"Viking Heaven?" I asked. "Is that another name for Thailand?" The country in known by many monikers – Siam, The Land of Smiles, The Fifth Tiger – just to name a few. We were sitting at a "bar beer" as the Thais call them, escaping the heat and playing games with the bar girls.
"Nah," Chuck says, "that's just what I call it. You see, the Vikings thought that when you died you went to heaven. In their version of heaven, you did bloody battle all day long and could continue to fight no matter how badly you were wounded. In the evening, your wounds would heal and you'd go to a great hall to feast and have sex all night. In the morning, it would all start over again. That was Viking Heaven." He gestures around him at the city. "And so is this."
In many ways, Thailand really is Viking Heaven, especially for a bodybuilder. Steroids are sold over the counter, there are hardcore gyms available, the cost of living is low, and you never have to sleep alone if you don't want to. It's no wonder many bodybuilders and strength athletes come to Thailand to train and do their drug cycles.
A pharmacy, an internet café and a massage parlor all on one tiny street. Really, what more do you need?
As noted, the steroid situation in Thailand is very much like Mexico. Steroids and ancillary drugs can be purchased over the counter at a pretty cheap price. But like Mexico, you can walk into a legitimate Bangkok pharmacy and still come away with bogus drugs. Some recommend you stick only to items made in Thailand while others told me they've had very little trouble with fake gear of any kind. Likewise, steroids produced in Thailand can be very cheap with imports being on the expensive side (by Thai standards).
One of the first things you'll notice is the number of pharmacies in Thailand. This is to be expected in Mexico as the pharmacias are there to cater to Americans close to the border, but why so many drug stores in Thailand? The answer is that most Thais can't afford to go to a doctor. Instead they may go to a pharmacy, describe what's wrong to the pharmacist and simply buy the drugs they need, no doctor visit needed. Of course, the pharmacies are there to service the tourists as well.
Most Thai pharmacies are tiny. This one only had enough room for two or three customers at a time.
Like Mexico, prices are usually a bit higher in the touristy areas like Patpong, and the larger chains (Watson's and Siam Drug) will have less to choose from. Your best bet is to find the small, independently run pharmacies away from the hustle and bustle of the farang (foreigner) hangouts.
D-bol runs around $65 for 1000 tablets. A generic version called Melic will run you much less if you can find it. Viagra (100 mg) runs about $10 a tab (about the same as in the US) but an Indian generic called Silagra reportedly runs only 30 cents a tab! We asked for this in two places, but both were out.
Clenbuterol is not locally produced, so it can be expensive (not that many people in the tropics want a thermogenic anyway.) T3 is produced locally by Glaxo-Wellcome and is pretty cheap. Clomid is also dirt cheap while arimidex can be pricey. There's lots of "T" available, mostly Schering 250-mg amps. Sustanon is also easily obtained. Deca is available in 50-mg amps, but the 100's are generally from Karachi, Pakistan. Opinions are mixed as whether these are legit or not. Organon deca is $4.80 an amp if you buy at least three amps.
Anabol was once reported in T-mag as being fake, but locals tell me it's real and quite good, being made by British Dispensary, the same folks who make D-bol. The cheap local version is known as Androlic and comes in a green bottle. A generic stanozolol from India known as Menabol is easily found. I'm told that HGH is not to be found anywhere for any price. Syringes and needles are OTC (over the counter).
Other drugs like marijuana aren't really that big of a deal, but it's still an arrestable offense if you're not quick enough to pay off the local law dogs. (Thai cops are said to be a lot like Mexican ones.) One hundred tabs of speed (called "crazy drug" locally) will get you the death penalty, unless you pay off the cops. Some say that Americas caught with hard drugs "only" get life in prison and avoid the death penalty. We decided not to find out.
As you probably know, Thailand is "hot" in more ways than one. In smuggling terms, "hot" means that customs agents and others keep a very close eye on items coming out of Thailand. Sure, they're probably watching for hard drugs, but they'll nab your gear just as quickly. There's a very big chance that your package will be opened up if it's coming from Thailand. Everything is X-rayed.
This is the first thing you see when getting off the plane in Taiwan, which is usually one of the stops on the way to and from Thailand.
