Sex in the
Thai Diary: The Final Chapter
Old Ruins, Opium and Elephants
ride back to Thailand was surprisingly quick and effortless.
Getting through customs was no problem at all, and we arrived
in Bangkok even earlier than expected, a miracle. Then we
were on a train to Sukkothai, one of Thailand's earliest
capitals, complete with ancient ruins and Buddha statues.
Unfortunately, the 10:00 train was booked, so we had to
take the 8:00, which meant arriving in Philantoslok, the
town next to Sukkothai, at 3 in the morning. We found ourselves
in a strange, industrial town in the middle of the night,
gawked at by cab drivers and random locals lazing about
We braced ourselves for a long wait, but before we knew
it a Sukkothai-bound bus arrived and we jumped on it. When
we arrived at our hotel it was only 4:30 A.M., and the place
didn't open until six, so we settled outside of the gated
entranceway. We laid down on our packs and stretched out
on the ground, tired, dazed, but thrilled to be in the north
of Thailand, in this odd little town.
hour later a large, spotted dog ran out to greet us. Ming,
we later learned he was called, was the resident watchdog,
although he was too friendly to be much of a threat. He
was followed by the hotel owner, who allowed us to store
our bags and shower. Our room wouldn't be ready for a few
hours, so we decided that we should go out and see the town.
After breakfast, we took a bus to New Sukkothai, then rented
some bicycles and toured the old town, which was essentially
a park, complete with lotus ponds, grassy vistas and ruins.
The ruins were primarily of wats and chedis, large, bell-like
structures supposed to resemble lotuses that hadn't yet
bloomed. There were also a number of gigantic Buddha statues,
posed in one of the three traditional styles: sitting, standing
and walking. The park was filled with stray dogs, rundown
and shabby, which G. felt sorry for, so she purchased some
cold cuts and fed them, the saint.
Later that night we cruised New Sukkothai, eating delicious,
cheap food at the night market, and then returned to our
peaceful hotel to get some much-needed rest. I was woken
up very early by the roosters and the chanting monks, who
had coincidentally arrived that morning to bless the town.
Even though their emissions were somewhat pleasant, I found
it impossible to go back to sleep. Fucking monks.
Today we decided to be lazy and rented a motorbike,
where we saw all the temples that dotted the outskirts of
the park. These were more interesting than the others, for
they were not as well-maintained, and the weeds and trees
everywhere, as well as the cows, gave them a more legitimate
atmosphere. Afterward we went back to the nightmarket, had
another delicious and cheap dinner, and then topped off
the evening with a movie. This movie, however, being in
a poor and provincial town, was not in English. It wasn't
even an English movie dubbed in Thai, but a Thai movie in,
naturally, Thai. The film was hard to describe, but it was
roughly a fantasy action-adventure that dealt with evil
warriors, wizards, monsters and the like. It was horrible
to say the least, and probably would have been even worse
had we been able to understand a word anyone said. However,
the special effects straight out of the 50's, the stilted
acting, the horrible sets, the lack of storyline gave it
a touching Ed Wood feel, and we enjoyed it immensely.
Took a bus to Chiang Mai, the capital of the
north. Everything I was told about this place was spot-on,
for I was told that 1) it was beautiful and lively and 2)
that it was overrun with tourists and had lost some of its
charm. Once we arrived we immediately went exploring, and
soon ended up at their night market, which was simply a
long and busy street that was wall-to-wall shops and tourists.
Everything under the sun was for sale, and every middle-aged
westerner under the sun seemed to be in attendance, browsing
the merchandise. To make it worse, the main drag housed
not only a McDonald's, KFC and Pizza Hut but a fucking Starbucks.
After debating smearing their window with egg noodles we
escaped to our hotel.
Today we explored the old city, also on foot,
visiting a number of beautiful wats, including one in the
far-west suburbs that had underground tunnels and a lake
filled with fish and turtles. One of these turtles I noticed
did not want to be there, and was desperately trying to
climb out, but the bank was too high. Then we saw a young
girl arrive with her own turtle, which she placed in the
water. This turtle too, almost immediately, began trying
to get out of the water. G. asked the girl why she did this,
and she said because the pond was in a monastery, and so
the turtles wouldn't be hurt. She bought it specifically
to do this, she added, which reminded me of another Thai
custom, where people bought caged birds and set them free.
