Travelling tittle-tattle, tall tales and shameless name-dropping by Jon ‘Don’t Call Me’ Norman

About Me

Sunday, 16 September 2007


I'd only been back in England for a week or so before I handed in another holiday request form. As I'm freelance I can pretty much decide when and for how long I am away. But there were still raised eyebrows when I opted out of another fortnights work so I could jet off to Thailand and meet up with Fe. Our plan being that we'd recunite for ten days in the sun before heading back to London together.

So much had happened since we'd last seen each other. She'd given up work, recorded a demo CD, moved out of her Sydney apartment, left Australia and gone back to New Zealand for three weeks, back-packed around Thailand on her own for another three weeks and was now waiting for me in Bangkok. While I'd worked a lot and got depressed watching my tan fade. We'd both changed so much maaaaaaaaaan.

So after three months of mentally ticking off the days until I'd see her again I found myself working the talkSPORT Breakfast Show shift at 4am. In a bid to combat my continual fear of flying I figured by having no sleep, working from 03.45am to midday, spending the afternoon nosing around town, securing an exit seat by getting to the airport nice and early, supping a few pre-flight drinkies and dropping a tab or two of valium would see me sleep for much of my 12 hour flight.

It was a great plan that required very little on my part save that I avoid the pub in the afternoon. So I was cursing myself as I crawled into Heathrow later that day 8 pints to the worse, slightly sunburnt & dehydrated from an afternoon sitting in a pub garden, wiping sleep from my eyes after passing out on the tube and completely not in the mood for a flight across a quarter of the planet.

After checking in without an exit seat I settled for a position by the bar where I cursed my stupidity and tried to drink myself back into insobriety. I was finding it difficult and as my stress levels started to rise I decided to take my mind off my own woes by dipping into someone else's by chatting to a fellow drinker at the bar.

To my left was a 60-year old man who was travelling to meet his 27-year old wife. Can you guess where he was heading? They'd been together for seven years and he told me he'd spent most of the money she believed he had stockpiled. He didn't rate his chances of staying alive much longer and told me that if she was in the relationship for the cash she was going to be disappointed. This made him cackle and wheeze quite forcibly. But romance lovers need not fear that the cupid is dead. As he also told me that he definitely treated her better than many of his other mates did with their Thai brides. So that's okay then.

As I left he handed me his business card and I stuffed it in my pocket (before leaving it in the tip tray of the toilet attendant) and scuttled off to my plane. I'd never travelled Thai airlines before and I'm not in a rush to do so again. As despite intricate planning and the subsequent flawless execution my seat ended up being in the worst possible position.

Situated on the nearest row to the toilet it couldn't fully extend back. So when the person in front of me decided to push back their chair it left precious little room to breath. Being by the toilets meant I was surrounded by talkative souls queuing for lavatory action the entire flight. I was so cramped I lay with my feet sticking out into the aisle for much of the journey. And at headrest level it didn't even have those flaps you can lean your tired head against. But the final straw, apart from the lack of fit stewardesses hanging on your every request for free alcohol, was the lack of TV screens.

The only TV was situated way at the front of the cabin and was obstructed by a sea of dotted heads, stretching arms and stewards reaching across to pour various beverages. Not good.

A poor journey was capped off when an unknown gentleman fainted whilst walking down the aisle to the toilet behind me. In the darkness I wasn't at first sure what had happened but I awoke to the sound of him hitting the floor. I only realised something was awry when the bloke in front of me hurdled over his sleeping companion to aid the stricken traveller. Hurrah for the hero! My involvement comprised of peering through the gloom at this mysterious figure huddling inches from my outstretched and aching feet before using him as a footrest for the remainder of the journey.

The 3-month wait and the 12 hour flight were soon a thing of the past however as Fe was waiting for me at the airport. Well actually she was stuck in traffic being chatted up by a big camp taxi driver but for the purposes of this 'blog we can pretend she was the first person I saw as I staggered through arrivals.

Considering how long we'd been apart and the fact we were in one of the craziest cities on earth we fell back into the swing of things pretty quickly. I'm not sure what this says about our relationship.

In part any pressure surrounding us was lifted by the camp taxi man who lightened the mood by hiding behind the boot of his car when he saw me approach him. I think he thought I was going to attack him after the comments he'd made to Fe demanding she ditch me for him and his boasts that he could satisfy a woman for up to 12 hours at a go.

Half an hour later we waved goodbye to the first of many admirers Fe would attract and stood outside our hotel. It was situated next to a huge mall in the centre of town. In this respect it was similar to the hotel I stayed at in Malaysia. We spent some time checking the shopping out and eating some amazing Japanese food. Because of my jet lag we retired to the bar in the hotel fairly early and had a couple of glasses of wine.

