The Gang Goes to Thailand: Learning the Thai Way (Part 3)
Alright, now that the lovey holiday’s over & I’m not ruining anyone’s relationship, let’s get into the weird. I’m treading lightly here, but this is the best shot I can take at explaining the vibrant subcultures of a foreign world while still respecting our domestic political-correctness. Please don’t cancel me.
I’ll admit up front, I don’t know if it’s Nana or the NaNa, but what I can tell you is this is basically Bangkok’s strip club strip mall, and it’s otherworldly. That’s not meant as praise. Going several stories up with dozens of small blacked-out storefronts facing you from the moment you walk in, when they say there’s something and someone in this world for everyone, this place really makes you believe it.
Being completely honest the first floor is a bit hard to hang out on, but dead center in the middle of all the clubs is this beer garden with a smoking section, and anything goes at Nana, so after trekking to three different clubs trying to get high, we beelined straight there and lit up.
Now, I am not trying to be a pig when I say that the ground-floor of this place is the bottom of the barrel of the universe, but I should probably take a step back and explain a bit more about Thai sex culture before I explain just how uncomfortable it can get.
The Local Sex Culture
You see, I mentioned in the last piece about some expats I’d seen over there, which I didn’t explain at the time but expat is short hand for expatriate, or foreigners who move from their home for a more… interesting life. Many of them go to become what’s affectionately known as ‘sex-pats’, or foreigners who came to Bangkok, and likely Thailand at large, to participate in the extremely in-your-face sex culture that exists there. You might have heard of the Ping Pong shows. We’ll get there, but this is big business. It’s sex tourism. They’re not unique to Thailand, but there are a lot here. Probably because Bangkok at least is like the red light district of Amsterdam, but everywhere.
You don’t need all the specifics, but for now you’ve got to know about Kathoey, historically known as Ladyboys. I get that that’s offensive domestically – I didn’t make it up. In America we’d consider these people Trans, but the big difference here is that these people mostly transition specifically for sex work. It’s a borderline career. They’re not shy about it, and it’s just part of life there. The adventurous go looking for them, but more often those not looking end up finding them, as they’ve all had tons of work done and are virtually indistinguishable. Except for downstairs. It’s a fetish. So, of course Nana caters to that fix, among all the others, and there are Kathoey bars intermixed with regular strip clubs, and they’re not clearly labeled.
Back To The Show
Now, the ground floor of Nana is where the people that you’d be surprised anyone was paying hang out. It’s where they keep the crew for the people that are too drunk to make it up the steps to a more premium show. They’ve got someone down there who will take literally however much you have, for whatever you want, and they’re extremely forward about it. This goes for the women as well as the Kathoey. It attracts not only certain talent, but a certain clientele. As you go higher into this towering strip mall the talent gets more and more high class, and the tabs get more and more expensive, as you’d expect. And they’ve got all the bases covered, from leather clubs to those that want to see strippers initially dressed as their favorite World Cup team.
But the smoking section is on the ground floor, and you really can’t consume fast enough to get away from the downstairs action. You don’t want to look at the people grabbing your private parts and offering you satisfaction. If someone were making a real TV show out of this, imagine American Ninja Warrior but with ‘girls’ instead of obstacles and instead of running the course you’re just trying to get somewhere to put some smoke in your lungs in peace. After running the gauntlet and housing a few blunts, the appeal of the venue had worn off, and somewhere around 2:00 AM we headed back home.
At this point I’ve completely lost track of time. It doesn’t feel like only the fourth day. This basically feels like home now. If we didn’t have plans now immediately following our return I would stay longer. I am already thinking about the next trip. I roll up, and head to meet the guys.
