As the time had come to do a visa run, I decided to head north and visit the Gamblin’ Man in his new ‘upcountry’ home in Laos. After a few years ‘On the Lam’in Bangkok, he had landed a job where he spends his days surrounded by cute Laotian girls dealing cards. Not a bad way to pass the time, and he gets paid to do it!
The casino is in Savanakhett, Laos, just across the border from Mukdahan in Thailand. The quickest way to get there is to fly to Nakhon Phanom and then it’s a few hours by road. @GM had organized a VIP van to pick me up – nice touch! I love flying into those small airports where once the bird has stopped you only have to walk down the steps and into the terminal building itself. I eye off the Isarn ‘teeraks’ with their beaus who are heading home for a few days rest from Soi 4 while I wait for my bag. Through another door and I see my name emblazoned on a sign and then settle back for the road leg of the trip. Rural Thailand looks pretty much all the same I reckon, but it’s new to me and keeps me occupied until the sun sets. It’s a hairy drive and being on the wrong side of the road for extended periods of time always makes me a little nervous. Maybe that’s what he meant when he wished me ‘Good Luck’ at the airport – that I would actually get to the casino in one piece.
After about 90 minutes on the road we make the border crossing. Mukdahan on the Thai side where you are stamped out, then across the Mekong river to the Laos side where you have to get a ‘visa on arrival’ and then stamped into Laos. The only tip I picked up is to make sure that you have some USD with you (30 dollars exactly), as it’s cheaper than the THB equivalent. Once in Laos it’s only a short drive as Savanakhett is a border town. I check in and grab a quick shower and then it’s down to the gaming floor to find my old pal.
I locate him in the back corner trying to fix one of the roulette wheels, something about it paying out too much money to the punters. He drags me into the restaurant and the chef appears to explain that the beef tenderloin is the daily special and about 15 minutes later two plates appear on the table. Bloody delicious! Then it was time to head to ‘Many Beer’ bar .. the local watering hole for the expats lucky enough to have landed a gig in this part of the world. Aptly named, they never ran out and it was a great spot to discuss the days happenings and make plans for the next one.
A little back story is required here. GM had been there for a few months and the reports filtering back sounded interesting – Lunch with the Generals Daughter, an old car to drive around in (I’d pictured a Benz and was way off the money) and of course the Dinosaur roundabout. Drink driving is practically encouraged in Laos, and @GM was good to go as long as he hadn’t had any more than about 30 at which time he had trouble keeping the wheel straight. There was one night when I had to drive us back from the bar as he was absolutely cunted. To his credit he had started drinking red wine at a business lunch, followed by a lazy afternoon next to the Mekong drinking Long Island Iced Teas and then ‘just a few beers’ to finish up. Did I mention the arduous rounds of rock, paper, scissors that the girls demand .. like I said it’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it. The bar girls up there seem more fun than their Thai counterparts. Maybe that’s because they know that all they have to do is pour drinks, laugh and flirt and they still get tipped. There’s no walk of shame or regular trips to the clinic for them as the P4P scene in Laos is very much an underground movement I imagine. Like everywhere, girls could probably be organized for the right price, but I was happy to abstain.
GM had taken a few days off work to show me around, but truth be told there wasn’t much to show. It was the first time he had been out of the resort and so it was all pretty new to both of us. (Staff get one day off a week and typically save them up so that they can go somewhere useful). We headed for the river which is, well, just a big river. There are the usual trinkets being sold and fish being grilled, standard fare for pretty much any river area in SEA. The town has an ‘old world’ feel and the ties to Vietnam are still evident. We stop and take a shot of an old communist propaganda poster and have a nice lunch in a french-style bistro. The fresh bread is excellent and coffee good (much better than Thailand), again thanks to it’s Viet neighbor. There is a duty-free store which sells some of the cheapest grog I’ve come across, 400 THB for a 1 litre bottle of Stoli ! (they Never checked my bag when going back across)
We came across a beautiful old Catholic church, but since I’m lapsed I just sat inside and took respite from the heat of the day. We spent many hours at a littler eatery on the banks of the Mekong which made great pizza and had a bunch of old 60’s and 70’s tapes (yeah they probably were cassettes) playing. The Beer Laos went down a treat and we got accosted by the ‘nail gang’ – a bunch of old women who travel around on bikes with a kit to cut, clean and paint nails. I got conned into a clip and what started out at 100 baht ended up costing 400 baht before I could get rid of her – sound familiar? We got chatting to a Finnish guy called Andy who had come across to do a visa run and was in town for a few days.
One afternoon we sat in the shade necking collides hoping to see a traffic accident at an intersection. Came close a few times but no dice. You’ve got to make your own fun sometimes in places like this. I suggested we steal a few bikes and police uniforms but GM wasn’t impressed – I guess he’s just got this job so maybe I should let him keep it a little longer. Another afternoon our mission was to find a postcard – yep, you read that right, it wasn’t as easy as it sounded, but we kicked a goal there!
The casino itself does a roaring trade with ‘Dragon Tiger’ one of the local table games. As you are essentially betting on the highest of two cards it should be pretty simple, right? But when I questioned GM on the third case that could occur he didn’t seem to grasp the finer points of my argument and quietly sipped his Americano while waiting for a message from one of his harem. I feel the game could definitely be enhanced with the use of real dragons and tigers, but I understand they can be hard to come by.
