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Trip Report When is a Just Back Report not really a Just Back Report???

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Sorry to disappoint anyone who was expecting a standard “Just Back Report”

This, in fact, is not a JBR at all. It is a self indulgent trip down memory lane.

The way that it came about was that I was going through some cupboards last weekend and came across an old box of photos. Hidden amongst these long forgotten images of 1980’s bad hair-do’s and atrocious “post-punk” era Saturday night attire, was a handful of crumpled 6 x 4’s from my very first trip to Thailand.

Luckily, the “state of the art” Minolta 35mm that I was using at the time, recorded the date the photo was taken in small “neon" font on the bottom right of the photo. On one very embarrassing shot depicting a very nervous looking young man on his first trip overseas, in a bar somewhere in Patpong, was the date 20/10/1991.

That photo was taken on my VERY FIRST night in the Land of Smiles and today is the 20th Anniversary of the trip that led to my obsession with Thailand. 20 years and 13 visits later, I am still sitting here counting the days until I can once again return.

After many hours mentally recreating parts of this trip that I still can, or will allow myself to remember, I came up with a plan to commit some of my recollections to paper. This way, when the day comes that I am too old and confused to recall these 2 weeks, I will have some way of reminding myself what lit the flame that burns deep in my heart.

As many of you here have most probably been there and possibly done that, I will post only an abridged version here, rather than a day to day account. I do not wish to bore anyone with all the details of that trip, but I thought that it may help my “not been for a long time” malaise to share some of my nostalgia with anyone here that may find it interesting.

I hope that if Andy was to some how read this, from a place up above, that I wouldn’t be penalised too harshly for this report being a little late!

To be continued….

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    Shane, how lovely to find those old photos. I, for one, would love to read about your memories of what took place some 20 years ago on your first trip to Thailand. I'll bet this place looks a lot different today than it did then!!


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    I departed Melbourne Airport, mid morning, flying Thai airways to Bangkok via Sydney.

    It was the 20th of October 1991. Less than 5 weeks prior, I had no intention of EVER setting foot in Thailand. In fact, I had never had great aspirations of going overseas, preferring to see my own country first. I only owned a passport as my previous long term girlfriend had convinced me to go with her to Vanuatu, two years earlier. I was actually overjoyed when that trip was cancelled due to cyclonic activity in the South Pacific.

    A work college of mine, lets call him Neil for the purpose of this report, had broken up with his fiancée of several years, shortly before their wedding day, and in an attempt to console him whilst in the middle of a pub crawl through South Melbourne, I agreed to what I thought was an ambit request to go with him on a trip to Thailand. I was sure he would sober up and forgot the pact, or realise that it would be wrong to replace his true love with me on what was supposed to be his honeymoon.

    Unfortunately, I thought at the time, there was to be no backing out. Neil even went to the extent of arranging my leave with our Area Manager and organising my holiday pay to be paid in advance so that the cheque that I wrote out to the travel agent wouldn’t bounce. All that was left to do was to find my passport and scrape up enough spending money for a two week trip to Bangkok, Chang Mai and Koh Samui. These “exotic” names meant nothing to me at the time but they were soon to become such an intrinsic part of me.

    I met Neil at Sydney airport, as he had spent a week there with some family. We had a 1 hour stop over, which is apparently enough time to consume 4 large beers each. It was also customary at the time for two twenty something Australian males to spend the 8 hour flight to Bangkok trying to drink the airline out of tomato juice. I had never had a “Bloody Mary” before but Neil had seen some documentary on air travel that stated it was the only drink guaranteed to stave off the effects of jet lag. I wasn’t about to argue with science.

    By the time that we reached the “City of Angels”, I was well and truly ready for bed, but Neil asked the taxi driver to make a quick detour to a convenience store on route to the Hilton Hotel, to pick up some “magical tonic” that he had discovered on his first trip to Thailand, the previous year. One small bottle of “Lipo” was enough to cut through my weariness and the second bottle had my young heart pumping blood through my veins so quickly that I was ready for anything that my first night in Bangkok could throw at me.

