Episode 7. Dogs, cats and speedboats.

25 Aug

I had to spend another week in Bangkok in order to make final arrangements for my Korean working visa, so to make the most of this we decided to get ourselves tailored suits. This is a very pleasant way to spend your time, particularly if you fill the periods between fittings with Chang-towers, bowling alleys and darts boards. This is pretty much what we did with our remaining time in Thailand’s capital. My Dutch Planners would have despaired of me – the closest we came to doing anything cultural was when we stumbled, drunk, upon an international food fair and gorged ourselves on the international food fare.

Due to the inclusion of such essential items of baggage as a trumpet, some framed photographs, a piece of fossilized tree and a Sponge Bob Square Pants Whoopie-Cushion (I’ve still got it Satti – you’re right, it’s an ice-breaker), my wheeled holdall had been split at the seams since about the third day of my journey. The baggage-handlers on Bangkok Airways had very kindly tried to gaffer the whole thing together for me previously, but with the addition of my new suit I decided it was time to upgrade. So with my Korean visa finally obtained, I purchased a black luggage item with approximately the same dimensions (and weight) as a largish chest freezer, and, with my new travelling buddy Autumn, got the hell out of Bangkok.

See? Massive.

Our destination was a small island called Koh Lipe, recommended to us by our very knowledgeable tailor (Tailor On Ten – if you’re ever in Bangkok looking for a suit, look no further). It was a two day journey, the first of which wasn’t much to write home about, spent as it was entirely on a coach, but the second was a bit special. We were collected at 7.30am from our hotel by a very grumpy man in a Subaru saloon. My knowledge of Thai people is pretty limited, but I still wouldn’t mind hazarding a guess that our driver was The Most Grumpy Man in Thailand.

With just a scribbled receipt from a travel agent, we had no clear idea of where our stroppy chauffeur was taking us, or how long it might take. All we got from him were occasional barked commands, such as “Wait here!” and “Stay!”. In our back seat my friend and I chatted and speculated. I suppose we were “shooting the breeze”, passing the time with idle conversation, as I believe is not unusual for two people sitting next to each other in a car.

“Please!¬ Talking more slowly!” came a sudden plea from our driver, who had an expression of pure anguish on his face.

“Oh, sorry. Shall we talk more slowly so you can understand?” I replied, stupidly.

“No!! You two….Talking, talking, all the way! Sleep!”

He required us, quite urgently it seemed, to shut up, and although we were essentially in a taxi – that we had paid for – it seemed wise to do as he asked. It was very hard though – being told-off unexpectedly almost always triggers the giggles in me. In the end I just had to shut my eyes and pretend to sleep, struggling to contain the shudders of laughter that periodically rocked through my body.

I must have eventually drifted off, because the next thing I knew, we were at a port. I got out and heaved my ridiculous suitcase from the boot of the car, wondering what was going to happen next. Our ever-helpful driver jumped straight back into his seat and spun off, yelling a final “Wait here!” as he disappeared in a cloud of bad-tempered dust.

Well, it turns that our that our scribbled receipt now got us ONTO A SPEED BOAT! This was a totally new experience for me. I got myself right up front, strapped on my headphones, and for the twenty minutes or so before I started to feel horribly sick, literally had the time of my life. After that I slunk to the back and just tried to hold it together.

Sick.

When we finally arrived on Koh Lipe an hour or so later, my new suitcase continued to be the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever owned. It took two men to carry it ashore, and once placed on the sand it immediately began to sink. I was tempted to let it.

To get to the beach we wanted, our last mode of transport for the day was a small scooter with a side-car, driven by what I guessed to be a six year old boy. We somehow managed to balance 4 passengers plus our luggage onto this contraption, and although it was at first extremely reluctant to get us to the top of the island’s only hill, with a little persuasion we were soon wobbling our way down onto a beautiful beach, whose only inhabitants seemed to be a pack of stray dogs. After traipsing around for half an hour or so, my suitcase leaving what looked like tractor tire tracks across the sand, we eventually found an actual person, who said we could rent a bungalow from him for the equivalent of about £6 a night, which seemed more than reasonable.

Later that evening we found one of the few establishments that was open for business on the island. It offered Thai massage, which seemed like just the thing to end a day such as we’d had. As I lay on my front, drifting off to sleep whilst my back was softly pummelled and strolled upon, a stray cat came and nuzzled against my neck. After a few minutes it was purring happily and then it started gently nibbling on my ear. I had no idea whether this was part of the service, but lying there, with the sound of surf crashing on the deserted beach, dogs howling and scrapping in the distance, cat intimately purring and chewing on my lobe, vertebrae cracking; lying there it hit me that I had never been – in every possible sense – further from Devon than I was at this very moment. From a pasty on a chilly Tuesday morning in Plymouth Station to this, in two months. Lordy.

The prospect of my new life in Korea is looming distinctly and slightly nerve-rackingly on the near-horizon now. In order to try and un-addle my travel-addled brain, I set up a small office on the beach and spent some time brushing up on the little Korean I had learnt before I left England. It was a very nice office as offices go, and soon I had a dog too. This dog had obviously always wanted to be an office dog instead of a beach-bum dog, but hadn’t had the opportunity until now. We had a very nice little fantasy life there for a few days.

Our beach-office good-life idyll could not last forever though. Another reason we’d headed to this part of Thailand was that it was very close to the border with Malaysia. To extend our visa-waivers and continue our stay in Thailand, it was necessary for us to do a “visa run”. This is where you leave Thailand, enter another country, say a quick hello and then go back into Thailand again. So long as you get stamps in your passport confirming each of these stages, you get another 15 days. A whole industry has been born out of this technicality. All day, every day, air-conditioned mini-vans and taxis ferry tourists to and from the border. As with Russian beer bags, this is another fine example of good old red tape and loopholes keeping an economy ticking along!

So we had to leave Koh Lipe, and unfortunately I had to let the dog go. I gave her a glowing reference but I think she might have had enough of the office environment anyway. She said she’d probably end up going into business with that stray cat from the massage parlour.

Well, now I’m on another island, and as the fun clock ticks down on my Lovely Journey, each sunset seems to be a little more stunning than the last, each Chang a little sweeter. In a week from now I’ll be wearing a suit and standing in front of a classroom full of children. They will be expecting me to be knowledgeable and authoritative. Structures and schedules are in place, my name is on a list – I’m going back into the system. After all, this whole trip has just been one, very long, commute…

So next time you hear from me I’ll be in The Land of The Morning Calm. There, at last, I can start to make a real band, using the clay of young, innocent minds and the kiln of my bitter obsession. In the meantime, here’s another little ditty from the album. It’s title is “We’re Together/You Dumped Me”, which also happens to be all the lyrics. Handy, eh? No sleeve notes needed.


Hope you like it. I like you.

Henry x

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