Stickman's Weekly Column October 13th, 2002

A Tour Of Isaan

I have been out of Bangkok for most of the past week and this week's column reflects that. Myself and my good friend Whosyourdaddy spent a few days exploring the lower Esarn region. We had both already done the Korat – Khon Kaen – Udon Thani – Nongkhai route so this time thought we'd attack the old gypsy highway, from Korat, running east to Ubon. Therefore, the opening piece is more a travelogue than the usual social commentary, and the news section is a little light this week too.

We left Bangkok on Monday morning, yep, that day, the day the heavens really opened on the capital. The worst rain of the year and we decide that this is the day to drive out of the city, battling the traffic, to start our Esarn adventure.
We hadn't even cleared the city limits when our phones beeped in harmony as SMS messages from both Miss Stick and Whosyourdaddy's better half respectively showed great concern at the weather, the hazards on the roads, both making strong
recommendations that we postpone the trip and leave another day. WTF? We were both excited at the thought of getting away and exploring for a few days. No amount of rain, even if it was the heaviest in years, was going to stop us now! Getting
out of the city was surprisingly easy and once north of the airport, we would not see another drop of rain for the rest of the trip. By the time we reached Korat province, the skies were blue and it was as if we had reached another country.

Passing through Korat, we passed by the statue of Ya Mo, located in the centre of the city, which reminded me of a story that my girlfriend's mother told me recently… There was this homeless man sleeping in the central park in Korat city. He went over to the statue of Ya Mo and bent down, waiing deeply. He explained that he had no money for food, and no money for the journey back to his family in the countryside. He asked Ya Mo if he could provide him with 500 baht that he needed for food and the long ride home. All the while, a policeman was standing nearby, watching this homeless man. As he watched the homeless man, he heard the story and took great pity on him. The policeman delved into his wallet, pulled out 300 baht and handed it to the man. As the police officer walked away, the man waiied deeply to the statue of Ya Mo, thanking him for the 300 baht. He then said that next time you give me some money, give it directly to me because the policeman stole 200 baht of it before he handed it to me…

He Clinic Bangkok

Having visited Korat before, I can honestly say that there is nothing much to see, in the city itself at least, so we didn't stay, instead passing through on our way to what we believed would be greener pastures.

Heading east along highway 226, we were now in unfamiliar country, a part of the Kingdom that neither of use had previously ventured into. The province immediately east of Korat is Buriram, and we decided to head for the city and find digs for the night. Buriram is a funny sort of a place but frankly, there is little to see or do in the town itself. Even for hardcore Isaan fans, this place doesn't have much going for it. It does not have the zest of a student city like Khon Kaen, the beauty of a river side city like Nongkhai or the size and variety of Korat. Buriram was one of those small Thai cities with the obligatory scattering of temples, government offices and markets. There was little else to see in the town itself, or at least of there was, we missed it.

Chasing the bus, a ritual at provincial bus stations.

CBD bangkok

Anyone who has spent time in Bangkok or Pattaya's naughty bars will know that Buriram is a major source of girls for the naughty nightlife industry. But if you ever wanted proof that Buriram is indeed a province from which large numbers of girls can be found in some of Thailand's more dubious bars, the sight of a Thai GUY screaming down the main street with a Long Gun Soi Cowboy T-shirt on his back should be proof enough! It set us off in fits of laughter. I wonder if the guy knew what his wife / girlfriend had been up to previously?!

Driving through the city we spotted a bar full of farangs and while patronising such bars was never the purpose of this trip, we thought it would be nice to meet a few of the locals and find out more about Buriram. So, after checking into the hotel, we headed back into town and wandered into the Bamboo Bar. The bar was all decked out in bamboo, hence the name. Duh. The Bamboo Bar is one of these half-indoor / half-outdoor bars, much the same as the Beergarden in Sukumvit Soi 7. There were several farangs there, a pool table and cable TV, but unlike naughty bars elsewhere in the country, there did not appear to be any girls on offer, although the girls hanging around with the guys there, looked like they had once offered themselves…. The food there was very good with a large plate of VERY GOOD fried rice costing 25 baht – quite possibly the best plate of fried rice I have ever had. Yes, it was that good! A small Heineken cost 40 baht, which at just 2 baht more than what a 7 Eleven charges for it, is a veritable bargain.

