Monday, December 25, 2006


Where was I?? Oh, yes, the third day. Ahem. After spending a very busy evening with Neng, aka Nitnoi, and sleeping until nearly noon, Pee Dang decided that all play and no driving would make Bill not give him a tip at the end of the tour. He came into the restaurant there at the Olympia as we were eating and when I invited him to share lunch, he said, "No, Pee Dang eat befo'. We go Pataya today. You eat quick." And added a few words of encouragement to Miss Neng (no political correctness then, you see). Shortly thereafter, we loaded into the Toyota and headed over to Sukhumvit Road, headed south by east sort of. Just before the old Southern Bus Terminal - it was where the new one is, sort of, but it had dirt instead of paving and the buses all were open-windowed as there was no air-conditioned bus "in the day" - we stopped and I got to pay for a nearly full tank of gas for Pee Dang's Corona. Do you know, that was so cheap: gas was 2.5 baht per liter then and that was premium. No unleaded to be found; sorry. A trip to the latrine, Thai-style of course, and a new pack of Marlboros saw me ready for the trek.

The route was Highway 3 South which we joined up with just past the Naval Academy with a right turn. The road was paved, wide, but only two-laned and this was my first exposure to extended travelling in "wrong-side driving land". Of course, I was in the front seat, passenger's side but Thai style and every time I took my eyes off the road and looked back I almost had a heart attack, as my reflexes made me think I was driving, on the wrong side of the road, and had lost the steering wheel somewhere along the way. One reason I've never gotten drunk when travelling by car in Thailand. The old Highway 3 parallels the new one down as far as Chonburi, then the new one takes off once past C'buri. The old one went off into a bit of jungle, which seemed that day to be 1,000 miles from anything resembling civilisation. We did a few "short-cuts", one long one really, which I found out a few years later were to save the Toyota's suspension. There was (is?) a short stretch of Highway 3 which is in the deepest jungle. You're going along and of a sudden the roadway drops about three feet seemingly straight down. Well, it isn't really straight down but it would wreck a car's suspension if it was going over 5 km per hour. (It almost threw me off my motorcycle the first time I traveled from Sattahip to Bangkok in '69.) After the usual interminable "first trip any new place" passage of time, we arrived at Pattaya.

Highway 3 continues south inland from Pattaya and so we took the cut off for Pattaya and connected to Beach Road at a lovely spot. I don't know if this place is still there. At the northern end of old Beach Road, the road went up a hill and at the top of the hill was one of the first falang-owned hotels outside of Bangkok (at least that's what I was told) and it was the Nippa Lodge. From the entrance road to it (dirt of course), you could stop and look down the hill and across the little bay there at Pattaya and I thought I'd died and gone to the place where they filmed Roger's and Hammerstein's "South Pacific". It was breath-taking! To me at least. Old hat I'm sure for Pee Dang and Neng. I mean, he didn't ask or say anything but pulled over and said something like, "You look" and pointed downhill. He may have even yawned. The view was truly wonderful. You could see perhaps half-way down the beach - that is, half-way to where it curves out into the Gulf again - and a third or so down the Beach Road. There were a few "huts", a couple of bungalows on the beach itself, coconut trees of course sand, etc (it is a beach you know). No high-rises, only one other hotel could be seen and it wasn't much begun. I think it was called "Oceana" or something like that.

