My love affair with Thailand started a decade ago, I had recently finished university as a mature student and was trying to put off for as long as possible the inevitable return to work. For many years I had listened with envy to friends and work colleagues regaling me with tales of their trips to the exotic Far East and hankered over fantasies of warm evenings sipping cool beer in the company of mysterious and beautiful ladies eating food I had only ever bought from a takeaway and listening to tales from other travellers of the delights the Far East has to offer. After 4 years of study and a stressful month of final exams I was suddenly left with a major decision, was I going to find a job or would I have a final blowout before the drudgery of work commenced again. My time at university had coincided with the growth of budget airlines enabling me to take short trips in Europe which had fuelled the love of travel I had felt for as long as I could remember. I now wanted to experience travel further afield than the relative confines of Europe leading me to take a short trip to New York where I read parts of Papillon by Henri Charrière while sitting in Central Park. This cemented my desire for travel and on my flight back to Heathrow I decided to book a flight to Bangkok at the earliest opportunity.
My excitement was curtailed somewhat by the news I had a job interview 10 days after touching down. Were my plans to be cancelled or would I press ahead regardless? I decided to book my flight to Bangkok the very same day I returned from New York. I now had 6 days in Thailand that were to change my life forever, although I didnâАЩt know it at the time. The job interview would be dealt with on my return home.
I caught the early morning bus to Heathrow arriving at some ungodly hour for a check-in with Turkish Airlines and a short stopover in Istanbul on the way. The excitement I felt was tempered by the realisation that normality was to return to my life in a few short days and I was to make the most of my short holiday. The flight with Turkish Airlines was unremarkable marked only by the extortionate price of beer in Istanbul airport and the facial hair of the Turkish female cabin crew.
After retrieving my bag at the old Don Mueang airport and negotiating customs I found myself in an environment that was to become so familiar during the intervening years. The hustle and bustle, the voices, shouting, smiling faces, confusion, excitement and most of all the heat and smell. The heat and smell even now, some ten years after, are things I never forget and have grown to love. I booked myself a hotel room at one of the numerous agencies that lined the airport concourse probably paying over the odds in the process but I didn’t care at the time, I just wanted to see, hear and taste Thailand.
A taxi driver sped me into Bangkok giving me the now familiar hard sell about his services during my stay. The name of the hotel I stayed in is long forgotten and during my Bangkok travels I have never seen it again. All I can remember is the long line of tuk tuk’s outside and a motorway bridge nearby along with a 20 minute ride to the delights of Sukhumvit Road and the surrounding areas. I had done a fair amount of research reading a Lonely Planet guide during the flight and printing out a few pages from the internet but I now know that plans are something you never do in Thailand and sure enough all my initial plans went out of the window within hours of checking in at my hotel.
Immediately after putting my bag down in my room I picked up the telephone and ordered an in-house massage fully expecting an erotic session I had only heard about in lurid tales told by friends who had trodden the Bangkok path prior to me. Wrong. A few minutes later a middle-aged Thai lady knocked on my door clutching a towel and a very large sports bag. She had a lovely smile but her appearance and demeanour gave me the impression that my idea of a Thai massage and her idea of a Thai massage were polar opposites. I invited her into my room where my first impressions were proved correct. She had a regimental air about her leading me to think her massage training had been provided by an elite Thai commando battalion where any form of sexual activity was frowned upon. Sadly the massage took the form of a severe beating and an hour later I paid her the required amount and she marched off intent upon inflicting a good hiding on another unsuspecting tourist.
After this disappointment I decided to hire a tuk tuk from outside the hotel and go in search of a massage establishment that catered for the type of massage I had in mind. After hearing of tourists being charged extortionate prices and being taken to places they didn’t want to go because the tuk tuk driver wanted his commission I was wary but my experience was completely different and just goes to show there are still some good guys driving tuk tuks in Bangkok. I told the driver I wanted to hire him for 3 hours and during the 3 hours I wanted to visit some sights, have a massage and stop at a few bars. We agreed a price which was considerably less than a fiver and off we went. First stop was a massage establishment where the type of massage on offer promised to be very different from the type on offer at my hotel. This turned out to be my very first “soapie” and was everything I expected it to be. Suitably refreshed I emerged out into the sunlight to find my driver reclining on his tuk tuk with a huge smile and his pockets undoubtedly bulging from the commission he had just earned from my visit to the massage parlour. Off we then went for a trip around Bangkok at break-neck speed to places I had only ever seen in pictures. The driver even regaled me, in his excellent English, with stories about the various landmarks we encountered. We stopped off at various bars when we passed one I liked the look of although he declined the offer of a drink and enjoyed a bottle of chilled water while I downed copious amounts of Heineken. The time was now drawing close to the 3 hour limit and early evening and I had the taste for some excess so we parted at a bar opposite Patpong and he went on his merry way with a smile as wide as the Chao Phraya River.
Patpong beckoned and a night of firsts began.