We came across quite a few farangs in this town and it must be said that I have yet to meet one who I like. They all seem to be a bit worn, a bit tired, and other than drinking alcohol, playing pool, smoking and reminiscing about the fallen British Empire (they all seemed to be Brits), they seem to do little else. They all seem to speak reasonable Thai, but then so they should because this is not Bangkok… One of the farangs we met who has a child even boasted about how he had sent his son off to live with his grandmother "so that he can speak Khmer". Yep, letting the child learn Khmer as his first language is a great idea. Its not like English is useful in this world, is it? A totally one dimensional, dull bunch of farangs make up the expat community in Buriram.

There really was something about the Bamboo Bar that I didn't like, something I just couldn't put my finger on. It was as if this little piece of farang culture in the middle of Buriram City was both out of place and unwanted. It sullied the city and any Buriram natives who were to catch their first glimpse of farangs there could not be blamed for thinking that we all really are a questionable bunch. Buriram's Bamboo Bar was like one of the worst bars in Pattaya being transplanted directly into the heart of Isaan. We had been recommended the Speed Disco as a place to go to have a few drinks and a bit of fun, but this was always to be a cultural tour and not a whoremonger's tour so we opted for an early night instead. We'd covered a few hundred kilometres that day and were tired so an early night it was.

wonderland clinic

Checking out of the Wong Tong Hotel, a veritable bargain at 540 baht for the night, the girl at reception was one of Isaan's true beauties, one who had not given in to the battle to keep up with the Jones's. If I didn't have a girlfriend already, I might have got down and proposed there and then. Yep, she really was that beautiful and had that beautiful blend of traditional Thai elegance and grace. My Thai fell to bits as she said something very basic to me and I realised that I was staring at this gorgeous creature, drooling, dreaming, fantasizing… Wake up, Stick! Get your change and get out of here before you make an ass of yourself! Too late!

Panom Rung, a Khmer temple complex in southern Buriram, had been described to me by a friend as the finest temple ruins in Thailand and I was not to be disappointed… It was to be the highlight of the day. These temple ruins for me are far more impressive than anything at Ayyuthya. There's something about the Khmer ruins, which to me, make them more majestic, more grand and generally they have more of an oooooh factor… I am in the minority of people who think that Angkor Wat, the mother of all Cambodian temples, is largely over-rated… If the idea of visiting Cambodia intimidates you or is just a step too far, you might find the Khmer ruins scattered throughout southern Isaan satisfy your hunger for such culture and history. I have to say that I am not that much of a temple fan but I really was impressed by the ruins in this part of the country. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that there were so few people visiting them?

At Panom Rung, there is a long causeway of perhaps 200 or so metres that leads to a small climb up some stairs which after ascending you are presented with a wonderfully preserved Khmer temple ruin. All of this is atop a hill and you get great views looking out over southern Buriram. Its worth spending an hour or two there, firing off a few photos, soaking up the atmosphere, and if you are the spiritual kind, doing whatever you spiritual folks do…?

And if you made it this far, don’t miss the other major historic site in the area. Just 8 km from Panom Rung is the smaller and only slightly less impressive Brasart Meuang Tam. A moat surrounds the inner citadel of what once must have been an impressive fortress. Well worth venturing the 8 km down the road.

It was at this temple complex when something happened, something that made me ponder about ways to help the innocent maidens of Isaan, and to keep them away from the dens of sin in Bangkok and elsewhere. Yep, Stickman is about to get moralistic on you again! Walking through the complex, my travelling buddy, Whosyourdaddy happened upon a Thai family. A cute little Isaan girl of around 4 or 5 saw Whosyourdaddy, and from her reaction it would seem that this was the first time the little darling had laid her eyes on a white man. Now granted, he is not the most handsome devil on the planet… This poor little darling saw Whosyourdaddy and screamed, filling the empty temple complex with the petrified howls of a terrified girl who you would think had just met every Thai ghost at the same moment. She sprinted off in the direction and sanctuary of her family, tears falling down her face, fear ripping through her body. I have no doubt that after laying her eyes on an ugly brute like Whosyourdaddy, she will never want to see another farang again. Thus, this girl is no longer a future candidate for the black hole that is the life of a prostitute in the bars of Bangkok or Pattaya. So, why don't we all chip in a bit of money and send Whosyourdaddy on a perpetual tour of Isaan, scaring all of the young girls to the point that they don't ant to ever see another white man, and wouldn't dream of ever venturing down to Bangkok or Pattaya?!

Parts of Isaan are incredibly beautiful.

