Private Dancer by Stephen Leather

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It’s a damn good read.

I read this book about 3 months ago.  It’s a fascinating read.  At the time I read it, though, I thought it to be all fiction.  Recently, I found out that it’s based on real events and real people.  Even if loosely based, it’s still amazing to me that anyone could be as foolish and idiotic as Pete.  It’s mindboggling that anyone could do anything remotely resembling his acts of stupidity and treachery.

I have, in my travels, been witness to similar events.  Bar girls using their wiles to goad foolish, naive men into handing over large sums of money.  Men using women for sex while telling them that they love them and are going to marry them and take them home.  Relationships began on completely false pretext.  Everything.  I’ve seen it somewhere.

But this book takes the cake.  It was a fast and easy read.  Stephen Leather gives a glimpse into the seedier side of Bangkok life.  When you read it, realize that this is only a part of that life.  It’s a small part as well.  I’ve met hundreds of regular women and men in Thailand who aren’t constantly working a scam on some dumb farang.  I’ve met people who straddle the line as well as the voyeurs who interact and watch but never participate.  Life is fascinating in Bangkok.  It can really twist up a weak soul.  Wrap you around the wings of the dark angels and drag you down.  DEEP into murky waters.  It can also be a pleasant experience and uplifting.  Depends on what and where you are seeking your experience.

Just be careful.  It’s all about situational awareness as we say in Afghanistan.  Keep your eyes open.  Don’t be a fool.

Peace.

‘I don’t know if it was love at first sight, but it was pretty close. She had the longest hair I’d ever seen, jet black and almost down to her waist. She had soft brown eyes that made my heart melt, long legs that just wouldn’t quit and a figure to die for. She was naked except for a pair of black leather ankle boots with small chrome chains on the side. I think it was the boots that did it for me.’

Thailand 1996. The Year Of The Rat. Pete, a young travel writer, wanders into a Bangkok go-go bar and meets the love of his life. Joy is the girl of his dreams: young, stunningly pretty, and one of the Zombie Bar’s top-earning pole dancers. What follows is a roller-coaster ride of sex, drugs and deception, as Pete discovers that his very own private dancer is not all that she claims to be. And that far from being the girl of his dreams, Joy is his own personal nightmare.

For many years Private Dancer was only available as a free download through my website. It became something of a cult classic and over the last five years was downloaded sixty thousand times from more than forty countries. I gleaned much of the information for the book sitting in a bar called Jool’s in Sukhumvit Soi 4, just down the road from Bangkok’s infamous Nana Plaza red light area. The owner, Big Dave, knows pretty much everything there is to know about Thailand, and he’s the basis for the Big Ron character in the book.

Hodder and Stoughton didn’t want to publish Private Dancer as it is so different from my regular thrillers, so I decided to publish the book myself in Thailand, through my own publishing company, Three Elephants. (Three Elephants is an anagram of Stephen Leather!)

The striking cover photograph, of a naked girl holding a cut-throat razor behind her back, was taken in Anglewitch Bar in Nana Plaza and features one of the bar’s top showgirls. It took us ages to find the right girl. When I originally wrote the book, the fashion was for the girls to grow their hair long. But these days they trend to cut it short, make it curly, or dye it red or blonde. I sat with my friend Andrew Yates for hours outside Nana Plaza in search of the right girl, but it seemed as if the only ones with long straight hair were the ladyboys! My pal Paul Owen took the photograph. I borrowed the cut-throat razor from my barber and it took us almost an hour to get the shot right. I’m really pleased with the result – think it’s one of my best covers.

The book got great reviews from Bernard Trink at the Bangkok Post and the Pattaya Mail, both taking the view that Private Dancer should be required reading for all visitors to the Land of Smiles. Forewarned is forearmed! I think it works so well because it gives the story from so many viewpoints, including several Thai characters. Most books about the Thai bar scene only give the Westerners point of view.

Private Dancer is available at all good book shops throughout Thailand, especially Bookazine and Asia Books outlets, and is also on sale at the airport. There is still a free download available of an early version of Private Dancer. CLICK HERE FOR THE FREE DOWNLOAD. The book has more detail on what happened to the characters so if you enjoy the download you’ll want to buy the book eventually!

In 2005, Phil Tatham, who runs Monsoon Books in Singapore, wanted to add the book to his growing stable of publications, and I agreed to let him have publication rights for Singapore and Malaysia. You can also buy it on line through his website, www.monsoonbooks.com.sg.

Suvarnabhumi Airport Opening Video (2005)

My gateway to Southeast Asia.

It’s the nicest, most organized Airport that I’ve experienced.  Easy in and easy out.

I don’t feel like I’m entering or leaving a Nazi concentration camp as when entering or exiting America.  There is organization and a flow to this airport that does not exist in any of the Muslim countries of the Middle East and Central Asia.  And unlike entering and exiting the Middle East there aren’t thousands with their hands out for tips and bribes.  It’s much less hectic than the European airports through which I’ve flown.

As soon as I touch down at Suvarnabhumi, a smile creeps onto my face and a lightness enters my step.  I’m happy.  I’m home.  I feel more at home in Bangkok than almost anywhere on this planet.

I am entering the land of smiles.  And the land of smiles is the gateway to the East.  The true east.  Not the dirty and violent Islamic Middle East.  This is the enchanted land of myth, silk, smiles and exotic Asian mysteries.  Angkor, Luang Prabang, Sukhothai, Saigon, Phnom Penh, Xi’an, the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Mekong, Lhasa and Katmandu, the Taj Mahal and the Ganges.  Ancient histories.  A region shrouded in myst and legend.  The home of the the great conqueror Genghis Khan and the religion and philosophical enlightenment of the Buddha.