We drove into the village - that's all it was then - and stopped at the PX where I got picnic supplies: hot dogs, buns, sodas, American beer for Pee Dang (why? I'll never know why he drank it with Singha available.), snack stuff and a package or two of napkins/paper towels. We went down to the beach about maybe half a mile north of "Tree-in-the-Road" - and yes it was worshipped then and had a dozen or more yellow and red lengths of cloth tied around it - and had a picnic there on the sand. It was perhaps 2:30 pm by the time we sat down to eat. Just dug a bit of a hole in the sand, gathered wood from a pile some generous folk had left there and lit a bit of a fire. Used some part of a palm leaf as skewers for the hot dogs and they were wonderful. Neng of course thought I'd lost my entire mind and while she enjoyed the break from her normal way of earning a living (don't worry; we stopped on the way out and made sure that she wasn't AWOL and she was paid 400 baht as it was an "all day all night, Marianne".) she was obviously asking Pee Dang what this crazy falang was so delighted with eating crap food on this shitty sand, which is blowing into my tonied hairdo and I'll never get it out by the way, etc. He must have told her that I was communing with the water spirits or something because after a bit of conversation between them, she settled down and actually enjoyed herself. There were perhaps five other people in sight on the beach and you could see the entire length of the Beach Road from the beach. The JUSMAAG/MACTHAI R & R Centre was across the road from the beach and consisted of a tiny office and a number of bungalows rented out to families of soldiers (and the soldiers of course) who were stationed in Thailand and on leave there. They had sailboats for rent and the like, but no powerboats nor water skiing, unless you rented one from an enterprising Thai chap there on the beach.

From "The Tree" south there was Barbo's Dive Shop, the Friendship Bar, and half a dozen or so garishly painted bungalows right in the water on pilings on the beach side. After the bungalows, just beach. On the land side, there was one Thai hotel, a couple of Thai restaurants, a motorcycle repair shop (which also had three or so motors for rent; license not required), and a few of what appeared to be private homes. There were other lanes parallel the beach inland, but nothing of any substance was built there at the time. Pataya looked pretty much like this description until I left in 1972. It was quiet, peaceful in the day time, and nearly deserted.

After a few more hours, including the obligatory dip into the water, we packed up, took our trash to the appropriate place and left returning to Bangkok by much the same route as we had arrived by. When we got to the Olympia, Neng and I showered immediately and thereafter ate a nice meal in the restaurant; it never occurred to either of us to use the shower for anything else. It was almost as if we were a couple on vacation there for a few hours, rather than professional and customer. How strange that was to realise later on in the evening! Supper was delicious, probably as a result of having relaxed most all day, seen a sight or two, exercised in the warmth without any likelihood of a fire-fight in prospect. Neng even ate American food, although she told Pee Dang the next day - which he promptly repeated in English to me as he thought it was funny - that she was hungry again after only 30 minutes.

I sit here typing this and I can see the light through the trees there on the hill where the Nippa Lodge stood then, shining off the waters of the Gulf there in Pattaya. I can hear the crackle of the fire on the beach, the murmur of Thai conversation between Neng and Pee Dang, the smells of the tropical beach - all of them, not just the flowers - and for a few seconds, I am young and foolish once again, untroubled by thoughts of my own mortality and that of my loved ones, or even mundane matters like a mortgage. When I get there, my friends, let us visit Barbo's Dive Shop and search for a door into 1966, and when we find it, we shall all visit the Friendship Bar and toast absent friends, until the wee hours and our ages require us to return to this century.

Read more!


Prior to leaving the hotel parking lot - which was in the rear off the street as many of them were in those days - Pee Dang told me that his fee for the five days was 1,000 baht plus gasoline, payable in advance. I thought about it for a minute and tried to bargain with him, but he was quite firm and clinched it by saying "Is custom with GI tour." So, I promptly paid him and off we went, back along New Petchaburi Road. I realised afterwards, of course, that his insistence on being paid in advance was to insure that he got paid at all. Many of us GI's were quite capable of spending all our money on "wine, women and song" and stiffing the driver at the last minute.
The Toyota was fully air-conditioned and we moved slowly along the street. I had placed myself entirely in Pee Dang's hands in the matter of where we went and what sort of girls I would "go see" first.

The conversation went something like this: Pee Dang, "You come Bangkok befo'?"
Myself, "No, this is my first time."
Pee Dang, "You cherry-boy??" - with gales of laughter.
Me, "No, no, no! I never come Bangkok before."
Laughing, Pee Dang, "Okay. I take you go see girl. You like, okay. You no like, we go."
Myself, "Okay. Good idea."

Since I had absolutely no clue as to conditions there in the personal entertainment industry, I decided to trust him. I mean, after all, hadn't I just paid the man $50 for just that assistance? (Ah, how naive we are at 19, even after spending over a year killing our fellow man and committing various atrocities in the name of freeing the Vietnamese people.)