Screaming along the highways of Esarn at this time of year, one is often surrounded by beautiful green paddy fields. While the sun beats down, there is a breeze which manages to keep things cool. No-one is in a hurry to go anywhere, to do anything. In many ways it feels like paradise. But it is paradise without prosperity. The people in this part of the country are farmers and so much of what they do is working the fields and the farms by hand. Walking along the roads throughout Isaan, you so many, many people who look prematurely aged by spending much of their lifetime in the rice fields, under the blistering, unabating Isaan sun. And even if they don't work as a farmer, other jobs tend to be outdoors, selling traditional sticky rice at roadside stalls or generally helping out in the family business, many of which are tasks performed under the intense heat of the sun. Dry, dark skin, damaged and slowly becoming haggard prematurely ages the people of Isaan and eventually wears these lovely people out. But despite the beating the elements have on them, these people always have a smile in reserve and I have yet to smile at someone in this part of the country and not receive a smile, a genuine smile, in return. Everyone smiled, even the stray dogs and the buffaloes smiled back. The smile of Bangkok Thais often seems to be hiding something, concealing what they really feel, whereas up in Isaan, smiles seem to come naturally and be genuine. Yeah, maybe I'm a cynic about Bangkok…but you spend a week in Isaan, interact with the people, spend time with them, chat with them, and I bet you'll become somewhat cynical about Bangkok too.

There is no doubt that having one's own wheels in this part of the country is of a huge advantage. The ruins are scattered haphazardly all over the place and it would be fair to say that the temple builders did not consider the logistics of foreigners who would roam the countryside visiting them, 1,000 years later. From what I can work out, there is little in the way of direct public transport linking even the provincial capitals with the historic sites, let alone one historic site with another. The convenience of a car cannot be overstated. To do it all on public transport would be an adventure only available to those with a lot of time on their hands.

Presenting our school ID at each historic site got us in for the Thai price which is just ten baht. The farang admission price varied around 30 or 40 baht per historic site. Sure, it is only a relatively small amount, but the principle annoys.

Pulling into Surin, we had a hotel to head for…but finding it proved difficult so we headed for the local constabulary to ask for directions. Some folks moan and groan about the Thai police but I have yet to have a problem, and when presented by a smiling farang, how could they not be nice to me? Entering with a big stupid-looking grin on my face and a map in my hands, one copper out the front was quickly joined by ten from inside to see what the strange long nosed white man with speaking the local lingo wanted… After a few pleasantries were exchanged including the inevitable where are you from, what are you doing here and why the fuck can you speak such good Thai, we were offered a police escort to the hotel. Yep, no nonsense from these guys – a police escort all the way! You'd think they thought we were David Beckham and Michael Owen! Smiles all around and two coppers guided us the 2 km or so to the hotel. I have yet to have a bad experience with the Thai police.

And where would a Stickman Weekly be without some smut, something lurid and dirty for you to fantasize over? Well, I can report that Surin does indeed have a gogo bar, a Thai gogo bar, by the name of Hard Rock. It is located down the end of an alley next to the Tarin Thong Hotel, an alley that is home to a chunk of Surin's nightlife. The lane is full of discos, pubs and other such nightlife venues. And of course, for the purpose of research and reader enlightenment only, I had to visit the said gogo bar.

Truth be told, it is a fairly miserable sort of a place if you are used to such bars in the Mango. Darkly lit, and with just two girls dancing on stage at any one time, it very much reminded me of the Thai oriented gogo bars in Saphan Kwai. The girls in there were all fairly attractive although not stunning, and as you would expect in an establishment targeting Thai men (we were the only long noses in there), none of the girls had any stretch marks or obvious signs of having given birth. Yes, Thai men are more discerning about their women than farangs are! If one wished to partake in an event at the bedroom Olympics with one of these lasses, the bar charges 1,500 baht for short time, an all inclusive price which includes the bar fine and the fee for the girl. Wonder how much of that the girl gets? One thing about the bar which I thought was a really good idea was the lady drink system. You do not have to buy drinks for the girls as such, instead you are charged a flat 100 baht which is the charge for a girl sitting with you for one hour. Seems like a MUCH better system than what punters are used to in Bangers and Pattaya. Dancers get paid a flat 3,000 baht per month though tips, tricks and lady's 100 baht fees would no doubt add to this. Waitresses get 2,000 baht a month and a few tips too…though I doubt many were doing any tricks, if any. Oh, I almost forgot the prices of drinks. Very reasonable, they are. 90 baht for a LARGE Heineken and 30 baht for a large, freshly squeezed orange juice. You can’t complain. And no, we were not presented with any silly charges for special show or anything like that. From what we saw, there was no attempts at clipping the farang going on there.