Because we had left the hotel to walk to the mall we had to head back through the front entrance to get back in. Both of us were a little surprised by the amount of security that now greeted us. We both had to enter through those metal detectors you get at a passport control at the airport as we were checked for weapons. Burly guards loitered around the front desk and the place was noticeably busier than it had been an hour earlier.

Soon we'd forgotten all about it as we sat and relaxed at the bar with a few glasses of wine. We were kept amused by the hotel singer who sang songs in our honour and kept asking us whether we planned to get married soon. No pressure or anything.

However our bliss was soon cut short by the sound of screaming coming from the foyet. The waitresses immediately ran over to the balcony and as we looked over there was a scrum of activity. Security guards surrounded a well-dressed guy, and appeared to be bundling him along, while girls yelled in his general direction whilst holding their head in their hands. For a split second it looked as though someone was going to get all terrorist on our asses. But before I could hurl myself into the action it became apparent all the fuss was because a top Malaysian singer by the name of Rain was also staying at our hotel.

It was a surreal start to my Bangkok experience. And I'm sure I'm not the first person to say that.

The next day we awoke and hailed a taxi to take us to our coach. And in doing so stumbled upon another of the more annoying aspects of life in Thailand. No, not the child prostitution, murderous drug trade, insufferable pollution & dodgy Man City buying presidents but that the Taxi drivers will pretend they know where they are going even when they patently don't. And so after waving our arms around the back of the cab and pointing to where we wanted to go on a map we found ourselves standing by the side of a busy road with all our bags desperately trying to reach our rendezvous point.

We were looking like we were going to miss the coach to drive us six hours north where we'd catch a ferry to the island of Ko Chang. Thankfully our next cab could actually do the job he was employed to do. And apart from ten minutes spent watching two roosters fight and an uncomfortable journey where I tried and failed to sleep off my jetlag the next leg of our journey was uneventful. However the further north we went the clouds started to gather and by the time we boarded the ferry my weather curse appeared to be raising its head once more.

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What have Croatia, Malaysia, Australia and now Thailand got in common? All greeted my arrival by absolutely pissing it down. Okay, so Bangkok gave me one day of grace, but I couldn't help but note this fact as our boat pulled into Ko Chang. With trips to New Zealand and South Korea on the horizon it will be interesting to see if this unwelcome coincidence continues.

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I was also wondering what I'd done in a past life when we arrived at our destination. A sleepy set of huts on the north side of the Island looked out over the Gulf of Thailand. It was an extremely romantic setting. At least it would have been if the sun had been out and the swimming pool at the centre of the complex, not ten metres from our hut, hadn't been emptied a week or so before.

Other problems were that the place was totally deserted. We were literally the only guests. We were also either so unimportant or not drinking enough as we were ordered to bed at 9.30pm because the owner got tired.

The bloke who ran the joint was of course a fat old Englishman who chain-smoked and had something funky going on with his front teeth. He reminded me of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now. While with depressing predictability, the lady of the manor was a beautiful woman in her thirties. On the walls were posters of her in her heyday and she had obviously been a bit of a catch. How she ended up with this bloated monster nobody knows. But somehow they'd both spawned a cute little five-year old boy who firmly admonished us whenever Fe and I got even slightly close. Apparently kissing or any kind of affectionate contact was only allowed in the bedroom. Unless you paid for it of course and then you could do pretty much whatever you wanted.

The following morning we decided to move on to the other side of the island. The weather was still horrible and we figured that we should really stay somewhere where there was something to do other than sunbathe in the rain. The discovery of rat faeces on the bed sheets only sought to strengthen our resolve and by midday Fe was in a travel agent and I was walking up the beach checking out the various hotels.

Within an hour or so, and with the sun beating down on my burning bonce, I collected Fe and all our things and took her back to the hotel I'd found. It was a lovely place, costing about £30 a night, situated right on the beach. We chilled out by the pool for most of the day, spotting Thai brides, gay cruisers and general weirdos frolicking alongside German families. Then at night we ate the first of many amazing seafood meals before strolling along the beach and drinking cocktails at a beach bar playing Bob Marley.

As relaxing and enjoyable as our night had been with the weather as bad as it was we decided it was time to move on the following day. While making plans over a substandard breakfast there was a commotion at the table directly behind Fe but straight in my eye-line. I couldn't at first work out what was going on as all I could see was five or six terrified people aged between 30 and 40. One of the people at their table was lying on the floor in an awkward position with his feet on the seat and his head buried at an angle in the floor.

