So after what turned out to be an amazing stay in Bangkok it was time to go to Phuket, which promised, beautiful beaches, beautiful scenery and beautiful ladies (or what looks like a lady). As well as chance to finally meet Sheryl whilst sober, having seemingly been inebriated the only times I had met her previously, she remembered me, and I had very little recollection of ever meeting her, a problem I blame Alastair McGrath for. The only obstacle between me and Phuket a mammoth 12 hour bus ride, although the bus ride started at 8.30, my taxi was due to pick me up at 4.00, well at least I had no chance of being late.
My first objective was to kill the time before I was collected by taxi, preferably without spending any money. So I just went for a wander around, looked at the local neighbourhood, went to a Thai shopping centre and treated myself to a McDonald's, I was pretty amazed by the Thai Ronald McDonald.....like an amount that I should be ashamed of. Once again I bumped into the guy who showed me the massage place, this time he seemed to think I should be going to buy a suit.....I really didn't want to take a suit about with me. I declined his offer to be shown a good place to get a suit made and once again the query "do you want sex" which was an offer I once more passed on.
Eventually I was in the back of a taxi on my way to a minibus to get a coach to Phuket. To my eternal delight we picked up an English girl on the way, for the life of me I'm struggling to remember her name, I think it was Alice, but I really can't be sure. Chatting away I found out she had done her two years in Australia and had loved every minute of it, it made me feel much more optimistic about the whole affair, but also gave me a massive insight into what it would be like once I was in Oz.
We parted ways after the taxi ride, she was sent off inner minibus to a different coach station myself on another minibus to Bangkok coach station. I found myself wedged in the back corner of the minibus, my knees jammed against the seat in front of me, my torso held in place by the Chinese man next to me, my head free to jolt back and forth as the minibus weaves through traffic. I looked like a very unhappy bobblehead. The conversation on the minibus couldn't fail to amuse, as three French guys, a Brazilian woman, a Russian man and a Chinese man spoke in somewhat broken English about where they were all going. For once in the company of strangers I kept quiet and just listened to the talk.
Once in the coach station I found myself waiting on the platform for my coach to be ready.....it wasn't to depart until 8.30 some four hours after I'd first been picked up. It was currently 7.00 I settled onto a bench for the long wait, dreading the surely uncomfortable journey that was to follow. After what felt like an eternity the staff appeared and started preparing the bus for travel, shortly after we boarded and were all seated. I ended next to a Thai man in a suit, he didn't speak English, which was almost relieving as I jammed earphones in, and told my iPod to play all of the Arctic Monkeys albums. I sleep even less in coaches than I do on planes, so for the next 12 hours I sat staring out of the window trying to not think about how long I had been sat in the seat, how long was still left in the journey, how sore my ass was from being seated for so long. The complimentary bottle of water and small packet of strawberry and cream wafers were gratefully received.....I had forgotten to bring water. We passed through some beautiful scenery, and I tried in vain to photograph some of it, the ride wasn't smooth enough and pictures through windows are never great.
Once in Phuket I hastily departed the bus, grabbed my bag and started trying to work out where I needed to go,I had been advised (once again Sheryl my guardian angel) that the local bus to Phuket town then another local bus to Patong beach would be the cheapest bet. However the taxi and Tuk Tuk drivers had other ideas, as soon as they saw me, shouts of "hey where you go" "you want taxi" "hey you" started. My sleep addled brain couldn't cope, make them stop it urged me, I all but ran from the coach station. If I can escape these people I can think. Quick walk this way. I set off blindly walking down a road that I though was heading the right way. After fifteen minutes of walking I realised I was well away from the coach station and not too sure of where I was going. Nether the less I would not be cowed by that and ploughed on relentlessly, even when the heavens opened and nature itself tried to persuade me that walking was not the best idea I carried on. I reached Phuket town......soaked through, but happy that I had done it. I found the bus and hopped aboard, ditching my bag at the back as instructed and sitting down, the bus journey was uneventful aside from the cutest Thai baby, sat in the lap of the woman next to me, trying to steal my glasses, I surmised she hadn't seen someone in glasses up until this point as she was mesmerised by them.
Once in Patong beach it was a simple walk to the hotel.....and after around an hour trudging up and down streets, the now blazing sunshine (I am unsure if rain or shine is worse at this point) causing sweat to roll down my face, my backpack pulling down on my shoulders, I entered the porch/lobby (there was no doors) of my hotel. Checked in and after a shower went straight to sleep. At around two o clock it had only taken a mere twenty two hours to get from one hotel to another.