    A quick shower and a few nips from our duty free later and we were off into the night in some strange 3 wheel scooter that would have looked more in place in a child’s toy box. It felt like we were at the Royal Melbourne Show being buffeted around on the “Mad Mouse” with all the zigging and zagging, and all the bright lights and sounds and smells. The dense concentration of both vehicular and foot traffic was just so overwhelming and I was relieved when the driver finally pulled up and allowed us to climb out of his “meccano chariot”.

    If this trip wasn’t enough to further accelerate my caffeine manipulated pulse, the scene that lay out before me had me on the verge of palpitations. Neon signs announcing bar names like “Super Pussy” shared the streetscape with market stalls as far as the eye could see. I purchased the first of many “Rolex” watches for the exorbitant price of 250baht, which I found later to be more than twice the going rate, but at the time it seemed like a steal as the first price quoted was 750. We stopped and watched some Muay Thai action and sampled my first Singa beer whilst nibbling on the smallest peanuts I had ever seen.

    As we wondered around the mayhem, absorbing the feast presented to our senses, we were approached by an affable young man speaking excellent English who obviously took pity on how overwhelmed we appeared and decided out of the goodness of his heart to take us under his wing.

    “Where you from”, I believe was his opening greeting to us and we replied that we were from a little southern outpost called Australia that he obviously would never have heard of.

    “Oh, Kahngaroo..... Jeff Feneeek.....Owzie number one” “Where u goww”

    What a relief it was to come across someone that understood us. How fortunate were we?

    “You come weet meee.....I look arfta yuwwe.....My friend have bar....No Cover Chudg.....Beer only 30 baht”

    Excellent! That is the kind of place that we were looking for. We followed our friend off the main street, up a staircase and took a seat in a booth away from the main stage where strange acts were being performed with darts and strings of pearls.

    I ordered 3 Singha beers and we chatted about how blessed we were to be led to this place away from all the seedy congested bars at street level that were charging twice the price for drinks. The beer was cold, the company was pleasant, the music was loud and this very comfortable club was far from overcrowded. We occasionally peered over to the podium to see what amazing feat of muscle control and dexterity was being accomplished but we were more content just to take in the unusual atmosphere and drink several bottles my new favourite beer.

    An hour or so had passed when our new companion decided to seek out the men’s room and as he got up, a ruckus broke out near the exit. A large European looking man started throwing roundhouses at some much smaller locals before several knee high security types firmly escorted him down the stairs. I recall thinking “What a fool, causing problems in such a nice place” and we simply brushed it off as a drunken foreigner causing trouble.

    When our new colleague failed to appear some time after, and a search of the premises failed to uncover him, we decided that he obviously felt uncomfortable with us buying him drinks and we took the opportunity to ask for the bill and move on. Several sheets of notebook paper were extracted from a wooden cylinder on our table and taken back to the bar where they were complied and stapled to a single cash register chit which was then presented to Neil.

    I still recall the look of his blood simultaneously draining from his face as he made a mental calculation and then showing me a figure that appeared to be 2700 at the bottom of a long series of numbers. How could this be possible? We had drunk only beer and if we had managed to consume 90 of these, the size of the bill would have been the least of our problems. Not only was my percentage of this amount a huge drain on a $800 two week spending budget, we were not carrying anywhere near this amount of cash and our credit cards were locked in our hotel room safe along with our travellers cheques.

    Wanting to avoid a scene, we politely requested an explanation of several figures on the receipt and were taken to a small A4 sign that was pinned up at the darkest section of the bar at the furthest point from where we were sitting. Printed on this notice was a list of compulsory “tip” charges per table, per act performed on stage. Apparently, 8 separate exhibitions of guile and flair had been executed whilst we had been on the premises. The charge for each show ranged between 150-300 baht and that added to the 15 beers that had been ordered came to the total that was presented to us.

    I quickly became defensive and explained how our now missing escort was a personal friend of the club owner and we had been assured that there were no other charges apart from our 30 baht drinks that we were more than willing to pay for. I was asked to present our associate so that they could confirm his identity and clear the matter up with the manager.