It’s also home to the most beautiful beaches and women in the world.

Every time I land at Suvarnabhumi International, these thoughts run through my head.  My next adventure awaits me.  I’ll swim the Mekong and climb the Great Wall.  Explore ancient temples or dance all night at RCA.

I love this place.  Thailand uber alles.

A view of Bangkok

Over the past few years, I’ve had several conversations with folks back in the States about Thailand. I’ve found that there is a common misconception that Thailand is a backward Third World country. People seem to have this idea in their head that Thailand and it’s capital city, Bangkok, is nothing more than a small backwater with a few hundred prostitutes, a couple of Buddhist Temples and not much more. I get this glazed look from folks when I tell them that Bangkok is a modern city that is larger than most US cities.

Reality. Thailand is a modern country. Bangkok is an ultra-modern city.

Bangkok or Krung Thep as it is called in Thai is the 22nd largest city on the planet. It is home to an estimated 15 to 20 Million Thais and foreign guests. It’s historical and cultural attractions make it one of the most popular destinations in all of Asia. It is the major Asian Business, travel and tourism hub.

That’s just the beginning. A trip to Bangkok is a visit to one of the most visually stimulating cities on the planet. It’s BTS Sky Train system makes the city easily accessible. The Chao Phraya river adds to both the beauty and accessibility of the city. One can travel the Chao Phraya river and see some of the most incredible and beautiful sites in all of Asia. Wat Arun, the Canals, the early morning floating marke, The Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew as well as numerous other Wats (Temples), Cathedrals, Mosques. Magnificent Statues. Crocodile and Monkey farms. Most of the major hotel chains of the World find their home right along the Chao Phraya. The Hilton. The Sheraton. The Shangri La. Sofitel. In addition, there are innumerable wonderful B&Bs, Guesthouses and Boutique Hotels all along the river and throughout the city from Silom to Sukhumwit to Sathon and Petchaburi.

The city has a magnficent night life with numerous restarurants, bars, discotheques. There is something for every taste in Bangkok. Shopping at Siam, Silom, Pratunam. There are numerous cinemas which play both Thai and Hollywood films. There is a huge Chinatown. Little Arabia is along Thanon Sukhumwit at Soi 3.

Of course, there are Patpong, Nana and Soi Cowboy and the infamous sex districts. Patpong was a bit of a surprise for me. I ventured into the place without knowing where I was. Of course, I had heard of Patpong. I expected something completely different. I was with a Thai friend shopping along Silom Road. We walked along the road and through a maze of street vendors selling everything from beer and t-shirts to Thai Silk and tailored suits. We turned down into a larger maze of stalls and shops and, though I didn’t know it, we entered Patpong. We’re walking through the stalls and there are little blonde haired Aussie and British and Swedish children all about. I’m looking at a stall with t-shirts when I hear techno music. I turn towards the music and not more than 8 feet behind me is an open door through which one can plainly see half naked girls shaking her little Thai booties to the music. Surrounding the whole Nightmarket are Go Go Bars and all manner of Red Light shows. It was quite surreal to see all of these little Western Children and their Mothers shopping in the midst of what amounts to a sexual Disney land. I started laughing and my Thai friend looks at me and asks what it is that I find so funny. I just point to a huge Go Go sign and then to a blonde lady carrying her baby. She shrugs her shoulders as if to say; “And?” It was quite the contrast. And no one seemed to mind or pay it any attention.

Thailand is a land of contrast. None more striking than Bangkok. Pornography and prostitution is illegal in Thailand. Drugs are illegal in Thailand. Even so, there is a thriving sex industry in Bangkok that centers on these three areas–Na Na, Soi Cowboy and Patpong. You see old pot bellied men walking around these districts with sexy, slinky little Thai girls who are a 3rd their age. It’s quite a site.

Sex is not the only attraction to Bangkok.

For those who are more culturally minded, there are numerous cultural sites. Beautiful Temples and Palaces. Wat Arun, Wat Pho, Wat Phra Kaew also known as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha and the Grand Palace being the most famous. The famous backpacker district known as Khaosan Road. Full of global travelers. You will meet folks from every corner of the world. Folks of all ages. I’ve met women in the 60s amongst the Khaosarn trekkers. Africans, Israelis, Euros, Arabs, Brazilians, Argentinians, Aussies and Americans. Singles, friends in twos, threes and larger groups, couples, families. Any combination imaginable. If you find yourself at Khaosarn someday, make sure to stop by Gullivers. You can’t miss it. Over the entrance hangs a Tuk Tuk.

Tuk Tuks are the three wheeled open air taxis that are ubiquitous in Bangkok. Be careful to arrange your price before getting into one of these for a ride you won’t soon forget. It’s a must have experience when visiting Bangkok.

Bangkok is a phenomenal experience. If you aren’t careful, you’ll find yourself enchanted or even addicted to the city. I know I fell for it’s charms. I love Bangkok. Might even make it my home someday.

The pictures below are the view from my hotel room in the Landmark Hotel. Landmark Hotel is downtown on Thanon Sukhumwit. It’s a great hotel. Not too pricey. Central to Bangkok. Easy access to the BTS. Close to numerous popular clubs and bars.

The official name of Bangkok:

Krung Thep Mahanakhon Amon Rattanakosin Mahinthara Yuthaya Mahadilok Phop Noppharat Ratchathani Burirom Udomratchaniwet Mahasathan Amon Piman Awatan Sathit Sakkathattiya Witsanukam Prasit

It’s listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest city name in the world. The short name is Krung Thep which translates to “City of Angels.”