For the Poker Aficionados I cleaned up at the Hold-em table playing 50/100 THB max buy in 5K. I’ve found that using the ‘drunk farang’ persona works a treat. Put in a 6 hour session, and didn’t even have to pay for the beer. I remember hitting a heart flush on the river to take down a huge pot, and had trips on a string including one hand where I limped in with pocket 4’s. It was probably a good thing that I didn’t have to venture outside the casino that night, I wonder if I would have made it safely home.
Eventually it was time to say goodbye. We embraced on the steps of the casino and I told him I’d wait for him and love him forever. I’d survived the dragons, tigers and dinosaurs and it was time to head back to that jungle known as Bangkok.
It had been nearly 6 years since I was last in Hua Hin. So one Wednesday morning I took my life in my hands and jumped on a mini van at Victory Monument. I arrived in Hua Hin about 2pm and wasted no time checking into my Guesthouse. After a quick shower I headed out to explore Soi 80, also known as Soi Sarrawat.
This is a small Soi where the local expats drink as it is cheap and cheerful. I hit the first bar about 3 pm and was the only customer. Over the next 6 hours,or so, I walked up and down the Soi visiting most of the bars, again being the only customer.
One bar I spent a good few hours in had two girls working. One was the cashier, who spoke broken English and an other girl who didn’t speak a word, I’ll call her Noo. I played a few games of pool and bought them a good few drinks. When I left the bar its about 9ish and I’m pretty pissed as are the two girls. I go into a few more bars still drinking heavily. I guess it would be getting on for 11 when I came out of a bar and thought I’ll walk to the end of the Soi and grab a M/C taxi. By this time I’ve got wee stagger going on.
The stagger developed into one of those stumble things that sort of became an uncontrollable run and ran myself into the side of a wall splitting the top of my forehead. Instantly I’m sober as the blood was pouring out and I’m thinking hospital, stitches, bills and insurance claims. I stem the bleeding with the bottom of my t-shirt and walk back into the bar I had originally been playing pool earlier.
The two girls are even more drunk than when I left them, especially the cashier. When they both see me covered in blood they assume I’ve been attacked and hit with a bottle, or something similar. The cashier goes into a sort of evil rant. Wanting to know, “WHOO DOO”. She gets a fuck off knife out her bag and goes onto the Soi looking for whoever she thinks may have attacked me. Noo gives me a bar towel which I’m holding against my head. I’m now trying to get knife lady back into the bar and her blade back in her purse. I still don’t think they believed that I hadn’t been attacked, but it was eventually decided that they would lock the bar and take me back to my guesthouse.
The three of us get on their moped with the pissed up knife woman driving. Probably another error of judgement on my part. We stop of at a 7 Eleven, where I handed over some money for them to get me some bandages and plasters. When they come out they’ve got the plasters but they’ve also got themselves some Bacardi breezers and bottles of beer. They’ve obviously got their priorities right.
When we get to my Guesthouse we are met by Somchai the Security Guard. He gets told the story by the girls and I would imagine it is, “Stupid drunk farang has been bottled”. I give Somchai a tip and he is happy. In the room Noo starts cleaning me up whilst the other one starts necking the breezers. Eventually she collapses in a drunken heap onto my bed and goes to sleep. Whilst she is sleeping I sit on the balcony with Noo feeling sorry for myself thinking I’ll probably be scarred for life and will get gangrene or blood poison.
After about an hour the cashier wakes up and she is in a foul drunken mood shouting christ knows what. Farang gets mentioned a few times and I now seem to have become her worse enemy. I’m thinking I’m the one who is going to get knifed.
All the noise brings Somchai up to the room and he bundles her out onto the street and she drives off. Somchai gets another tip for his input. Cutting a long story short the other girl spends the night and gets a nice tip in the morning. I spend the day in the guesthouse licking my wounds.
That night there is a knock at the door and its Somchai with Noo. She has taken it on herself to come back as my night time nurse. Somchai gets another tip. Noo stays the night and gets her money in the morning. Next night same thing happens again. Somchai and Noo at the door. By this time I’m getting a bit fed up so I politely refuse the offer and no tip for Somchai. About an hour later door goes again. Somchai with a woman I’ve never seen before. He’s now become my pimp thinking if I don’t want Noo maybe someone else will do. No thank you Somchai – no power – need sleep.
Next night I’m feeling a bit guilty about being rude to Noo so I go back to her bar to buy her a drink. Cold shoulder all around. Neither Noo or the cashier will look at me. Oh well I tried. Later on that night I’m in bed with a brand new nurse and there is a knock at the door. I know who it will be and I ignore it much to the amusement of my new nurse. Well I’ve got to give Somchai and Noo top marks for perseverance as I hear them trying to climb up my balcony. They give that a miss before trying to slipped my door lock. I’m up out of bed like a shot and managed to stop them before they entered the room. Apparently both were worried about me dying in my sleep. No I am okay need sleep, thank you.
So what did I do? Checked out the guest house first thing in the morning and found someplace where Somchai and Noo would never find me. Only in Thailand!
Just one more thing. I now realise that if I had gone to hospital my travel insurance would have been invalid as drink was involved. I would agree with this as it was all my own fault, but it is something to be mindful of. I’m sure even if you are not to blame and your insurance company gets a report from a Doctor, or the Police, and drink is mentioned you will have a fight on your hands to make a claim.