Sex in the
Russ reports back from Thailand
about Thailand is like, well, like dancing about architecture,
or bicycling about fishing, or something. There's no way
to really do it justice. The place is a sensual feast, all
sights, sounds, tastes and smells, and the only way to really
experience it is to live it. So I'm not even going to try.
Instead, I'm simply including some of my diary entries I
wrote while over there. They're pretty basic and bare-bones,
but will hopefully give you a general idea about what going
to Thailand is like, or at least what I found it to be like.
Once again, the only way to really know the place is to
go there, which I cannot recommend highly enough. Enjoy.
Arrive in Bangkok at one in the morning, tired, sore, weak-limbed
and excited as hell. Befriend a loud, gregarious Israeli
at the money exchange, and the two of us share a cab to
Ko San Road, the infamous backpacker's ghetto. I tell the
driver the name of the guesthouse I'd made a reservation
at, assuming he'll take me there, but instead he simply
pulls over next to Ko San and tells me its nearby. "Where?"
I ask him. "Close, not far," is all he says, before
driving away. Not knowing where to go, I follow the Israeli
to his hostel, a lively, almost stereotypical backpacker
place called the Greenhouse. If I was a few years younger,
or had never been abroad I would have loved it - pool tables,
loud music, beer, pot, girls - but I've had my share of
hostels and just want to get a good night's rest. So I ask
around if anyone knows where my guesthouse is, but only
receive shrugged shoulders and bemused looks.
friendly Thai girl, who may or may not be a prostitute,
offers to call them for me, so I fumble in my bag for my
reservation confirmation and hand it to her. When she calls
it's busy, so again I try to find anyone who can help to
no avail; I'm on my own. Still absently wearing my sweater
and jacket, which are making me sweat so hard in the heat
I can feel it dribbling down my ass crack, I pick up my
bags and walk back to Ko San, where I promptly hail a cab.
I tell the driver the name of my guesthouse, and he repeats
the name and nods, which in my naivety makes me think he
actually knows where it is.
After driving in circles for maybe fifteen minutes I demand
he pull over. Instead, to pacify me he calls his dispatcher.
They talk for a while, then he hands the phone over to me.
Unsure of what to say I simply repeat the name of my guesthouse
over and over. I give the driver back the phone, he listens,
nods, and then drives off. At first I am hopeful, but after
a few minutes it is obvious he still has no idea where he's
going. By now I'm screaming at him, so he pulls the car
over and I get out. Looking around, I realize I'm right
where he had first picked me up. Eighty baht (two dollars)
poorer, I wander the streets, looking for anyone who can
help me. I only encounter more Thai girls, who may or may
not be prostitutes, and a few drunken backpackers stumbling
home from God knows where.
Eventually I find the police station, where a very nice
officer draws me a map of the surrounding area, with a big
"X" where my guesthouse is. His directions are
spot-on, and soon I find myself at the hotel. Yahtzee! Again,
I am to learn a valuable lesson: sometimes planning too
much can do more harm than good. My room is a tiny, windowless
box with a noisy fan on the wall. I try to upgrade to an
air-conditioned room, or at least something with a window,
but the cost is nearly double, and I have a budget to keep.
So I do my best to sleep, but the stifling room, the clicking
fan, the strangeness of my surroundings, keeps me up all
night. Welcome to Thailand.
Promptly find another place to stay, a lovely place with
big, airy rooms with windows and silent ceiling fans. The
bed is enormous, and the sheets are the best part, depicting
a map of Asia. I spend the afternoon at the Grand Palace,
home of the king, which is hard to take in, in part because
of its grandeur, in part because of the intense heat, but
mainly because today happens to be the king's birthday,
so the place is packed with loyal Thais. The Thai people
adore their king, and there are depictions of him everywhere:
on the money, on posters, calendars, jigsaw puzzles, etc.
He is revered like no one I've ever seen, and all the adoration
is offered up willingly. He is truly loved, and not one
person I meet speaks badly of him.
And because he's such a good guy, today, on his birthday,
admission is free. Saving the two bucks is nice, but I still
have to pay a dollar to "rent" a shirt to cover
my bare arms, which are considered too offensive to enter
the grounds unadorned. If it is easy to spot the westerners
in the crowd, towering over the tiny Thais, it is much more
so now, all of us walking around in jarring, too-tight Hawaiian
Later I walk to Wat Po, a large religious complex just
south of the palace. After gawking at the massive Reclining
Buddha, I decide to get a famous Thai massage from the massage
school on the grounds, which does wonders. The only downside
is that when the guy works on me I keep thinking about the
fact that you're not supposed to shake Thai people's left
hands, because they use them to clean themselves after going
to the toilet. Toilet paper never found its way here, and
after learning this the hard way a few times, I made a point
to always carry some with me. So while I enjoy the massage
immensely, I keep thinking about his left hand, what it's
doing and where it's been. I only hope he has wonderful
Somehow "find" myself in the red light district,
which is merely two streets named Patpong 1 and Patpong
2. Upon entry I am bombarded by men trying to sell me girls,
massages and strip shows, pointing to all manner of seedy
establishments. And while I am curious about what goes on
in these places, particularly all the stories I've heard
about the girls and their agile vaginas, who "use them
to do everything under the sun except make babies"
- Spalding Gray, I am really here for the dance clubs. The
next street over from the Patpongs, Soi 4, is supposed to
house the cream of Bangkok's clubs. Perhaps I have arrived
too early, because nothing is really going on.
