Thursday, September 02, 2004

Willesden Green, NW London, UK

I'm home having sat on a plane surrounded by screaming children. We did get to circle central London and saw some great views of the city, HP, Buck House and the Thames and Tower Bridge which was nice though, even if it came several months earlier than I would've liked. I think the journey took longer than normal as, the onscreen airshow revealed, we were headed directly over Iraq before taking an occupied-country shaped detour over Saudi, Jordan and Syria instead.

Dad picked me up not recognising me at arrivals, claiming when he initially saw me appear that he expected I'd look something like the long-haired dishevelled apparition walking out yet not actually realising that that was his son. It was around half nine in the evening when we got to Willesden and not only was there no ticker tape parade but no-one was even home and my neighbours Matt and Siobhan had to let me in, allowing me into theirs for some champagne - he proposed to her a few days earlier - before I wandered off to track down flatmate Dave sitting outside a pub with a mate of his. I'm actually in a pretty good mood even though I've already lost my keys - I last used them when I collected my bags in terminal 4 and now I can't get into my bags meaning I had to sleep with my contact lenses in. I've now got a few day to organise my life, deal with Abbey National, and catch up with people. Yes Sab, get me in to the party tomorrow please. Phil, we'll meet up soon. Jamie, sorry I missed your party but I was arriving home. Steve, I'll give you a shout for that meet-up mate. Rog, Gus, Faith, Jon, we need an evening out. Can you make it, Monkey Dave? Big Pete, Jim, Suky, again, we need to meet up so I can annoy you. Rob, come round. No-one has told me off for smoking yet.

So I guess that's it. Bill Hell, a bomb-hit room, a shallow job to acquire so I can get some cash, did I even go? God I miss being away. I even miss the great India/ Sri Lanka combo which took an estimation nose-dive after I discovered Thailand. I told Dad and Mum, when I phoned her from the car, that I wanted to stay out there and they mumbled something about 'responsibility' and other stuff I didn't really want to listen to.

Hey, it's about half 2pm in Thailand. I'd be having lunch around now and smiling happily to myself before a spot of sightseeing, or chatting to other travellers. Of course, it's 1pm in India and I'd pretty much be doing more of the same. I've not even been home 24 hours yet I keep having flashbacks to everything I've done in the last two-and-a-half months and it seems like a dream. I'm already reassuring myself that the world will always be out there, that I can go back one day.

Still, on the plus side, at least I'm not sweating anymore.

Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Four hours left in Thailand

and I'm choked. I've been having a great time and now it's all over. Getting a flight to Sri Lanka tonight with just enough time to rent a hotel and sleep in it is not an attractive proposition, especially as it'll all culminate in me being back home and having to sort my life out - a shame as over here, everything feels pretty sorted to me. The backpacker lifestyle is pretty damn good, even if living out of a rucksack can become trying after a while and I'm dying to wear clothes that veer towards sexy, as opposed to something white and crap to sweat in.

Last night I visited a nearby restaurant that was showing the remake of 'The Ladykillers' - Tom Hanks actually being quite good although not in Alex Guinness's league, and it did seem fairly flat for a Coen brothers film. I then wandered off for a pointless game of pool, waiting half an hour to go up only to play an arrogant British tosser who said absolutely nothing to me and went on to pot six in a row from the break before I even lined up my first ball, something I found annoying enough to be relating now, then had to decline a threesome with a ladyboy and an old hooker - very flattering - and ended the evening chatting to a couple of friendly Germans lads who invited me to drink with them just because I was sitting by myself. For me, meeting people is a huge part of travelling, and it was nice to talk to these guys who were great company and surprisingly open and intelligent about the past - a shame really as my own countryfolk have come across as boorish alcoholics (not me though). Not counting the backpackers as they're younger and generally keen to explore and learn, the older Englishmen here have been pretty unpleasant. Why we're like that is anyone's guess. Something to do with once having an Empire and thinking we own everything, I suppose.

In fairness, they're pretty friendly although Thailand does seem to have cornered the market in attracting the very worst of the English. I suppose if they weren't here, they'd be on the Costas yelling at the Germans. Generally 40+ and blind drunk every night, they all have Asian wives and see it as their divine right to sleep with as many hookers as they can. One English guy in Ayutthya for example was so screamingly drunk, he began by yelling at an Irishman about how noble the English are, then went on to call a nearby American a Spic and told everyone within earshot that the best prostitutes are the new 14-year olds. Another guy I nicknamed Ratboy (but not to his face), mainly due to his shifty eyes and rodent head. If rats also swore loudly at the drop of a hat and angrily bellowed at bargirls for "a beer this fucking century, if it ain't too much trouble", then it would be even more apt. In fairness he was a friendly guy but just because he didn't try to hit or rob me (or beat me hands down at pool without saying a word), that doesn't automatically put him in the same camp as Mother Theresa. He lives in Vietnam and has a "stunning" 26 year old girlfriend 18 years his junior - and I can well believe that. I suppose in many ways it's not a bad situation as he had originally met her a few years back when he bought her for the night, then decided she was good enough to see daily and moved her in, getting her off the streets in the process. Not that he was being particularly noble mind you as he only wanted sex on tap from a girl he could never hope to see in a million years back home and still regularly visits prostitutes anyway, the exploits of which I got to hear about in graphic detail. Red-faced and bloated and with all the allure of a red-faced bloated shaved rat, he went on to tell me that his pushing-fifty friend in Saigon was married to an absolutely stunning Vietnamese girl in her early twenties, despite him being "as ugly as sin". I tried to picture what his friend must have looked like if a man with all the sexual attraction of a chipped pebble considered him ugly, and could only come up the image of the Elephant Man with herpes.

