Thailand 4: VIP with Cops and Strippers

Where do I start?!  Chiang Mai is so frickin’ cool!!!  I saw a guest house for sale ($9000) and thought “what if…”  My mom emailed from Ireland (she’s doing her own RTW trip at the moment) and said things are happening too fast for her to write about them, and I know exactly what she means.  God, I love travel!!!    So, I was on the train, and sure enough the Thais around me busted my budding stereotype of middle class Thais as being less friendly, and turned out to be plenty friendly, but more shy for some reason.  Maybe because they actually COULD speak English and were embarrassed to try it on me (like the Japonese).  Well about 4 hours, and 2 yummy meals later I arrived in Phitsanulok.  My LP guide book said Phitsanulok was a good city to stay in for the “grazing” if you want to take a day trip to the nearby temple city, Sukothai.  Even though I could have easily continued on to Sukothai immediately, I decided to stay a night and walk around.  Phitsanulok is famous for the most beautiful Buddha image in Thailand… and not much else as far as I could see.  I spent all day walking around the city, only to realize a day later that the city is completely shut down on Sunday.  Well, it was Sunday, so it was like walking through a ghost town.  I could imagine tumbleweed rolling down the street, but didn’t have to use my imagination for the dust, empty streets, and closed shutters.  It was a big town, or little city (however you want to see it) but there was a lot of universities, so I think it is a college town.  Unfortunately it is school vacation now for 3 months.  The monks university seemed to be in session, so I spoke to a few student monks.  I got chased my some dogs again in one of the monk school grounds.  A monk passed and the dog totally ignored him.  What’s WITH that?!  Do I need to build up some special Chi or Karma or something to be liked by the dogs?  I should have asked the monks.   Some fun stuff I witnessed: Two young girls covered in blood sitting on boxes as they beat and gutted today’s catch in a dirty ally - not a seafood meal I’d want to risk eating.  A small dog riding the back of a motorcycle seat without any rails or anything.  All in all, not an amusing day.  HOWEVER, the night scene in Phitsanulok is a totally different story!  I was just getting back into the city from a long walk around the outskirts when I heard some decent House (dance music).  I followed the sounds to the waterfront where the ENTIRE TOWN was starting their evening off with a little dance aerobics.  No.  Literally.  The WHOLE town.  I took lots of video to document the strangeness.  There were hundreds of men, women, and children, dancing very badly trying to follow one gay guy up on a stage.  I watched for a long time.  It was amazing.  I couldn’t believe how bad they were.  It was semi-synchronized bad dancing though, which I think might be more difficult!  Well some of the dancers would come and go to take part in other healthy activities like jogging along their surprisingly nice waterfront park, playing badminton, or playing a Thai version of hacky-sack in a circle around a basketball net suspended 6 meters in the air.  It was like some sort of law in this town that you hide inside all day on Sundays, and then you must proceed to the park to do you evening exercises.  Turns out the avenue along the park was called Healthy Avenue!!!   Walking by the 100-or-so masseurs offering foot massages, I found the place to be.  The Night Market.  Man, it was all going on here.  Selling, eating, drinking, break dancing, basketball, skateboarding, live music, “cooking acrobatics”, transvestites/transsexuals.  You name it, they had it.  I spent as long as my feet would bare walking around and eating chili-pepper strawberries (by far the best food I’ve had here!), waffle tubes wrapped around various fixings, sweet and sour noodle candy, sugar cane sorbet, fresh juices.  Man the only problem I’m having with eating in Thailand is that my stomach is always too full to try all the new things I see!   I went back to my GH for my ritualized afternoon cold shower, and grabbed my camera on the way back to the night market.  I wanted to take some good shots of these phenomenal break dancers.  Bangkok’s outstanding breakdancers are used to cameras (and even movie cameras as mentioned in my first email), but I guess the type of travelers through this part of Thailand are not big on breakdancing.  Well, within a few minutes I was welcomed into their gang of teenage b-boys answering questions about New York City and hip hop in America.  