The larger than life town of Golok across the Kelantan/Thailand border is famous for shopping for just two things...clothes and women.
I am a born and bred pure Kelantanese so I know the perennial lure of Golok. But I am now based in Kuala Lumpur but by great good luck due to the intervention of Buddha, my dear friend from Tapah, Perak, James Ng is now working in Kota Baru and has self-proclaimed to be Golok King by virtue of the fact he once visited Golok 60 times in 6 months. So even I have to consult him about the latest hot spots in Golok though my recent visit was strictly platonic and pure.
James Ng aka Golok King is either thinking of Malaysia or calling Catwoman, the fabulous singer at Genting Superdisco.
With a population of around 40,000, Sungai Golok or Sungai Kolok or simply Golok as it is popularly known, seems nondescript and banal at first sight. It is not an upscale shopping mecca as the designer bags and t-shirts are fakes and not very good ones at that. To this day, there is no shopping mall ala Sungai Wang and one has to trawl the streets, wandering and checking out the often rundown shops lacking interesting architectural details. The shops (‘boutiques’ is pushing it) subscribe to the doctrine of ‘pile ‘em high, sell ‘em cheap’ and very effective too as every inch is utilised.
If the dresses, shirts, shorts and pants are not hanging and swaying in the breeze or from whirring fans, they are stacked almost to the ceiling. Prices are very tempting and one can always do with a new sarong, towel, pillow case or bed sheet. Remarkably, the mass produced garments are up to the minute and lower priced than in Bangkok. Bargaining is the norm though at such reasonable prices, you can abandon all hope of slashing 50% off. Only one shop as far as I know adhered to a near fixed price policy. The formidable dame gave me RM 1 discount and walked off when I asked for more.
Some shops flaunt such scandalously skimpy and impossible-to-wear-unless-you-are-18 dresses you wonder who would buy them. However you will discover the buyers when night falls...
Who buys and wears such skimpy clothes?
The hotpants is the size of my hankerchief..
The latest fashions from Golok.
These T-shirts are sooooo cute!
These are the buyers! Some work in the stores by day, pile on the make-up at night and continue working in bars.Below are the more thrilling parts of Golok, all glowing pink and red!
The below are taken at Sawasdee, a purpose built cul de sac filled with bars, cafes, restaurants and more bars tants wing into action and come to life only after 6pm.
Sawasdee entertainment lane is all but deserted in daytime but is a hive of activity at night!
If you prefer Malay dangdut, Golok has it too!
Only in Golok can you find Prada and Paul Smith hanging on rails on the pavement...
This is the wellknown and popular Genting Hotel, home of the best disco in Golok, Superdisco where our favourite singer Catwoman performs.
A great convenience; Malaysian ringgit is accepted everywhere! From hotels to restaurants, cafes, bars, clubs and hawker stalls. No need to search for money exchanges and come to think of it, I don't remember seeing any but the I wasn't looking for one in Golok. Alas, we don't come up tops.
If you think you save on exchange rates and moneychanger’s commission, the wily Thais charge an extra 10%! If it costs 800 baht, you do not pay RM 80 but RM 88 which they may even round up to RM 90! They return change in baht though you can request ringgit.
Everyone seems to buy cashew nuts. Years ago it was cans of lychee but they were heavy and miserable to carry but cashew buts were lightweight and non-breakable so I bought a half-kilo bag of cashew nuts (cheaper by RM 5 per kilo compared to Malaysian !) for 150 baht but was forced to pay RM 17 instead of RM 15 or RM 16.50 which should be the case! Preserved food, fruits and nuts are hugely popular buys. So are basic items like functional shoes, slippers and sneakers as well as medicinal herbs and household items.
There are no grand temples, historic buildings, spectacular natural landscapes and manmade attractions like statues, botanical gardens or amusement parks. Yet Golok remains a top draw among Kelantanese as it is only 40 minutes drive from Kota Baru. KB has loads of tourist attractions but a throbbing nightlife is not one of them so Kelantanese make their way to Golok for entertainment of the normal and naughty kind.
Growing up in Kota Baru, Golok was where teenagers attained manhood or at least learned about it. Parents forbade us to ever step foot in this nefarious town known for defiling innocent young men though it must be said most clubbers tend to be middle-aged, married men! I hardly saw any teenagers and those I met were with their mothers and aged aunts so we must assume the youngsters were no more than shopping bag carriers.
As the sun sets, a dramatic transformation happens, enough to make my eyes pop which James Ng can verify. As evening falls, Golok brightens up with garish neons, most of which happen to be red or pinkish. Shuttered shops suddenly spring open and lifeless streets jump into action as tables and chairs appear out of thin air on the pavements. As daytime shops close and cafes, bars and clubs begin to stir, Golok appears excitingly different.