But this is Asia and men with all the charm of a sewage plant and sophistication of a council estate pub can date or even marry a much younger and astonishingly beautiful woman. Unlike conservative India where women are sometimes seen yet rarely heard, the women in Thailand are conspicuous and feisty. I spent my last evening in a nightclub happy to mind my own business and soon struck up conversations with local girls whilst being stared at by others dancing nearby and no, this was not a brothel. I wouldn't mind so much though if there was a frisson of emotion involved, but my worry that I'm seen as a walking wallet. It was also awkward talking to the girls as a few older Thai men sat grumpily in the corner watching me chatting, so I tried my best to stop grinning. The Thais really are wonderful though - sanuk, fun, is how they approach life - although there is a hidden resentment at all the rich old farang who seem to invade Thailand and snap up the most eligible women. "Yellow Fever" Ratboy called it, and claimed proudly that he'd only *expletive* Asian women and that western women could go *expletive* themselves. (That insight regrettably came after I stated my opinion that if a man declared himself attracted only to black women or blondes or Indians, he's racist albeit in a positive way as he's making a judgement based on colour. I managed to backtrack by telling him that any woman who has a big heart and is a decent person was preferable (although I think I may have said "big tits" instead).

I had an interesting meeting a few days back when a British backpacker told me he had money stolen from his padlocked rucksack on the Surat Thani to jetty coach that morning - up until then I had considered my money stolen from my hotel room as that was the least secure point. Now I realise that in all likelihood the coach operators, transporting 99% farang backpackers, have an extremely profitable scam whereby they help themselves to the contents of the tourists rucksacks from the immense luggage hold on the coach. I kicked myself as all I had to do was seperate my daypack (important gear) from my main bag (old pants) before handing them to the bastard with the torch and skeleton keys in the huge luggage hold, but my wisdom tooth pain was causing me to think about nothing else apart from "Hey, that's a big luggage hold, there's a man comfortably inside and Jesus my fucking tooth hurts". Also, the padlocks reassured me that it wasn't worth the hassle of separating bags in the 8 seconds it would've taken. So much for my world-wise independant traveller schtick.

So that's my trip. Brief. Fun. A hell of a lot of fun. Mind expanding. Life enhancing. Sickening (mainly the theft bits). Ego boosting (although that's classified). Stunning. And now absolutely devastating as I have to leave. Fortunately I get to see my folks and friends. Unfortunately, I have a pretty certain life of rain, drudgery and moody people ahead of me as I try my hardest to recoup my losses and refuse a 'quick beer' with flatmate Dave most evenings. It's incredibly easy here to chill out as every day's a Saturday and there's no pressure on you at all. And all that will end in 24-hours. I still have a few hours left in Sri Lanka which is nice - Katy is currently there but too far away for me to annoy her, plus Luke and Sab will be staying in Negombo about two weeks after I wander around it tomorrow.

Anyway, I can't think of anything else to say. India was brilliant and now I've done it twice I'm never going back (although I'd rather be there for a month instead of London), Sri Lanka was brief but fun, and Thailand has such a seal of approval that I intend my next holiday to be here. People have been incredible and it's been an honour to watch the world walk by or talk to them. I'm so happy here that I actually think my nickname 'The Miserable Whinging Bastard' is finally redundant, although when I think about what I have lined up for me back home, probably starting with flatmate Dave saying "Right, remember that eighty quid you didn't pay me before you left, well there's also...", I feel a moan coming on.

See you all soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Ayuthaya

I have finally moved on after a mammoth 8 night stay in Kanchinaburi and I think I've cheered up. My posts have been somewhat miserable and pitifully self-reflective of late, so I may as well add a new one that's a bit more lively, although not much has happened.

I left Kanchi this morning and not before time as the Jolly Frog guesthouse has all but emptied as the full moon approaches and every traveller with any kind of hedonistic urge heads south for the piss-up (I'm a] leaving the day after from Bangkok so it's cutting it close and b] not exactly in the best financial position to be lashing out on frivolities such as alcohol). Shay the fat Israeli Ali G lookalike was the only guy I really knew left in the whole place and we said goodbye after he invited me to look him up in Israel and I made a point of telling him that that was unlikely. I did however invite him to London, but I knew it won't be taken up as he hated the place. "The people are all mentally deficient", he very tactfully told me, and repeated it again as we said goodbye. Nice bloke during the day though. How anyone can turn from friendly and warm to loud or morose after two beers is anyone's guess, but that was he.

