The things regular travellers to Thailand take for granted were all new to me. One thing that struck me was the ever present “condom” provided with my Heineken. Not having encountered one before I was unsure whether to keep my bottle within the receptacle, take it out when drinking from the bottle or leave the bottle in the condom at all times. After observing fellow drinkers I followed suit and kept the bottle in the condom. I now felt a little more like a local.
The bar I sat in prior to my first sojourn into Patpong is probably well known to many readers. It is opposite the KFC or McDonalds fast food outlet outside the entrance to Patpong. It has changed hands a couple of times over the years and has now taken on a somewhat temporary feel. When visiting Patpong I always call in for old times sake. The thrill I felt on my first visit is only slightly dimmed these days. A feeling of excitement, anticipation and happiness seems to follow me around when I am in Thailand.
Steeling myself for Patpong I finished my beer and hesitantly crossed the road. Entering a place I had only ever read about but feeling I knew the place already I strolled slowly to my first Patpong bar. There I met Sai. I was wearing a Nike t-shirt with the motif, “Just Do It” emblazoned on the front. Sai greeted me by repeatedly shouting “Just Do It”, “Just Do It”. That was the start of our short friendship. Ordering a beer I sat down in the steamy sweaty thoroughfare that is Patpong. Early evening, I watched people passing by looking at the bars, the girls, the sights. Sai had now sat down next to me and I heard for the first time questions that would become so familiar to me. “How long you come Bangkok?”, “Where you go?” “How many times you come Thailand?”, “You hab lady?”. All questions delivered with the cutting skill of an FBI investigator and designed to work out my baht potential, not that I knew it at the time. I answered all as truthfully as I could while enjoying the attention of a beautiful young lady.
I met another Englishman hailing from Newcastle who told me his story which was to turn out to be so familiar. He worked offshore in Brunei on a 4/4 rotation and had a mia noi in Bangkok. His wife in the UK was under the impression he was on a 6/2 rotation. Enough said. A lovely guy, lots of fun, straightforward and he enjoyed a drink. Much like 90% of the people I have met in Thailand over the years. His girl was probably nearing the end of her bargirl days and looked upon the geordie as a nice little pension pot. Everybody happy. They were regulars at the bar and while Sai and the Geordies girlfriend clack clacked away he gave me some tips which have stood the test of time, are simple and should be remembered by all travellers to Thailand.
1. Never make plans.
2. Ladydrinks add up.
3. Thailand is a fantasy.
We all had an enjoyable hour or two and I undertook my first barfine, Sai. This is where things get a bit hazy. I am a seasoned drinker, I drink excessively and I am fully aware of the effect it has upon me. On this occasion to this day I cannot explain what happened. It had never happened to me before and has never happened to me since but for this evening I have long periods of no memory whatsoever and moments of amazing clarity. It may have been the jetlag, circumstances, drink or I could have been drugged. I simply don’t know. Anyway, I am here to tell the tale so I presume nothing disastrous happened.
After leaving the Patpong bar my next memory is of sitting in a huge Chesterfield type chair with Sai talking to a ladyboy. This is fleeting and I then have a memory of being in a rather swish hotel bar with another English guy and then another memory of being in a hotel room with a rather attractive young lady and a pile of money on the bed. I also remember watching an outdoor talent contest at some point. Everything else is a blank until I woke up in my hotel.
It must have been a good night.
So, my first day and night in Bangkok had been exciting, enjoyable, surprising and unpredictable. Much like the hundreds of other nights and days I have spent in Thailand over the past decade and I wouldn’t want it to be any different.
I spent the next morning shopping in various outdoor markets for souvenirs to take home and wondering what happened the previous night. Various taxis ferried me around as my pile of shopping grew to the size of a small planet. Eventually I could carry no more Buddha ornaments, counterfeit football shirts, fake designer jeans and various trinkets so by mid-afternoon I decided to return to the hotel for a well-earned snooze making a mental note not to order an in-house massage. After a satisfying and sometimes fitful sleep the evening festivities became my top priority. I went in search of my tuk tuk driver friend. Sure enough he was parked outside the hotel. I approached him requesting a ride to Soi Cowboy. Sadly I was made aware of tuk tuk driver etiquette when he told me his friend would have to take me as it was not his turn in the queue. I agreed a price with his friend which seemed somewhat expensive given the rate for the previous day but hey, what is a pound or two? Another hair-raising tuk tuk ride followed and I was dropped off at what I now know to be Asoke Corner. Asoke Corner today is a world away from what Asoke Corner was a decade ago. Then, it was a collection of small outdoor beer bars, now it is a huge concrete and steel office building. Thinking I was at Soi Cowboy I sat down in one of the bars and ordered the now compulsory Heineken. I was soon joined by a tall willowy lady whose name has drifted into the midsts of time but I shall call her Nok. Nok was probably early thirties with a knowing manner, good English and a killer smile all developed no doubt through mingling with farangs in bars over a number of years. She would prove to be a regular drinking companion during my short stay in Bangkok and we would spend many happy times together. She is a lady I would truly love to meet again if it were ever possible.
I had heard all manner of horror stories concerning Thai ladies’ legendary ability to fleece foreign men out of their money, belongings, houses and anything else they can lay their hands on. As time has gone on I have realised that the only men who are fleeced let themselves be fleeced. Thai women are no different from women anywhere, let them walk all over you and they will.
I was understandably wary of Nok to begin with and I think she sensed this. I now knew a large part of Thai bar culture was ladydrinks. I well remember that Nok never asked me for a ladydrink. I noted this and as a result was more than generous with her. I asked her if she would spend the next day taking me around the sights of Bangkok, the river, the Royal Palace and anywhere else she could think of. We agreed to meet up the next morning at Asoke BTS. During our conversation it became apparent I was not at Soi Cowboy at all but Asoke Corner, much to the amusement of the bar staff, a number of customers and, to the best of my recollection, anyone within earshot. Promising to meet Nok tomorrow I finished my drink and took the short walk to Soi Cowboy.
