Fuck me, that was a trek and a half.
Started off nice and easy with a taxi to the train station and noon on Monday, the first hint of trepidation brewing at the back of my head although remaining drowned out by the chorus of confusion, excitement and adrenalin. From Waverley it was a pretty damned comfortable four and a half hours in first class (£80 for 1st class, £100 for standard – sort your shit out Mr Train Company) with a couple of beers and some laptop-based entertainment to keep me going.
As luck would have it the train arrives in King’s Cross where you can hop on the Picadilly line straight out to Heathrow, no messing about. No delays en route meant I was left with a few hours to kill once I got there, would rather have jumped straight on a plane but never mind.
My flight was with Jet Air. They suck balls. Seriously. Customer service was non-existent, the food was like a throwback to seventies airline meals and my seatback screen broke about three hours into the flight. On pointing this out to a steward he re-assured me that they’d fix it once we landed in Mumbai. Thanks a fucking lot. At least I’d had time to watch the last Star Trek film before it died – much better than I’d expected and cleverly written so as to avoid Trekkies complaining about inconsistency with the original series if they go on to make more.
After a thoroughly boring eight or nine hours we touched down in Mumbai where I had a three-hour stopover. Man that airport is a shithole. Grumpy security guards sticking AK-47s in your face, no cash machines, fuck all to do in general. Longest three hours ever.
Finally boarded a plane to Bangkok, much smaller than the previous one and crammed in like cattle. The Jet Air suckfest continues unabated. It was a real feeling of relief to get into Bangkok airport (for my money the best airport I’ve ever visited). I got a cab to my hotel, stumbled into the place and was shown to my room.
Fuck me. It was a fucking palace. After 24 hours of solid sleepless travel it was like I’d died and gone to heaven. All shiny and new, a massive bed, awesome city view (8th floor), fully stocked minibar and fridge, all the bells and whistles. Oh, and seeing as it was round the corner from Nana Plaza, one of Bangkok’s three red light districts, they even provided a few packs of assorted condoms right next to the sachets of coffee and sugar 🙂
For some reason my body decided that I didn’t deserve to sleep yet and started pumping me full of adrenaline so I took a wander to find a bite to eat and have a couple of beers to help me nod off. There was no question of where to go, had to go check out the wonders of Nana Plaza. Now this is all fun and games when you’re with a crowd but on your own? Feels seriously sleazy. I wasn’t there to partake in the fornicatory festivities, just wanted to peoplewatch, but I still felt mildly uncomfortable just being on the fringes. I settled on an open-fronted bar outside the main action area as I didn’t feel like being bombarded with lassies looking for business, not with my head in the state it was at any rate. Fun game to play if you find yourself in the same situation – Spot The Paedo. It’s horrifyingly easy and makes your skin crawl after about five minutes of non-stop scoring.
A few (okay, five or six) beers later I made my way back, collapsed unconscious for about eight hours and headed back out to the airport. I had a couple of hours before the flight so I wandered around the shops and beheld the following spectacle. An Aussie (subhu)man was obviously confused about the way pricing works in Bangkok. Generally if you’re buying goods from a market or a street stall you’ll be expected to negotiate but if it’s a normal shop (like Duty Free) and the items have printed price tickets then that is the price. No haggling, no tourist rip-offs, you just pay it. It’s not rocket science – stalls are for bargaining, shops aren’t. The guy’s patter went along the following lines:
“Give me your best price” (on an expensive-looking watch)
“That is the price sir”
“No, give me your best price, I’m not paying that”
“Sir, that is the price on the ticket”
“No it’s not, I want your best price”
“If you spend over 15,000 baht we offer a 10% discount”
“I’M NOT INTERESTED IN A DISCOUNT, JUST GIVE ME YOUR BEST PRICE!”
“The price is what it says on the item sir”
“GIVE ME YOUR BEST PRICE RIGHT NOW! IF YOU DON’T GIVE ME YOUR BEST PRICE I’M LEAVING!!!”
Thankfully at this point he stormed off with fists waving and expletives flying, thirty seconds longer and I swear to god I was about to lamp the fucker. Anyway, the fun was over and it was time to get my ass to Surat Thani.
The flight was short and uneventful, ending on a runway that looked like it was constantly fighting to keep the surrounding jungle at bay. Seriously, looking out the window just before touchdown I swore we were about to touch down in the middle of the trees, the runway was all but invisible. I was met by Emma, head teacher at The Language, who ferried me into town, giving me a quick guided tour on the way.
First impressions? A bit ramshackle, kinda similar to Bangplee, but randomly scattered with lovely temples, parks and pubs. Actually it was better than I expected – I’d kinda tricked myself into expecting a real hole in the hope that on arrival anything would be better than the image in my head 🙂 First stop was my flat – photos to arrive soon – and an introduction to Jasper and Tallulah, two of my flatmates. Don’t worry about the names, they’re kittens. By Thai standards the place is pretty impressive, by Western standards a bit shabby, but I’ll soon sort that out. My room is basic and functional but James and Jeff are moving out in a couple of months so I’ll inherit the master bedroom, replete with en-suite. Oh, and apparently we have about the only oven in Surat Thani, handy if I ever get bored of 50p Thai meals from restaurants and street vendors. Fat chance.
Emma then ferried me to Tesco (yeah, the fuckers are everywhere) to pick up some supplies, a new phone (cheaper and easier than unlocking my UK one) and to see a bit more of the town. Eventually got home and met the flatmates and neighbours, tried in vain to unpack (brain seriously dying by this point) and spent a long time sitting in front of an electric fan.
As luck would have it I arrived on the day of a big leaving bash; one of the teachers and his Thai girlfriend are heading north to Chiang Mai to open a restaurant. We had dinner at a lovely restaurant on the rive and I was introduced to about twenty teachers and their friends, only about five of whose names I can remember at this point. Afterwards we went on to Big’s bar, just around the corner from my flat and one of the coolest pubs I’ve ever been in. It’s more like a living room than a pub, totally laid back and informal, festooned with english language books which you’re free to borrow and a lax attitude to opening hours (if you’re still thirsty we’re still open). Cue several hours of drink, chat and general jet-lagged confusion before finally hitting the sack at about 5:30am.
Finally woke yesterday at half two in the afternoon, still confused and not a little lost. Had a wander around town, stumbled on a local cafe with free wi-fi, came back and wrote this. And that’s it so far. Heading back to Big’s for the fortnightly pub quiz and will hopefully pick up some more local hints and tips – no idea about laundry and various essentials so far.
Toodle-pip for now, will no doubt have a lot more to post once I’ve found my bearings, re-arranged my poor brain and started teaching/training…
Postscript – joined a team with three random strangers for the pub quiz and we stormed to victory, according to them all thanks to me. How my jet-lagged brain managed it I have no idea but we ended up 1,100 baht richer for our efforts. Ended the night in the smaller of Surat Thani’s two clubs and was introduced to the strange custom of guys coming up to you and offering you a drink of their beer/whatever as a gesture of friendship. Odd, and a little disconcerting coming from Scotland, but kinda sweet all the same.