All in all, the nightlife in Surin wasn't too bad. We didn't check out the discos because we wanted an early start the next day and we had also heard that there is a lot of fighting at those venues. Some of the Thai boys entering these places looked really rough, most walking in were dressed in dirty, old clothes, the sort that most Westerners would have long since thrown out. Compare this with all of the girls entering the place who looked sweet, nicely dressed and just the sort of girl you would like to take home to meet Mum. Why does this disparity between the way the girls present themselves and the way the guys do, exist?

As in all of Isaan, most things in Surin are dirt cheap. Internet access at 10 baht an hour for a fast connection and new computers running XP, equipped with 19 inch screens etc. Food too was dirt cheap. Our evening meal which consisted of Tom Yum Gai, Yum Neua, Put Puk Ruam, a couple of plates of rice and a beer was a total of 130 baht = 65 baht each. And the portions were so big that even the two of us, both big eaters, could not get through it all.

Restaurant food is a funny commodity in Isaan. It can be hard to find good places because, as we are not locals, we really did not know where the best food is found. It is always cheap, but cheap doesn't always mean good. If luck goes against you, you can find the ingredients used are cheap and nasty – low grade rice, fatty meat, lots of offal etc. We got lucky in Surin and the food was excellent – cheap, delicious and served with the usual smiley, genuinely friendly service that you seem to get all over Isaan. Thats one of the things I just love about the region. Where ever you go, no matter what price range, you get 5 star service. The people just can't do enough for you.

Overall, for me, Surin is a much nicer town than Buriram. Buriram was a bit depressing whereas Surin has a bit more going for it, is a bit more vibrant, and is not quite as dull on the eye either.

The breakfast at the hotel in Surin was nothing to write home about but then I am never too worried about what I eat for breakfast, considering it more a quick fuel stop than a time to savour the culinary delights of the Kingdom. Checking out of the hotel we were informed of bad news. The Pra Weharn temple complex, the large temples complex on the border of Thailand and Cambodia, is closed and apparently has been so for quite some time…a real shame as this was to be the highlight of the trip and the attraction we were both looking forward to the most. Shit! Time to revise the plan.

The journey from Surin along to Si Saket was largely uneventful though we started to notice less and less English on the signs. Even the signs for tourist attractions were only in Thai. Now fortunately, having studied Thai, this did not represent a problem, but you do need to consider this if you are planning a road trip in this part of the country and are not able to read the local lingo. And the quality of the signs starts to deteriorate too, with signs for even the most popular attractions being reduced to small, hand painted signs that are very difficult to read from a car barrelling down the highway.

I hope I didn't give her a heart attack!

At several points we ventured off the main road to explore some of the surrounding areas, villages and basically anywhere that caught our eye. At one point we saw this lovely, craggy faced, old lady walking hunched over into the fields. I ordered the car to be stopped and jumped out, refusing to let such a wonderful photo opportunity to go by… I walked up behind the old women and said sawasdee krap in my best, but no doubt Kiwi accented Thai. The old women defied her age by spinning around and returning a sawasdee ka pee (though I didn’t quite pick the pee – did she think I was a ghost or an older sibling?!) At this very moment she also gave me a very deep wai and I rudely snapped off a picture. I thanked her and returned to the car which took off. For the next few minutes as we zoomed through the Surin countryside, I was overcome with an incredible amount of guilt at taking this lovely old lady's photo – and failing to at least ask for her permission or present her with a tip. Guilt paid its toll on me and I went on to tip just bout every other person I met that day in an effort to rid myself of the guilt. We didn’t see any special attractions along the way from Surin to Si Saket and upon reaching Si Saket, once again we got lost, and you know hat that means – a trip to the police station to ask for directions.

The Si Saket police station was a little run down, but once again we were greeted by smiling faces all round. Being addressed in Thai, the first question the police officer asked my was why are you two guys travelling alone – where are your women?! I responded saying that our better halves were back in Bangkok, forced to work. This didn't seem to satisfy him, the officer finding it odd that we should not have a couple of local guides with us. After we confirmed that the Phra Weharn Temple was indeed closed, damn it, and having also worked out out escape route from Si Saket, we were walking out of the station when the police officer screamed out to me.