Soi Cowboy was nothing like I expected it to be. I’m not sure exactly what I expected but Soi Cowboy is one street about a hundred yards long with bars running the whole length on both sides all lit by neon. I soon discovered it is a treasure trove of beautiful ladies. I can’t remember the names of the bars I visited or how many I visited but I started at the Asoke Corner end and worked my way along. I remember getting very drunk and ending up in the Old Dutch restaurant at one point later on in the night. The Old Dutch is a Soi Cowboy institution where at one time good food at a reasonable price could be had. Sadly it seems to have gone downhill over the past 3 or 4 years and I now only pop in for a beer and a seat outside to watch the Soi Cowboy girls arriving for work in the early evening. A few minutes watching the comings and goings in the early evening on Soi Cowboy are worth a thousand words.
Soi Cowboy was to become a regular watering hole during my first trip and has become a favourite place whenever I am in Bangkok. The more visits I make, the more I become familiar with the characters that hang out in the soi. There are certainly some very interesting people there.
My second night in Bangkok ended like so many others in Thailand. Enjoying a beer and watching the world go by while being filled with excitement at what tomorrow may bring. I was not to be disappointed.
I awoke the next morning with a sore head. Understandable given the amount of beer and vodka I had consumed the night before. My room wasn’t the most luxurious but it was pleasant. I had a small balcony of which about three quarters was occupied by an air conditioning unit. My bedroom had a TV, a bed and a desk with a chair. The bathroom had a toilet and shower over the bath just like countless thousands of others dotted around the massive city of Bangkok. I have always had a strange relationship with hotel rooms, on the one hand they are my safe anonymous sanctuary in unknown places and on the other hand they are a place to be avoided when there is fun to be had. I had to leave mine as there was fun to be had.
I caught a taxi to Asoke Corner in order to meet Nok as my tuk tuk driver friend was out on a job/in bed/drunk/visiting his gik. I arrived at the allotted time to be greeted by Nok. She looked nothing like I remembered her from the night before as is so often the case with women. Luckily she looked more attractive than I remembered her as our day got off to a better than expected start. The night before we had decided to criss-cross the river on the public transport boats and visit the reclining Buddha, Royal Palace, ride on the BTS and eat at a typical Thai restaurant. We agreed on a price for the day which in the end turned out to be excellent value and I think Nok went away well pleased. The boats that criss-cross the river are a delight (or is that just me?) I love the hustle and bustle watching people go about their business, the same goes for the BTS. Watching Thai people go about their daily lives far away from the bar scene which is as much as many of us farangs see. Nok negotiated the intricacies of the public transport fare system, the Royal Palace dual pricing and all the other things that Thai people take for granted and us farangs just don’t get. She also had to hand a pocketful of change for us to drop into the contribution boxes at the reclining Buddha. A real trooper. Nok took me shopping for yet more trinkets which was fun to watch as she haggled, walked away, returned, frowned, advised me and did all she could to get me a good price. She didn’t have to do this but I think she enjoyed showing off for me.
Something I have noticed that happens in Thailand a lot happened to me for the first time during our day out in Bangkok. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been with a Thai girl shopping or on the BTS or in the back of a baht bus and a friend of hers from the bar or her room randomly appears out of the blue. It is uncanny. Out with Nok on the river boat she first bumped into a friend of hers from her bar, in fact I had been talking with her the night before and hadn’t realized she was a ladyboy, she also had a customer in tow. Later on at one of the boat stations we met up with a sister/friend, never quite sure as to the true relationship because lines are sometimes very blurred with Thai women. I’ve found random these meetings are a common theme with Thai women and sometimes lead me to think they may be arranged in a way to show the farang off although I certainly can’t imagine any self respecting Thai girl wanting to show this farang off to her friends.
After a hectic few hours we decided on something to eat. Nowadays I am happy to sit down at a street stall and tuck into noodles or khao pad kai but then I knew very little about Thai dining apart from what I’d seen in UK Thai restaurants. We stopped at what I now know to be quite a hi-so Thai restaurant. A quick look around confirmed to me there were no other farangs eating which suited me just fine. Nok ordered some delight for me with my only request being some hot chilli or, as I now know it, pig nam pla. I horsed the lot down along with the chilli not really taking much notice of my dining companion as I was ravenous but I soon became aware of her giggling to herself. I asked her why she was laughing and I could see from her expression the reason was me. I then became aware of a giggling behind me at which time the penny dropped. The Thai’s in the restaurant had obviously clocked me ordering the pig nam pla and watched me shovel it into my farang gob with gusto. Probably not used to seeing many farangs in the restaurant and certainly not many who ate vast quantities of chilli they found the spectacle amusing. I too found it amusing and stood up and made a small bow much to their further enjoyment.
It was now getting towards late afternoon and my thoughts turned to should we say more romantic endeavours. I liked Nok a lot, she was good fun, very attractive, warm-hearted and most importantly available. She was also a prostitute. Having sex with a prostitute is about a clinical act, no emotion, minimal attraction and fulfilling a need. Sex with a prostitute is most certainly not to be with someone who is attractive, good fun, kind and a friend. I thought this until I visited Thailand. Having sex with a prostitute in Thailand is different to having sex with a prostitute in the UK. I don’t know why, it is just different. There is more fun, it is more acceptable, there is no taboo and a million other reasons, it is just more natural.
Nok joining me in bed just seemed like a natural extension of the wonderful day we had spent together. We had met 24 hours before, become friends, had fun together, ate together and had now made love. Isn’t this how it should be?