Bruce Marshall was born in England but quickly escaped to Australia. After first visiting Thailand in 1991, he was a regular visitor for 15 years, and finally moved here in 2006. Bruce writes candidly for Naked Farang about his travels, observations and experiences in Thailand.
“Why do you come here?” sang English gay rock icon Morrissey in 1989 on his first solo single (Suedehead), and it’s a question I have been asked a multitude of times over the last 16 years – that along with “why do you go there?” For me Thailand is like a drug, something to be enjoyed that can be highly addictive. I first arrived here with my gay partner of 32 years in May 1991 with no real preconceptions about the place, but it has since become the place I call home.
Back in 1991, a friend in Sydney had advised that it was a great place to visit for shopping and eating and that the beaches were incredible. A hippy friend at the time also suggested we head to the island of Koh Samui in the south, explaining that it was unspoiled with no big hotel developments and would be a really nice place to unwind and forget about the outside world.
With this information we embarked on a holiday that would change our lives forever. Some people holiday in Thailand, and never get “hooked”. They arrive, spend a couple of weeks, leave and rarely think about the place ever again. But for us Thailand was like the magic kingdom, a place rarely affected by the goings on in the outside world, populated by people who seemed unstressed with the grind of daily life, people who showed absolute respect and kindness for strangers from another land. We had succumbed to “the land of smiles”, and life for us back in Australia would never be the same again.
Our first trip was carefully planned. A few days in Bangkok, do some shopping, head to Koh Samui for two weeks, a few more days in Bangkok, then home. Simple! Our first night here still seems like yesterday. We arrived at the Narai Hotel in Silom Road around 11.00 pm. We selected this hotel as we were told that the gay nightlife and Patpong night markets were in the same street, but we were unsure of how far away they were. We showered and hurried out of our hotel, and climbed into the first available “tuk-tuk” for a journey to “Harry’s Bar” located in Silom Soi 2.
Before I continue with this story, let it be known we are not and never have been “gay sex tourists”. God knows we have been accused of it countless times, with gibes such as “oh they like having sex with young Thai boys”, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The reason we love the place so much is because of the people and the attitudes of Thai people.
So, continuing on with the story of our first night, we asked the tuk-tuk driver the cost to go Silom Soi 2. “Oh, 100 baht,” said the driver. It was in fact a 30 baht ride and only a ten minute walk from our hotel, but we were first timers and a little “wet” behind the ears.
Upon our arrival we walked up a very small tiled Soi. The atmosphere of the place I cannot put accurately into words. Smiling faces, people saying hello. We were greeted by a large moustachioed Thai man. This was Harry, a gregarious and funny man who we would share many a night chatting and drinking with over the next few years. Sadly Harry’s Bar is long gone, and Harry himself passed away many years ago, but the atmosphere of that first night will stay with us both forever. Soi 2 is still a small gay street and these days is still very popular with locals and tourists on a Friday and Saturday night. I’m sure for many “first timers” the atmosphere is still there. Over the next 16 years I have stumbled out of that Soi countless times “the worse for wear”.
The second night in Bangkok saw us discover the second gay Soi on Silom – Soi 4. This narrow street contained the Telephone Bar, which is still there to this day, and the Rome Club. The Rome club was a gay/mixed dance club and the place to be on a Friday and Saturday night. Back in the early 1990’s Soi 4 was so busy on a Saturday night that you had to battle your way through the crowds to get to either of these bars. There was always a long queue stretching half way up the soi of people trying to get into the Rome Club after 11.00 pm. In the mid 1990’s the Rome club changed hands, and the new owners decided they didn’t want “undesirables” in their club. This meant no gays (a most unusual attitude for Bangkok!), and overnight the attendance fell to almost zero. Within 12 months of the takeover, the club was closed! So much for the power of the gay baht!
After a few days in Bangkok we headed to Koh Samui. My hippy friend was correct. It was like paradise! – a few grass huts near Chaweng beach, and the cleanest, whitest sand I have ever seen. We spent two weeks soaking up the sun, spending many nights at the Green Mango, and the Bob Marley bar. There was no gay scene on Koh Samui in those days, but it really didn’t matter anyway. People accepted you for who you were. If you were a friendly guy, then the locals were happy to drink the night away with you. In those days there was a thriving live music scene around the Chaweng Beach area, and I spent many nights jamming in the Bob Marley bar with local musicians. But the best night we ever had in Samui was with a friend we met, Khun Sompop. He worked as a tour guide in Samui, and was a hard drinker and womanizer. We hit it off immediately. One night Sompop arrived on his motorbike and said “lets go, I have found a party”. He rounded us up, and also had a friend with him!. So there we were four of us on a small motorbike driving around in the dead of night on Samui. We eventually came upon the party, where there were about 50 people, all Thai and mostly guys. I recall about 3 girls being there. Why so many men in one location? I have no idea! Most of the people there spoke no English, but communication was no problem. We had the most incredible evening, and experienced true Thai hospitality for the first time. All night our glasses were full, people were so attentive, making sure we had enough to eat, and that despite the language barrier we were having a great time. Incredible!
Maybe you can see why we became smitten with Thailand. Upon our return to Sydney we craved the kindness of Thai people, and for the next 14 years, we tried to get back to Thailand as much as possible (sometimes 3 times a year!). Over the next 14 years we travelled to various destinations in Thailand: Koh Samuii, Koh Samet, Pattaya, Sukhothai, Ayuthaya, Udon Thani, Surin, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, River Kwai and, most recently, Phuket. We met some amazing people on our travels and I have many stories to tell that happened during that time.
In 2005 I was made redundant from my job as a travel agent in Sydney, and my partner retired. The time was right for us, and we relocated to Bangkok. I now work as an English language teacher in Silom and, after 18 months, we have never regretted a day that we have been here. As for missing our past lives in Sydney, we miss friends, but certainly don’t miss the lifestyle. We have adopted Thailand, and hopefully Thailand has adopted us.
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Have your say...
06 Jan 2013, 06:39
jo.bartholomew - Thanks ladies for your leovly comments- you are too too
kind Sally- no it wasn't the desert rd it was on the main highway between
Auckland and Matamata. the policeman kept laughing because whilst hubby was
getting a ticking off i took the opportunity to take photos!! xJune 30,
2011 2:08 pm
14 Sep 2015, 02:54
Koh Samui has an incredibly aware group of grmnonveet officials,
dignitaries of ‘Green’ island living and preservation, as well as an
indigenous population that strives to both save and resurrect the coral
reefs of Koh Samui. Areas of reefs have been sectioned off to aide in the
regrowth of the coral not only on Samui, but also on many of its sister
islands. The Green Island Project has been a successful launch to the
direction of rehabilitating the island’s marine ecosystem and its natural
resources. The fishermen and women have for centuries fished in this manner
for survival, and what you see today is no different. As the population is
educated and offered alternatives to walking directly on the reefs, the
colourful life beneath the waves will once again return to this tropical