So I walk back to the sleazepit streets, which are nothing
but row upon row of bars and restaurants. And at all of
these sit several "hostesses," young, pretty things
who call me "bigboy" and "honey" as
I walk past. At their sides sit a plethora of loud, fat
geezers, who look to be having the time of their lives.
I take a quick look around and beat a hasty retreat.
Not wanting to get in another cab I opt for a tuk-tuk,
these little three-wheeled mini-taxis that are all over
Bangkok. But after I tell the driver my destination he says:
"No, you don't want to go there. Too early. I know
a good place you want to go. You like massage?" So
I tell him never mind and hail another one. This time my
driver is more explicit: "First we go meet some nice
girls, yes? You like to meet nice girls?" So I opt
for the bus. It takes nearly an hour to arrive, and because
of the abominable Bangkok traffic, which never seems to
let up, it takes another hour to get home.
On the way I watch as cars and motorcycles and scooters
and tuk-tuks ride side-by-side at alarming speeds, always
in unison, always expertly interpreting each other's moves,
only inches away and never connecting. It is like witnessing
a giant flock of mechanical birds. When I finally arrive
at my guesthouse I sleep soundly, so soundly that when I
awake there is a big drool stain covering most of Malaysia.
Take a bus to Trat, a small town a few hours south of Bangkok,
that is mainly used by travelers as launching point for
Cambodia, or for Ko Chang, Thailand's second-largest island,
which is where I am headed. Trat is pleasant enough, all
wood shacks, friendly people and stray dogs, but I don't
stay long enough to really explore it. Instead I take yet
another form of Thai transportation, a songtheaw, which
is basically a pickup truck villagers use as taxis, to the
pier. The woman who sells me my boat ticket points at my
pack and says: "Big, bag, eh? How long you travel for,
one year?" I laugh with her, even though the bankteller
said the same thing this morning, and so did a woman at
breakfast. But she's cute, so I simply smile and jokingly
ask for her number, telling her that I'll call her when
I return from my trip.
"No, you gone too long," she says, laughing.
"I cannot wait. By then I already be married with kids."
On the boat I befriend two dreadlocked dudes from Minnesota,
and we make plans to meet up later on in the week. When
we get in another songtheaw takes me to my guesthouse, and
again I am met with disappointment. While my room is very
nice - a large, clean, concrete bungalow close to the beach
- it is almost TOO nice. The rest of the guests are all
couples, some much older than me, and many are comprised
of the old Western fart/hot young Thai girl combo. I see
so many of these that I want to cry. Each time I pass one
I give the guy a look of scorn and the girl a look of sympathy,
oftentimes having to rapidly change back and forth so they
don't confuse the two. The last thing I want to do is make
these guys feel good about buying sex, about buying youth
and beauty, essentially paying out hard cash to receive
what at home they could never dream of getting.
night, while sitting outside my bungalow, I suddenly hear
a strange, chirping noise, that sounds like either a tone-deaf
bird or an amazingly large cricket. I follow the sound to
just above my doorway, and find an enormous lizard straddling
the arch, crying into the night. While I have seen plenty
of lizards since arriving, geckos mainly, tiny, harmless
little things, this is nothing of the sort. For starters
it is at least a foot long, and never have I heard such
a sound from a gecko.
All night it sings, for what purpose I have no idea. But
just in case it's calling some kind of lizard meeting I
stay put until morning.
While I have come to Thailand to "get away from it
all," in search of isolation and serenity, my old patterns
are still strong. So I decide to head to the northernmost
beach on the island, which, while the most upmarket and
commercial, also has the most bars and restaurants. But
the island is much bigger than I realize, and it takes almost
two hours to get there. When I arrive, tired and sweaty,
what I find there makes me almost immediately regret coming:
loud western girls lounging at cafes and restaurants; aggressive
Thais wandering the beach, selling everything from necklaces
to Coca Cola; trance and techno blaring from the beachside
bars; young Thai girls manning a series of stalls, hawking
snorkeling trips, baggy Thai clothing, hammocks and the
like. It is like a small city right on the beach, and suddenly
I find myself missing my quiet bungalow. Not wanting to
walk all the way back, I approach several songtheaw drivers
for a lift, but none of them will take me back for less
than a small fortune. Apparently after dark the rates skyrocket.
So I start walking back, cursing. On the way a particularly
cute bargirl calls me to come over, and I hesitatingly oblige
her. I tell her my troubles, and she says that she'll happily
drive me back on her motorbike. I thank her profusely, but
am confused when I hop on her bike and not she but a small
Thai boy climbs on before me.