Pee krap! (Why do they all call me that around here?) Oh shit, what did he want? Was there an irregularity with our car? Was I about to be shaken down? As I walked towards him with a not insignificant amount of fear enveloping me, I saw another farang and fear, or perhaps better described, trepidation, rapidly turned to relief, me suddenly realizing what this would be about. The farang, like most long noses that we saw in Isaan was a loser – and I am not someone to say that lightly. It wasn’t even midday, yet this guy smelt like a brewery. He was dressed in dirty, smelly clothes, hadn't seen a razor for days and had come to the cop shop for goodness only knows what. On top of all of this, he was stumbling around the detention centre part of the police station compound, acting like a right ass. The copper asked me if I could translate, this white barbarian unable to express himself in the local lingo, and I said sure. Now this could really give me something to write about, I thought to myself… Sadly, I had assumed that this would be a simple Thai – English, English – Thai translation…but I was wrong! The farang could not speak either language! No English and no Thai – God knows how he got this deep into the country? It turns out that this fellow was one of Germany's worst exports. My school boy German was not up to the task of ascertaining why he had come to the cop shop, or even to find out what the hell he was up to… Unable to help, I left as the cops were all chuckling together as they started taking the piss out of him. I laughed too and again reflected how nice the cops are. Really! Joke with them, have a laugh, so long as you are polite and respectful, there is no reason to think you will have any problems. Yep, there is little doubt that they have the propensity to turn into a snake in no time, but in 4.5 years in this country, they have always been exceptionally helpful to me.

Why is it that all of the farangs we came across in Isaan were of the undesirable variety? It seem they would have the inevitable ex-Pattaya bargirl with them, would be covered in nasty tats, smell like a brewer irrespective of the time of day. And unless they had a beer in their hand, it seemed that the had a permanent scowl etched into their face. Were they always like this? I can't imagine somewhere as wonderfully pleasant and relaxing as Isaan could have this effect on someone.

We decided that we would drive on to Ubon, the second largest centre in Isaan, and the last major town we planned to visit. Continuing along route 226, the journey was uneventful and again we stopped at a couple of villages and unremarkable temples to fire off a few shots. We also took the obligatory rice field and buffalo shots too. The idea of photoshopping our girlfriend's heads on to the buffaloes and emailing the pics to them crossed our minds until we realised that the magnitude of this insult cannot be ignored – and we might be in the doghouse for a while after such a prank.

A couple of days before we departed on this trip, we had seen on TV and read in the newspapers about how many parts of Thailand were badly flooded, whole communities had been washed out. So far, we had seen to evidence of this. But this all changed when we came around a bend on route 66 and for the first time saw the flooding…and what we saw was bad, very bad. Either side of the road, we could see the roofs of houses, only the roofs, for the rest was under water! A family had been forced from their land onto the road. They had moved some of their possessions from the land onto the road and had set up their house right there on the main highway! Yes, all of their possessions including their wardrobe, clothes and beds(!) were on the road, the major highway connecting Si Saket with ubon. It was all covered with a sort of makeshift tent, come tarpaulin, and it was all cordoned off with those bright orange road cones. I can’t imagine what it is like to sleep in your bed right there on the main road, but it has to be noisy, not to mention incredibly dangerous. My heart went out to the families as I realised that night, I would be tucked up safely in the comfort of Ubon’s finest hotel while these poor people would have to endear sleeping on the main highway.

As we got closed to the provincial capital, we discovered that the main road into Ubon was cut off and it proved to be a real nightmare navigating our way around the outskirts of the city and entering it from a highway from the north. Again, not only were the signs advising of the diversion only in Thai, but Ubon is a place where signs in English don’t exist…very little is in English but then most people do speak some English – and are very keen to use it and practice it. But if you are driving, you need to be aware of this. The ability to read Thai is invaluable in Ubon.

Ubon is a funny sort of a place. There really does not seem to be a lot to see or do in the city area…but it is nice and relaxing, a lot cooler than Bangkok – at this time of year at least – and the people are REALLY nice. Everything is very cheap too, from food to hotels and even to medicine. There's a very pleasant park in the centre of the city and the Ubonites (is that what we call the people of Ubon?) all seemed to be drawn to it in the late afternoon to relax with friends, exercise or just take it easy and reflect on the day. Time constraints meant that we did not venture around Ubon province. There seems to be a lot to see and do there, especially natural wonders like waterfalls and the like, but coming from a country will a zillion waterfalls, they don't hold too much appeal.

So, the final day, time to make the long journey over to Korat via Phimai. Instead of taking highway 226 as we did on the journey up, the road that connects the major southern Isaan cities, we were forced to take highway 24, due to flooding. But this turned out to be for the better as route 24 is a much better road with less potholes, less traffic and a change of scenery from what we had already seen.

Phimai, worth going out of your way for.

We left early and it was long drive across the country towards Korat. When we were in Ubon, we had seen a lot of kids playing with firecrackers. At one point, somewhere near Buriram, some kids through some firecrackers out of the open windows of an intercity bus and they exploded right in front of the windscreen with a huge bang. Little vermin.

