In 2009 I had decided to stop off in Thailand for 4 days on my way to England from Australia. Some friends (“the girls”) were staying in Patong so it would be fun to catch up with them and relax. It had been an intense month of work so I needed some down time….Well, at least the trip took my mind off work!
The week before I left, there was a car crash, someone collapsed, a suspected illness and a new baby announced. There was something in the air!
Many people get a stomach bug when they travel. I think I’m the first to get one before leaving local air space! ( mishap #1). For the whole trip I had a tender tummy and I couldn’t eat much. A pity as I so love Thai food.
After two flights I landed in Bangkok. Then it was about 45 minutes to town by taxi. I arrived at midnight and I had an expensive laptop with me so I’d pre-booked a hotel. It was called the Sawatdee.
The taxi stopped and I was in the middle of the packed tourist zone of Banglumpu. He pointed at the Sawatdee Hotel, I got out, he left.
This is where I found out there were at least 4 hotels with the name Sawatdee in that area, and this was not mine ( mishap #2). I managed to find mine on the third try! I checked-in and got an upgrade to a double bed (He emphasises “If you bring someone back you have to pay double”). I did a quick check of the room which was the same size as the double bed it contained plus a toilet/shower room. I dropped off my stuff and went back out.
At first I was worried about walking the streets after midnight, especially with bags and a laptop. However, I very quickly felt comfortable. The streets were packed with tourists, many walking around with mountains of bags. Locals were very polite and helpful, something I experienced throughout the trip. Even the touts trying to sell bangles or tours would respond well to a polite “no thankyou” and a smile.
My hotel was in the middle of Khaosan Rd., the centre of backpacker land. The street was bustling: Muslims, Monks and Arabs mixed with backpackers, families and business men. Add tuc tuc’s, scooters and taxis all dodging around the locals selling wares and tours and you’ll get the picture. An excellent place to just sit and watch.
The streets were lined with stalls selling clothes, CDs and fresh food. Behind them were bars, restaurants and night clubs, many providing street side seating with open fronts to enter inside. This can be done in a place where its still warm at 1am!
I went back to the first Sawatdee hotel which had a small bar right by the street. While I tried out the local beers (Chang, Singha, Tiger) the head waitress helped me learn a few phrases in Thai.
I noticed some locals in suites sitting at a table on the street. Every once in the while they would give directions or help park cars. She explained they were security, “Tourists drink and behave badly”. It makes a change from armed police there to protect tourists, Thailand has friendly suits there to protect locals from tourists!
The night was going well, I tried a bar closer to my hotel where I met some South Africans. Then I managed to trip on the steps going inside and badly grazed my shin ( mishap #3). Time to end the night, the sun was up anyhow!
First day in Bangkok
Due to the late night, this day didn’t start till mid afternoon. I headed in a general southerly direction towards some palaces.
As usually I just walked without major planning or map reading. I like to discover. I was surprised how quickly I left tourism and entered the world of the average city dweller. Small shops, street stalls and people going about their business.
I decided to get my hair cut at a barbers which is always entertaining for staff and myself. It was successful and I came out with shorter hair and only down by some spare change. Better than my attempt in China where I went into a place and eventually found out she didn’t actually cut hair!
Later I found myself in a big square (it was by Sao Chingcha, the giant swing). I bought a bag of “fried little fish things” then sat and watched a group exercising to music. I was daydreaming when I suddenly noticed everyone was standing up and looking to my right. So I did the same! It was 6pm and I was watching a flag being lowered, the exercise music had been replaced by the national anthem. When the anthem stopped everyone went back to their usual business. Imagine if everyone in Trafalgar square stopping for a minute, every day!
I continued walking and found myself passing grand palaces, building and temples. I circled them and headed back homeward.
I was walking down a grand road lined with street vendors using cloths on the pavements to show their wares. I started to hear an amplified voice, and it was angry! My curiosity won me over and I headed towards it. It took me to a large park (Sanamluang). The number of people increased and I noticed I was in a sea of red t-shirts. I continued deeper into the crowd and eventually saw the source of the voice. I was in some sort of protest meeting, a very big one! There was a large stage, still the distance of a football pitch away. There were cameras, large screens and speaker stands so all could participate. The crowd was responding to every statement will loud serous claps and the occasional laughter at a joke (I presume). It felt like being at concert. I considered starting my own revolution in order to make profit from t-shirts and hat sales. I bought a soft drink and asked the vendor what it was all about. His English was not so good but I got the idea, and later it was clarified: They were the red-shirts and the next day they were going to petition to seek a royal pardon for Thaksin, an ousted prime minister (see article). At spots around the park there were small clusters of riot police, but otherwise it felt like being at a fair with Families and children buying food and souvenirs. At the time it seemed quite safe, reading the news now I realised these were the people involved in the April 13th demonstration where troops opened fire!