It was cute that they asked if we have hip hop in America, and that they thought breakdancing was how everyone danced to hip hop (I wish!).  A guy with a broken wrist kept trying to convince me that anyone can do what they were doing (yeah, anyone built like a 10 year old girl with grown man’s muscles…).   I got some stupendous shots from under, over and all around them, and tried to find a photo shop that was open so I could give them the pics, but ultimately they were just happy seeing themselves frozen in time on my digital camera.   After some more drag queen sightings (part of Thai culture) and even more food tastings I realized this market might last until morning, and I needed some sleep for my long day of travel the next day.  I saw some confused-looking backpackers on my way back and offered to help.  They were just arriving in town and weren’t satisfied with the shared bathrooms at my GH.  Well, this isn’t exactly backpacker territory, and there was only 1 GH and 1 youth hostel listed in any of our guidebooks, but I guess they opted for a real hotel with a private bath.  I understand that thinking, but what confuses me is when I see backpackers traveling like tourists.  Or maybe it’s them who are confused.  If you want to be all cheap and not wear the button-down, tucked in shirt, then go all the way.  Don’t look like a backpacker but travel boutique.  If so, why not just live more comfortably and travel with wheelies and take taxi’s everywhere.  Ooops!  Am I being judgmental?  Sorry.  What to I care, I guess.  It just seems like they are doing themselves the biggest disservice by not taking any risks, but telling everyone back home how they’re roughing it and backpacking all over the place.  Too bad for them.  I think they’re missing out… and the point.   So the next day I bargained down my tuk-tuk ride (to the bus terminal) which ended up serving me well in the long run because it made it clear to him that I was a cheap-skate and didn’t want any fancy air-con tourist bus.  So he pulled up right next to the locals’ bus and I got an hour and a half ride to Sukothai in a comfortable window seat for $1.  Lots of smiles from surprised locals, as usual.  A pickup truck passed us on the highway and I could see a girl in the flatbed mouth “farang” to her brother right before lighting up with a gi-normous toothy smile.  Such charming people!!  Not only did the local bus cost less than the “tourist package bus”, but it also took me right to the old city - 16 km past the Sukothai bus terminal, which the tourist bus drops you at.  Ace!   So this was the only let-down so far this trip.  LP says “if you can only see one ancient city, see Sukothai”.  I would change that to “ONLY see one ancient city, and Sukothai is better than Ayutthaya, but more remote - choose ONE.”  Because I had already seen Ayutthaya, Sukothai seemed a little unnecessary.  It was more of the same, but a LOT bigger and totally walled off from any noisy city.  It is a national park so you have to pay to get in.  Inside it’s just like a nice city park in any European or North American city - but hotter, and bigger.  Spread out all over the park are “Zones” where a Wat or mini ruined city breaks up the landscaped trees and lakes.  It was nice, but I’d rather have either skipped Ayutthaya, or skipped this.  I didn’t need to see both.  I cruised around for a couple hours on a rented bike before heading to the bus terminal on my way to Thailand’s cultural capitol, Chiang Mai.   On the bus I sat down next to a local Chatty Cathy who wanted to talk all about travel and odd things in America, like car rental policies, and agricultural products (that was a first for me, and it took me a minute to compile the long list of agro products and seasons).  She ended up giving me all sorts of advice on areas of Chiang Mai and Thai prices for getting around.   I took her advice and got the local price for a ride into the city.  After paying I asked about some streets so I could get my bearings on my map.  Of course he wanted to take me to these streets (for free - they’re so honest in Thailand), and could not understand the idea that I was just trying to get my bearings.  This has happened many times before.  I wonder if this is not a map-using culture.  I rented a bicycle and they gave me a map, but could not tell me where on the map we were.  I would point in a random place and ask “are we here?” to which they would say “yes”.  Then I’d point at a totally different place and ask the same question, to which they would also say “yes”.  It was sort of like in China where I would show them the map, IN CHINESE, and they glanced at it for a second before looking up at the sky and down the street, and scratch their head, and yell something in Chinese (normal speaking decibel level in China: 120db).  