A Look at Golf in the Far East – Part 3

By: Rick Corcoran

Part 3. Bang-Bang, Knock-Knock

Editor’s Note: In this three-part travelogue, Cybergolf’s Rick Corcoran writes about his experiences of a September 2004 golf trip to Thailand. Rick discusses his experiences on and off several golf courses, and lends his personal observations of an exotic country in the Far East. Based on what he chronicles in this Thai adventure, we don’t believe Rick will ever be the same.

One of the many pleasurable experiences in Pattaya Beach, or just about anywhere in Thailand, is getting a massage. You can’t throw a dead cat without hitting a massage parlor. They are about as prevalent as coffee shops in Seattle. By the way, java junkies can relax – Starbucks is in Thailand.

As with most other things Thai, massage sessions are very cheap. For the price of a lunch, you can get a one- or two-hour oil or a Thai massage. The cost of a non-resort massage is only $8 for an hour, and a princely $12 for two hours. It’s an outrage how they gouge you here!

What they don’t take in cash, they will take out of your flesh and blood. While a regular oil massage is similar to what you’d expect in the States, a Thai massage is something entirely different. Imagine, if you will, traveling in a car on the freeway and getting into a rollover accident at 60 miles-per-hour where you’re tossed and turned, thrown back and forth for two hours and then, when you come to a rest, having an elephant use you for a Stair Master. Get the picture?

A couple of times following a round of golf, we went to what was essentially a massage warehouse with a bazillion rooms. The rooms had as few as two beds, while others held 40 beds or more. My nine fellow travelers and I would end up in the same room on mattresses laid out side by side in a darkly lit room. Not my idea of a relaxing massage experience but, what the hell, can’t beat the price. Once you get into your massage pajamas, which come in two sizes, Pee-Wee Herman or Offensive Tackle for the Seattle Seahawks, you’re ready for the fun to begin.

“Bow-bow” means softer, and “knock-knock” means harder. “Knock-knock” was never uttered by anyone in the room. At one point, a sensitive spot was either touched by the massage girl or she hit bone marrow. The unfortunate recipient, Joey, let out a “BOW-WOW-YOW-NOW-OWEEEE” that raised the dead. The whole experience is like going to a horror film where, when the action slows, you know something that’ll make your eyes pop out is going to happen. The thrill is that you just don’t know when.

Please don’t think I’m trying to scare you away from Thai massages. Having someone drive their knuckles, elbows and knees into spots that haven’t been pushed so hard since high school football practice has its bright spots. One is that you’ve lived through it. What is lost in years off of your life during the massage is regained in the euphoric state after it’s all done – and, of course, realizing that none of your bones are broken.

Bang-Bang, Lift Off

After a great time in Pattaya Beach, we headed to Bangkok. On the way you get a chance to enjoy the scenery and wonder what our poor GIs in Vietnam must have gone through. In these mountains, so lush and thick with trees, could be hidden the New Orleans Superdome.

One mid-way stop was an elephant ride and shooting range. Nice combo. No, they don’t shoot elephants here. But for one crisp U.S. dollar you can get lifted off the ground by a four-legged Winnebago with crossed tusks that provide a nice seat for a ride into the air. The activity certainly wasn’t hurting the elephant; this guy was strong enough to flip our bus if he so desired.

If getting bounced by a wooly mammoth wasn’t enough fun, then make your way to the shooting range, where for a few bucks you can fire an AK-47, Magnum-45 or just about any firearm in the movie “Scarface.” I aimed at little milk bottle-sized targets, and the only thing I managed to hit was air. Did I mention I had a few beers on the bus? The NRA would be proud.

Next Stop: Bangkok

Bangkok is a city of over 7 million in a country with a population of 65 million. Cruising into Bangkok, poverty is prominently displayed. At the other end of the tax scale are people living in apartments and high rises that are packed together like . . . I was going to say sardines, but I think those salty fish have more room to move in their resting place. On the city streets en route the hotel is what looks like the biggest swap meet this side of Alpha Centauri. Every sidewalk teems with racks of clothes, tables of goods, and grills making all manner of breakfasts, lunches and dinners for passersby.

Traffic in Bangkok is best described as the Daytona 500 with a mix of tourist buses, trucks, cars and scooters – which buzz in and out of lanes like mosquitoes trying to avoid a can of Raid. Not to worry though, our driver negotiated the highways and byways with the skill of Magellan circumnavigating the globe.

We enjoyed really nice digs on the tour, including the Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa. The five-star resort sits alongside the Chao Phraya, the "River of Kings." You won’t go lacking at this stylish palace. Everything you need is at the 10-acre resort. With only 11 restaurants though, you might go hungry. I didn’t see a stingray on any menus, but we were treated to more great buffets. And the staff was more helpful than a bunch of construction workers trying to help a supermodel carry her groceries.

While in Bangkok you’ll go to what is known as “The Grand Palace.” Established in 1782, the facility houses the royal residence as well as some government offices. The grounds of The Grand Palace provide a wonderful glimpse of Thailand’s architecture and history. If forced to paint the intricate tiles that adorn the multi-spired temples here, you’d probably make like a King and go jump in your river.

After the temple tour, you take a ride in a long, knifelike boat with an exposed engine and a propeller shaft that seems about 50 yards long. Once on the river, which can be seen through about as easily as a brick, you glide past The Grand Palace while trying to avoid other boats driven so badly their pilots couldn’t get a car license.