    It was at this stage that my acute perceptions deduced that all may not have been how they seemed. Could our trusted comrade, somehow have led us into a trap for his own personal gain? Surely we could not have been that naive? The scene that had happened with the European man sometime before may have been the result of a similar misunderstanding.

    I then noticed that the once calm debate had started to draw the attention of the security staff and we were being subtly herded into a corner of the room. A well dressed man, who seemed to be in a position of authority, approached us and politely asked us for our payment. We again tried to explain our side of the story and when this finally seemed to be getting us nowhere, both Neil and I took out our wallets and showed this man that we had a grand total of 925 baht between us.

    I remember a lot of shouting and gesticulation, but somehow our “offer” was accepted without any further retribution and we were allow to leave on our own accord, down the same stairs that we had climbed a few hours before. We searched the streets for our “friend” not really knowing what we would say or do if we found him, but finally sanity, and our lack of financial resources prevailed, and we decided to return to our hotel.

    Somehow the coins that were left in our pockets were enough for our ride home, and a bag of assorted satays’ from the cart near the hotel entrance. When we got to our room, the time on my new Rolex was 12.45am, precisely the same time that it read when we were escorted to the upstairs club, several hours earlier.

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    Yes Carol, finding the photos, regardless of their quality, was a huge pleasure.

    Some parts of Bangkok have changed considerably and others don't seem any different at all.

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    Hi Kathie,

    I will be scanning and "digitizing" the photos soon and will provide a link.

    I must warn you that they are mostly "drunken" shots taken by boys behaving badly and not your typical tourist shots.

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    The night before had been a tumultuous one but I woke with a sense of excitement and expectation. We had escaped our confrontation without any grievous bodily damage and the only parts of us that were showing any signs of despair were our heads and our stomachs.

    Luckily, Neil had enough foresight to have purchased some extra bottles of “secret tonic” the previous evening and 100mls of this little elixir, coupled with a buffet breakfast, proved to be an adequate remedy for all our ills.

    We had only 2 full days in Bangkok before we flew to Chang Mai to undertake a Hill tribe trek, and we both needed a new suit. If we were going to have one tailor made, our window of opportunity would be a short one.

    We negotiated a fare with a tuk-tuk driver and headed for KhaoSan Road. In our relatively sober state and in daylight, this ride was less hair-raising than my first one, but as we passed the Bangkok “klongs” I was presented with a brand new challenge. I am not sure if we eventually get desensitised to the pungent stench of these waterways, but I cannot recall ever being so completely affronted by an odour like that since. A combination of the break-neck pace of our trip and the joint aromas of tuk-tuk fumes and sewage made keeping down a perfectly fine 3 egg omelette, beyond my capacity.

    I arrived at the Mecca of backpackers a slightly different colour and a little bit lighter than I had left, but the relatively “fresh” air of our new stopping-place found me back in good health in no time

    We scoured the streetscape for a Tailor who had come recommended by a workmate of ours, but armed with only a rough idea of location, and not prepared for the multitude of choice, we eventually walked into the affably named “Buddy Fashion House”.

    Within minutes we were having our inside leg measurements taken whilst sipping on blistering hot green tea and being educated on the virtues of several of Buddy’s finest fabrics. A protracted negotiation session then commenced that saw us agree on a purchase of 3 suits (I for me and 2 for Neil), 8 cotton shirts and 15 silk ties for the equivalent of $300 Australian. It was difficult to get a single suit, off the rack at home for any less than that so we were satisfied with the outcome. We would need to return the next day for fitting and hopefully collect the finished product not long after.

    We spent the rest of the day exploring the Banglamphu area, having fake ID’s made, buying t-shirts and Levi’s then retiring to a pool hall where we drank Thai whisky and smoked “funny cigarettes” with some locals. That night was a complete blur. I can’t recall where we ate or how we got home but what I do remember is that we had a great time.

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    Bangkok 8? I assure you it was far more tame than that! I was 25 on my first trip overseas and the world was a different place, but there is nothing that I did that I would be ashamed of.

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    I will complete this at some stage mimi222, but I have found it difficult to write about what was one of the best times of my life, whilst many are suffering in Thailand presently.

    It is very nice to hear that you have enjoyed it though.

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