It’s as if I was showing them a map of Yukon!  Do some people just see squiggly lines?  Do they not understand I am actually USING it?  It’s confusing… for both of us.  But entirely amusing and cute in Thailand because they never get angry or fed up.  They just try to help more and more.   SO, this is the beginning of my VIP night out with strippers, hookers, and policemen!!!  I should add “drag queens” too because I’m sure a few of them might have been!  What a night!!!  It all started innocently and slowly after I checked into my super nice GH (complete with clean sheets, closets, and toilet paper - none of which are standard at guest houses).  I picked one in the middle of the mayhem and it was only minutes before I was rockin’ out with the Rasta’s and expats in dirt-road watering holes.  And though it may seem a little unlikely, but this is where I found the taste of Thailand I had been looking for.  We’ve all had Thai food, and know how delicious it is, right?  But street food is always a little abstract and usually very interesting.  My street food experiences in Thailand have all been good, but none (except the chili-pepper strawberries!!!!) were as outlandish as I’d expected.  I have hesitated to eat in restaurants very often because almost every time I end up with Pad Thai (it happened AGAIN in Sukothai!!), and I can sample many more street foods for the same price as a restaurant dish.  Well, I was lured into this joint by the unlikely Blackalicious and Dj Scribbles’s “A-Z” being mixed by a quality DJ.  Sounds like a recipe for good music but bad farang food, right?  Well I thought I’d try some bad farang food anyway because I was so hungry and sometimes you just don’t care.  Well, the spring rolls were packed with big, whole shrimp, and the salad was the best un-salad I’ve ever eaten!  Mostly because “Thai salad” is NOT salad.  It’s just tons of meet and veggies stir fried.  But with SPICE!!!  Simple!!  Delicious!!   Well after bar hopping and getting pulled in every direction by the persistent Thai women (hookers? drag queens? who knows?) hanging outside bars, I decided to call it a night, and go home for my third cold shower of the day.  But for some unknown reason, after taking my shower, I was compelled to go BACK out.  It might have been the persistent bass shaking my room from the nearby farang hangouts, or the lure of all those possible drag queens… Hahaha.  Well, sure enough, as soon as I went out, places were closing up.  I walked for a bit and saw many a street hustler (which I find fun to see how close I have to get to decide if it’s a boy or a girl - still with no certainty).  Eventually I gave up on bars being open and decided I’d go check email, but one last bar beckoned me in and didn’t seem to be closing.  As soon as I was in I realized it was the Thai version of a strip bar.  A Go-Go Bar.  Kind of a “ladies bar” or something.  They were all in underwear and tight sexy things dancing together on 1 stage.  Presumably the clothes never came off unless you took them home for the night.  Thailand isn’t the kind of country you can see nudity.  So I bought my expensive beer (almost $2… expensive here!) and as soon as I had paid, the lights went up and the place closed.  Well, I didn’t expect much anyway, but at least I got to see some of the sleazy late night sex industry that Thailand is known for.  Obviously I had a couple dancers all over me to “takemehomeloveyoulongtime” - farang must smell like money, a natural aphrodisiac in any sex industry?  But this is where the plot twists.  On my way out I somehow ended up in a car with 2 policemen and a Scottish guy with a broken arm.  I really don’t remember how it happened, but since I firmly believe in saying “yes” to any offer when traveling, I’m sure I said “yes” to some questions I didn’t actually think were good to say “yes” to.  Which is often the case, until I end up having the time of my life, and swear to ALWAYS say “yes”.   So there I was in the back seat with a Scottish guy named Mathew who’d been living in Chiang Mai for 6 years as an English teacher.  And he said, in all his years in Thailand, nothing this sweet had ever happened to him!  I was stoked!!  We were going to a club as VIP because all clubs legally had to be closed at that hour; but this one paid off the police to stay open - and we WERE the police.  Lucky for me I had just showered and changed into club-worthy clothes, because this place was swank!  The line we were ushered past was long, and the people were all trendy.  We were led through the huge crowd of young, beautiful, middle class Thais to the main stage!  