Well I suppose it was inevitable really, but it didn't take long before my public school upbringing reared its head and I conformed with the rest of the square jawed elite. Yes I now sport the uniform of Thai fisherman pants, flip flops, my name in Thai tattooed to my arm and a vest promoting one of two major Thai beer brands (Singha or Chang). In all seriousness you just can't buy any clothing here despite it being so cheap, because chances are you'll see someone else wearing the exact same thing. The quote that reads 'There is a corner of every foreign land that is forever England' was referring to Thailand, except amend it to 'There is a corner of every foreign land that is forever an English University'. You do get the feeling, particularly on the islands, that you have walked into Freshers' Week or a casting call for channel 4s 'Shipwrecked' reality show where slightly annoying 20 somethings laze around an island all for the benefit of the cameras...both of which we are too old for or rather have no inclination to engage in...what a grumpy old man I have become as I approach 30.
Of course there is another side to Thailand that one is aware of; that of it being the home of sex tourism and because of the western pre conception there is a strange phenomenon here; every westerner or 'farang' you see walking around with a woman of an oriental persuasion you find yourself wondering if there is something dodgy afoot....especially when the westerner is British, sporting a beer belly and looks like Rab C Nesbitt. It's actually a little weird and something that would not even cross the mind at home.
However, I am pleased to inform you that despite the dubious rep, we have just been for an hour's massage and there was nothing remotely seedy about it. For starters the wife was lying next to me and there's nothing sexy about that (joking) - but the masseuse's insistence at calling me 'lovely man, sexy man, chocolate man' was enough to reduce us both to tears.
Ko Phi Phi suffered some fairly seismic damage as a result of the 2004 Tsunami and surveying the pictures of the wreckage, complete with bodies lying prostrate between the broken bits of woods that were once homes and shops, brings a lump to the throat. Hence our choice of dinning on the island at Samee's restaurant. A survivor from the 2004 disaster, he was pulled clear of metres deep worth of rubble by two tourists. Today Samee is thankful for being rescued, but the opportunity that this new beginning has offered him to own his own restaurant and his personal thanks to you for eating there so he can provide for his family. It's all fairly humbling stuff an a story that paints a picture of the simplicity of life and death and I suppose why we should all make the most of what we have rather than constantly reaching for more and more.
Incidentally, can I offer you some advice? For those of you that have, are maybe or in the future will consider ever desecrating your body with some sort of art, might I suggest you visit Ko Phi Phi. Over here getting a tattoo has become part of the daily itinerary for most, so the time table now reads something like: breakfast - beach - lunch - horribly mutilate body with some quasi-symbolic icon that I think has relevance to me - dinner.
Needless to say we did not say long on Phi Phi (pronounce pee-pee) largely thanks to the puerile joke by the almighty that meant it pissed it down most of the time we were there. What he has planned for Phuket (pronounced poo-get) well...errr...God only knows. Worse was to follow though in the boat transfer from the island to Phuket. I suppose the writing was on the wall when they handed out the sick bags before we left the bay. 25 minutes into the trip with the vessel lurching from side to side like fair ground ride the passengers were split into those now retching into an ever so precariously small plastic bag and those of us praying to every Mohammad, Jesus, Guru Nanak, Buddha and any other deity we could think of in the hope that one might have command of a life boat. 2 hours later and we thankfully made it into port not a moment too soon. Several passenger disembarking with a warm party bag as a memento of their journey.
Phuket ain't a bad place, but it's a little resort heavy and hence is filled with package holiday tourists who have graduated on from Spain and latterly the Caribbean. Like the rest of Thailand the incessant question of 'Hey where you go?' from tuk-tuk drivers begins to do your head in, particularly when the answer is 'um...well...over there'.
A 12 hour over night bus to Bangkok was one of the more uncomfortable trips of our time away. Especially as we spurned the VIP seats for the cheaper option and hence spend the entire trip twisting and turning to try and find a position that would allow you to shut your eyes for a few minutes. Arriving somewhat bleary eyed at 7am in Bangkok we made our way to the traveller's hub of the Khao San Road which was still finishing up from the night before judging by the state of some of its patrons. Checking into our guesthouse we decided to to set off on the temple trail and get the whole thing done and dusted by lunch. And so we walked slap bang into what, in hindsight, appears to have been an attempted scam. Nothing is quite what it seems in Bangkok, from the ladies who are actually lady boys, to the Gucci bags that are fake and to the friendly local who is all part of a rouse to part you from your cash. Fortunately through sheer force of will and our collective spider senses tingling that there might be something up we succeeded in coming out the other end having parted with no money and gaining a free tuk tuk ride all round the city to the sights. It's funny, but the moment you refuse to play ball these guys dispense with the niceties and can't wait to get shot of you. The moment they see a tourist they see a big dollar sign and it gets fairly wearisome with every unscrupulous person treating you like you are an idiot. It's something that was not some much of issue in Latin America with us speaking the language a little. That said, this is a minority of the country and the vast majority are friendly and welcoming. So our advice to you is don't trust anyone who says that a local attraction is closed...including the tourist police. They're all in on it. It's amazing and half of it so plausible. In many ways you have to look back and just applaud their audacity.
Despite hearing some fairly damning things about the Khao San Road and having seen it represented in 'The Beach' you would think it was wise to steer clear. Yes it is brash, bold and brazen , but it's also quite good fun and the small lanes surrounding the main road are actually very relaxed and full of places to escape the maelstrom.
Anyway, we have now had our fill of Buddhas; we've seen him sitting, standing, laughing and lying, but are yet to find him doing anything more strenuous. Tomorrow we head out of the city to see Kirsty's cousin Bruce and his family. It'll be good to see a bit of the real Thailand away from the tourist trail. Monday we head to Cambodia and Angkor Wat. Phew, after this trip we will have seen our life's worth of temples, statues and ruins.
Tonight it is off to the local bar to watch the Rugby. Come on the Lions!