Transition to the Land of Smiles
What's old, white, smells like death, and has been sitting out in the sun too long? You will be forgiven for thinking that the answer is old dog shit. It is, in fact, the fat, old men that grace the streets of Pattaya, looking for the next victim of their booze-addled sexual advances.
What the hell is Pattaya, you ask? I would ask you for patience.
Our last week in Cambodia was uneventful. If you don't consider the fact that I got robbed, one person got food poisoning, and another got hospitalized for an infected intestine. Three of us left Cambodia for Thailand after that ill-fated week, and while by no means harboring hostile feelings for the country hosting us, all of us were ready for a change of scenery, if nothing else.
I should probably relate the tale of my robbery. Elements of stupidity and rotten luck intertwine. Hear ye, hear ye: My friend Sarah and I were the only members of the group eager to go out on the town during our last weekend in Phnom Penh. We decided to meet up with a fellow student, Sidney, who was staying in a hip part of town called BKK1. To our delight, this area of the city had infinitely more to offer in terms of nightlife than did the location of our own accommodations. We enjoyed Cambodian beer and spirits in a couple of bars teeming with expats and Khmer men sitting in the corners high on laughing gas, which was available at the bar.
After a few merry hours of this, it came time for us to go home. We enjoyed the late night tuk tuk ride to our side of the city and approached our guesthouse, ready for a good sleep. The area was dead quiet, and there was no one on the road in either direction as far as one could see. Sarah tried to unlock the giant main gate when the key snapped off inside the lock. We tried calling the people inside but no one answered. Before starting to panic, I spotted a place to climb up the building that connected to a balcony from which I could shimmy down.
I remembered that one of our course instructors had told us a story about entering the building in this manner, so I decided I would make my own sorry attempt at scaling the wall. I emptied my pockets and put everything in a cute little pile on the side of the street near Sarah and I (keep in mind that no one was around and it was still dead quiet) while I lit a cigarette and grabbed on to the wall to begin the ascent. The course of history had other ideas. In two seconds flat, a motorcycle with two Khmer teenagers drove by. One hopped off, grabbed my stuff, hopped back on, and they sped off into the night. It happened faster than we could comprehend. RIP Dan's stuff.
We later reasoned that they probably followed us home from Bkk1, eager to take advantage of any poor judgments that we might make. They were duly rewarded for their patience. However, the loot that they acquired wasn't very valuable, except to me, and I only had about ten dollars cash on me. In all, they got an iPhone six with a cracked screen, credit cards, a counterfeit rolex, and a money clip with my drivers license, CPR certification, and some personal notes. Nothing was of any use to them aside from the cash.
Although embarrassed, I refused to let something this stupid take the wind out of my sails. I took this not only as an opportunity to learn from my mistakes (Ie: don't leave all of your valuables in one place), but to foster a different attitude towards the remaining cash that I had on me. In order to make it last until we reached Thailand, where my replacement phone and credit cards were being sent, I had to get resourceful. Here is how I afforded food: The training program included free breakfast, and for lunch/dinner there was a place up the street that served Cambodian dishes with bottomless rice for two dollars. In this way, I was able to make my money last until we reached Pattaya.
Our last weekend in Cambodia was spent in Sihanoukville, which is something of a resort town situated on the beach. Having lived in Montana, I can say with confidence that the quality of seafood that I had been exposed to until this point had been somewhere between complete shit and barely edible. After sampling fresh squid and prawns, consider me converted. I realized just how amazing the world of underwater cuisine is that I'd been missing out on since birth, and I began to make up for lost time with a vengeance.
Sihanoukville is a wonderful little spot, there's an island, Koh Rong, that one can take a ferry to, and there are plenty of bars on the oceanfront that will serve you booze by the bucket, to your hearts content. If you're white, you can get a job at one of these places: They give you a place to stay, two free meals a day, and as much alcohol as you can drink. Your only job is to get other foreigners to drink at that particular bar. While originally tempted by this living situation, I found that one weekend in Sihanoukville was enough for me. Besides, I had been preparing to work as an English teacher and I would have felt incomplete had I not given that line of work a solid effort.
So, on to Thailand! Three of us (Colum, Sarah, and the lovely author) embarked on a thirteen hour bus ride to Pattaya from Sihanoukville. The journey should normally take about eight hours, but what can you do? This part of the world is full of surprises. To my astonishment, a good many people were throwing up on the bus, including the woman sitting next to me with a kid on her lap. Fun! After crossing the Thai border, we got into vans for the rest of the pleasant ride. There's a world of difference presented to you when you cross the border from Cambodia. On the Thai side you can see paved roads, construction taking place, and actual infrastructure! As far as smells are concerned, you are greeted no longer by the smell of burning garbage, but of Thai Curry being prepared, which was a welcome change indeed.
Pattaya was just a fishing village until the Vietnam War, and then it underwent a metamorphosis into its current incarnation of filth and degeneracy. Rumor has it that the spot became popular with American GI's returning from the jungles of Nam, and it's been famous for sex tourism ever since. Someone told me that prostitution is the driving force behind Pattaya's economy, but I've been unable to verify this. Hookers abound everywhere, strutting flamboyantly through the streets like gigantic birds of paradise, except these birds have HIV and God knows what else. All of Pattaya's ugliness culminates in Walking Street, a red light district containing music venues, beer bars, brothels, hotels, and discotheques. I remember thinking that this must be God's shithouse, as I walked through that neon nightmare in a foul mood.
Just as common as prostitutes are their callers: old, sweaty white men, usually of Russian or American stock. These men are a sad sight indeed, many have a defeated look in their eyes. I shudder thinking of the lives and broken families that they left back home. The whores know exactly who they are marketing to. Colum and I, two strapping young pups if I do say so myself, went unbothered by them completely, which we were thankful for. However, they went around pestering all of the old slobs. They can tell who has standards round here, or maybe they can just tell who has deep pockets. It certainly wasn't us.
We stayed there for the final week of our training program, which was spent learning about Thai culture and language. Although I could go on and on about how big of a shithole Pattaya is, I have to say that our host, Nang, was nothing short of an angel. She was more than happy to help me get to the replacement phone and credit cards that had been sent to me from home. This involved a harrowing ride through town to the post office on a motorbike taxi. This was the first of many such rides, and while I thought I might die before reaching the post office, I made it there in one piece. Navigating at the post office was an adventure, since there was no English to be found, but in the end I successfully received my package and all was made well again, after having access to my bank account restored at last.
At the end of our week in Pattaya, the three of us decided to spend the next couple of weeks on the islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao for Christmas, which is where I will pick up next time. Waste well, fiends.
To read more of Dan's adventures abroad, click here!