Thailand 2009 vs 2015

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know that 2009 was a big year for me. I moved to Asia, I discovered real Asian food and was even thrown out of my apartment by a raving lunatic. This was also the year that I went to Thailand for the first time.
I had always dreamed of going to Thailand, mostly because no one I knew had ever been. So as luck would have it, Genine (my sorority sister/Seoulmate) and some other girls were planning a trip to Thailand for Christmas 2009/New Year 2010. There would be 5 girls in total going as well as 2 guys we’d be meeting up with at some point.
I was super anxious leading up to this trip. You may know that I had recently been kicked out of my apartment less than a week prior. I was petrified that I would be breaking immigration law and be thrown into a Korean prison for the rest of my life. But I made it through customs without any problems.
We arrived in Bangkok on a very hot afternoon. During the bus ride I couldn’t help but feel that I was free! Free from Abraham, free from the authorities and free from the crippling anxiety I had been experiencing. The streets were full of families of Thais riding on motorbikes with chickens and other belongings in tow. I’d never seen a place like this before.
We were dropped off at the famous Khao San Rd. A couple of the girls had already been here so I just let them choose our hotels, restaurants and itinerary. All I knew was that I didn’t have to worry about anything.



The Rikka Inn would be our home on Khao San. It was a really cute little hotel that was clean and comfortable. We spent our nights drinking and dancing up and down Khao San Rd. The whole street was full of travellers and backpackers all looking to enjoy themselves. We had so many ‘one night friend stands’ (as I like to call them) because we had bonded with these people, never to see them again. It was one of the happiest times of my life.

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On Christmas, we went into the 999 West Bar located on a little side street. Inside, the atmosphere was dead. But they were having a 2-4-1 special on drinks so we decided to stick around for a little. Somewhere after the 4thcocktail, Genine and I were dancing on the tables and eventually got up on stage with the band. We also rallied the rest of the entire bar to stand on their tables/chairs to join us. And they did! But like all good things, this night was slowly coming to an end. To our delight, at around 4am, we came across a man outside our hotel who said he’d open his nightclub if we bought drinks in it. We were back on the dance floor with the DJ in a matter of minutes. It was my first Christmas away from home and I couldn’t have asked for a better one.
During our time in Bangkok, my friends would casually mention going to a ‘ping pong show’. I thought they had to be joking; we’ve got better things to do with our time here so I just brushed it off and paid no attention. I wondered where they even got the idea for this as I didn’t see any signs for it anywhere.
After Bangkok, we travelled down to the islands of Koh Samui, Koh Phangan and Koh Tao. I thought for the first time that this is what paradise must be like. We spent time on the beaches, socialized with other travellers (even made some friends) ate, drank and made memories

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Koh Samui was great. We stayed at bungalows on Chewang Beach and laid on lounge chairs all day to soak up the sun. People were so friendly and only a few little kids were running around selling necklaces and flowers to tourists. We went to a nightclub called the Green Mango that was open until the early hours of the morning. Here, you felt more like you were in Ibiza than Thailand. It was another amazing night.


Koh Samui was a little more developed than Koh Tao and I genuinely preferred the latter. It was more relaxed and had a very strong ‘no shoes, no shirt, no problem’ kind of vibe. As it was 2009, smart phones were very new so we didn’t have our iPhones buzzing every 3 seconds and Instagram to check. Any internet had to be accessed through a computer room. We drank at beach bars in flip flops and ate seafood til we exploded.
After 10 amazing days in Thailand we headed back to Bangkok for one last night out before heading back to winter in Korea.

 

Throughout the holiday, some of the group continued mentioning the Ping Pong Shows. ‘I feel bad for them’ was one of the comments made by my friend. But it was our last night and the question came up as to whether or not we should actually go to one. I blurted out over dinner that a Ping Pong show would be incredibly boring along with a reference to Forrest Gump. They roared with laughter, ‘Jenn, what do you think a Ping Pong Show is?’ Well I had assumed it was just people playing ping pong in a tournament or something. When they explained to me what actually goes on at these things, I was horrified. I told them that under absolutely no circumstances would I be going to one and would lose respect for those who did. I felt grateful though that none of this sort of thing had been too apparent on my trip here.
Don’t get me wrong, I was aware of the shady sex tourism that went on in Thailand. During that trip I had seen some (maybe 6) older men with younger Thai women, holding hands and looking like they were enjoying themselves. So to be honest, I wasn’t too bothered by it. 

