pandemic. I have learned a lot since that first year and although things are very different now that I’m 68, I still look forward to returning. Of course, I’m not as easily surprised as in those early years. And I can’t drink or chase women like when I was 47, but I find Bangkok still full of surprises and with plenty of cute girls in the bars. I think I still enjoy Bangkok so much because I go to Bangkok without any great expectations. I go to have a good time and see old friends and make new friends. And of course I go to learn. I still chuckled to this day when thinking about how we learned the difference between a “bar fine” and a “check bill”.
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