Downstairs we smoke in our usual spot at the hotel, which I’m not sure if I mentioned yet was inside their Zen Garden, next to the super bougie Omakase. It’s surrounded by glass and anyone passing can see us smoking gorilla fingers, and no one the entire trip asked us to stop smoking here. It was a great way to soak up the morning and start the day. After getting properly baked we headed next door to another giant mall, but this one was a Duty Free one, which as I’m sure you know from traveling internationally means ‘no taxes’. Turns out this spot was still too expensive for us, as every store in there was over the top fancy. That means Balenciaga and Louie in my world. Not for me. We quickly walked through, exchanged some money, and headed to our first scheduled stop of the day.
From Warehouses to Dispensaries
It tickles me that after walking around the luxury mall, our next meeting was basically in the Thai suburbs. The juxtaposition of this country is always funny to me. We go to the warehouse where Oliver runs his business to hear more about his operation and stock up on flower. Everything they had brought for us had been long smoked at this point, but Oliver took the warehouse term literally, so we were in good hands. To our surprise they had skateboards in there too, and Derek did some tricks in Birkenstocks, which makes it infinitely more impressive in my eyes – not that I can do any of them in any shoes. We got some coffee and some lunch and headed for our first dispensary of the day, Dr. Dope.
Dr. Dope’s shop is admittedly dope. It’s next to this underground music venue, which while having always had a bar, built this new addition on a technically separate footprint next door planning for future legislation. With a live keyboardist, who was possibly just there because we were visiting – all the guys were dressed what I imagine is far nicer than what they normally wear – and we had a mini party in their shop for the next two hours or so. I don’t know how else to describe it other than that, as as soon as we got there they started dolling out chronic, we started rolling up, and everyone was smoking and eating merrily. Up front they have a shop, but behind the curtain there’s a little bar area that they’re going to have to shut down for the time being because of the changing laws. This spot had the best weed we’d seen in the country so far, and as Jimi states in the documentary it really lifted the bar for what seemed possible for the country. Their keyboardist could hit a blunt without missing a beat, and their flower was actually Cop List worthy; it was excellent.
A Taste of Home Abroad
After a brief visit to the skatepark next door, we headed to our final stop for the night, Oliver’s shop, Phandee. Out of all the spots we visited I’m not being nepotistic when I say Oliver’s is my favorite. With this transparent film wrapping around the property, minorly obfuscating what’s happening behind the glass, Phandee is more of a destination than just a shop. You see, while they are a dispensary, they also have a bar, and a restaurant on the property. Each shop is surrounding a common area with a large projection screen on one side, with scattered tables and chairs available for anyone to hang and eat at. I imagine this is how more shops will eventually be set up – as a sort of adult community center where everyone can imbibe in their own way. I know people are building places like this in L.A., but it only took Oliver two weeks to build after the laws changed.
We got some pizza before heading back to the hotel from a spot called Soho pizza, and it was admittedly closer to a New York slice than expected. We got a second pie, housed it, then headed to bed.
It’s crazy to think that Erin didn’t get here until this point, but on the fifth day we woke up early to head to the airport to finally pick up the last of our crew. Oliver of course knew the security at the airport and they let us into the restricted area to wait for E to get through customs. We hadn’t really had breakfast, so when we pulled in we jumped inside to find some eats.
International airports are always interesting, but it’s not often that you’re there just hanging for a while waiting for your friend. At least it’s not for me. So while we waited Jimi tried to find a 7-11, and I went for the food court outside security. Or so I thought. I go one way down this escalator behind these gates, and they go another. After a loop around what turned out to be a food court filled with things I would never eat, I tried to buy a juice. Turns out I needed special tickets, so after waiting in that line I had to wait in another to buy those, to wait for my drink again. When I finally got it I was like ‘I gotta tell the guys how these people wouldn’t take money!’ – I don’t know why, I was high and amused.
“Where Are You?!”
I walk back up to where we were, right past the gates with no problem, and start looking for the gang. This airport didn’t seem big when we walked in, but it’s now feeling huge. It’s thin but tall, and I’d walked back and forth from where I thought they’d be. I call Derek and find out they’re somehow stuck on the wrong side of security, and they’re not letting them back across without their passports. We don’t even have them in the car. Fuck.
