Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In northern Thailand go go to the Wiang Haeng Cowboy Bar

As the marketing slogan goes, Amazing Thailand always amazes you. Well, I'm here to tell you folks about something truly surreal ...

Don't walk this line ...
Picture a scorching day in the mountains near the Thailand Burma border around Ban Chong, where the Wiang In temple has a rickety bamboo fence running between its two major Burmese-style structures. Half of it is in Thailand, the other Burma. The fence line is said to be mined and I'm prepared to accept that rumour without verifying it personally.

Skirmishes here as recently as 2002 pushed the Burmese back to the top of the hill, from where their border patrol now look down at us gawking at the temple complex and memorials to Shan state warriors in the area.
All of this puts you in a very exotic Oriental head space.

Then, 20 minutes down the road, through beautiful teak wood-lined roads, we arrive at the insignificant town of Wiang Haeng. A rice paddy here, a buffalo there, a temple on that side, and the Cowboy Bar.

A real cowboy town ...
What the ... ??? An imposing wood-plank structure with a pink sign on its roof reading, yes, that's right, Cowboy Bar, jing jing. East and West come smashing into each other in a spectacular and surreal cultural collision.

With a screech of brakes, I affect U-turn to check it out. Statues of cowboys adorn the veranda outside, with a set of real live swinging saloon doors leading inside.It's straight out of High Noon and I expect John Wayne to be propping up the bar inside.

Instead, I meet the grinning Mr Tan, who could pass for Charles Bronson after a few Leo beers. (Not that ever I've seen Charles Bronson drinking Leo mind you.)

Charles Bronson after 4 Leos
I buy Mr Tan (who pronounces his name to rhyme with 'fan' not 'fun' as most foreigners would) a beer and ask him some tough questions as I Walk the Line blares out from the elaborate KTV set-up on the stage behind. Yes, they play both kinds of music ...

So, how do you get a country and western saloon all the way out here? "This is a cowboy town," he says, "everybody work with cow and buffalo."

So, are you a big fan of country music, Mr Tan? "Yes."

So, Mr Tan, who are your favourite country music stars. Silence. Do you like Johnny Cash? Blank stare. Willie Nelson -- you've gotta love Willie Nelson right? Um, Hank Williams? After some considerable thought, a glimmer returns to his eyes, and the laconic Mr Tan delivers up his words of wisdom. "Lennon John."

He opened this place about 4 months ago now, and it seems to do a roaring trade at lunch, afternoon, and dinner. He's even got bungalows out the back across a big fish pond type thing. "You should stay." I will next time for sure now that I know the Cowboy bar is here. In fact, a posse of us are going to come back all dressed in black, with 10-gallon hats on, and make complete country bumpkins of ourselves.

As we enjoy the fading rays of evening sun, a few of the local cowgirls bring out some snacks. Nice and crispy french fries and, um, fried frog legs. Suddenly it's Le Coq d'Or or Le Cowboy Bar et Bistrot. We're a long way from France. In fact, we're even a long way from ANY damn place here. Especially Soi Cowboy.  Turns out the frogs are from the rice fields around; a local delicacy. I pass. One of our group, a Thai lass nicknamed Kob (frog) turns cannibal.

Charles Bronson MUCH later
In case you get the wrong idea about this place, it's not a Thailand Go Go bar. Simply a country-themed pub restaurant (and goodbye to those readers who were only interested in a story about a pub full of Thai girls) about 2.5 hours northwest of Chiang Mai. In fact Mr Tan has never heard of the notorious Soi Cowboy nor Patpong famous for their Bangkok nightlife. He's just an innocent country boy.

Yelps of "Yeehaaa!" echo across the valley as Johnny Cash's I Walk The Line comes on for a second time (maybe they only have CDs in their collection?).

So are we the first farangs to come here, I ask? "No, have a couple of Americans before." Gee, they must've been lost to find this place. Or Mormons on patrol.

With lots of back-slapping bonhomie, we promise Mr Tan we will be back. (I think he looked pleased!).

With that, we saddle up and ride off into the sunset out of Dodge ...

Go country at www.cowboywianghaeng.com

1 comment:

  1. Interesting. I might have a mosey on up there next time I'm up in the far North.


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