"My boyfriend," she says, grinning. "He
take you, but his English not so good, so you just tell
him when you want get off, okay?"
"Okay, thanks," I say, shaking her hand, making
sure it's her right one. My next thought: 'What if someone
is left-handed? What then?' I try to quickly put out of
The ride takes about fifteen minutes, and when I get off
the boy holds out his hand for money.
"How much?" I ask.
"100 baht," he says, to my shock.
"Uh, that's a little more than I was expecting,"
I say, fumbling in my pockets. "How 'bout this?"
I hand him two twenties and a ten, and leave before he
can make any objections.
Spend the morning relaxing on the beach, which is practically
empty. At first it is blissful, soaking up the sun without
another soul in sight, but after a while my feeling of isolation
takes over, so I decide to explore the beaches to the south.
Not wanting to walk again for hours I rent a motorbike.
I haven't ridden one in years, and at first have a little
trouble getting the hang of it. The key is to accelerate
very slowly, and to gradually increase the speed, but I
keep jumping the gun and it jerks uncontrollably beneath
me, threatening to leave me behind. And once I get the hang
of this, there is still another problem: the Thais drive
on the left side of the road, and it takes every ounce of
my concentration to remember this. Several times I instinctively
take off on the right side, curious as to why the asshole
before me is gunning at me. Each time I have to make a last-minute
correction to avoid a collision.
Eventually I find the beach my dreadlocked friends have
gone to, and now I can see why. It is all tattoos, topless
girls and modern hippies, funky people from far and wide
carousing on the beach. In fact, it is "The Beach."
If Leo suddenly showed up with a French hottie he wouldn't
be out of place. It is here where I spend most of the week,
even though each night on the way back I take my life in
my own hands. There are no streetlights, no traffic lights,
and often very wild Thai truckdrivers taking up both sides
of the road. Every night is an adventure, and I'm happy
to say I make it each and every time.
After biking to a waterfall and swimming in the cold, clear
water, I meet my friends at the Jah Bar, a large, loungey
place located high above the beach. Tonight they're having
a party, and the place is swarming with revelers. The music
is alternative lite: Chemical Brothers, Red Hot Chili Peppers,
Doors, etc., but the crowd is fun and the drinks are cheap
and plentiful. There is also a steady flow of joints, and
after one too many I can barely stand. In fact, I can't
even sit down. Instead, I find a hammock and close my eyes,
just for a second.
When I wake up, hours have passed, my friends are gone and
one of my contacts is missing. I search for it for seemingly
forever but it shows no signs of surfacing. By now the pot
has worn off, and so has the booze, so the only obstacle
in my getting home - aside from the black streets and the
crazy truckdrivers - is the use of only one eye. But somehow,
miraculously, driving like an old, blind man - which is
not far from the truth - I do it.
Pack up and head back to Bangkok. Make friends with a guy
from Senegal in my guesthouse, who tells me he needs my
help with something. Unsure of what exactly this is I hesitantly
oblige him, and follow him to an Internet café. There
he tells me he wants me to read to him a very important
e-mail, which he can't understand because his English isn't
very good. The e-mail is very strange, and has something
to do with safety deposit boxes, safes and money. The letterhead
makes it look like it's from the U.S. government, but there
are all sorts of typos and misspelled words, so whatever
it is it's completely hackneyed. At one point I get to a
particularly strange passage about how getting a blowdryer
is a good idea to keep the money dry. That's when I suddenly
remember I have to do something important and get the hell
out of there.
I escape from the wannabe counterfeiter to Ko San, which
by day is a place to shop and by night a place to party.
It is swarming with backpackers, Thai teenagers, hilltribe
women selling feathered hats and beads and food vendors
selling everything possible, including fried crickets, maggots
and scorpions, all for pennies (not that I would try any
of them). Instead I buy a plate of pad thai, some kind of
pork dish and a few pieces of skewered chicken, all for
the amazingly low price of two dollars, and take a seat
outside one of the many clubs blaring live music.
A pack of curvaceous Israeli girls soars by, followed by
a group of lean, long Germans, laughing hysterically about
something (what do Germans find amusing anyway?). Next comes
a team of ladyboys, perfectly made-up and gorgeous, throwing
winks and air kisses in all directions. I wonder if I wasn't
from New York and was used to seeing transvestites, or if
I was drunk enough, would I fall for their act? Not that
I would even try; my girlfriend would be arriving soon and
I had no plans to fool around with anyone, whether girl
After taking in more of the passing spectacle, loving where
I am but secretly wishing I was back on the beach, I head
back to my hotel to crash. Luckily the strange Senegalese
is nowhere to be found.
Take a train to Laem Ngop, a small port town in the south,
and then a boat to Ko Pha Ngan, home of the famous Full
Moon Parties, every backpacker's wet dream. On the boat
ride over, not having slept much in the last couple days,
I end up passing out. A few hours later a fellow backpacker
shakes me out of sleep.
"We're here dude," he says, in a distinctly American
accent. "Wake up. It's party time."
And with that I get up, strap on my pack and leave the
To be continued
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