After navigating the main part of the river, you detour through some canals past property that looks like it’s going to fall into the river very soon. We stopped the boat to buy some bread from a mobile, aquatic mini-mart, for reasons unknown to me at the time. Once we cruised a little farther, though, we stopped and some of our crew started throwing the bread in the water. All of a sudden, a thousand fins came to the surface with 2- to 3-foot catfish attached to them. The scene was like 6 a.m. at Nordstrom the morning after Thanksgiving! These catfish act like they hadn’t eaten since the Grand Temple was built. I thought about dipping my hand in the water to touch them, but decided my fingers would be better used for another round of golf.

Is the Prime Minister In?

The last golf course on the tour is Alpine Golf & Sports Club, located about an hour outside of Bangkok. The private course is owned by the Prime Minister of Thailand and is very exclusive. It’s almost as tough getting on as Bandon Dunes in mid-July. You have to know a member or be in a tour group to tee it up here, and Golfing Asia has the right connections. The one time of year you won’t get on Alpine is when they’re preparing for the Johnny Walker Classic at the end of January and early February. At that time, the “big boys” – Els, Garcia, Jimenez, Goosen and the like – take over the pristine layout in search of victory, or least a scorpion sandwich.

Alpine G&SC is one of the best-manicured courses you’ll ever see. As a matter of fact, I might ask the superintendent to cut my hair since his course is in such great shape. The 7,100-yard layout was built on a flat piece of ground. But enough dirt was moved during construction to create rolling hills that will block your views of other holes as well as wayward tee shots. Water and trees dot most of the holes, and the greens are probably the slickest in Thailand. The folks at Augusta National had better stay on their toes to stay ahead of this track as far as maintenance is concerned. It was so nice you almost didn’t want to take a divot.

But if you do take a divot or two, no worries – your caddie will fill it in for you. The caddie (only one this time) I had at Alpine was the best of the whole trip. As a group, they are trained as well as caddies on the PGA Tour. Dressed in full jacket and pants, wearing a visor so big it could provide enough lift to get a 747 off the ground, these women know their stuff. Expertly giving yardages and figuring out what club you should hit after only the second hole, they were experienced as well.

The course is easy to walk, and we did that as we teed off early in the morning when the temperature was reasonable. After walking a few holes though, you started to perspire. But never fear, the caddies all had fold-out fans for cooling as you waited for the next shot. Even better, during waits these angels of the links whipped out little camping chairs to sit on while you sipped a cool beverage.

It took hitting a crappy shot from time to time to make you realize you weren’t in golf heaven. But at this course and with its caddies, you could at least catch a glimpse of it. Further evidencing their attention to the smallest detail came when a brief rain shower fell during our back nine. Nonplussed, my goddess of the greens retrieved a rain cover out of thin air and covered my bag before the first drop of rain hit. When that happened, I seriously began harboring thoughts of moving to Thailand.

What seals the deal at Alpine and the other courses we played are the snack-shacks on about every fourth hole. These little eateries are stocked with just about anything you’d want to drink at prices found only at Costco’s super bulk-buyer bin. We bought the caddies drinks each time we passed one of the shacks. The cost of a few bottles of water, Gatorade and green-tea sodas added up to the price of a beer at the average municipal.

Paradise has been found. Its name is Alpine Golf & Sports Club.

Did Someone Say Massage?

The end of our trip was at hand and, before our last supper, we had a final chance for a massage. Gee, another massage. At his point in the trip I had become a Pavlov dog. Upon hearing the word “massage,” I started frothing at the mouth and diving on the cushions near me. Do I really want to get on the plane feeling like a bowl of chocolate pudding? Decisions, decisions. Oh why not. Good choice indeed.

Miss Chen is the main contact for Asia Golfing in Thailand, and she helps make everything smooth once you’re there. Miss Chen also happens to be one of the owners of the De La Mode Salon & Spa in the heart of Bangkok. This is the high-end kind of place I associate with people with money to burn and a lot of Bic lighters. The thing about this place is that it won’t suck up the last stash of Baht you had hidden to buy that special something-something before leaving the country.

We took full advantage of Package No. 1. It consisted of a half-hour body scrub, a 20-minute bubble bath (rubber ducky not included) and a 40-minute aromatherapy massage (like a 2 mile-an-hour bumper tap compared to a Thai massage) all in a dimly lit room with soothing music. It helped make all those double and triple bogeys (ok, and a quad) slip out of my mind and into oblivion. In the States I’m told this same treatment would run $150 or more. But in the land of dollar-go-far, it was only $65! Wow, what a country!

I had enough Bahts left over to buy a few Singah beers at the airport to prepare me for the trip back to reality, which part of me wished didn’t have to come. I highly recommend all golfers should take a trip to the far side of the Pacific and enjoy a fun golf adventure they didn’t think possible. But when you get back home, remember not to declare to customs the caddie you’ve stashed in your golf bag.

For more information about golf tours to Thailand, visit www.asiagolfing.com or call 425/644-0566.

For more information about the other services and places in this article, please visit:

The Bangkok Marriott Resort & Spa: http://marriott.com/property/propertyPage/BKKTH
The Grand Palace: www.palaces.thai.net
Alpine Golf & Sports Club: www.alpinegolfclub.com
De La Mode Salon & Spa: www.delamodespa.com