One street with a sign reading ‘Makan Murah’ (Cheap Meals) become 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 names like Go-Go Bar, Sexy Joint and Play With Me which are probably owned by one boss or syndicate as little effort is made for individual touches.
The purchasers of the barely-there dresses wave to tourists and try entice them to step inside. Choose the ladies who appeal to you and enter her parlour. Each is about the size of a large livingroom with four or five tables. A large bottle of beer costs RM 13 only and service is deliciously delightful which explains why so many come to be pampered.
The four of us including our guide James Ng the Golok King sat at a table below an altar filled with Buddhist statues adorned with twinkling lights. Even dens of iniquity pay homage to the gods and why not? More reason to do so, I say!
Without asking, three ladies produced 2 bottles and 7 small cups. Yup, the sweet young things assumed we would enjoy 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 finish the drinks but we could hardly deprive them of liquid refreshments though they went through with astonishing speed and quickly produced another two bottles.
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 succeed exponentially as they lift the customers’ spirits as the bottles accumulate.
Surprisingly most are not locals. Giggled one named Noi (they have names like Yummy, Yum, Cake, Nik Noi and Meow with Golok King claiming the last was most popular as he knew at least 5 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 ribbed we were getting rejects since the best are in 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.
As it was 10pm, we extricated ourselves from the ladies who gave us a bill for 520 baht nett for 4 large bottles of beer we could barely finish.
Then it was off to Genting hotel’s Superdisco, the biggest and best in Golok that can accommodate up to 350. Despite the name, Genting Golok has nothing to do with our Genting Berhad. Entry is free though I had to leave my backpack with security with my precious cashew nuts and new outfits.
Dress code is non-existent and we chose a table near the stage. Like geniis, two winsome damsels appeared immediately, clad in near bikinis. As beer is most popular and Golok King was a familiar face, two jugs (180 baht each) also appeared. There were four of us but for some unfathomable reason, only three girls condescended to flirt with them, leaving me out in the cold. In fact, one of them complained to Golok King that I looked sour, serious and unfriendly towards women! Fancy that.
Unlike those at Sawasdee’s row of bars, the Genting girls come at a small price. You have to buy them tequila drinks for the pleasure of their company. At 200 baht you will not break the bank. Since the music was so loud, a code is used. If you see girls doing the ‘Peace’ sign with two fingers forming a ‘V’, it does not mean she is placating her client after a quarrel. The dear creature is simply asking if she can order 2 tequilas as each order consists of 2 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 consumed, I took a sip and discovered the drink was so diluted she could drink a litre without feeling anything! Of course she got a cut from each order. Most earn RM 1,500 to over RM 4,000 for the popular Tequila Girls.
However, not all accept what is euphemistically called ‘bookings’ but will summon those who do for you to choose. According to Golok King, “Each booking is for one night and costs RM 150 to RM 300 depending on how handsome and attractive you are! It costs more if you are fat, ugly and short!”
The Malaysian town of Rantau Panjang and Golok are practically twins separated by Golok river!
This must be the most porous border as locals from both sides of the river are so interconnected the two towns are almost identical. Most have relatives, friends and business associates from both sides of the river and getting to and fro is a daily affair for the locals. Some Thai Malays even studied in Rantau Panjang.
The Rantau Panjang Sungai Golok Bridge aka Harmony Bridge is the official link for tourists. This is the legal route but Golok is unique due to historical, family and geographical reasons.
Going by boat to Golok means you can come home at 3am as Malaysian Immigration closes at 10pm.
Golok river is so narrow one can presumably wade across but there are plenty of motorboats that ply the murky brown river 24/7. Some locals have their own sampans but going across takes all of 30 seconds and costs RM 1. There are at least half a dozen mini-jetties with names like Pengkalan Tok Awang or Pengkalan Tok Kassim on the Thai side.
Crossing the bridge using your passport is free but alas, Immigration closes at 10pm which is a problem if your disco also opens at 10pm and you plan to boogie till 3 am.
Most Kelantanese have no qualms about suggesting ‘ambil sampan’. Take any motorboat and get ferried across for RM 1. Then give your IC card or passport to the makeshift Thai immigration shack. Without a single word, one of two uniformed officers will shove an immigration form for you to fill. In lieu of a photo which would require extra effort and expense, your thumb print will do! This free, quasi-legal system has been in use for years although there is no reciprocal on the Malaysian side.
You are given the form which acts as receipt upon your return to retrieve your IC or passport. You can walk half a km to Golok town or pay RM 3 for a pillion motorbike ride. There is no crash helmet ruling so no fear of picking up head lice.
Rantau Panjang is 40 minutes drive from Kota Baru. The only minor irritant? Despite being a hop, skip and jump away, there is a 1 hour time difference with Thailand being 60 minutes behind!