As with each day of the trip so far, the weather had been fabulous. Blue skies and not a drop of rain. In fact most of the time we didn't even see a cloud! Entering Phimai, we rounded a bend and all chaos lay on the road in front of us. Flip flops, various articles of clothing, two mangled motorbikes and bodies were scattered all over the road. Around 20 or so Thais were standing gawking and one or two were frantically helping, but the majority were standing back, observing the scene, an horrific traffic accident. Whosyourdaddy weaved his way through the debris and pulled over to the side of the road. He turned to me and asked what I thought we should do. Now Whosyourdaddy was once upon a time employed in the medical profession and rumour has it that performing mouth to mouth to Thai girls is just one of the many medical procedures he is capable of. I knew he wouldn't like what I was about to say, but nonetheless, I came out and said it. I explained that while I thought that we had a moral duty to help, we could potentially be getting ourselves involved in a situation that we really don't understand. At such accidents, there is a high amount of tension and we could potentially be dealing with unstable people. What would have happened if one of the accident victims died while Whosyourdaddy was trying to save him or her? Doesn't bear thinking about to be honest. So, much to his reluctance, we pointed the car towards the ruins at Phimai and proceeded as if we hadn't seen anything. We both felt a million times better when 30 seconds later we saw an ambulance screaming down the road to the accident scene.

Upon returning to Bangkok, I told my girlfriend about this situation and was relieved to hear it when she said we did exactly the right thing. She went on to tell me about such accidents when people had tried to help and had ended up in the police station cells as innocent victims. They had been blamed as the cause of the accident, used as scapegoats. She relayed a story of someone who spent a day or two in the cells and had to pay 30,000 baht to get out, even though all they had done was try to provide assistance. Hmmm, perhaps a lucky escape. Still, not doing anything still didn't feel right, but this is Thailand, not Farangland, and when you are not really sure of the rules of the game, my philosophy is that it is best not to play.

I visited Phimai 2 or 3 years ago and while I liked it, I was not that that impressed with it. But this time was different. I'm not sure why my opinions on the place changed, but this time I really loved it. The first time I visited the weather was a bit drab, but on this occasion it was much better. Phimai is a well preserved piece of what was once a Khmer fortress. The style of the ruins is completely different to the much more popular, Thai style, Ayyuthya. In fact it has to be said that these Khmer ruins are visually much more stunning than anything at Ayyuthya. If you get the chance, do visit these ruins for they blow Ayyuthya away – but admittedly they are a lot further away from Bangkok and more difficult to get to. We spent a couple of hours at Phimai and I once again marvelled at the delight of digital cameras, and the ability to fire off photo after photo after photo.

After finding a nice looking restaurant and ordering what turned out to be two absolutely dreadful meals (remember what I said about shitty ingredients in these places), it was time to head on to Korat, find a hotel for the night, and then take the short trip down Bangkok's most notorious stretch of motorway, to Bangkok. When we got to Korat, we happened upon the office of the car rental company and thought we'd go in to get some directions. It turned out that if we got the car back to Bangkok by 9 in the morning, we would save a full day's rental on the car. We also worked out that we could save a night's accommodation in Korat. As we hadn't planned to do anything in Korat that night or the next morning, we decided that we would drive back through to Bangkok. It would make it a long day, Ubon to Bangkok via Phimai, but what the hell! We'd save about 1,000 baht each by getting back early – and being teachers, every baht counts!

Its just 250 km from Bangkok to Korat, but they say more people die on that stretch of highway than any other similar length of highway in the Kingdom. From what we saw, it is not hard to see why. For the bulk of the distance, the lanes are either poorly marked, or not marked at all. Parts of the road, and indeed almost the entire length of the inside lane, are in a dreadful state. But worst of all, it is the driving habits of the Thais, particularly the locals on small motorbikes, that really make you wonder. Cruising at 120 km/h, we were regularly passed by youngsters racing on high speed bikes at what must have been 150 km/h plus. Weaving in and out of traffic, no doubt trying to show off to their girlfriend who was clinging on to the back of the bike for dear life, these idiots had obviously not witnessed the carnage we had seen earlier at Phimai. At the end of the journey, I was left wondering if Thailand gives driver's licences away free with every packet of Mama noodles? Surely people didn't actually pass a test to get their licence?

