Photo 1: From my hotel window watching the two trains meet on the BTS line. Times Square is on the left of the photo.
When I looked down from my hotel window at the two trains “passing each other” at the Asoke Station, it brought me back to the past. The school boy dream did indeed come true in August 1971. Twenty rugby players between ages 17 and 18, two male teachers from Raffles Institution made their way into Bangkok for this 12-day trip. The old boys association came up with S$5,000 to sponsor this trip. Each student took with him between S$50 and $150 of his parent’s money to spend.
We boarded the Malayan Railway morning train at Tanjung Pagar Station, arriving in the late afternoon in Kuala Lumpur with just enough time for the only proper bath (for the next 40 hours) before departing on the 9 pm train to Butterworth. Next morning at 10, we transferred to the State Railway of Thailand international train service to Bangkok. Initially the ride was pleasant with plenty of beautiful landscapes to see; e.g. rice fields, villages and mountains. This was also the Thai summer season for longans and rambutans. At each train stop, children with baskets on their heads sold Thai fried chicken and banana fritters. We were greedy or put it another way, there was absolutely nothing else to do besides pacing up and down the coaches, playing pranks, sleep and wake up, and singing “dirty songs”.
Photo 2: Left Photo; A Vajiravudh player holding the ball on his way to a touch down. No Raffles players in sight. Right Photo; I am the last man at the line out against Pre-Military Academy. Flat-top hairstyle had already become fashionable in Bangkok in the early 1970s.
Forty-eight hours later after we left Singapore, we entered the Bangkok area. We freshened-up and put on our school uniforms again with very little hygiene standard to show because we managed a face-wash, brushed our teeth, quick shave and “brylcream” the hair. How we wished we could shower but the train did not have shower facilities and water droplets came out of the faulty basin tap.
As the train pulled into the Hum Lampung Central Station on the dot at 8am, the Vajiravudh College welcome party was waiting and the brass band played our school anthem. There was the customary Thai greeting of clasped hands and “Sawadi Kap”. Before long we were packed into two bus coaches and escorted by out-riders from the Bangkok Metropolitan Police. During the bus ride, I noticed each of us was assigned a male student “GRO” and soon the conversation jokingly drifted to “How come got no girls in this school?”
As the triple-crown champions of Singapore for the Kiwi Cup, 15s and 7s, we took part in this inaugural game against Vajiravudh. It was hoped that this game could eventually develop into an annual series involving Raffles, Malaysia’s Malay College and Vajiravudh. Vajiravudh was considered the Eton of Thailand (
Photo 3: Left Photo; Raffles group photo session at Tanjung Pagar Station before boarding the morning train to Kuala Lumpur. Right Photo; The farewell function for Vajiravudh, King’s College, Thai Pre-Military Academy and Raffles players. Notice there are no girls in sight **gulp**
Unlike athletes today, we were not boarded in a special games village or in a hotel. We stayed at one of the residential colleges within Vajiravudh’ school compound. After many decades, I took the opportunity on one of my business trips into Bangkok to revisit Vajiravudh just to check out how much has changed. I was greeted by Major Apirat, the sports convener who showed me around the place. I told Major Apirat about the wonderful Thai hospitality where we were fed on daily basis for lunch - Thai pineapple rice with huge portions of Thai Chicken Gai Yang, Kaeng Keiw Warn curry, Kai-lan and Thai Otak.
Photo 4: Left Photo; Group photo session with Vajiravudh. Vajiravudh students wear the blue bermuda and white shirt school uniform. Right Photo; The same building where the group photo session took place. It is now the Vajiravudh Assembly Hall.
Our Thai host took us for sight-seeing of Bangkok. We visited the Grand Palace, the Benchama Temple, Bangkok Zoo (just across the school), river boat ride down the Chao Praya River, Crocodile Farm at Samut Prakan and Rose Garden. We went to a Thai Army-owned TV station to watch Thai Boxing and were interviewed over the sports channel – little did we realize that there was a confluence of military and private business interests in Thai society. At official dinners, we were entertained by Thailand’s top cultural troupes. I must add that all the places we went were strictly educational and cultural except probably for the only time when we were allowed to shop at Jim Thomson’s Silk Store. Fortunately or unfortunately, we didn’t get to see Bangkok’s pulsating night life; many thanks to Mr. Natahar Bava and Mr. Graham Pierce (teachers and guardians).
We missed pole dancing and cabaret shows although we did see from our coach the neon lights and attractions of the Soi Cowboys from Sukhumit Road and the ladyboys of Patpong. Even if we were allowed to go on our own in a “tuk tuk”, we had to have one of Vajiravudh College’s seniors; looking as if we could lose our direction in this city. We understood all 3 Thai schools were an all-boys school in every sense of the word - in and out of the school environment - but it was the Thai Pre-Military Academy boys who were more willing to educate us about “the other side of Bangkok”. Perhaps this might explain the difference between civil servants and the military in Thailand. Vajiravudh produced top men for the civil service and Thai Pre-Military Academy produced top generals for the “Brown Shirts” and “Green Shirts”.
Photo 5: Left Photo; The rugby field where we trained on alternate days when we didn’t have a game. Our training commenced at 4pm and ended at 6pm. Then it was time for dinner and curfew. Right Photo; The residential house was our home for the next 10 days. There is a road on the bottom left of the photo which leads to the back gate. This back gate was a “secret door” to leave the school for the bright lights of the city. I was told it is “still operational”.
Now back to 2007. This time I was able to meet an old friend Suchai from King’s College for a social drink. We chat of the good old days and talked “who is where”, each minute serenaded by a live all-girl Filipino band at the Westin Grande Sukhumvit Hotel and serviced from attentive high-slit dressed waitresses. Too bad for you, I don’t have any female companions in my photo album to show you because it was 1971.