I'm guessing that not too many people – with the exception of maybe a major dealer – would actually fly to Thailand just to bring back gear. It's not like driving across the border into Tijuana after all. However, it would be tempting for those traveling to "The Land of Smiles" for other reasons to pick up a little cycle while there. For those people, here's what I noticed. First, security at international airports is way up since September 11th . As usual, your checked luggage and carry-ons will be X-rayed and could be hand searched. My carry-on was hand searched on the way in and out of Thailand.
Likewise, you could be searched. This involves multiple metal detector runs, a cursory pat down, and you may be required to take off your shoes and belt. (I was twice.) Of course, this is now common practice at any airport. When travelling from Mexico with gear, experts have usually advised to keep the stuff on you as this is always the last thing to be searched (your vehicle and bags being the first), but with Thailand, it's probably better to store the stuff in your checked luggage. Use the old "three deep" method of putting your stuff inside something else (like a shaving kit) and then putting the actual gear in other containers like vitamin bottles. Even if your luggage gets hand searched, it may not be searched thoroughly enough to find well-hidden gear.
If you do keep the stuff on you, don't put it in your shoes or strapped to your legs or lower back. This is where I was patted down and searched. Underneath the nutsack would be the safer (but not necessarily safe) choice.
You may also be questioned about the nature of your trip and as I wrote in the Smuggler's Blues article, it's best to be as honest as possible. I also noticed that many of these random searches didn't seem so random. My travelling buddy and I were both selected for closer inspection many times. I think this may have had something to do with the fact that we were headed to and from Thailand. Again, it's probably that "hot" country thing.
To test things out, I once again "smuggled" some empty steroid containers back from Thailand. I placed these "two deep" in my suitcase, stored in a toiletry bag's side zipper pocket. Since I'm not rotting in jail right now or paying a fat fine, I guess I got away with it.
On a related note, one Bangkok resident related a story to me about a New Yorker somehow bringing back one hundred bottles of D-bol (that's 100,000 tabs) per trip. The pharmacist gives him a discount since he buys in bulk on a regular basis. Something tells me he ain't sticking them all in his underwear!
I also heard another story of a bar girl getting into the steroid exporting market to work her way out of the bar scene. These girls are crafty, that's for sure.
Bodybuilding is Still Kinda' Gay
I've always found it odd that in countries that allow steroids to be sold without a prescription, you don't see many big juice monkeys walking around. In Thailand at least, I found out why.
"In Thailand, there's very little steroid use among Thais. The only Thais who use steroids are the homosexuals." This according to the owner of California 24 fitness center, a mammoth gym in Bangkok. He also noted that roid use is much higher in Hong Kong, Korea, and Singapore. Then again, California 24 (owned by the same people who own the 24 Hour Fitness Centers in the States) isn't exactly hardcore. In fact, this may have been the fluffiest gym I'm ever seen.
A Candid Conversation with Shane Stratton
Universe Gym is located just off the beach in Pattaya, Thailand. The gym is small, the equipment is a little rusty and worn, and there's no air conditioning. Despite dozens of circulating fans, you'll be soaked in sweat before you ever get your gym shoes tied. In others words, it's a great little gym!
I was there to get a workout and talk with owner Shane Stratton, a former NABBA Mr. Universe and Mr. Australia, about the drug scene and bodybuilding in general. It's important to note that T-mag doesn't bother to interview many competitive bodybuilders; in fact, we've declined to interview some of the biggest names in pro-bodybuilding. Why? Because most of them won't cut the bullshit and talk about what really goes on behind the scenes. Instead they want to talk about how they were "robbed" in their last contest, their favorite kind of pizza and other such fluffery. Luckily, Shane Stratton isn't that type of bodybuilder.
I sat down with Shane in his gym to chat after losing eight pounds of sweat in under an hour. Here's how it went down:
Testosterone: Let's give T-mag readers some quick background info, Shane. What are your titles?
