Ups and Downs in Thailand: Part 2

Where did we leave off last time? Ah, yes - the Sha Sha Karaoke House.

One of the brawny young lads stopped groping his lady friend long enough to come up to the bar and order a drink. We started chatting.

He introduced himself as Dave, age 27 and a member of the US Marine Corps. Dave and 50 other Marines were in town for the advance mission of Cobra Gold 2000, a joint US-Thai military training exercise. Four hundred and fifty more soldiers were scheduled to arrive later in the week.

"It's great being on the advance team," Dave confided. "We go in to the base for an hour, then the rest of the time is ours for fun."

"Fun" translated into hookers and booze. Dave's buddy PJ, a 40-year-old drill instructor, introduced us to his pick for the night - a sweet-looking 18-year-old with long hair and a plaid school-girl skirt.

"Look at her," PJ pounded Eric on the shoulder. "Is she a teenage wet dream, or what?" The girl smiled broadly. "In America she'd be the prom queen. . . . And for $55, I'm the prom king."

When a Marine decided on his escort for the evening, he went over and paid a Thai woman in a navy blue power suit with her hair in a bun. She had an office set up at the corner of the bar, and she entered each transaction into a ledger.

PJ confirmed the process. "She's already bought and paid for," and he gave his date a squeeze for emphasis. "Fifty-five dollars for the whole night. Hell, I've spent more than that on dinner with a woman in the US - without a result. Here I'll get laid, AND she'll fold my clothes in the morning."

Ah, the defenders of our country, putting our tax dollars to good use. Lots of up-and-down action for these fellas.

Our next stop was Nong Khai, a city on the Thai-Lao border. We floated over to the bus terminal to buy a ticket. The Chinese astrologer had told us this was our "travel day," so we were surprised to find that the first-class bus was sold out. Still buoyed with travel day confidence, we boarded the second-class bus.

Our confidence wilted within seconds. We had embarked to hard, tiny seats barely wide enough for the ass of an infant, four people packed in each of these seats, sweltering heat, no air conditioning, and no bathroom for the entire seven-hour duration. Instead of stopping, the bus would slow, and vendors would jump on and walk down the aisle plying their goods, such as pink drinks in plastic bags, sprawled, flattened chickens on a stick, and green sponge cakes.

Once again, the bus driver booted us off in the middle of nowhere. We had to take a series of three-wheeled scooters and beat-up buses to reach our final destination.

Feeling down upon arrival.

Consoled ourselves with good food and drink in Nong Khai. Visited a Lao mystic's sculpture park, a gold-and-ruby-covered Buddha, and the mighty Mekong River, which we cruised in a boat at sunset.

Feeling up, and ready to enter Laos on a high note.

Apr 28 - May 5, 2000

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