Thailand had been the first place where we had met up with friends from home. Oggi had been his usual convivial self. We had wined, dined, been on some moderately scary moped rides, been introduced to an unusual and deceptively potent chaser (Ricard with Singha beer), and made some new friends in Giusy and Patti from Frankfurt. Our first encounter had come when Giusy requested that I evict an immense cockroach from their room. Swatting it did no damage, so I just had to pick it up and throw it out of the door. I pretended not to be scared, but was in fact shitting myself. Everything after that was easy. The days were hot, the sea was cool, and the cocktails were readily available. We waved goodbye to our new German friends, and then to our old Lancashire friend Oggi, who had helped us define the halfway point in dramatic style.
For the next few days we chilled (some more) in Koh Samui, and we managed to avoid being sold some time share – they gave us a free T-shirt, two coffees, some sweets and a free taxi back to our hotel, but we won’t get those three hours back. We then returned to Bangkok, where we would be meeting Sandra and Ghulam, two of our oldest friends. The setting was making everything golden mellow as we rode the ferry away from the island. We arrived in the Bangkok bus terminal the next morning, having had a good night’s sleep (the wider seats on the VIP bus had done the trick). We ignored the touts as we stepped off the bus and went to get a coffee before getting one of the metered taxis to our hotel – Urban House near Lumpini Park (thanks to Chris and Zillah for the recommendation).
The screen on Nikki’s smartphone had broken in Koh Samui (which is why there is a lack of photos), so we had decided that we should get her a new one for her fiftieth birthday, which would be coming up in a few days. There was a Sony shop in Siam Paragon shopping mall in Bangkok, so we stopped off there, and bought a brand new smartphone. Then we took the skytrain to meet our friends at the airport. Because it is raised around ten meters above ground level, you can’t help but be impressed by the scale of the city. We could see low and high rise buildings in all directions for the duration of the forty minute ride from the heart of the city.
Here we are at the airport (first selfie taken with the Sony M5), fresh and ready to greet our friends. An hour later we were still waiting. Had we gone to the wrong airport (there are two in Bangkok)? No. Was their flight delayed? No, it had landed an hour ago. Were we waiting in the right place? Surely there could only be one arrivals gate! Actually there are three, and we had been waiting at the wrong one. S**t! Had they already come through and missed us? Would we ever see them again?! Yes. They wondered through a few minutes later. Their trip had been a massive faff, but there had been no altercations with officials (or cavity searches). Relieved and happy, we took a taxi back to the city.
In the evening we tried a restaurant recommended by our hotel manager (Northeast on Rama IV Road). We ordered items off the menu, but then asking for them to make alterations to the dish i.e. ‘That one, but with noodles instead of rice’. The fact that we couldn’t speak any Thai and the waiters could speak only a little English, resulted in random selection of dishes being served up, which didn’t really relate to what we thought we’d ordered. Top travel tip: keep it simple, or learn the language of the country you are in.
Next day we had a look round our part of the city (Lumpini Park is nice), and made our travel plans for the two weeks ahead. Sun, sea and sand Thai style was the order of the day, so we flew down to Phuket, where we had some rooms booked at the Di Pantai Beach Resort, near to Patong Beach.
Life there was tough, so tough in fact that we decided to stay there for the next twelve days. There was a Cambodian lady running a stall by the beach cutting up fresh pineapple. mango and melon into bite size chunks for the tourists; fresh fish was available; but if it all got too much, you could go get yourself a massage.
Nikki became fifty. I think she looks great. Better than ever.
In the evening we tried one of the fancier looking restaurants, but it was nowhere near as good as what became our local for the stay: No.9 2nd Restaurant. Great food, and they really looked after us. Apple was our favourite waitress – a self confessed ladyboy with a very good (and very dirty) sense of humour.
Bangla Road is the main drag in Patong, ‘drag’ being the operative word. It’s a great place to sit and have a beer and do some people watching: from the ladyboys to the ladies, touts to the gap year backpackers, the curious tourists to the lonely old men. It was bright, loud, fascinating, and, if I am honest, morally bankrupt (but who are we to judge).
Thai boxing was available at the Patong Stadium daily. The hall held around six hundred people and the programme featured six six round bouts, with competitors coming from all round the globe. The fighting was very real, with some technical boxing, some hard hitting, and some devastating knockouts.
Having laid around on the beach and sat around watching the activities on Bangla Road and the boxing, we thought we’d better book some excursions [Don’t be put off by the prices on the leaflets, these are at least double what the seasoned barter merchant will pay – myself and especially Nikki are seasoned barter merchants at this point]. Here we are ready to go on the first trip (Phi Phi Islands), and there are the boats that would take us.
It was a busy schedule including several islands, a stop at the beach where ‘The Beach’ was filmed, and some snorkeling over live coral. Unfortunately there are no pictures, because Nikki’s new smartphone stopped working on the boat on the way out. This would have been okay, as we could use my smartphone to take the pictures. The only problem was that I left my phone in the pocket of my trunks when I went snorkeling. Seeing as it was an old model, and not waterproof in any way, this meant it was ruined. The coral was truly beautiful though. We had more time to enjoy Thailand’s sea life on our second excursion (Raya Island), where there is a more relaxed schedule with plenty of time to snorkel from the perfect white sandy beach. The variety and colour of the tropical fish is always worth the effort to go see.
That was a fitting end to our trip to Phuket and Patong. We had decided not to bomb round the island on mopeds. We had managed to lacerate our feet on mollusc shells while paddling around on one of the beaches, and Ghulam had been knocked over by a taxi driver (luckily nothing broken – he’s tough!), so we played it safe. After reaching Bangkok, we caught the skytrain into the city from our hotel (Dwella Suvarnahumi) which was near the airport. The mission was to have our faulty smartphone replaced, but not with the Sony M5 as we had read bad reviews regarding the model’s reliability (perhaps should have done this before initial purchase). At first the shop said that they would send the phone away for analysis, and that we should get our replacement in a couple of weeks. This wasn’t going to work for us as we were flying out the next day. Eventually (with some stern words), the manager agreed that we could upgrade the phone taking credit from the faulty one. We walked out of the shop with a Sony Z5. This was good, but it had taken an hour to sort out, and we were all now very hungry.
There didn’t seem much choice of restaurants on the streets around the shopping mall, but we found a place that served food and beer. Sandra managed to order the weirdest thing on the menu – some broth with chicken’s feet left in. Then Nikki decided to take some pictures with her new phone. Disaster! They were all really blurry – another faulty phone! As I started reeling off what mine and Nikki’s plan of action would be the following day (imagine scenes from the film Falling Down), I heard Ghulam say, ‘his eyes have gone’. I was stressed. Nikki then realised that there was a thin layer of protective acetate that was left over the lense. Once peeled off the images were pin sharp. The waitress then showed up with fried chicken and beer, and we were all able to see the funny side. In fact, we were hysterical.
We returned to the hotel games room with some take outs for a couple of hours, and said our goodbyes to Sandra and Ghulam, who were leaving early to return to the UK. Next day we had an afternoon flight from Bangkok to Sydney. It was raining when we landed. I joked to the Australian lady who was sat beside me, ‘We can get this weather at home!’. I then asked her if the tap water was okay to drink. She gave me funny look and said, ‘Of cause it is.’ I then realised, we hadn’t drunk tap water for seven months.