I didn't really see the merit in this, for the seller obviously
had to catch them in the first place, and would surely try
and catch those that had just been set free. It was merely
something that provided a quick jolt of good-will, as well
as a feeling that one was a devout Buddhist, even though
it was merely an empty action. Nevertheless, we watched
the struggling turtles for a while, before leaving the place
and walking back home, a walk that seemed even longer this
G. took a Thai cooking class, during which,
at the proper intervals, I stopped by to sample her wares.
Everything I tried - pad Thai, spring rolls, sticky rice
and mango - was excellent. Now that my girlfriend could
cook Thai, I think I'll keep her around for a while. During
the class I rented a motorbike, so when it was over we went
to Doi Suthep, one of Chiang Mai's nicest wats, located
on a mountain above the city. The ride there was straight
up, and at the top we discovered a fantastic view of Chiang
Mai, along with some fine murals and Buddha statues, as
well as the wat itself, which shone gold in the sunlight.
After coming back into town we went to a shopping mall,
as G. wanted to buy a backpack. Even though she was leaving
in a week, and could have used one BEFORE she arrived, not
now, I didn't argue and went along for the ride. Strangely
enough she didn't find one, but I ended up buying a new
pair of Converse All-Stars for a little over ten bucks.
Later we hit an orchid/butterfly farm, which was lovely,
then visited a snake farm. One of the caretakers took us
around to the different cages, telling us what they housed
and what they'd to do us if they weren't - suffocate us,
bite us, spit venom on us, etc. Then he went into a cobra
cage and began teasing the things, until they all at once
sported hoods and began hissing in anger. Somehow he managed
to grab hold of one and danced it around, having the time
of his life, while G. and I looked on fearfully. Next was
a python, only this one happened to be tame, so we both
took turns with it draped over us, the enormous thing lazily
wrapping itself around us.
The last demonstration was with something called a coconut
snake, a long, yellow, foul-tempered thing that did not
want to be handled. To make matters worse, the guy decided
to include us in his demonstration, and, once securing it
just below the head so it couldn't bite, proceeded to wrap
it around us and then shove its face into ours, where we
had no choice but to look at it eye-to-eye. The snake tried
fiercely to break free, and nearly managed to put its mouth
around my nose before I got the overly-eager guy off of
me. After that we both were a little creeped-out so we left.
We topped off the night in true Chiang Mai style, by shopping.
It would have taken a week to visit all the shops, but we
wanted to do it in one night, so we saw as much as we could.
And we did indeed see a lot, and G. even found a backpack,
a large North Face for less than twenty bucks.
for Pai, a tiny, hip, eclectic town four hours north of
Chiang Mai. We had come to do what everyone does here -
go trekking - but also simply to hang out and chill, which
Pai is ideal for. While there is no beach, and nothing close
to the options available in a large city, Pai is like a
little paradise, a Thai version of Northern Exposure, filled
with old hippies, hilltribe people, Muslims, Thais and backpackers.
But trekking was our first priority, so after arriving we
booked a tour for the next day, which would include elephant
riding and rafting.
That night during dinner we ran into a friend of ours,
Mitch, a long-haired, fortyish man from San Francisco, gay
as Christmas, funny and full of character. After dinner
we went to a bar G. had read about that had various "medicinal"
whisky shots for 8 baht a pop. I tried the ones for overall
health, blood circulation and the nervous system, but felt
nothing but mildly buzzed. There was even one that supposedly
helped with erections, but neither Mitch nor I wanted to
try it, so G. did. For the rest of the evening we kept checking
her progress, but didn't notice any difference in that area
of her anatomy.
Then we went to Be Bop, one of the more popular local bars.
The three of us proceeded to drink a bottle of whisky in
fifteen minutes, and then went to the Golden Triangle, a
bamboo duplex that even had a waterpipe you could try, which
we did. We settled in a little room upstairs, and after
going through another bottle of whiskey, Mitch was wrecked,
slurring his words and burning everyone with his cigarettes,
and I wasn't much better. I couldn't even sit up and simply
laid down, and knew that if I stayed much longer I wouldn't
be able to get up. So with some difficulty I stood and signaled
that it was time to leave. On our way out the owner chased
us because we hadn't paid for the waterpipe, but I told
her that our gay friend with the long hair who was still
inside was going to cover it. This would be news to Mitch,
but it would actually make us even price-wise, so I didn't
feel that bad about it.
The morning was not kind. We arrived at the
trek headquarters a half-hour late, tired and hung-over.