I wandered on and found myself among some interesting food stalls. Long tables laden with herbs and other green plants. Customers were eating from bowls and occasionally grabbing leaves from the table. I decided to have a go! I walked up and gave the international signal for one (index finger, palm forwards). They sat me down, gave me a bowl of “stuff” and indicated I should help myself to things on the table. It was nice. A hot basic soup which I added Thai basil and some other green things to. A man found it entertaining to give me a special serving off what I think was liver. It worked well for my belly and I walked away paying a fraction of the price you would in the tourist spot.
I walk around with no bags so I didn’t need to go home. My next stop was the new regular, the Sawatdee bar. The friendly barmaid was there again and within half an hour she had me set up with her friend from the country. Now I know why most single male tourists are with local girls, we get no choice!
We moved on to a disco where I stayed for a few drinks, danced a bit then made my excuses to go home. I didn’t want another scar or a story about a boy-girl to tell!
Second day in Bangkok
This time I headed north. The late start the day before had fooled me. Bangkok maybe cloudy, but the sun gets through, and is hot. Within half an hour I had realised this and I’d forgotten my sun-cream and a hat. For my skin that’s disaster. I bought some cream but It was too late. I was to end up sunburnt with a red forehead and neck ( mishap #4).
It was very humid so I constantly bought drinks from stalls. All types of drinks from milk out of a coconut to a RedBull type drink.
I passed royal places, army places, temples and markets. Making semi-random choices at each corner I met, mainly decided by which direction had the most cover from the sun.
It was 12.30pm and time for a Twilight Zone moment. I was walking down a street when a vendor just stood up to attention. I looked around and NOTHING was moving. Not even the cars on the street. I slowed down as I was looking around. It felt like even the trees had stopped swaying. A few seconds passed then a guy ahead kick started his scooter. This seemed to be the signal and everything started moving again. I’d love to know what that was!
I headed for the river. Here I caught a local ferry back south to where the palaces are. This time I wandered around the palaces in full daylight. It was hot and I needed a break so I decided to actually enter a tourist attraction. I chose the temple with the reclining budda. Not the best choice to avoid the sun as most if it is outside! I’d done an official touristy thing, good to get that over with…tick.
I was heading back home and really feeling the heat. Then I noticed I could not close my fists, my hands had swollen! Heat Stroke! ( mishap #5)
Luckily I wasn’t far from base. I got to the Sawadee bar, sat down, ate some food, and recovered. I had a flight in a few hours!
Getting the flight went relatively smoothly. My haggling with the taxi driver need me to half exit the taxi while it was moving, but otherwise no issues, and my hands didn’t explode with the altitude.
I had survived Bangkok, just.
Patong is the beach on Phuket island that was badly hit by the infamous tsunami in 2004. I’d been there 9 years ago so it would be interesting to see if it had changed.
After an hour in a taxi I met Sarah and Shelly “The Girls” at their hotel lobby. It was an enclosed resort in the centre of Patong with two pools and some lovely rooms. They had got the staff to set me up with a hospital bed in their room, something that added to the gossip among the cleaners.
We decided that by rigging a simple mast to my bed that I could use it as my escape route if another tsunami hit. Save me getting out of bed.
We relaxed on their balcony for a while then hit the town (aka Bangla Road). Shelly kicked ass at pool and then we sat at a bar watching the crowds go by.
On the way home we ate at Macas (Can I call that mishap #5.5?)
First day in Patong, Phuket
This was a day of relaxation. Moments of doing nothing interspersed by moments of doing nothing somewhere else. Just what the doctor had ordered. Mainly spent by or in the spa.
I couldn’t make it fully successful though. Even though I sat under a tree, I still managed to get a patchwork of sunburn on my front. The single white breast surrounded by red was a master piece. ( mishap #6).
The Girls gave me a coupon for a free massage by the pool. Free can be dangerous! I was slightly relieved when the masseuse was not a man, just an old lady with too much make-up and wart! While massaging my back she whispered in my ear “You give me good tip for special massage”…Help.
After an excellent day we headed to the beach for a sunset cocktail. We sat ON the beach and the cocktails were made in coconuts and pineapples. This is the life.
Then onto Bangla Road for some evening drinks. We set ourselves up on a table right on the road, where Sarah could not resist the old ladies selling flowers. A sucker for begging wrinklies.
Later we went to a nice restaurant on the beach front where I had a lovely “Tom Yum Gai” soup, my favourite.
