Saturday February 19, 2011
Go, Golok, go
By KEE HUA CHEE
The larger-than-life town of Golok across the Kelantan-Thailand border is famous for just two things . . . shopping and nightlife.
SUNGAI Golok — or Sungai Kolok or simply Golok — seems nondescript, even banal, at first sight. This small town of 40,000 in Thailand, just across the border from Kelantan, has no shopping mall ala Sungai Wang to speak of, so for your shopping fix, you’d have to trawl the streets and browse the ubiquitous rundown shops.
The motto of these shops seems to be, “Pile ’em high, sell ’em cheap.” Prices are very tempting, and one can always do with a new sarung, towel, pillow case or bed sheet.
Remarkably, the mass-produced garments are up-to-the-minute and cheaper than in Bangkok. Bargaining is the norm, but since prices are already very reasonable to begin with, trying to slash 50% off seems like a crime.
Some shops flaunt such scandalously skimpy dresses that you wonder who in their right mind would buy them. However, chances are, you will spot the buyers when night falls...
A great convenience here is that our Malaysian ringgit is accepted everywhere, from bars and hawker stalls to hotels and restaurants. However, lest you think you can save on exchange rates, do note that the wily Thais charge an extra 10% if you use the ringgit. If it is 800 baht, then you pay RM88 instead RM80, and then they tend to round it up to RM90!
Preserved food, fruits and nuts are very popular, as are basic items like shoes, sneakers medicinal herbs and household items.
Golok has no grand temples, historic buildings, spectacular landscapes or manmade attractions like statues, botanical gardens or amusement parks, and yet it remains a top draw among Malaysians simply because it is 40 minutes’ drive from Kota Baru. Malaysians are mainly drawn here by the shopping and nightlife.
Having grown up in Kota Baru, I recall Golok as a place where teenagers attained their manhood or at least learned about it. Parents forbade us from ever stepping foot in this nefarious town known for defiling innocent young men, though it must be pointed out that, in fact, most of the clubbers tend to be married middle-aged men!
It is when the sun sets that the town really comes alive. Then Golok brightens up with garish neon lights, most of which happen to be red or pink. Shuttered shops suddenly spring open and lifeless streets stir and bustle as tables and chairs are placed al fresco. As daytime shops close, and cafes, bars and clubs begin operations, Golok changes dramatically.
One street with a sign reading “Makan Murah” (Cheap Meals) becomes a pedestrian mall as hawkers cater to hungry diners. After dinner, the best bet is to visit Sawasdee, a purpose-built cul-de-sac filled with identical bars with the usual suggestive names like Go-Go Bar, Sexy Joint and Play With Me.
Here, you will witness purchasers of the aforementioned barely-there dresses waving to tourists and trying to entice them to step inside. If you’re biting, then choose the set of ladies who appeals to you and enter their parlour. Each is about the size of a large living room with four or five tables. A large bottle of beer costs only RM3 and service is delightful, which explains why so many come to be pampered.
The four of us (including guide James Ng, who claims to be “Golok King” because he has visited the place at least 60 times in the last six months) sat at a table below an altar filled with Buddhist statues adorned with twinkling lights. Without prompting, three ladies produced two bottles and seven small cups.
Yup, the sweet young things assumed we would be enjoying our drinks in their charming company! And why not, as we did not have to pay extra since their companionship is inclusive of the beer price?
Of course, they helped us to finish the drinks quickly, and we could hardly deprive them of refreshments even though they seemed to be putting theirs away with astonishing speed.
All speak basic English, and many can converse in Mandarin and Bahasa Malaysia. Like GROs everywhere, their mission in life is to please, titillate and amuse their 99% male customers. In this, they do pretty well as they lift the customers’ spirits and the bottles accumulate.
Surprisingly, many are from elsewhere in Thailand.
Giggled one named Noi (they have names like Yummy, Yum, Cake, Nik Noi and Meow; our Golok King claimed he had met at least five Meows), “I am from Bangkok. Most of my friends are from central Thailand, Chiangmai or Isan in the northeast. Competition is tough in Bangkok, too many girls like us. So we come to border towns like Golok where tourists are more generous.”
When we ribbed about getting rejects from Bangkok, she shrugged nonchalantly, “You don’t like my service? I no good for you? All bar girls same same. We talk to you, we make you happy. You not happy now?”
Of course, we were. So that was that.
When it was 10pm, we extricated ourselves. The bill for the four large bottles which we could barely finish? Just 520 baht.
Then it was off to Genting Hotel’s Superdisco, the biggest (it can accommodate up to 350) and best in Golok. Despite its name, Genting Golok has absolutely nothing to do with Genting Berhad. Entry is free, though I had to leave my backpack with security.
There is no dress code here. We chose a table near the stage, and as soon as we were seated, two winsome damsels appeared out of nowhere like jinnies, clad in near bikinis. As beer is the most popular beverage and Golok King was a familiar face here, two jugs (180 baht each) appeared with the women.
There were four of us but for some unfathomable reason, only three girls condescended to flirt with us, and that left me out in the cold. In fact, one of them even complained to Golok King that I looked sour, serious and unfriendly towards women! Fancy that.
Unlike the girls at Sawasdee’s bars, the Genting girls come with a small price. You have to buy them tequilas for the pleasure of their company. At 200 baht each, these drinks will not burn a hole in your pocket. Since the music is always very loud, a code is usually used in communicating. If you see a girl doing the “Peace” sign with two fingers forming a V, she is not placating her client after a quarrel. The dear creature is simply asking if she can order a tequila as each order consists of two small glasses!
She will sit on your lap, lean on your shoulders and even kiss you if she is overwhelmed by your generosity. Impressed by the commodious quantity of tequilas they consumed, I took a sip and discovered the drink was so diluted these girls could have downed a litre without feeling anything! Of course, they get a cut from each order. The most popular of the Tequila Girls can earn anywhere from RM1,500 to RM4,000 a month.
However, not all will accept what is euphemistically called “bookings” but will summon those who do for you to choose from. According to Golok King, “Each booking is for one night and costs RM150 to RM300 depending on how handsome and attractive you are! It costs more if you are fat, ugly and short!”