For anyone reading who’s run an eyeball over The Pepper Mill, you’ve already met The Big Deal. For newbies I have the 411 all ready for you: well, he’s on Cricinfo, he’s on Google, he’s just a big swinging d*ck really. (That’s a direct quote ladies and gents, enjoy.) The long and the short of it is that we decided to hop on over to the other side of the world to while away a few months trotting around South East Asia with a good deal of the traditional aimlessness. A few weeks of ragged planning, some colourful encounters with the Indian visa office and quite a lot of Starbucks later we’ve landed here in our first stop: Thailand. And I thought I’d jot a little of it down, so here goes. Hope you enjoy the ride.
The titular curse seems, in fact, to be mostly on my house. The Big Deal’s house is more cursed-by-association since we’ve thrown ourselves together for this adventure. Anyway, lets put it this way: the sucker wasted no time kicking in!
Naturally I got patted down by a surly middle aged woman clothed in an androgynous polyester uniform and an impressively stern scowl.
Naturally my bag got stopped and laboriously searched. (Cheers Mum, that maternal bottle of water that went in it as I rushed out the door was completely forgotten about brashly taken through the only no-liquids zone known to human transportation. It went down a real treat at Heathrow.)
Naturally, in the midst of all the furore and embarrassment, I put down my boarding card and blithely walked away from it.
Naturally The Big Deal oozed sympathy throughout.
Disaster was averted though. After a hasty skitter back to security a lot of wry shrugging and raising of eyebrows as if to say “I know, I’m a foolish little creature but please-give-me-back-my-boarding-card-and-stop-toying-with-my-stress-levels-out-of-job-disatisfaction-you-raging-bint” I returned to The Big Deal with the frustratingly vital bit of paper in my fist. From there, events took a turn for the slightly less fraught. There was a meal – Nachos and Appletiser for me (all the important food groups present and correct, of course) and a fry up and a beer for BD – before Kindles were retrieved from bags and we vegitated while we waited for the plane, which was then boarded without incident, took off without incident and landed without incident.
But the fun was far from over…
Three words… Glass. Fronted. Bathroom.
After some utterly hilarious and carefully planned showers involving promises not to look and one very amusing crab-walk from BD, the maid took pity on us and flipped a switch; summoning blinds from the ceiling and saving our dignity.
Not only this but breakfast of our very first morning saw BD reduced to red-faced, sweaty tears by a particularly malevolent and deceptively tiny green chilli pepper. Hello Thailand!
Now here, here is where things get interesting. New Year’s Day had dawned earlier on BD, his tongue surfing on a tidal wave of Chang, (Thai beer – highly drinkable and devious Thai beer if you ask me) holding forth about something I forget. Since everyone knows who he is (well, he’s on Google isn’t he?) I don’t really need to explain his penchant for discussing the weighty issues of life, the universe and everything waaaaay into the small hours of the morning. I have a feeling a lot of you have been in my shoes: the sleepy listener, armed only with a well-timed nod and a stifled yawn. 5am came and went, and thus, inevitably, after BD ran out of global problems to solve and bed was finally permitted, the appointed hour of our awakening came and went. Not quite the welcome to the new year one dreams about. BD was feeling, shockingly, a little the worse for wear so I hustled down to reception to sort out or hostel booking for Ko Chang, which we had agreed would be reconfirmed before 11am… at 10.50am. Thank god for Concierge the world over! She’d already confirmed the booking and we had a roof for 4 nights on Ko Chang. But… between us and said bungalow, lay the gauntlet of the bus and the ferry. Turns out – as I sauntered back up to the room to share the good fortune and BD and I abused the breakfast buffet – I was counting my chickens before the eggs were even laid.
We caught the bus, pretty much without disaster, from the Eastern Bangkok bus terminal. And dropped into partial comas for the 6hr trip.
Darkness fell and our bus pulled into the bus terminal at Trat. A small cohort of stiff and stretching pasty westerners fell into the night, and there began the most hilariously Thai interlude of tourist swindling I’ve ever had the pleasure to get screwed by.
A lone Thai woman hovered by her blue truck and a powerless looking quartet of Middle Eastern gentlemen. In retrospect, the signs were obvious, I should have known what was coming. Muttering about their being no ferries, then about there being a ferry, the woman ushered us toward her truck. After a few moments of mass consternation it emerged that she would take us all to a hostel near the ferry port where we’d have to stay the night.
There were too many of us for one truck, so she placated us with calming hand gestures and waved her mobile phone before summoning a friend and his matching blue truck. Everyone piled in, putting their lives and luggage in the care of… whatever deity of their choice to be honest, certainly not the suspension of the truck, that had given up long ago. Within minutes the second truck had abandoned the concept of headlights, relying solely on the light from a mobile phone. It soon broke down and got left behind.
We arrived at the ferry port itself and waited tensely for the second truck, which did eventually roll into sight, merrily waving its tiny mobile phone light in apparent celebration of survival.
Then the real fun began. Clocking, like the truly nimble-minded consortium we were, that we were not at a hostel but at the ferry port itself we decided to take control of the situation, and accordingly stood around in silent confusion. While this went on Thais were materializing from the utter darkness and soon there was a considerable crowd filling the port. They chatted in Thai and pointed at random members of the group for a while, people started to pipe up and haggle, a Dutch family wandered in circles and proclaimed about expense for a good 30 minutes. One of the Middle Eastern gentlemen had a go at the helm but succeeded only in annoying our driver, which I thought was a bit rich since he’d scored a ride in the car that actually had headlights. At one point a ferry pulled up and vomited a cargo of vehicles onto the pier. First a cortege of trucks rolled slowly past the huddled victims of the Great Ferry Sting Operating of 2012, then a swarm of mopeds buzzed past like wasps into the night. Their bright lights were soon swallowed by the pitch black countryside and the scene of the heist was plunged into bleakness once more, lit only by a stray floodlight on one slumbering ferry.
Ultimately we all got consummately ripped off for a 10 minute speed boat ride across to Ko Chang. I wear my label of Tourist with grim determination. But I hope we’ve learned our lesson: lie ins are for people with cash to burn!
Weird, moonlit financial transactions on abandoned Thai piers, however, were not the end of our troubles.
It turns out I’m decidedly allergic to whatever they’re putting in Thai mosquitoes these days. Our first morning on Ko Chang my right leg, from the knee to the ankle, was a swollen mess of weeping red lumps while my left leg boasted a footful of nightmarishly itchy welts. Overall I boasted 11 scorchingly annoying bites.
Thank god for my proud ancestry of swollen and itchy westerners. A cheerful Thai woman in the local pharmacy made a large round “o” with her mouth and cheekily admonished me for not seeking medication earlier. Spluttering at the injustice – she’d been closed until lunch time! – I paid for some antihistamine and industrial-strength itch cream and took my woefully untropical self off for iced tea and sympathy.
From almost the exact moment of the first treatment my bites began to deflate, and the itching abated for the first time in hours. Thank god for Thai medicine! My London GP can hurry off to the great Dr’s waiting room in hell for all the times he’s peered down his David-Cameron-look-alike’s nose at me then given me a medication that’s done precisely nothing. I owe that little Thai pharmacist my sanity.
In summary then…. so far Thailand has thoroughly kicked my a*se. But I have learned some valuable lessons. Most of all the following pearl of wisdom:
Nearly all problems – with perhaps the exception of allergic reactions – can be solved with a Chang and a smile. (And maybe a plate of Mango sticky rice, but more of that next time.)
I’ve gotta run for now: the curse has finally manifest on BD’s house and he’s turned himself into a lobster in the sun. I’m on suncream duty.
Wish me luck.