Shane Stratton: Four time Mr. Australia, the second year I did Mr. Universe I won it. I swapped to IFBB after that and won the national heavyweight title. They still wouldn't give me a pro card and told me to come back again. I won again and they said I still had to compete in this other show so I basically told them to stick it. They don't like me because I don't suck up to them. I think the amateur ranks are better than the IFBB by far, so I went there. Instead of getting a thirty dollar plastic trophy, I got to travel and see the world and didn't have to worry about drug tests.
T: Are the major bodybuilding organizations killing themselves right now?
SS: At the moment they are. They drug test who they want to drug test. Now there are bodybuilders who refuse to compete because they want to look good. It's stupid that they don't test the pros, yet they test the amateurs. They pick who they want to win: they pick whoever has a name or whoever's sucking one of the judges off.
T: Does that really go on?
SS: I've heard it from a lot of people, many of them on the inside. One of my friends is a pro in the women's and she does all that "wrestling" stuff and she makes a lot of money out of it. She's made 40,000 US dollars in three weeks. She said you wouldn't believe some of the people who've been doing it. You can basically sleep with a lot of the top bodybuilders and fitness girls.
T: We've heard that a lot of the top fitness girls are also very high-end call girls.
SS: She said exactly the same thing, and she does it! I've known her and her husband for years and she does everything, wrestling schmoes, these guy who like getting beaten up by women, and they pay her a fortune. The men are doing it too.
T: Makes you think twice about ever wanting to be a competitive bodybuilder.
SS: I have guys tell me, oh, I really want to be a bodybuilder. I say, what for? Be an athlete. And if you do, don't do it for a trophy, do it for yourself. Don't do it to beat someone else or for a trophy. Don't get caught up in that shit.
And the egos in bodybuilding... Some of these guys think they're so goddamn good. They wake up in the morning, eat eight times a day, shit five times a day, and go to bed at night. They're nothing special. And you look at the money they get paid – as far as athletes go they're on the bottom of the food chain.
And the fame? No one outside of bodybuilding knows them and no one cares. The only people who know bodybuilders are other bodybuilders. They're not famous. They're no one really. I mean, the cover of Flex has a goddamned wrestler on the it who's just signed a huge contract with Weider. Why don't they give that to the bodybuilders as prize money? Sinbad, the comedian, got paid more to host the Mr. Olympia than Ronnie Coleman did for winning! That is just fucked!
T: At the Mr. Olympia, Arnold Classic level, are the standards getting out of hand as far as mass goes? These guys are all pretty unaesthetic these days, and that's being polite.
SS: The guts are getting ridiculous. You have these guys out there saying they have 32 inch waists; who are they kidding? More like 42 inches. They are huge! If they turn sideways and let their air go, their guts stick out four inches past their chests. They're all the same except for Jay Cutler, who impresses me, and Dexter Jackson. He can walk around most of the year with a T-shirt on and not look like he's nine months pregnant. Melvin Anthony has a tiny waist but he just can't get his shit together. Those guys should be the ones winning. You should be able to take your shirt off any day of the year and look good, not two weeks of the year. Most of these guys look like pregnant whales these days.
T: What do you think of Synthol? It seems like those pro-bodybuilders who were condemning it a couple of years ago are using it today.
SS: Synthol takes it too far. Everyone has done site injections; I've done site shots myself, destroyed one of my calves doing it, killed all the nerves. I have a few holes in my shoulders now from injecting there a lot.
Injecting gear, propionate or something like that, is fair enough, but they lose the realistic look with these oils. They pump so much shit in there they look fake, plastic. Magazines shouldn't be publishing photos of these Synthol users.
T: How exactly did an Australian bodybuilder and his wife end up in Thailand as gym owners?
SS: I still wanted to compete, but the laws in Australia got so ridiculous, worse than the States. Basically, if you get caught with roids in Australia you might as well have cocaine. I was up on charges for DHEA, which you can buy at any supermarket in the US, but in Australia it's a steroid. For a while there, they classed HMB as a steroid.
T: And it doesn't do shit.
