Thailand, The First Time, Part 2
Part 2. The North
On arrival at Don Meuang Airport in Bangkok the weather was hot and muggy. Tourist Information at arrivals pointed me towards a bus stop from where I could catch a bus towards Khao San Road where I was booked in for three nights at my tour’s starting point hotel. I met a cute young Belgian girl at the bus stop who was also backpacking and heading in the same direction. A few more farangs joined us with their backpacks until we were about six in total and we set off into the downtown traffic at rush hour. Only there was nobody rushing anywhere as we inched through the traffic jams, the smog and the unique smells that Bangkok constantly emanates, until a helpful expat on the bus told us where to disembark. We eventually bailed out someplace near Chinatown, I think. We had to cross a busy intersection dragging backpacks, suitcases and assorted luggage while dodging in and out between motorbikes, tuktuks, buses, lorries, street food vendor motorised carts, cars, taxis and anything else that ran with an engine. We weaved in and out of the traffic that showed little consideration for the stupid farang and their luggage until we eventually reached the opposite footpath / sidewalk. As we finally reached the holy grail of Khao San Road we all split off in different directions to find our individual hotels / hostels / lodgings. After check-in and a quick shower to blow off some of the jet lag it was time to go out and get a drink and some dinner. The colourful and easy-going scene on Khao San Road made for an enjoyable and entertaining first night in Bangkok as I sank a few cold beers at open air bars with great live bands providing superb entertainment. I even met the cute Belgian girl again at one such bar and invited her to join me for a drink which she did. Turns out she was not a drinker per se and seemed to think better of my company after a while, made her excuses and went back to her lodging. This would become something of a recurring theme with young western women that I subsequently met on my travels in Thailand, but it didn’t dampen my mood in the least.
After a really good sleep and a decent breakfast I undertook a full day of DIY tourism, including the obligatory tour of the temples and Buddhas – golden, emerald, reclining and any other variation you can imagine. By the time evening of the second day came around I felt ready to explore the naughtier side of Bangkok. I made my first big rookie mistake by asking the concierge for a recommendation and he hailed the resident taxi tout to take me to a suitable establishment. He was an elderly and friendly guy who didn’t speak much English but smiled and joked with me in Thinglish and kept saying ‘ping pong, ping pong’ as we drove off into the night. I have no idea where he brought me but I guess it may have been somewhere near Patpong. He parked his taxi and led me upstairs to a reception area in what seemed to be a small hotel and introduced me to the papasan with whom he conducted a short conversation in Thai that probably ran along the lines of:
‘This stupid farang has just arrived in Bangkok. First time. Hasn’t a clue. Charge him double and give me half. Put your worst girls in the line-up. He won’t give a shit. I’ll sit down for a smoke.’
The papasan took over and explained how things worked and showed me the (limited) selection of ladies in the fishbowl – three in total. I selected a demure and shy looking young lady who didn’t speak a word of English. It may have been her first time in Bangkok also as she was even more nervous than me. We were ushered into a room with a bed and a bathroom by the papasan. And then the fun started. After the bathing preliminaries the young lady lowered the lights, jumped into the bed, pulled the sheets up to her chin and peered at me nervously as I towelled myself dry. Whereas I was unsure how this scenario was supposed to play out, this certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind. However, we soon started to get better acquainted in the near darkness as nature took its course and we both relaxed into our respective roles. And then disaster struck! At the crucial moment, and too late, I realised that the condom that the young lady had supplied me with had burst. As I examined its shredded remains she had a panic stricken and horrified look on her face. She darted from the bed back to the bath and started washing her nether regions furiously. I followed her lead as it seemed like the only sane thing to do. Afterwards as I left the room, I tipped the girl but she could barely manage a wai or a smile. As I went back downstairs feeling a bit dazed and confused my smiling and friendly old taxi driver re-appeared and ushered me back to the waiting taxi. He seemed to think we should keep the party going and started his chatter again about ‘ping pong, ping pong’ but I was beginning to realise that maybe I’d be better off to do any further exploring of the naughty nightlife areas without the company of a local taxi driver. So he reluctantly drove me back to Khao San road where I had a few nightcaps to reflect on my slightly unnerving experience in ehm…. whatever establishment I had been in.
As the next day dawned and my group tour was scheduled to start it was time to meet my fellow travellers and our fantastic tour leader, a happy go lucky, twenty-something Aussie called Nelly. Note. Some names have been changed in this submission to protect identity.
After the initial introductions and some housekeeping basics we began our day with a riverboat tour around the klongs and some other local highlights as seen from the Chao Phrya. The Chinese market was also an eye-opener and then some free time to explore on our own before meeting up for an early dinner followed by a real highlight – a visit to Lumpini for an evening of Thai boxing. This was a fantastic experience as the boxers went through their slow warm up rituals while the house band played some mournful dirges. The bouts increased in quality up to the headline bout that was a top quality fight between two superb martial artists while the band set the tempo and took the music to a frenzied pitch as the bout – and the music – reached its crescendo / knockout phase. The Thais present in the arena were also at fever pitch as they tried to wager or lay-off bets as the likely outcome of the bout(s) became apparent. As the knockout blow was struck, the music would suddenly stop and the beaten fighter would be removed on a stretcher (and often in considerable discomfort) while the victor was paraded around the ring taking the plaudits to wild acclaim.