Travelling throughout the Isaan region, one needs to be aware of having lots of small denomination banknotes on them. As we found out, even such large businesses as hospitals (the less said about that, the better) and hotels struggle to break 1,000 baht notes. Remember, 1,000 baht is a lot of money in Bangkok, but a huge amount up in Isaan and one can eliminate problems and embarrassment for the vendors by having lots of 20s, 50s and 100s. As crazy as it sounds, paying for an iced coffee priced at 10 baht with a 100 baht note prompted an “I can’t change that” response in Ubon!

The Korat to Ubon route is a most enjoyable part of the country to tour through and around. The countryside, at least at this time of year, is very pleasant, and the people are wonderful – and I bet that is at any time of the year… The temples in this region are great, everything is cheap and overall it is a very nice travelling experience. And perhaps best of all, for now at least, there are very few tourists – of the long nosed variety at least – in this part of the country. If you are interested in the real Thailand, and the chance to observe some of the traditional aspects of Thai culture that still exist, seize the chance to get up there! I'll definitely go again.

Where is this pic?

Photo taken a while ago and
things may look a little different now.

Last week's picture was taken on Ramkhamhaeng Road, facing north. The building on the left is the Foodland branch there. It was NOT the Petchaburi Road branch of Foodland as more than 50% of people thought… The first person to correctly answer the question was Palaktik who win $US 25 worth of goodies from Same again this week, the first person to correctly respond where the pic is wins the prize.

A bridge too far?

I was having a very pleasant massage in my hotel room. I wanted Thai massage for just an hour. After 40 minutes, the pretty girl, wearing only a bra and panties, asked me if I wanted a "special by hand". No surprises there I thought, and I said
I would think about it, as I was tired and not particularly interested this time. She asked again about ten minutes later, and this time I said "later, maybe". The massage finished, I felt very relaxed, and I decided that I would after
all have that "special by hand". The girl told me that it was too late, the hour was up, and I could have it next time. I couldn't believe it. I paid her 400B for a message, the hand job was going to be 500B (pricey I thought),
so she could have got 900B for 70 minutes work, but instead took 400B for an hours work. Where's the logic in that one?

They're still at it.

I went to O'Reilly's in Patpong for happy hour and to my delight they were showing the live football from England on TV. Great I thought, settled down to watch the game, ordered some beer and had a good time. The game finished at 8, and another
game was due to start at 9. In this hour, I decided to leave, have a shower in my hotel room up the road, and return at 9. Things went accordingly, until I tried to take a tuktuk back to O'Reilly's. I asked one guy and he said "Its
closed. I'll take you to another bar. You want to see football, right." When I told him that it wasn't closed, I had just come from there, he just said "No". OK, fair enough, he tried to rip me off, but it didn't
work. I went to the taxi tuktuk guy, told him my destination, and this time I got "Its a gay bar. I'll take you to another place". Christ almighty, can I not go to the bar of my choice and do all tuktuk drivers have to blatantly
lie?! I walked back to the bar, was a little late, and quickly forgot about it.

The Land of Scowls?

They call this the "Land of Smiles", but have you ever noticed that not one single Thai will ever smile for a portrait, family photo, ID card, License, etc.? Some of the ID cards, like the ones for the cab driver's license, flat-out look
mug shots.

Mr Ed wouldn't be happy.

I just learned the Thai word for "tout" is "horse-face" ("na maa"). Now, isn't that insulting? To horses, I mean.

Goodbye Bangkok, hello Istanbul?

A couple of months ago, I rolled out of a Russian lady bar in the Aksaray area of Istanbul and into a waiting taxi. The driver's English was not bad and his rap went something like this :"Why did you go that bar? You must be crazy! Russian ladies
no good. I take you Taksim (another area of Istanbul). Beautiful ladies from Isaan, Thailand. Photo modellen!" Like whoa, I thought, let's a go-go! Guys like that deserve knighthoods for service in the community. I found Turkish people
very friendly and more genuine than the Thais, except when trying to sell you a carpet. What's more, prices for hotels, food and bars were virtually the same as in Bangkok, yet Turkey is not as poor a country. The inflation rate is crazy
but the value of hard currency always rises accordingly. What concerns me is that, if prices tourists to Thailand have to pay continue to rise out of proportion to the rate of inflation and without any adjustment in the exchange rate, then the
average degenerate punter like myself will not bother to spend 12 hours on a plane from Europe when he can get the same pleasures closer to home and cheaper.

Another admiring fan! It's the internet, which means free speech, and it's my site so I can write what the fxxx I want, darling.