Second day in Patong, Phuket
This was a day of rare events for me:
- I made it to breakfast
- We went shopping (A t-shirt and a Monkey lighter)
- I sunbathed (admittedly in the shade with a t-shirt on)
- I suggested we eat
- I watched a football (soccer) match. England V Ukraine. Bad result.
That filled in the day up-to the time I had to leave. We got back and I started packing.
I had put some money aside to cover the final costs and suddenly I couldn’t find it. After several complete searches of my bags Shelly did some maths and worked out I’d spent it (shopping & food). Doh! ( mishap #7).
The Girls lent me some funds and I was on my way.
It’s a bit hard to explain how I felt at this moment. I was at the check-in counter when I heard
“you cannot do this. You cannot connect to your next flight”.
“Its an international flight and you must check in 2 hours before. You will only arrive 1.55 before. You cannot go.” ( mishap #8)
“But I’m checking in now!”
“We cannot check you in here, you must check-in in Bangkok. I can check in your bags here. Ok.”.
She proceeded to give me my local flight ticket and my baggage receipt showing it was going all the way to Manchester.
I left in a stun. Am I going or not!
I had a beer to think.
I found a help desk. “It’s OK your flight lands at 10:00, you have plenty of time”
I walked away. My ticket said it landed at 10:15, still confused, and how does that make plenty of time. My connection is at 12:10.
I asked on the plane. “You have plenty of time”. Was this just people trying pass on the issue!
My plane seat was double booked and this was my first bit of luck. They moved me to the front, right by the exit. The man sitting next to me was a regular and explained the route to my check-in desk. The flight was landing early. I was going to have 15 minutes to get to the check-in…..run.
The plane doors opened and I dashed down the corridor and through the doors. A staircase down! Then a bus (fuck). The bus filled up and we set off. The doors open again and I’m off running, through baggage collection and into the lobby, turned right and up the stairs. I called to anyone in a uniform “international check-in?” and miraculously all gave quick and correct directions. I was passing by all the check-in sections. Probably the length of a football pitch! “Finnair?”, “Finnair?”, it was one of the last ones. I turned into the check-in section and looked for my flight on the screens. I managed to get to a stand still just at the end of the queue for my flight. What!
I asked, 12:10 to Helsinki? Yes. What’s the time? 10:10 making it 2 hours exactly. I’d made it on time, just to queue up! Fuck, Fuck, Fuck…Fuck. Then relief.
I queued for 20 minutes before getting to the desk. “Were fully booked”. I looked up and considered having a God so I could abuse it. Then I just stood there starring at him. He typed stuff, chatted with staff then gave me my ticket. What the fuck was that all about. Are they just playing with me. Maybe I’m on a reality TV show!
I wandered into the departure gate with a guy I’d met in the queue. He persuaded me to get some duty free Thai whiskey as it wasn’t exported. He’d already paid for his 2 litres when staff told me I couldn’t take it into the UK. He decided to risk it, but with my recent luck I decided to skip.
We got on the flight which was half filled with locals in orange jackets and matching fanny packs. I later found out they were hired to pick fruit in north Finland.
Now I know why Finnair was cheaper. This long haul flight had cramped seats and no headrest TVs! 10 uncomfortable hours later we landed at Helsinki.
On landing a video explained how you cannot take liquids to transferring flights unless they were purchased and sealed on the plane. My Thai whiskey friend had a problem. While going through security I saw him ahead of me. He had passed the x-ray machine and was chatting with security at a desk. The next time I saw him, he was going through immigration, into Finland. I swear he was originally going to Copenhagen so I assume he had found some sort of trick to save his whiskey!
At last a bar, and time to relax before the next flight. I had some Finnish beer.
Things were starting to get better. The last flight was on a smaller plane and many of us had double seats. I ate my first meal in 4 days without feeling sick and they gave me a British newspaper to read. It got so good that the stewardess even gave me wine after I had said “no thanks”. We landed and within a few minutes I was through customs, my bag was there, I met my dad, got some money and was in his car home.
I’d made it!
Just one thing to sort out before this first leg of my trip was complete. And that was my leg! The girls were a bit concerned by the gash. I went with my dad to the local chemist (pharmacy) for a professional opinion. “Eewwwww” was the response from the girls behind the counter. The pharmacist was a bit more constructive and suggested I see a doctor, as it looked infected.
Bless the National Health Service as I got to see a doctor on the same day. I was fully prepared to get some abuse on how stupid I was not to get it looked at instantly, why wasn’t it covered, you could have lost it, etc. I was called in, I sat down and showed my leg. The doctors response was not far of “Harden the fuck up” (re: Chopper Reed). ‘Cos he thought I was soft he put me on a course of penicillin and then promptly kicked me out. I was not going to lose my leg after all. Woo Hoo!
If this is how I cope with 4 days, how will my 5 week trip in India go!