Naked and Depraved on Thong Nai Pan

Trip Start Mar 02, 2004
Trip End Apr 02, 2005

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Flag of Thailand  , Nakhon Si Thammarat,
Wednesday, January 5, 2005

Scott is an all-American boy from Nebraska with a resonant voice and a good heart, easy prey for the hard-biting cynics I run with on Thong Nai Pan Yai. It doesn't help that he's from the 'colonies' in a country over-run by Europeans. In Thailand during peak season one can be forgiven for flinching away from a North American heritage. In a nation never ruled by a foreign power, English, French, German and Israeli tourists rule the beaches.

It also doesn't help that Scott, an English teacher in some tiny city in Korea, is here with two coworkers, Stephanie and Emily, whom he's trying to sleep with. At the same time. The fire-pit at the Sea View bar is a revealing place, not least of all because it casts a penetrating light. Scott sits there, just off to the side, watching in obvious agony as his plans go awry. The boys from the Bamboo Bungalows are far more charming and subtle in their desperation.

* * *

It's Keith who tells Jay and I about Thong Nai Pan Yai, a scary 40 minute truck ride from Hat Rin, Koh Pha Ngan's main tourist trap. He's spent weeks on this beach, and told us alluring stories of fun and debauchery. Keith's even got a bar here that he's supposed to run when he gets the chance; the bar at the Bamboo. But when we finally get to to Thong Nai Pan our driver gets lost looking for the place, and we opt to jump out and find our own way.

It's 7 in the evening and already pitch-black, with the beginnings of a blood-red full moon brightening the horizon. The waterfront is dark but all around the beach we can see the lights of bungalows, bars and fires. The walk to the beach takes us past the Penguin bar, just about the best sight imaginable when coming into a strange place in the dark.

Out front of a well-lit bar is a patio just beginning to buzz with people well ahead of us in their appreciation of the place. Paul Simon plays on the stereo and it doesn't matter that we don't have a place to stay and haven't hooked up with the people we know.

It's all in tune with what I imagined and have yet to even see in the light. But reality does set in, and there appears to be no room at the inn. Despite how remote Thong Nia Pan is, it's peak season, and the Penguin, like most places, is full. But then there is the extraordinary capacity of Thai hospitality, the manager telling us that if we can't find a room anywhere on the beach we can come back and stay in the staff quarters.

Armed with some reassurance, Jay and I hit the beach to find a room. We fare rather poorly at first but finally find a bungalow--a tiny room with a double bed, a fan and cold shower--for 150 baht (about $5). Compare this to the 1500 baht we paid in Lamai. Granted we had hot water, A/C, phone and TV on Lamai, but aside from hot water what more could you want? I certainly didn't miss hemorrhaging money the way I was on Samui.

* * *

Back at the Sea View things are becoming unhinged. We're well into the beer, joints are passed around, and Andy, sitting on the railing with his back to to the view of the bay and the 30 foot drop behind him almost takes a dive backwards. Luke catches him, saves his life really, and the rest of us roar with laughter.

Alan, a ruddy great Scotsman, has cornered Scott and is neatly picking him apart. Nothing Scott can do or say will help, and when Scott mistakes Alan's accent for Irish things get entertaining. Alan's well into the booze but somehow it all turns around and the two end up having a surprisingly cogent conversation about life and travelling. Moments later Alan has blacked out, and the boys pile a half dozen pillows on his head and take pictures.

The Sea View is a gorgeous bar, set into the side of a hill overlooking the bay, with Thong Nai Pan a ten minute truck ride away on the other side of a palm-tipped ridge. The room itself is open and set with wooden platforms and mats for reclining, and all that's missing is the slaves in togas feeding us grapes and fanning us with palm fronds.

Down the way the party has lost control, bringing part of the wall and a bookshelf down on an unsuspecting reveller. She doesn't seem to feel much pain, however. She's either too wasted or has been knocked cold, it's anyone's guess at this point.

Over by the bar, Bob, the owner of Bamboo, is grooving to his own tune. Every now and then he looks up and acknowledges the cat calls from the crew, but otherwise he's content to gyrate and gesture to no one in particular. He's like a weird Thai uncle you never knew you had.

