Sandcastles, seafood, but sorry, no sex
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Sandcastles, seafood, but sorry, no sex

In a week that began with a senior Pattaya policeman denying the existence of any prostitution in the resort, it was hard to take any news too seriously. Surprisingly, he didn't mention the highly acclaimed police swoop last year which netted 32 elderly expats in Pattaya for the heinous crime of playing bridge.

With the resort now free of prostitutes and bridge players, it seems the clean-up is almost complete and Pattaya is well on its way to becoming the family-oriented paradise the Ministry of Wishful Thinking desires. However, any parents planning a visit might be advised to blindfold the kids.

The policeman's statement concerning the magically disappearing ladies of the night prompted recollections of an incident back in 1999 when an international magazine discovered rather belatedly that Pattaya was not quite your average sandcastles and seafood beach resort.

In fact, it had the nerve to suggest there might occasionally be some hanky-panky going on. The government at the time was naturally horrified by what it called unsubstantiated reports and dispatched a lady cabinet minister to perform an in-depth survey and set the record straight.

Her visit happened to coincide with the arrival of the American aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk packed with sailors who stormed the beach, clearly eager to visit Pattaya's temples and other places of cultural interest.

A few weeks later, the good lady returned to Bangkok to report with a commendably straight face that there was absolutely no sign of a sex industry in Pattaya. We will put it down to what Winston Churchill would have called "terminological inexactitude".

The tamarind tree

Hard though it may be to imagine, when I first visited Pattaya in 1969 it was a sleepy village with just a few quiet bars and the entire resort was generally quite agreeable. Even more agreeable was a little open-air restaurant that offered a full Western breakfast for 20 baht.

At that time there was a large tamarind tree situated in the middle of Beach Road at the entrance to what is now called Walking Street. The tree acted as a natural roundabout and survived all sorts of vehicles slamming into it until after many years it eventually got the chop.

It was a real shame as the tamarind was a landmark and had become an institution, lending the place a bit of character. If you were giving anyone directions in Pattaya, the tree nearly always got a mention.

Pristine pleasures

In those early days, along with a couple of friends we used to stay at some wooden bungalows by the beach in North Pattaya called Moonlight-on-sea, and very pleasant it was too.

I remember it well because while having a dip one of my friends was stung by a jellyfish and his leg swelled up quite badly. But at least we had learned a new Thai word -- mengapoon -- which has a certain lyrical sound to it.

At that time you could sit on the lightly populated main beach and actually go swimming in the main bay without risking some horrible throat infection. If you wanted a bit of life after dark, you had to venture down the highway towards Sattahip, where there were scores of bars catering to the GIs based at U-tapao.

The Vietnam War was still rumbling on and this strip of bars was uniformly sleazy but could be quite lively and certainly an eye-opener for newcomers like myself.

One establishment had a live Thai band which regularly played Sky Pilot, the Eric Burdon and the Animals anti-war hit about military chaplains. It became an unofficial anthem for these US airmen who never knew what was around the corner.

Birds of war

If you had nothing better to do in the daytime, you could park by the side of the Sukhumvit Highway at U-tapao to watch the B-52 bombers taking off at regular intervals to pound North Vietnam and Laos, later Cambodia.

The planes were known as "Buffs" to the American servicemen and "Bee Hasip-sawng" to the Thai populace. They were not the most elegant of aircraft and Buff stood for "Big Ugly Fat Fellow", although the servicemen had a somewhat ruder version.

It was a humbling experience watching these planes take off amid a deafening racket. Equally dramatic was seeing them return, some limping back with bits having been blown off over Vietnam.

It wasn't all happy landings either and there were plenty of dramatic scenes towards the end of 1972 when the bombing was at its height.

Thankfully the only B-52 you will come across in Thailand these days is a cocktail named after the bomber, and I can vouch that it is almost as lethal as the planes.

In other news…

Least surprising news of the week is that the local probe into the Rolls-Royce bribery case has stalled while they "await certain documents" from the UK. Don't hold your breath.

Everybody has their own ideas where that probe is going, but like most other probes of this nature, the strong favourite at the moment is ''down the plughole".

And the best of luck to anyone trying to understand what's going on with the temple siege.

At least there was one item of good news. The senior policeman accused of enjoying a monthly stipend from a beverage company has explained it was all a "misunderstanding".

Thank goodness that issue has been sorted out.

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Roger Crutchley

Bangkok Post columnist

A long time popular Bangkok Post columnist. In 1994 he won the Ayumongkol Literary Award. For many years he was Sports Editor at the Bangkok Post.

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