Thailand and the Myth of the “Good Old Days”


Last weekend I was daydrinking as I usually do with a fellow expat in The Paddy Field (the anctics of which can by followed by joining the Bangkok Daydrinkers group on Facebook) and he said something interesting. “I know you hate tourists, Seven, but I envy them,” he told me. I was intrigued. He went on. “Whenever I see a first-timer in the red light district, or sitting in a gogo bar, with that look of surprised euphoria, wide-eyed and grinning ear to ear, I wish I could recapture that feeling myself.” He’s got a point. As a seasoned, jaded, cynical, aging, experienced expat I can say that the nightlife just ain’t as fun as when it was new. As it is with all things, I suppose.


But here’s the real question: Was Thailand really better back in the day? Or is it a trick of the brain? I submit that everyone’s assessment of Thailand is that it was best when they first arrived, whether that arrival was 20 years ago or 20 weeks ago. The reason is, as my friend pointed out, we all grow used to the novelty over time. It’s not that “things were just better in the 70s.” It’s that you’re old, and your first time here was in the 70s.

Recently a bunch of semi-famous Bangkokian expats were having a drink at The Steakhouse Co. in Patpong, and I happened to be there. They varied in age by a span of several decades. One of them, Bangkok Toby, turned to the others and asked “When do you think was the best time to be here?” Everyone had a different answer. 1988 to 1993…2004 to 2009…1985 to 1995. The common thread was, each man’s answer happened to be his first half decade or so in country. Of course there were other mitigating factors, eg. relaxed laws, lower cost of living, friendlier girls, the lack of a junta to screw everything up. And while they disagreed on the best of the past years, they did all agree that right now is overall the worst time. The apparently mindless, stupid actions of the current government (eg the ridiculous TM30) combined with a weakened baht, a global economic slump, the invasion of Chinese tourists, and the flight of ultra-hot gogo dancers to jobs outside of Thailand has created a vortex of unhappiness for tourists and expats alike. So from a certain point of view, all previous eras in Bangkok were “the good ole days” collectively.

As to the specific question of whether or not a perfect storm of happiness did or did not exist sometime in the past, most people point to one of two

For me personally, the best of times wasn’t when I first arrived, even though those were magical days. Instead, my best years were my middle years—from 2013 to 2016. This window of wonder was characterized by cheaper prices, a larger population of hot gogo dancers, a greater number of outstanding bars, and a general sense of optimism that just can’t be found in the red-light today. The gogo bars were something a Westerner had to see to believe. Imagine dozens of gorgeous girls in tank tops and daisy dukes dancing with wild abandon who are happy to entertain, happy to be fondled, happy to go home with you, and hoping to see you often. My friends back in the US scoffed when I tried to paint a picture of this zany Xanadu, this vaginal Valhalla. They simply couldn’t conceive of a place where beautiful women live out their lives with complete sexual abandon (or what I’ve come to characterize as liberation). Add to that the low cost of living, the year-long warm weather, great food, and beaches straight from you holiday fantasy, and you had a recipe for paradise. For a time, I described my life with the phrase “living the dream” without exaggeration. And even now, things are still pretty good. The beaches, weather, and food are still just as good. The cost of living has gone up, though not by much when you compare it to life in the West. There aren’t as many hotties within walking distance anymore, and the ones that remain have lost faith in the profession. I’ve quit pursuing new ones all together, and fill my time with a harem of regulars that’ve been wrinkling my sheets for going on 6 years now.

To be fair, I don’t think my “best years” era was as good as, say, the 80s. Judging from the accounts of witnesses who were here back then, nothing can compare to the freedom and fun of those pre-protest, postwar days. When the girls weren’t wise to tourists and farang in the gogo weren’t a tired cliché. When being able to speak Thai was an astounding wonder to actual Thais. When everything was dirt cheap and you couldn’t help but be optimistic.


I caught the tail end of some of that. Right before all the political turmoil and monetary power shift in China. Girls could still make good money in the gogo bar, and Tinder didn’t exist yet. The red light district was an adult Candyland and I satiated my sweet tooth nightly. These days, there’s a pall over the nightlife scene. Sleaze has fallen out of fashion. Puritanism has a new face in the social justice warrior leftist culture. Girls on the pole struggle to make ends meet. And in some ways, Bangkok is as expensive as Los Angeles. But hope springs eternal, and this whoremongering optimist (whormotomist for short, copyright BKK7) refuses to put on a frown. Like Brian at the end of “The Life of Brian,” I always look on the bright side of red-light life. Or as Friar Laurence might say to this Romeo of the gogo, “Thou hast a harem of faithful hot girls—there art thou happy. Some gogos remain open and are going strong—there art thou happy. Thou hast three excellent watering holes in The Steakhouse Co., The Paddy Field, and Shenanigans—there art thou happy. A pack of blessings hangs about thy wang.” And it’s true. I really have nothing to complain about, especially since the alternative—being back in the US—is an unthinkable nightmare.


And so, rather than dwell on the good ole days, or any long-gone leisure, we should all focus on just how good we’ve got it right now. Live in the moment. Seize the day. Have a pint. Bounce a stripper on your lap.

And cheers to everyone who was lucky enough to be here way back when, as well as those of us who’re here today. Let’s hope we’re all still here tomorrow. Life is what you make it, so make it awesome. Peace!

*Throwback photos courtesy of the soon-to-open Patpong Museum on Soi 2, beneath Black Pagoda.*