Our first stop was a fairly small bar on a street whose name I don't recall. However, it was one of the streets that gave onto a bridge over that canal that runs "behind" New Petchaburi Road almost immediately after the left turn. The "Whiskey A-Go-Go" was its name, if I recall correctly, and it was dark, smelled like stale cigarettes and beer, but the Singha beer was cold, the mugs were frosted, and there was enough light to tell that I was young enough to be the son of most of the "girls" who worked there. The music was American rock and roll, from a juke box of all things. One beer and Pee Dang - shrewd chap that he was - said, "We go, okay?", to which I replied with an enthusiastic "Yes!". Back out into a surprisingly bright day, into the Toyota and more air con, and back to New Petchaburi Road we went. Pee Dang was quite amused that women his age weren't my first choice, although I couldn't make out what he was saying, as it was in Thai and I hadn't learnt my first word of it yet.

Second was a larger better lit establishment called "Thai Garden", which looked to be modelled on a German beergarten with the outdoor tables, trellises, and band music playing through outside speakers. Inside was so crowded, I couldn't tell how the GI's were dancing with the girls. We didn't even stay for one beer, though I paid for it. Back outside to the car and away down the street.

Third was a place that looked like it was about as finished as the road, that is, not very. The facade wasn't complete, but the music was booming out through the closed doors. "Thai Heaven" was the name on the marquee. There was a live Thai band playing rock and roll music quite loudly and fairly well, but their rendition of the lyrics left something to be desired. The line from that Elvis song, "Onry foorls farr in roff", is just a sample. The girls were presentably dressed in mini skirts or mini dresses, young - at least nearer my age - and the tables were far enough apart to walk between them without danger of starting a brawl. I told Pee Dang, "I sit here" and pointed at a table, and he said, "Okay. I go," and pointed toward a group of tables off in a corner sort of where other drivers were sitting and having a light meal. A young lady asked me what I wanted to drink and I said, "Beer". Without waiting for me to name a brand, she left and soon returned with a 1-liter bottle of Singha and a - yep - frosted mug. "Twenny-fi' baht", she demanded, and I paid up as if it was the right price. Of course: the bars marked up everything about that amount above what the hotels and restaurants charged, except American food, which was perhaps triple the hotel cost and not worth half that much.

After a few sips of the beer, a young girl sat down beside me and gestured at a waiter. When I asked her what she was drinking, she pretended not to understand. Of course, they brought her "tea": some dark-coloured liquid that wasn't likely to be alcoholic or tea either. When I demurred, she said something pungent in Thai and got up and left.

The waitress came by and said, "Why you cheap charlie?", with palpable indignation.
After a sip or two of my beer - and she waited, believe it - I said "No cheap charlie".

"Shua, cheap charlie: no tea, no talk, GI". And the definitive put-down - in that time and place - "Watsa matter you?"

After that plaintive cry and urging to conform, how could I resist? Another girl sat down, I paid for her "tea" without a quiver, and discovered that she could actually talk English although we weren't discussing physics or international politics, as you might think. After considerable talking, she indicated she was both interested and available for the evening. I caught Pee Dang's eye and gestured as politely as I knew how for him to come over. He arrived, looking for the Indians, and grinned when I asked him how this was done. He spoke to the girl in Thai and then told me, "Short-time 100 baht. All night, 200 baht. You likey her?" I admitted that I was - temporarily as we all understood - smitten by her charms, and after a brief discussion in Thai, I was asked which I preferred and I confess I ponied up 200 baht. The waitress came over, wrote me out a ticket (I still don't know if it was a receipt or what), took my money and brought the girl back two tickets, the kind you get at raffles or old-fashioned county fairs, and we left.

I will draw a curtain over the ensuing events of the evening, but suffice it to say that I certainly got my money's worth, even after buying a meal in the middle of the night from a street noodle vendor.

More tomorrow, friends. Sometimes the memories seize me and it's difficult to separate myself from them enough to write intelligibly.

Read more!