Tables, buckets of ice, and bottles of Scotch were brought to us while we surveyed the pulsating crowd through projections, lasers, panning club lights, and haze.  The club was playing a very decent mix of hip hop, and Thai house remixes.  A few minutes later the Go-Go bar bartenders showed up (so I lied in the blog heading - they weren’t the actual strippers, but it’s still a good story… and the bartenders were more beautiful than the strippers anyway) and the night went off flawlessly.  Before long the nubile young Thai girls had come up on stage with us and we blended in as well as two 6-foot farang can (one with a broken arm in a cast…) - that is to say, we didn’t.  The complimentary Scotch “flowed like water” as they say, and every 5 minutes someone in our group raised a toast.  Livin’ like a rock star in South East Asia!!   I had the strangest bathroom experience of my life in the club.  I really had to go, but as soon as I stood at the urinal, hands were all over my neck, shoulders and back.  I tried to explain that I kind of got shy about peeing while being massaged, and that I really DID have to go.  My words went unheeded, though, and soon hot towels were being placed on my neck.  I motioned that I really had some important “business” to do and all this attention was just backing things up.  But it was too late.  Nothin’.  I hate that!  I gave up after pretending to have gone, but despite the extra service at the sinks with hot towels, and face clothes, I still don’t forgive them for making me pee-shy!  Who appreciates that anyway???  Does anyone think “gee, I hope I can get a massage while I pee!” or maybe some people think “oh, I need a massage, but all the massage parlors are so far.  I know!  I’ll just pretend to go to the bathroom here and stand in front of the urinal for a minute so I can get a massage!”  Or maybe, the more likely answer is NO ONE wants a massage while taking a piss!!!  It was just weird!!   Mathew ended up being somewhat of a tosser, and wandered off in a drunken hunt for easy Thai girls after many failed attempts with one of the policeman’s girlfriends.  The bartenders, policemen, and I went out to the patio and ordered more bottles of Scotch and tons of street food.  Literally 2 gallon bags overflowing with Thai sausages and such.  The policemen were wasted, so I think their girlfriends were trying to get them to eat, but no one stopped them from drinking more… I thought how strange it was that they were “packing” while partying.  I mean, what if they were angry drunks or violent drunks.  That’s just a recipe for disaster - especially when Mathew wouldn’t stop hitting on one of their girlfriends!  Luckily they were just sleepy drunks, and no drunken idiot got the urge to fuck with their guns.  I had many long conversations with the bartenders and they told me that Mathew guy was infamous in Chiang Mai, and I learned all about what NOT to do as a farang, as well as the low-down on the 2-price system in Thailand, and more interestingly, some of the rules and lifestyles of the go-go dancers (MUCH more on that later).  Eventually everyone cleared out and the bartenders offered to give me a ride on their scooters.  We drove all around the city as a scooter pack and they dropped me off at my GH just as the sun was coming up.  I was surprised when one of their boyfriends seemed to ask if I wanted “company”.  I laughed it off, but I learned later that these girls are all for sale, and they are always working.  Even if it means leaving their boyfriend’s side to make a few bucks!   Well, I have a 3-day story to write about this not-so-underground culture of Thailand, but this first night was definitely the best night if only for the unexpected nature of it.  Moral of the story (and every one of my travel stories): Always say YES!!!! (except to the prossies and trannies…)   Woke up a tad late the next day but a delicious green curry and lots of drinkable yogurt took away my slight headache.  I don’t know if ANYTHING can take the stench of smoke out of my hair of clothes, though.   Going to explore the city, culinary delights, and of course I’m heading back to the go-go bar at closing to see what’s going on tonight!  Never thought I’d actually enjoy the idea of being a regular at a strip club, but this one seems so accessible (because now I know the bartenders and their boyfriends) and is truly a fascinating lifestyle that most of us don’t know about.   Heading back to Japan and work soon.  Not even thinking about it yet, but don’t imagine it would be a pleasant thought if I bothered.   So… when can THIS start being my job??? 

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