SS: It doesn't do anything! Those sitting behind the desk in the government have no idea. Australia, because of the Olympics, got on the "we don't take drugs" bandwagon, but it's the biggest load of shit. And once they get it in for you in Australia they really get it in for you, people following you home from the gym etc. Because I had an AusVet [a veterinary steroid company based in Australia] banner on my website, they started saying I was a steroid dealer, put it in the newspaper, everything. So I thought, how the hell am I going to compete after all of that? So we looked around, saw an opportunity over here and came and bought the gym from some Swiss guys.
T: I understand that protein powders are illegal here in Thailand, but your gym serves them. How'd you manage that?
SS: We get it carried in.
T: You mean you have to order from other countries?
SS: When I know someone is coming over I get them to bring it in.
T: Are you talking about smuggling protein powder?!
SS: Yeah. And they say it's for personal use so they let it go.
T: That's amazing. Protein powders are hard to come by, but steroids are over the counter.
SS: Yeah, you can buy any steroid you want basically. And the good thing is there are a couple of big Thai companies that have paid an awesome amount of money for the licenses, so you can get real Anavar here. They've got cypionate, propionate, Sustanon, Deca, Winstrol, plus things like Nolvadex. It's all cheap too. You can get a box of Sustanon for like six dollars.
You can't get ephedrine anymore, but you can get cold medicines with pseudoephedrine in it. They've also got three or four copies of Nubain here, for all them sick folks. I've seen guys come in and spend 15,000 US dollars in one pharmacy.
T: And they got all that out of the country?
SS: Who knows? I haven't seen them since! With other drugs they're very strict over here. They can come into a nightclub, lock the doors and piss test everyone there. If you're on something, they lock you up and you're paying to get out. The police corruption over here is huge. Anyone who even tries to take speed or Ecstasy over here is just crazy.
T: If you don't mind me asking, how can a married guy stay married living in Pattaya with all the temptations here?
SS: Stay around the gym for a while and listen to the stories! There have been more people lose their life savings here than anywhere else in the world. They all get sucked in! They start sending the bar girls money. We've got girls in here that get thousands of dollars a month from three or four different guys.
[At this point in the interview, pro-bodybuilder Dennis James walks in to update everyone on the latest World Cup scores. It looks like the US is about to pull off a win. I'm more impressed by the size of the man's head. Dude has to have the biggest noggin in Southeast Asia.]
SS: Also, the best looking girls in Thailand are boys. It's funny, but every time Diane and I go out, we hear "katoey, katoey!" They all think she's a lady boy because she's got wide shoulders, a tiny little waist, huge plastic tits and she's tall. So they say "farang katoey" when we go out. She takes it as a compliment because the only ones with really decent bodies here are the boys. And she's never taken steroids.
[Note: Shane's wife, Diane Jardim Stratton, is a Ms. Australia and Ms. World Figure champion.]
And you can't pick 'em! A couple of Marines were here the other day and they're talking to a girl out front. She was pretty, but she was a boy! I called one of them over and asked him if his mate was gay. He's like, no, why? Then why is he trying to chat up a boy? I asked him.
If your mate's good, he'll tell you now. If he's not, he'll tell you later or let you find out for yourself! [laughing]
T: Now that's frightening.
SS: One of my mate's got caught big time. He goes out all the time and I asked him if he'd shagged any boys lately. He goes, "Who told you?!" No one, I told him, I was just taking a piss! It turns out he went back to his room with this girl and he even asked if she was a katoey. She was blowing him and all that stuff and he slid his hand down and it just dived straight into a hole, no pelvis bone like a woman has. He said, I thought you said you were a lady. And she said, well, I am now! He said he kicked her out but I don't trust him because he takes a lot of Test. [laughing]
T: That's it, I'm never leaving the hotel again. Thanks a lot! Back to steroids. You guys have an AusVet banner on your website. Given the OTC nature of steroids, could you sell them here at the gym?
SS: No, you'd never actually do that. We have people coming in everyday asking to buy steroids. I'll just tell them where the pharmacy is, where they can get the best prices and where they won't get any fakes. We won't actually sell out of the gym. It's a big gray area. If they get upset with you, they could bust you for it. If they decide they want extra money that month, they'd come down on us. We have a business here and live here so we don't need that kind of hassle.
T: So there are a lot of fakes in Thailand pharmacies?