First, you are a total asshole for allowing this male ego bullshit on this website. I am angered in the way American women are made to feel they are treating their men inadequately when it comes to sex and other issues surrounding a relationship. The truth is WE ARE TOO DAMN SMART to be treated like PAID SLAVES. The reason I am angered by this site is because my sister, married for 14 years, who also has a teen daughter recently divorced. Her 50 year old husband hooked up with a 23 year old prostitute from BANGKOK. He as not seen his daughter and is marrying this whore is a couple months.
That's why I'm a little pissed off. We all know all this bitch wants is citizenship while her family gets paid a healthy $1,500 a month for their prostitute daughter.

Another bar to avoid – or a misunderstanding?

Went to Renoirs, Soi 33, during the week. My friend and I had a beer each and a chat with a few girls and the like. I went to pay and got the bill for 1,700 baht! They put the girls drinks on it as well even though they didn't ask us to buy them a drink. Also we really only talked to one each but there was a few around and they ALL bunged a drink or two on. The manager was having none of our complaints so we paid up and left. This is not usual practice in my experience.

Silver Dragon gogo bar opened in Nana this week. Yawn, another new gogo bar opening. New gogo bar openings are so often a collection of washed up old hags from other bars, hurriedly assembled in a new bar, often enticed by a slightly higher monthly salary. They bring their attitude with them, often leave their enthusiasm behind and the bar owners end up wondering why opening night is packed out and the bar is quiet from the next night onwards… About the most fun you usually have on the opening nights of a new bar is chuckling at farmer Somchai hacking up the obligatory pig on a spit and the childish competition that you have with your mates, trying to see who can recognise the most girls from other bars. 1 point if you know what bar they used to work at and 2 points if you know their name. Well, Silver Dragon proved to be far better than I had expected. The bar is very well laid out with a single gogo dance floor in the centre, and very comfortable seats all the way around. Whoever was in charge of recruiting the girls did a fine job. I'm a fussy bugger but in my eyes, there are a lot of really attractive girls in there, and seemingly no elephants! The sound system is good, and the music selection was to my taste. I glad I went along for a look. I'll be back.

From Clinton Plaza, Riches were banking on emptying the building using strong arm tactics which failed on September 30th. The existing lease holders have now sued Riches Group as Riches failed to come up with a decent buy out offer in court VERY recently. The beer bars have even filed for clear up and sign removal which are currently causing loss of business until the settlement is resolved.

Met a girl in a bar who you would really like to pursue things with, but concerned that she is not yet 18? There is an easy solution. Tell her that you want to pay bar, but that you do not want to go straight back to your hotel or apartment, and would actually prefer to go dancing. Many girls will like the sound of this. Then casually mention that you want to take her to CM2, the disco in the basement of the Novotel in Siam Square. Most bargirls know that this place religiously checks the ID of Thai females to check that they are of legal age. Any bargirl who warms to the idea to go dancing but then suddenly changes her mind at hearing CM2 is very likely underage…

Is it me or is the way that Thai people continually send you SMS messages annoying? Man, it drives me up the fxxxing wall sometimes. They seem to have no concept of just how intrusive they are. Sometimes I wonder about these blasted mobile phones, I really do. Sure, there are numerous advantages, but they can be damned annoying too.

Copied DVDs are getting cheaper and cheaper. A friend bought several from a vendor on Sukumvit Road for just 130 baht each. Given that vendors on this road tend to be patronised by tourists and tend to sell and tourist prices, they can probably be had even cheaper elsewhere. How long will it be until they reach the same price as VCDs?

At least two Soi Cowboy bars will soon be opening new sections on the second floor of their respective bars. Two bars, both on the same side of the soi as Long Gun, are working away on the upstairs part of the bar which will be open soon. Figure them both to be open by the end of the month.

The 17 year old mamasan in a Soi Cowboy bar who I mentioned in a previous column got bored of having to chat with customers and appease the girls so she quit as mamasan and has returned as a dancer.

The Dollhouse in Soi Cowboy hs a sign up stating that from 7:00 – 8:30 they have 30 baht drinks available. Definitely the best deal in town, a real English teacher's delight. Also, I notice that the Dollhouse seem to have changed their dancer's uniform and all of the bottoms seem to have had slits cut in them which makes them even more revealing. I wonder if the success of Suzy Wong's directly opposite is making Andy and Daryl delve into their bag of tricks for new ideas and promotions.

My Lady Bar in Soi Cowboy is now a pool hall, no longer a gogo bar. Apparently it changed format a few weeks ago, but I never noticed. The place seems to be forever busy so the format change seems to have been a success as far as the owners are concerned.

Shadow Bar seems to have a few of the old Midnite girls working there. Funny that, Shadow Bar is also the same place where the old Midnite manager now works…!

Your Bangkok commentator,


nana plaza