At some point the inebriated collective brain that runs a show like this kicks in and it's time to go. Somehow Alan is roused from his stupor, while the rest of us, not faring too much better, negotiate the long and laughably vertical stairway down to the ground, where Mickey, the fixer and prime mover at the Bamboo, waits for us by the truck.

Appropriately enough, it's Scott who helps Alan down the stairs. But the irony is lost on Alan, who stumbles off to find his own way, barefoot and right fucked, back to his bungalow nearby. For the rest of us it's a dark and twisting ride back to town, belting out Sinatra into the palm trees and the passing night.

* * *

Game Bar is the hottest joint on Thong Nai Pan Yai, and it's not even on the beach. With a second wind blown clear through our ride back from the Sea View, it's our only hope at salvation now. If our night has been mad it goes postal at Game Bar.

The only walls in the place are behind the bar, while the rest of the space is lounging platforms and low tables and couches. It's the ideal place for hedonism and debauchery, even more so than Sea View, and easily one of the hottest bars I've ever seen.

But I'm a bit out of sorts so take a moment to myself and stare up at the ceiling. I'm almost in a trance when Tirian gives me a shove and tells me I look like a tourist. In a crowd like this it's a good-natured insult, and I come to in record time. Thailand may once have been a place of hippie-dippy travellers, and I'm sure it still is. But on Thong Nai Pan, running with the Bamboo crew is all quick wit and nuance, charm and malice.

Tirian's a clever, dead-pan young American on an extended tour of South East Asia, joined on Thong Nai Pan by his sister Estella. The whole Bamboo crowd runs like this, people on tour, in the know, spending time passing through. Guys like Tim, a surfer from Australia; Andy, a Brit and self-styled activities coordinator; Mike, from Vancouver, starting to regret his little beach romance with Estella; Luke, another Brit with a shaved head and direct line to Fay, one of the few people in Thong Nai Pan with a purpose. Fay and Lou are Keith's associates, and for now their prime motivation is the bar at Bamboo, which is still not open for business. They're to run the place, and are almost at wits end waiting for it to open.

Fay at least in good health. Lou is consigned to her hammock, laid down by a cold or flu or any number of simple afflictions that floors many people who stay here long enough. Others are out of commission, either too sick or fucked to move from the Bamboo.

The party is in full swing at Game Bar, and Chicago house music is putting everyone in a good place. The crew is in form and the hunt is on. I find Scott's coworker, Stephanie, between propositions from the Bamboo boys, and ask her how she's enjoying the attention. I'm playing innocent observer but still manage to step on Andy's toes as he takes a good shot at Stephanie. In a small world like Thong Nai Pan it doesn't take much to offend, and I've clearly made an enemy of the otherwise affable Englishman.

But in Thailand, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, where the number of female travellers almost rivals that of males, the girls still have their pick. Andy gives me the look of death as Stephanie and I leave Game Bar, but succeeding where others fail is a mixed blessing.

* * *

Stephanie's place is not far away, but I've been there only long enough to get comfortable before a wild-eyed Thai man shows up, poking his head through the open bungalow window and catching me stark naked at the foot of the bed.

It's not being naked that bothers me. In fact, it feels like the only defence I have. Standing there with nothing to protect me is somehow the most calming and assertive position I can be in. But this guy's hysterical, and I don't know who he is or why he's asking me what I'm doing with his "girlfriend". This is quickly turning into a life-threatening situation, something people read about but never fully believe could ever happen to them. And it doesn't exactly sit well.

I don't know what there relationship is and I don't care. He's drunk but also clearly deranged, and while
Stephanie has a degree in psychology her expertise proves useless. Talking him down gives me a chance to get dressed but does little to improve the standoff. While we never do convince the guy to leave we get him into the bungalow long enough to close the door and make a run for it.

The beach is bright and calm under the moon and low tide, and it's a good hike back to my bungalow. Jay is almost comatose when we get there, so we sleep on the floor in the stifling hot room. But I'm alive and have a great story to tell, maybe not to the grandkids, but to anyone who cares to know what can happen on a night in Thailand.

[Nov 2009: I've noticed that this travelogue gets more visitors
than any of my others including my recent India blog. Wow! It's amazing
that you're reading it, but who are you? I'm very curious to know and
would appreciate if you left comments so I know what you think. Thanks
again for reading! Dave/darkstar.]
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