We were then driven to the elephant camp, where we were
introduced to our elephant, Budma. She was a sweet old girl,
forty-five according to her handler, a little worn-out with
a hole on the side of her trunk. She and her friend, also
female - apparently the males were too hard to handle -
were saddled up and ready to go by the time we arrived.
This was actually kind of a surprise to me, for we had picked
this camp specifically because you got to ride the animals
bareback, as well as to swim with them in the river. I could
have done without the first leg of the journey altogether,
which was simply riding through the hills on Budma. It was
G. and I on a saddle, with the handler straddling her neck.
Every few minutes Budma would stop, to either pee or defecate
- which was a shitload, a crapload, a huge amount of waste
material - or to grab a bush or branch with her trunk and
tear the thing to shreds. Sometimes she did this to munch
on the leaves, but usually just because she could. Sometimes
she stopped for no apparent reason. Perhaps it was out of
fatigue, or boredom, or to remind us who was in charge.
The ride took about an hour, and its pointlessness was only
surpassed by my sore ass at the end. Back at camp her saddle
was removed, and what followed was a much more enjoyable
experience. Riding Budma bareback, G. and I really got a
feel for what it was like to be close to her, as well as
to know intimately her physiology. Her back was almost hump-like,
her rock-hard spine stretching from just past her neck to
what I imagine was her tail bone. This was also difficult,
but much more fun.
When we arrived at the river, Budma was at first hesitant
to go in. But after some prodding from her handler, she
stepped into the water, and finally she sat, her back now
almost vertical. And if it was hard now to hang on, what
she did moments later made it almost impossible: she lay
down on her side. Somehow, amazingly, this huge animal decided
to roll over like an overgrown dog, burying not only her
entire body but her face, her long truck, her massive ears
under the water. I gave up trying to stay on and simply
let myself slide into the river. As I did so Budma watched
me with her one great visible eye, and I could tell she
was pleased. G., who had been sitting on her neck and therefore
had a much better grip, held on tight while she continued
to lie in the water.
later she arose, and I attempted to get back on, but then
she chose to lay down on the opposite side. Again I was
lightly tossed off, and again Budma seemed pleased. It would
take me several tries to get back on, and even when I did
I barely sustained my hold. The girl was restless, and got
up and went back down again many times before it was time
to go. The amount of effort required to hold on was more
than I had bargained for, and when we got back to camp I
was exhausted. Just in time to go rafting, although I hardly
needed any energy to do so. It turned out that we were merely
riders, and G. and I sat down on the large bamboo raft and
allowed ourselves to be steered through the shallow Pai
After the rafting it was time to go on an actual trek.
Our guide was Yai, a tiny, sweet Thai girl but kind of dull,
and after she answered all my questions about the hill tribe
people and what we were going to do and see we didn't have
much else to talk about. The hike took us through some amazing
scenery, hills, forests and jungle, but was mainly concentrated
in a series of back-to-back farms, most of which were growing
garlic of all things. As we walked, the setting sun on our
backs, the smell of garlic in the air, everything was grand.
For a little while anyway. While I had meant to buy a pair
of hiking boots for the trek, I opted instead for sneakers
(the Converse), perhaps the flimsiest of all the sneaker
brands. And the main problem was not even how thin they
were, but that I had somehow purchased a pair that were
too small for me. By the time we arrived at the village,
I had blisters all over my toes and could barely walk.
And what of the village? Did we get to meet strange, bizarre
people who worshipped rocks and trees? Unusual, isolated
folks dressed in strange costumes, performing odd, ancient
rituals? Hell no! We met a family who looked like any other
Thai family, with kids who looked like normal Thai kids.
They had a washer, a TV and even a Thai-style American Standard
toilet. They were sweet and kind, at least from the minimal
amount of exchanges we shared. But nothing at all out of
the ordinary. Apparently all the money they had made from
similar visiting tourists had managed to give them a lifestyle
that practically mimicked their city-dwelling compatriots.
Our stay there was fun, but rather pointless.
The saving grace was their pets, as they had two adorable
puppies and like ten cats, a few of whom were mere babies.
I made friends with them all, but after taking a careful
look at them and seeing the fleas jumping everywhere, I
soon found the strength to part from them. That night sleeping
was difficult because of the cold, because I had fallen
and had some nasty bruises down my left side, but mainly
because the hilltribe people watched a blaring TV set long
into the night. I managed a few hours, during which I'd
wake up constantly from pain and cold, before I was finally
awoken and told we had to go.
