Ban Samae San is the southern terminus of the Friendship Highway. This road was built by the US Corps of Engineers in the 1960s to supply the US Air Force's northern airbase to bomb Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The 10,000 Day War has no meaning to the residents of Ban Samae San now. Colorful fishing boats crewed by low-paid Cambodians ply the waters of the off-limit navy islands and the catch is sun-dried to sell to Thai tourists to the defunct fishing ports of Ban Saray and Ban Amphur.
The town is very picturesque despite the horrendous smell and I’ve always enjoyed swimming off the navy pier. The water is a million times cleaner than Pattaya and the languid atmosphere reminded me a Maine sea ports lost in time. plus the only swimming was off the Navy pier and for the longest time I had the place to myself.
All that changed in 2007, when the Thai navy has opened up a sea museum on the hill. Tourist buses navigate the narrow streets and sailors guarding the gate demand 100 for Thais and 200 for foreigners, but not me, because back in 2003 I was diving off the pier. The Thai Navy Seal team was watching me from an old boat. My style was strictly backyard swimming pool, yet none of them could duplicate my headfirst plunge.
One muttered, “Farang bah.”
“Mai bah. Pom bin Kon talay.” I told them I wasn’t crazy and my family came from the sea.
50% of it was true.
As my French friend said about my ability to speak his native tongue, “You can not speak French, but you sound as if you can.”
The same goes for my Thai, so the navy divers picked the most believable half and I became friends with their CPO Robert.
He invited me to the museum opening and said, “Whenever I have something special I’ll invite you down for the day.”
Special meant a tour of the navy islands, on which no one, Thai or farang is allowed to step foot.
This week I got a phone call from Robert.
“Phueng-ni chaao. Phed mung.” His military cadence was easiest understood.
“Tomorrow morning. 8am.” I almost saluted the phone.
I woke with the dawn and packed my bag with snorkel, mask, fins, towel, suncream, book, water, fruit, knife, duct tape, change of clothes and a Thai-English dictionary. Within two minutes I was back asleep. I was no early riser. The maid knocked on the glass door.
It was 7:30.
Water in my face and a rocket ride on my motor scooter to Satthatip.
I arrived at the Samae San navy pier.
No Robert. No boat. A sailor wetsuit asked, “Khun James.”
“Chai, kap.” James is my nom du bar in Pattaya. It’s more memorable than my birth name and gives the Thais a chance to say, “Meuen James Bond.”
Just like 007.
"Ching ching." I might be American, but I will drink anything even a martini shaken and not stirred.
The guard guided me to a hall. All the Seals were celebrating Navy Day. Robert had me sit with the officers. He explained that I was a champion diver. The guard guided me to a hall. All the Seals were celebrating Navy Day. Robert had me sit with the officers. He explained that I was a champion diver. I smiled and nodded my head. I would show them my style later. But first it was time for beer, whiskey, and food. Ban Samae San. I smiled and nodded my head. Ban Samae San. It's a beautiful place to be.