Maugham, Miss Pretty Girl, Cabbages & Condoms


Somerset Maugham travelled overland via Burma to reach Thailand in 1923. A calling card he received said “Oh, gentleman, sir, Miss Pretty Girl welcome you Sultan Turkish Bath, gentle polite massage, put  you in dreamland with perfume soap.  Latest gramaphone music. Oh, such service.  You come now!  Miss Pretty Girl want you, massage you from tippy-toe to head-top, nice, clean, to enter Gates of Heaven.”

Maugham, a doctor and a British agent in two world wars , before he became a novelist, apparently declined.  A pity in a way, because we don’t have an account of that tippy-toe massage, although Bangkok still abounds with Miss Pretty girls and  the invitations are neon lit now.

Watching the passing boats on the riverside at Shangri-la Hotel and reading the Thailand  traveller’s companion, I was pleasantly discovering his impressions of Bangkok’s famous temples were any like our first glimpses of these stunning wats.

Maugham wrote in the “Gentleman in the parlour” :  “They [temples] are unlike anything in the world, so that you are taken aback, and you cannot fit them into the scheme of the things you know,  It makes you laugh with delight to think anything so fantastic could exist on this sombre earth. They are gorgeous they glitter with gold and whitewash, yet are not garish; against the vivid sky, in the dazzling sunlight, they hold their own, defying the brilliance of nature  ... ”   In the same breath Maugham goes on to say “I do not know that in fact they achieved art; I do not know these Siamese wats have beauty, which they say is reserved aloof and very refined; all I know is that they are strange and gay and odd, their lines are infinitely distinguished, like the lines  of a proposition in a schoolboy’s Euclid, their colours are flaunting and crude, like the colours of vegetables in the greengrocer’s stall at an open air-market, and like a place where seven ways meet, they open roads down which the imagination can make many a careless and unexpected journey.”

As unexpected journeys go we by passed the Gates of Heaven and  set off to a another one of Bangkok’s famous places the “Cabbages and Condoms” restaurant.  Vinta, from India said I’ve heard of “Cabbages and Kings,” so what’s  cabbages got to do with condoms?  Apparently, the idea was to make condoms as common as cabbages in the Northeast of Thailand.

Or if you thought babies are born in the cabbage patch then you need condoms says some dedicated websites adding ” Our restaurant was conceptualized in part to promote better understanding and acceptance of family planning and to generate income to support various development activities of the Population and Community Development Association (PDA)”

Condoms are of course  the outstanding theme, they are everywhere — on lanterns, and in all decorative bits and pieces — you name it they are all there in all colours and shapes. Then there is the gift shop that sells condoms , mugs, t-shirts etc, etc.  — your only problem is to identify your friends that you can gift them to.

If you haven’t been there, go, they are known not only for the condoms but for great food — there are supposed to be 5 cabbages and Condoms restaurants in Thailand.  We  ( actually a bus load) went to the one in Sukhumwit  — the words for the taxi guy  is “Sukhumwit soi sip sawng.”

By the way, sorry,  there are no after dinner mints,  you can take a condom though.

All photos©Chulie de Silva

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8 thoughts on “Maugham, Miss Pretty Girl, Cabbages & Condoms

  1. Lovely piece. I think you would be an excellent writer amongst other things for business class magazines for top airlines of the world – short, sexy, covers what needs to be and otherwise very interesting – like a mini skirt 🙂

  2. This is not another ho-hum piece about a visit to Bangkok. Your ability to look for the story below the navel in Bangkok says so much about you, poor Somerset, he too got sucked in . Lovely piece, may you get the chance to travel far and wide.

  3. Lovely and refreshing read, as always. I second the earlier writer – you not only have many books inside you but will also make a great travel writer for swish travel magazines. By the way, where did you pick up a copy of Maugham’s book in which he recounts his travels in Burma and Thailand?

  4. Vinita — the book was on the bedside table at Shangri-la but the hotel wouldn’t give me a free copy to take away, so I ended up buying a copy from the book shop.

  5. Description of Wats brings back memories of my 5 years in Bangkok. They are just as described.

    The Cabbages and Condoms was/is an exchange program developed by one of the cleverest Thais whose name escapes me — bring in cabbages (or any other food stuff) in exchange for condoms. Food served (at a small cost) tasty.

  6. Wonderful account of what sounds like a wonderful trip. thanks for incorporating Somerset’s comments… gives a wonderful “then and now” touch!

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