That night I met Sheryl for a drink, I was happy to finally meet her (knowing I would remember it this time) and we hit up Bangalore road. Sheryl had warned that there was a lot of ping pong shows in Phuket....I was barely prepared for how many people there were advertising said shows, every ten steps there was someone showing you a poster and telling you about them.....somewhat bizarrely they thought she would be more interested than I. Which was funny until she told them I wanted a man ping pong show.....which of course they promptly offered me. The highlight for me was the bar we went in with a Thai cover band on, witnessing a Thai lady sing "f*** you I won't do what you tell me" for some reason out a massive smile on my face. Sheryl's brother came and collected her and I set off walking back to my hotel, I knew where I needed to go, but quite the route. One wrong turn and suddenly I had a ladyboy clutching my arm....I couldn't pull it free. Now part of me was panicking.....the other part was laughing at how surreal the whole thing was, secretly thinking this will be a brilliant anecdote if I don't get raped. She (he?) offered me a massage, when that failed a blow job, when that failed a massage and a blow job with a discount, a half price massage and blow job, who I said I just wanted to go back to my hotel, she (he?) said she would come with me, and then finally the last offer I could have one of her (his?) female friends instead. The whole time holding my arm, which I was trying to pull free.....I mean it's not like I could of shouted for help, and I couldn't really hit her (him?). After smiling and promising several times I would come back tomorrow I secured my freedom and fled. Only to have the offer a mere three hundred yards down the road, and this is verbatim, "hey you, I love you like a girl" oh my I was a long way from home.
The next morning I woke up early, as I had a boat trip to Phi Phi island, already paid for, so now worry about money, which was depleting far too quickly. I plodded down to the lobby of the hotel to wait for my taxi and asked the lady working on reception whether it would be possible to have a coffee, "no" was the answer flung back at me. "Oh ok" I stuttered, not really prepared for such a rude response. To which she burst out laughing and then offered me a coffee and proceeded to mock me for saying "yes please" she asked me if I was gay, then told me I looked like a lady boy.....at this point I was half waiting for Richard, Matt, Alastair or Daniel to jump out. I didn't come all the way to Thailand to have my sexuality questioned. Eventually in between sarcastically mocking me and querying my gender she introduced herself as Aicha. As I sipped my coffee I watched her similarly berate other guests, shouting at a Spanish guy, who was hanging quite badly and kept falling asleep whilst waiting for his taxi, to "wake up, it's morning time." I think at this point she was only Thai person I'd seen be sarcastic and it was absolutely hilarious. She demanded to know what I was doing that night, I said I might go for a drink, she said she wanted to go out, but her friends were busy, and all but invited herself out with me, saying she wanted to dance. I said I was up for that, it seemed like a better bet than drinking alone.
The minibus picked me up for Phi Phi island and after a short introduction at the office a group of us were walking down to the beach to get on the boat. I had started talking to a couple from London, Elizabeth and Frank. They were pretty cool and very friendly, so I latched myself onto them, content to play third wheel a British couple. There isn't much I can write about Phi Phi, we were very lucky with the weather, it was a gorgeous sunny day and the sea was very calm and the island(s) we're resplendent in their beauty. A personal highlight for me was throwing pieces of banana to the monkeys, especially when a monkey perched on a cliff caught the banana mid air, I loved those cheeky little b******s.
That night I headed out with Aicha, a unique experience in itself, but with a wonderful side effect. It turns out if you go out drinking with a local then you aren't bothered by the hawkers, promo staff and the 'bar girls', they give you a questioning look and if you shake your head they leave you alone......I loved it. A few beers and some successfully busted moves later the night was over. Aicha promised to take me sight seeing the next day in return for taking her out that night.
The next morning found me riding on the back of a Thai lady's scooter darting through the tiniest gaps in traffic, Aicha perfectly demonstrating the Thai regard for road regulations. Weaving through hills on a picturesque winding road, whilst clutching her tightly like a frightened toddler, I completely fell in love with Thailand. It transpired our destination was an almost deserted beach away from the main strip and apparently rarely visited.
After what seemed to be a far shorter time than four days it was my last night in Thailand, Aicha helped me book a taxi to the airport for 6.30am and ensured I got the much sort after local rate instead of the inflated tourist price and then she cooked for me and another couple of guests in the hotel. The new couple were a a French man and English woman. The Thai and French watched entranced as me and the English lady rattled out a conversation with so many colloquialisms and at such velocity the French man said he could only listen and not talk. We shared a few beers and then eventually I had to call time on my Thai adventure.
The final morning in Thailand found me in Phuket airport, tears in my eyes as I prepared myself to get to Australia. Thailand will always be special to me, a crazy, fast paced, frightening, beautiful and friendly country. The first place I ventured to outside of my little island, the place that made me realise I can survive on my own and showed me a beautiful world outside of my comfort zone.
As a perfectionist I feel that this chapter is not complete, but it's near impossible for me to scribe all that happened to me, the emotions I felt and the images I saw in such a way that would fully encapsulate the range of my experience in Phuket and indeed Thailand in general. If you have made it thus far, you have my gratitude, thank you for humouring my self indulgence, but I I really did fall in love with Thailand, and I know I will go back at some point.