After a quick breakfast and some goodbyes
we were off. We walked all day, once again mainly through
farmland. I was wearing my sandals so blisters weren't a
problem, although the exposure of my feet lent them to a
number of scrapes with sticks, plants and roots. Add to
this the wet path we had to take and I was not a happy camper.
I fell numerous times, lost my sunglasses, and then had
a stick scrape the entire length of my foot, leaving a nice,
nasty scar. I was ready to give up long before we reached
my saving grace, a waterfall. While it was rather small,
and the water was frigid cold, to wash off the dust and
dirt of the past two days, not to mention the blood and
cuts, was invigorating. I emerged as if a totally different
person. After the waterfall we reached the next village,
this time a Lisu one. Here we were pleased to encounter
hilltribe people who actually looked like hilltribe people.
Their clothing was colorful and rich, and their faces exotic,
more Chinese than Thai. Unfortunately, our ride back was
already there, so our meeting was reduced to some awkward
photographs and some pity purchases of their handicrafts.
I emerged with a wallet, and G. bought a number of small,
Today we rented a motorbike and road out to
another waterfall, which was beautiful but too cold to warrant
going in. Instead, we simply watched all the little kids
(Lahu or Lisu) jump around in the water, splashing themselves
and playing without a care in the world. On our way to the
waterfall we had purchased some opium from a tribal woman,
and now we were dying to try it out. Without a bong or a
pipe we were simply going to have to roll a joint. So we
did, mixing the opium with tobacco, which resulted in a
lumpy, sticky joint that burned quickly but was difficult
to inhale. After the first joint I felt a little something,
but it didn't last. After the second I felt even less. Now
we were left with simply the dregs: resiny opium and two
opium-stained roaches. These I placed in a hollowed-out
cigarette and attempted to smoke it. Again, the results
were minimal. Opium, it seems, needs to burn for a long
time, and only a pipe or huka is capable of this. Keep this
in mind, kids.
G. was leaving today, and I sadly watched
her board the bus back to Chiang Mai, then Bangkok, then
home. I spent the day doing nothing but swimming in the
swimming pool - a virtual oasis just outside the main town,
a large, clean, beautiful pool - as well as eating cheap,
tasty food. The following day I rented a bicycle and decided
to go to the hotsprings. But they were much farther than
I had thought, and all the reports about them not being
so great made we turn around. So instead I visited the elephant
camp again, to say hello to Budma. After a brief visit I
went back to the swimming pool, where I ran into a strange
couple I saw everywhere: a thin, emaciated, woman and a
pudgy, dopey-looking dude. She stopped me as I came out
the water and said I was very sexy and asked if I was married.
I said no and smiled and she practically tried to grab me
but her companion restrained her. Weird.
Later I ate at a backpackery bungalow on the water, and
watched the 25th Hour by Spike Lee, which was very odd,
especially considering that everyone in the film was white.
It was a decent film, but I wasn't prepared for the Ground
Zero footage, which made me irrevocably sad. I even started
tearing up at one point, and some Israelis asked me what
was wrong. When I told them I was from New York, they immediately
understood. "Don't worry," said one of them. "They're
going to pay for what they did." I nodded and watched
the rest of the film.
Took a two-hour bike ride through some beautiful
terrain. Later got a lovely Thai massage, then had dinner
at a funky placed called Forestry 33 with some people I'd
met at the swimming pool. During dinner a fat little dog
named Pad Thai sat at my feet, begging for scraps. The thing
looked like he'd eaten more than his share of noodles, but
he was cute so I fed him. After dinner we went to a guesthouse
by the river and sat around a fire, which was surrounded
by travelers, passing around joints and booze. Heaven.
Woke up, quickly packed up my things and checked
out of my guesthouse. Then rode the bus back to Bangkok,
where I had some twelve hours to kill before my flight.
I will miss it here, especially Pai, which is like no place
I'd ever been. A definite future destination, one of those
places I will always remember fondly, and will always want
to return to, such as Prague, Corfu, San Francisco, etc.
I'm glad that my last stop in Thailand could be at such
a place. It made a nice ending to a fantastic journey. Don't
know what the future holds, but I know I am much better
off for doing this. If my work, my regular life could even
be a little bit like this, I will be a happy sumbitch. End.
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