The experience only cost about 250 baht for seats that weren’t ringside but had us pitched in among the locals who were betting furiously and cheering wildly as each bout progressed. On several subsequent visits to Bangkok I tried to revisit Lumpini for a repeat of this spectacle only to discover that the organisers had killed the golden goose and now saw this as an opportunity to scalp any farang tourists foolish enough to part with the exorbitant asking price for tickets which had more than quadrupled in price. Entry to the lower price seats was denied to farangs. Sadly a prime example of Thai not-sense that the more experienced reader will be all too familiar with. I think that the boxing stadium at Lumpini has long since closed. What a shame.
Meanwhile our little group of adventure travellers was bonding really well. The group was mostly made up of couples. Lars and Helena, a pair of twentysomethings from Denmark. Dara and Mary an Irish honeymoon couple. Claude, a French PSG fan and his lovely wife, Michelle. And two charming Aussie girls on a sort of hen holiday before one of them was due to get married on their return to Australia. And finally there was Sandy, a young Kiwi girl with a shallow / callow personality – but a spectacular pair of boobs. As Sandy and I were the only two really single / unaccompanied travellers in the group, we were often assigned seats together on the various buses and trains that we travelled on. I could tell that Sandy was clearly not impressed with being sat beside a guy old enough to be her father and I too soon tired of trying to make small talk with such a precocious youth. I have had more interesting conversations with bargirls and their four standard questions. That’s the breaks and the pot luck of group travel with strangers.
Over the next few days we visited the old capitals of Ayutthaya and Sukhothai, Lampang and its elephant sanctuary which was a real highlight. Then we enjoyed a Northern rural homestay that was another unforgettable and cherished highlight where a feast of Thai food was cooked and served to us while the local school children came into the house to play a selection of tunes on their traditional instruments. Later the spectacle of fire lanterns being released to soar into the night sky provided a memorable finish to the night. At bedtime we split into two rooms. One for the men and one for the women. There was some excitement as we heard screaming from the ladies dorm room but it turned out it was nothing more than the sight of a gecko moving around the wall that had gotten the ladies so excited. The next day we cycled along backroads in the countryside on rickety old bikes. As we passed a schoolyard where the children were out playing on their lunch break their excitement at the sight of a group of farangs on their bikes was hilarious to see, as they rushed over to the fence and started waving and screaming at us. I think the blond haired ladies in our little group were a particularly fascinating attraction for the Thai kids. It was a sort of magic / kodak moment for us. Today you would probably be arrested if you stopped to take a picture of some happy school kids but for us it was just an unexpected and happy moment to capture and treasure. I have sometimes wondered how many of the little girls in that schoolyard that day would have subsequently grown up and made their way to Bangkok or Pattaya or any of the other fleshpots to ply their trade in the nightlife industry, which sort of devalues the memory of the day. But twenty plus years later, older and wiser, sadly I now have a much better idea of how the human food / meat chain operates in Thailand.
The journey north on the night train from Bangkok was a real highlight in itself as we got to know each other better over multiples large bottles of Chang – elephant beer as we labelled it and later renamed it elephants pi*s when we realised it really wasn’t all that good – in the bar car, before retiring to our surprisingly comfy couchettes.
Next it was onwards to the charming city of Chiang Mai with its cooler weather, colourful night market and laidback riverside bars and restaurants. While there, I indulged in my first traditional Thai massage (fully clothed) to the bemusement of my travelling companions and have great memories (and photos) of the night market and live music at the Riverside bars where we mingled easily with the locals to some great live tunes on the dance floors. A day trip to the temple at Doi Suthep to see and hear the monks chanting was another memorable outing. We also did some wild water river rafting where some of the group actually fell into the river. I have a vivid recollection of the vivacious Sandy smiling cheekily as she paraded around like a wet T-shirt contestant with erect nipples and a wet top that was plastered to her body and that left little (nothing actually) to the imagination. The more reserved ladies in the group were not impressed but all of the guys definitely enjoyed the moment. We then visited the hill tribes and got an intimate understanding of the simpler way of life in the North as well as the back-breaking work in the fields that was undertaken day after day in searing heat.
While we were in Chiang Mai I decided it was time to risk another dalliance with a lady of the night and having spotted a suitably decadent looking massage parlour near our hotel, I doubled back after dinner for some late night fun. Incredibly I suffered another broken condom episode. The lady just looked at me, looked at the condom and shrugged her shoulders. By now, this was of course becoming a serious issue for me and it hadn’t yet dawned on me what might be the cause of the problem. A few years ago I sent a ‘healthy travelling’ submission to Stickman that my younger self would have benefited from reading. Let’s just say that size matters and unfortunately Thai condoms tend to be a tight fit!
After about eight days on the road we returned to Bangkok for one final night where we had to say a fond farewell to about half of our group as they had only opted to do the Northern leg of the tour. We also had to say goodbye to our fabulous tour leader, Nelly, who needed to do a visa run to the Cambodian border. Her replacement, Helen, a British schoolteacher on a career break, would prove to be a very poor substitute, as the very happy dynamic in the group from week one would change as we headed south for week two.
In Part 3, I will tell you about our new tour leader, as the group (and the group dynamic) headed south and how the weather would also take a turn for the worse. But my luck with the ladies (and more specifically with the prophylactics) would definitely take a turn for the better!
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