Let me state at the very first: Thailand is a beautiful country, filled with very friendly people and a very colorful history. Having said that, there was only one flaw I noticed. It has but two seasons: 1) hot and wet, and 2) hot and dry.
Being stationed in far northern Thailand at Ramasun Station (near the hamlet of Non Sung), I was quite a ways away from the city life of Bangkok which was my introduction to Thailand. Non Sung was a sleepy little town split by highway 2 on it’s way north to Udon Thani three kilometers away. Udorn Air Base was located in that town and is now called Udon Thani International Airport.
Google Maps time: If you search for Udon Thani, then go south on highway 2 until you get to Non Sung, you will see a huge circle off to the east of the highway. This was our antenna and I worked in the Ops building attached to it. Be sure you are in Satellite View to do this.
At first, I was assigned a room in the Army barracks. The whole base was Army and there were only seven Navy guys there. Outside of the Officer in Charge (OIC), a Warrant Officer, and a Senior Chief, I was third in command. Within the second week we were there, several of us were on liberty and found out the next day that the Chief had gone down to his favorite bar and had a fatal heart attack. This pushed me into a management position at once.
The operators (there were only three of them now) had to go into a three-section watch; which is no fun at all. Basically, you are on watch or sleeping before/after a watch with virtually no time off. This went on for a month until our host command at Clark AB in the Philippines sent over some more operators.
During this evolution, the Army augmented it’s personnel and we got kicked out of our barracks rooms and were forced to take quarters off base. Most of our guys were already off base, despite having rooms on base, and living with indigenous personnel. I managed to find a bungalow that was being vacated by a departing Staff Sergeant who had established his whole household. I assumed his household personnel which consisted of a wash girl, a yard boy, and a house girl. The bungalow itself was two-story and built of mahogany. It’s windows had steel grills over them to deter thieves; which were rampant in and around bases.
There were three bedrooms, a kitchen, a small ironing room, and a completely tiled bathroom with a shower. Water was supplied by two roof-mounted metal tanks. The shower was heated by an instant-on heater powered by propane. During the rainy season, these tanks were refilled by hand-operated pumps from concrete cisterns at ground level which captured rainfall from the metal roof.
My entire rental fee, including propane and electricity (240v @ 50Hz) was only $150 a month – the Army paid me $200 a month to live off base so I had a $50 buffer for food. Mostly, I asked my wash girl or yard boy to go to the corner noodle cookery (or noodelry cooker) and bring back some Pad Thai
Before anyone does a wink, wink, nudge, nudge let me state that both of the girls working in my household were hired to do just their assigned duties. Being a mostly Buddhist country, females were protected and to be treated with respect. In fact, a male wasn’t even allowed to touch them at all. A lot of guys would head downtown and find a girl to share their houses with. I did not; but I did form a working relationship with my housegirl. She would occasionally go downtown with me to the various night clubs and bars as camouflage to keep the rest away from me.
Liberty in Thailand was like none other I’d encountered. To begin with, most bars would not serve you hard liquor at all. Some would have beer on hand, but to get any kind of mixed drink you had to carry your own bottle. You first went to the Class VI store (an on-base liquor store) and bought a bottle of Old Stumpblower – the bigger the better. Then, you zipped it up on a combat bag which was just an elongated backpack with a strap for over your shoulder.
Armed with your weapon of choice you grabbed a Baht Bus (roaming buses that ran up and down highway 2 and cost one Baht; about 12 cents, no matter how far you went) and headed to town. In Udorn (which is what base personnel called the town) there were perhaps two hundred bars and nightclubs. They ranged from three-stoolers to huge clubs with fifty or sixty tables. Every one of them had a proportional amount of girls on standby. They all wore numbered tags on their clothing. If you liked one, you told a passing waiter (they were always males) you wanted to talk to number ‘whatever’. They would send the girl over. Even within the numbering system there was a hierarchy: two levels of girls. Ones who would sit with you, laugh at your jokes, and drink weak brown tea and one who would make it known the didn’t have a date for the night.
As in every country where American personnel were, arrangements for transportation of female companionship away from their place of business was made with the Mama-San on the way out. If you got downtown early, you had the pick of the crop but ran the risk of not making it into the night. Get there later, you still found nice girls. If you waited too long, there was always the Bay of Pigs.
This name was applied humorously to the wide veranda around the swimming pool at the Holiday Hotel downtown. Starting about eleven PM, girls who hadn’t yet been selected would arrive and begin circling the swimming pool. Guys who hadn’t made their selection yet would sit at tables and watch them pass. Hence: The Bay of Pigs.
In any bar or nightclub you basically bought set-ups. Coke and Pepsi were big, as well as lemon soda, for some reason. A glass with ice came with the soda. You added whatever amount of your booze you wanted to your drink and zipped the bottle back up. Frankly, I thought, and still think, that this is really the way to go. A lot of times I was accompanied by my housegirl. She would not touch any liquor at all, but was definitely into Coca-Cola. Where she put it I’ll never know, but she stuck by my side and was prepared to repel all boarders at the first hint of “I love you, buy me drink”.
She had a relative (Jimmi) that was the manager of one of the biggest nightclubs in town, the Junpen Club. This huge club had the very best in bands, the very best in floor shows, and the very best in ice cubes. Normally, you ran the risk of getting some tropical disease from bad ice, but they used frozen bottled water for their clientele. They were always having various contests and one evening I was roped into being a judge for a beauty contest.
The girls were extraordinarily beautiful as only a Thai girl can be. I was hard pressed to pick one, but I finally did. It turned out that all seven of us judges voted for the same girl. The house was packed with loads of Americans. When the contest was over, many started drifting out and heading to other clubs. Suddenly, there was a huge BOOM and the smell of cordite drifted into the building. Someone had detonated some sort of explosive device right in front of the club. Nobody got hurt – unbelievably – but a hole two feet deep and six feet across was put in the concrete road and a Samlar (covered, three-wheeled pedicab) was destroyed. A stark reminder that I was still in what was considered a combat zone.
Speaking of combat zones. I was sitting in my living room one evening watching television and there was a loud crack from our fiberglass ceiling near the bathroom. It was followed by a long drawn-out rattle. I jumped up, closely followed by my housegirl, and we found a spent .45 slug spinning on the floor. We had no idea where it had come from but probably someone had fired his handgun into the air.