His companions were beside themselves and were frantic in their attempts to help him. But then as quickly as it happened it appeared that the situation resolved itself and people started to laugh in that hysterical kind of way that people do when they're still quite scared. I couldn't tell from where I was sitting but he must have either started breathing again, opened his eyes or started snoring. I guess he'd had an epileptic fit or some kind of seizure.

Either way, shortly after someone had put a pillow under his head, he got up, joked with those at the table next to his and carried on eating his breakfast. Which was quite a feat as I wasn't able to eat a bite after witnessing all that.

After spending 12 hours on a plane not two days beforehand I couldn't face another flight quite so soon and so we decided to catch a coach back to Bangkok. After spending another night in the capital we planned to fly on from there. Air travel in Thailand is ridiculously cheap and we wanted to get down to where the sun promised to shine. Prior to the holiday I'd overheard Annabelle saying that the Island of Ko Phi Phi was the most picture perfect paradise she's ever seen. Considering how widely travelled she is I made a note of this and convinced Fe that we should journey there.

We weren't disappointed. After spending the evening in Bangkok checking out the markets and eating traditional Thai Burger King we awoke early and caught another cab which didn't know which way to go before flying to Krabbe. As soon as we touched down we knew we were in the right place - for the sole reason that the sun was out.

After meeting a German couple called Jochan and Steffi at the airport and sharing a cab we ate some lunch whilst waiting for our boat to arrive. The meal itself was perfectly adequate for me. I ordered a lovely Green Curry. But the others were not so lucky. Fe ordered the most disgusting looking soup I've ever seen while Jochan found an elastic band in the middle of his burger bun. Mmmmmmmm.

It was a bit of an ice-breaker moment as we all collapsed with laughter and not long after we crashed out on a boat taking us to the Island. And what a sight we had when we awoke.

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The Island we were on was so amazing and idyllic that it resembled a film set.

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We booked into our hotel and arranged to meet up with our German friends that night. The place was approaching the end of season so wasn't that busy. But after eating another beautiful meal we started drinking the local whiskey and cocktails at one of the bars. We were entertained by the fire dancers and appalled by the young Thai women being picked up by gross old Western men.

The night itself was one of the best we had. We got totally hammered and danced into the early hours and as the as night wore on both Fe and I swapped dance tricks with our new German friends.

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The next day we woke with a stinking hangover and so decided to stay at our hotel another night. Our only exercise for the day involved trekking to the island's other main beach to book accommodation for the following two nights. Those responsible had obviously taken from the Australian school of naming places. The difference being that the unimaginatively named 'long beach' wasn't even that long.

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One strange thing that kept happening involved the reaction Fe and I kept getting from fellow holidaymakers. People kept thinking she was my Thai bride. Every time she smiled at someone in a friendly manner she'd be greeted with the kind of embarrassed or uncomfortable frown blokes give a prostitute when offered services on Bedford Hill. Or so I've heard.

It got to a point where we were so offended by people thinking Fe was a hooker and even worse, that I was a desperate Westerner needing to pay for her services, that every time we got dubious stares Fe would start speaking loudly in her Kiwi accent whilst I made comments about being a media darling. This is what we do normally so it didn't take much effort. And although it led to even stranger stares we got the message across.

Our third day on Ko Phi Phi saw us move to our residency on Long Beach. And in doing so we stayed in the most luxurious of settings. It was slightly more than our German friends apartment but still a snip at £35 a night.

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Our two days there consisted of sunbathing yards from our swimming pool and metres from the beach, dining on amazing seafood and relaxing in the sea. It was exactly what we needed. We also met up with Steffi and Jochan for meals and more drinks.

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In some ways our stay was almost frustrating. We were due to go back to England in two days via another night in Bangkok. And we both couldn't help but feel a little disappointed that we hadn't got to this island sooner.

After jealously leaving the Germans to another few days of bliss we flew back to Bangkok and another stay at the hotel we stayed at on our first night. Thankfully this time there was no sight of Rain. And we spent the evening cramming in as much shopping as we could manage. Fe proved particularly adept at the haggling. Nearly reducing the staff to tears at every opportunity we walked away with many bargains. Our best deal came after we were offered one pair of sunglasses for £10. A few stern words from Fe and we managed to get two pairs for £2. This country rocks.

I can now count myself as a bit of a Thailand convert. Before I went several good friends couldn't speak highly enough of the place. But it had always been one of those countries I've never had much of an inclination to visit. But after spending a bit of time there I'm sure I'll one day return.

As I mentioned to Tomson, in an e-mail the other week, if you like a country where the sun shines brightly, the beaches are idyllic, the people friendly, the shopping extremely cheap, the food delicious and the alcohol a steal then this is the country for you.

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