SS: Depends on the pharmacy. There's a lot of fake Pakistani Deca and Sustanon. You scratch the label and they come straight off, not very good fakes. You also see a lot of fakes from England. You get all these English guys over here – you know how they fake all these Norma Decas all the time – they'll get stuck with a suitcase of these fakes and they'll bring them over here to a pharmacy and swap them for Anabol and fly back with the Anabol and sell it.
I just tell guys not to buy the European stuff over here. One of the biggest pharmacies here in town on the main street is known for having a lot of fakes. The pharmacy we send everyone to is only a little tiny one, but they do huge amounts of business. The guys from Europe come here and buy a lot. You can buy steroids cheaper in Pattaya than anywhere else in Thailand by far. Phuket is very expensive. Bangkok is about in the middle.
[Again, Dennis "Super Cranium" James walks up and starts complaining about someone stealing from the lockers and stealing toilet paper. For some reason, toilet paper is prized in Thailand and locals are known to steal it from public bathrooms. In many places you have to pay to use the bathroom and pay again for a few sheets of toilet paper.]
T: Do guys come to Thailand just to use steroids cheaply and legally and then go back home to compete?
SS: Yes. I had a guy ring me up just last night for me to prepare his accommodations. I booked him a room with a kitchen and everything. He's coming over for two months. I've got one guy from Australia that comes over every other month. I've got guys that don't worry about taking anything when they're at home; they'll come here for six weeks and go home for four or five weeks. When they come here they'll load up. It's cheap, it's not illegal, and they're not going to get in trouble for it. We get a lot of Europeans come over during the winter to train here because it warm.
It's a good thing for the States, especially with that three strikes and you're out law. So they come over here, load up, and get as big as a house. They're all right as long as they don't get distracted. A lot of guys come over here to train and you'll see them for the first week, then you won't see them for a few days!
T: I can imagine. They get loaded up on Test and walk down there... [pointing down Beach Road to the red light district]
SS: [laughing] GHB is even worse!
T: Try to keep them out of trouble and away from the lady boys. Thanks for talking to us today, Shane.
SS: My pleasure, Chris.
It would be easy to focus on one part of Thailand and deem the country beautiful or ugly, a heaven or a hell. But like any country, Thailand is all of those things. It's a paradise, a hedonist's wet dream, a den of corruption, and a place that can destroy you if you let it. And really, what country isn't a conglomeration of all those things?
A visit to Thailand can change your life. Whether those changes are positive or negative depends on what baggage you bring with you and what you're looking for when you arrive. It's a bit corny to talk of self-exploration and "finding oneself" through travel, but in many ways, those things exist for those introspective enough to see what the world has to show them. Stripped of his usual surroundings and removed from all things comfortable and familiar, a traveler is uniquely receptive. He can learn lessons from the cities and the mountains and all those people he meets in between.
But for me to write about this is really unfair. You have to be there to truly understand. You have to stand in the streets of Bangkok and on the beaches of Pattaya. You have to stand before the Emerald Buddha and bask in the neon lights of Patpong at 2am. If you want the answer to the question, "What really happens there?" you have to go there and experience it for yourself. This type of experience is nontransferable.
The best writer can only provide a fuzzy, black-and-white snapshot of any place he describes. He can't tell you what you'll experience or whether you'll come back enlightened or haunted, whole or broken. Go there and find out.
Thailand is waiting.
Special thanks to the following people who helped out tremendously with this series of articles.
Jim Meier – For the tour, the books, the maps, the info and especially for taking us to the Exec. God, we miss that place already. Hope the girls all enjoy the T-mag shirts.
Chuck Roach – For keeping me alive during my first trip to Thailand and for convincing me to go to begin with.
Shane Stratton – For the no BS interview. In you're ever in Thailand, stop by his gym and say howdy.
Tim and TC – For paying me to hang out with pretty half-naked girls.
Stickman – For the most helpful website about Thailand on the net. (www.stickmanbangkok.com)
For the honest info, free beers, good conversation and good times, we thank the bar girls, the expats, the soccer hooligans, the vets, the hippies, the backpackers, the freaks, the outcasts, and the generally misunderstood and misplaced. We'll be back.