So as they’re brainstorming ways to get back across security, I’m looking for Oliver while on the phone with them like ‘just walk past the security people I just did it for my fruit punch’, but somehow it’s not working. They try three different gates to no avail. I’m debating just joining them in no-man’s-land since I’m by myself over here, but someone’s gotta wait for Erin. We eventually meet near where we think he’s going to exit on opposite sides of the security barrier. I wish I understood how we got here.
Anyway, eventually they got back over after Oliver called his security friend to come help us, and maybe this isn’t as funny to everyone else as it is to me, but I’m still scratching my head over this one. Erin made it through customs and finally, we were all together, on the other side of the world.
To give him the full experience we pulled out a blunt I believe Josh had rolled and smoked it in the airport’s smoking section.
The Gang’s All Here
To keep the true spirit of the Thailand experience going even further, we went right on with our day and didn’t let Erin drop his bags at the hotel until after the day’s activities. While there wasn’t another MJ Biz style convention to treat him to, our next stop for the day was probably as close to a corporate pop-in we made this trip, over to Speedy Access.
Now, I don’t mean to call them corporate as if it’s a dig, because it’s not. These guys are just the most set-up looking establishment we saw from a business perspective – we saw their whole factory, not just their consumer facing business. And Speedy’s team has been growing for years. Originally growing strawberries hydroponically, which it turns out are quite the delicacy out there (with boxes of 8-12 going for 50 Euro or more), since legalization kicked in they’re moving a lot of their canopy into cannabis production. That’s not to say that strawberries haven’t been good business for them. It was, and effective. So effective in fact that they managed to shrink the grow-cycle of a typical strawberry in half, producing delicious fruits in only two months. They aim to do the same with cannabis due to the high costs of energy out there, and of course the ability to squeeze more harvests into a year. But with the insane heat and humidity in Thailand, an expedited cycle would also minimize a lot of the potential dangers of growing in this climate as well. We’ll see if they’re able to pull it off, but based on the technology and understanding we saw from Speedy’s team I look forward to seeing the fruits of their labor.
Our next stop was another highlight of our journey, Tropicanna. This was an on-camera interview that I handled for a change (Jimi was there, but for the most part I’d let him run these so far, so I figured it was my turn to pick up the slack) and honestly it turned out to be a great conversation. You can see clips from it in High Rise’s documentary, but what made it special was that it became more of a cultural conversation, as opposed to just a legal one. You see, Tropicanna was founded by a half-Thai, half-Italian couple that understand not only the culture they’re operating in, but the aspirational one they’d like to inspire with. On top of having an excellent selection of chronic, they had a cool lounge that they use as a co-working space until they can get a license to make it a consumption lounge. This is where we had our chat, and although we couldn’t actually smoke inside, the vibes are already built in there.
More Familiar Flavors
Now, we were hungry before we arrived, so after the interview we were all starting to border into hangry territory. Just as we were about to head out, our friends at Tropicanna let us know they prepared lunch for us. As I’m not a super adventurous eater I’m always a bit nervous when people tell me they’ve chosen my meal for me, so imagine my surprise when they pull out several incredibly delicious-looking-and-smelling lasagnas. The best part? They tasted even better. They also had rice and curry and some local delicacies for us to enjoy, but I honestly can’t put into words just how much I enjoyed this lasagna. I ate close to an entire tray by myself, so let that be a testament to the quality there. I know I was hungry, but I wasn’t expecting to be fully satisfied like that.
I also have to mention that they had First Smoke of the Day playing on their TVs when we got there. It was very unexpected and particularly exciting, as it was the week before my episode dropped and here we are on the other side of the world and they’re watching my homies… it seemed kismet.
*With that, another 2,500 words are locked in the book, so I’ll wrap up Part 3. Our grand finale is just around the corner, and details not only my recollections of the scene out there, but our wildest nights on the trip. See you next time!*