Fast forward 6 years. I had been wanting to go back to Thailand for many reasons. Mostly to experience that same euphoria I had years prior but also for the food. So I had booked 3 weeks (with one in Vietnam) back to Thailand for summer of 2015.
Upon planning our itinerary, we opted out of Koh Tao despite the amazing time I had had there. There had been some tourists murdered there recently and we weren’t sure we’d feel safe. We did add Koh Phi Phi to our agenda though. I hadn’t been last time so was 
excited to give it a go.


I had made it a point to stay on Khao San Rd again in Bangkok because I wanted to show my friend all the fun bars and restaurants we had been to in 2009. She had heard all the stories from me so was really excited to see these places.
First stop: 999 West Bar, where we had literally turned the dullest night on Earth into a full blown party. But it was empty. Next, we went to find that mysterious club that had opened up for us in the early morning hours. That was nonexistent.
The whole street seemed to have died during the nighttime. There were just plastic tables and chairs outside closed shops with people selling drinks from a cooler. The only lively places on the street were two bars located directly across from each other; it’s as if they 
were dueling. In fact, patrons at each bar seemed to have dance offs with customers from the opposing bar. There were tons of people at both bars so we went into one, hoping for a good time.

What looked like a good night out ended up being Hookerville. Every single male in the bar was chatting to a Thai prostitute. While every single female in the bar was a Thai prostitute. We found out the hard way that there is no coming between a man and his hooker. No one spoke to us. We sat at a table by ourselves with our buckets of long island iced tea. The atmosphere was terrible. It felt like we were in an actual brothel, maybe we were? We attempted to wander over to the opposing bar and it was exactly the same.  We ended up sitting at one of the plastic table places, met a nice couple and hung out with them all night.
The following night we were determined to have fun. As night began to fall, we went in search for a place to have dinner. During this search, we were bombarded (and that’s no exaggeration) with people advertising ping pong shows.  Streak hawkers were spaced out about 3 feet apart, all of whom got in your face, made that stupid popping noise while holding a sign for the shows. This was a stark contrast from 6 years ago when I didn’t even realize Ping Pong shows existed!
After dinner we bought buckets from one of the street places. We managed to meet a group of boys to hang out with, but sure enough we ended up at the dueling bars and they 
left us for hookers. My friend also had her iPhone stolen.  We were not impressed.

All this aside, I felt compassion for these women. I doubt they wanted to grow up and sell themselves for a living. In my drunken stupors during the trip, I would often try and ‘save’ them. That would usually consist of me telling them that they didn’t have to live their lives this way and could go to school and become doctors. Most of the women giggled then would walk over to a lone man sitting somewhere close by. So much for my attempt at becoming a humanitarian.
We then headed to Vietnam for a week (which I’ll talk about in another post) after which we went back to Thailand. Upon returning, we headed down to Koh Phi Phi where my friend insisted we meet up with some of her work friends who would be out there as well.

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Koh Phi Phi was actually quite enjoyable. Hookers weren’t as much of a thing there.  In the center of Koh Phi Phi is just a little town where you eat, drink, shop and be a tourist. It reminded me of 2009. There were cooking classes, diving classes, I even managed to get to a gym/spa. In the evenings we headed to the beach bars to drink and dance on the beach with the other tourists and backpackers. Without all the prostitutes, the atmosphere and social setting was much better.  We had a lot of fun. After Phi Phi we headed to Koh Samui. I booked us a hotel right near the famous Green Mango nightclub because I knew we’d be going there at night and didn’t want a long commute home.
We headed out on what I like to call ‘Chewang High Street’. The hotel on the beach I stayed at in 
2009 was now gone and a mall had been built. There were about 3 McDonald’s on the street and nothing was authentically Thai anymore. It was just a street full of Irish Pubs, counterfeit sneaker shops and ‘message’ parlors (we all know what ‘message’ means). The Green Mango was still good, but not nearly as crowded as it was 6 years prior. And the street it, and our hotel, was on was full of hooker bars. Each night we passed, the bars would be full of old men and young Thai women giggling and awkwardly touching. It was a bit gross to watch.

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And with that, our trip was over and we were heading back to London. I felt really sad that Thailand had changed so much, and changed for the worst. Gone was that paradise I had escaped to in 2009 and what remained was Disney World for sex tourists. The pad thai and spring rolls were subpar, often made from frozen and the beaches were not as great as I had remembered. If people ask me about Thailand I will tell them to not bother, to head to Vietnam instead.  It saddens me that Thailand now lacks the culture it used to have all in the name of sex for cash.

 

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