The lovely English girls were also leaving and although I gave them friendly nods and warm smiles when I left my room, I couldn't be bothered to say goodbye at reception as they turned down the opportunity of a lifetime to join me for a drink and a five-some. I liked the atmosphere of Kanchinaburi but it was also getting me down due to my overstay, something I didn't fully grasp until I checked in to Tony's guesthouse in Ayuthaya, the former capital of Thailand. I had spent over three hours on a couple of public buses for about 75 baht all in - about a quid - to get here, and I'm too exhausted to do any sightseeing. It's early evening anyway and I'll probably take the cheesy tour of the Buddhist temples tommorrow night as it's cheap as chips (or 'French Fried' as the menus here have it).

For some reason, all the staff in Tony's are remarkably happy, friendly people. When I pointed at the pool table in the restaurant with my best 'Can I play on your table please?' expression, a grinning Thai approached me to yell happily "It buggered!" It would appear that isn't the only thing either as there was something I wasn't able to place until just now; the staff all seem like ladyboys on their lady day off. In fact, it only dawned on me just now when I threw a beef in oyster sauce meal down my neck, I suddenly noticed a chef and waiter friskily jumping on each other, then turned to my left to see the male receptionist massaging the shoulders of the other male receptionist, both with faraway dreamy looks in their eyes.

I'm now in the Internet Cafe opposite and, well, lets just say you'd love it here Roger. The two young men working here are also extremely friendly and fancy-free and just now, one of the guy's mobiles went off... Da da, Da da, Da da da da!... and my mistake was to think about it and in a fit of over-excitement at having guessed the tune, I turned to repeat the da da's at the guys only to inspire us all to yell 'I love you baby, and if it's quite alright I need you, baby, to warm a lonely night...' until I realised what I was singing and promptly shut up.

I'm beginning to think the whole town's gay, and I've only been here a few hours. I got chatting to a really cute Canadian girl in the restaurant earlier - wedding ring: not evident, mention of boyfriend: not yet - but she did mention her girlfriend and although she could possibly be the pretty one in a rug muncher's duet, I'm still hoping that she meant 'girl friend' in the soppy girly way, but I doubt it. It's all irrelevant though as when I get home, I'm putting my genitals up on eBay (in the auction sense, otherwise that last sentence sounds quite odd).

I've also discovered a minor faux-pas when I gave a now well-honed reverential thank you bow to the young girl who gave me my change earlier - it would appear that that's reserved for the elderly or royalty, which would explain why the kids in Kanchinaburi's 7-11 giggled every time I walked out. I do like Thailand though. There are many Thai's who are simply jaded, especially in the south, as the place is farang tourist central, but when the people are nice, they're fantastic. The children are gorgeous - yes, I'm actually getting broody - and everyone really does smile a lot, even if some of the wiry muscular blokes look like real shitkickers when they're going about their daily business and not smiling. I never realised how Chinese people can look too, but darker, unsurprising as people settled Thailand from southern China which I find interesting anyway. I haven't seen any Siamese cats though, or Siamese twins (Note for my sister and Rachel: Siam is the former name of Thailand.) 'The King and I' was set here, although it's not a popular movie for its somewhat racist portrayal of the king - unsurprising as he's venerated almost as a god (Ek in the 'No Name Bar' said he'd die for him) and there are portraits of the big guy and his wife everywhere. In fact, I was rather shocked to see Mrs Queen on TV recently looking quite portly and elderly - all the pictures at roadsides and in just about every shop depict a rather attractive and glamorous woman - although it would now appear that only younger pictures are used in public. I was actually quite shocked when I saw the King and Her on telly as they both looked doddery and bewildered as every image I had seen up until then had been quite the contrary. God knows what will happen when the inevitable happens - decades of mourning probably. For some reason, there are also many many portraits of Rama V, the current King's Great-Great Grandfather everywhere too, the equivalent of us venerating Queen Victoria back home. Again, I find this interesting, so I'll stop now.

I don't have much else to add. I'll stay in Ayuthaya for two days or maybe three, leaving me with just the one day in Bangkok to see how much cash I have left to buy some fake police sunglasses seeing as I left my last pair on a railing at a hot spring near Burma. I just hope I have enough to at least get myself a cheap hotel for my overnight stay in Sri Lanka and my flight back to London where I intend to write for a living never to work in a soulless office again where my immense intellect and talent won't be appreciated. Hello former Edexcel colleagues if you read this or even remember me. I was the bloke in the corner who always turned up late, never did any work and pissed you all off. And hello DL and the Schuring woman if you're about too. I'm coming back to bug you all, and that goes double for Sophia, Karla and Caspar who've been eerily silent since I left. You're all gonna get a nice thick slice of Me Pie.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Random update

I'm still in Kanchanaburi as it's a cheap, pleasant place to while away some time. I'm staying at a guesthouse called the Jolly Frog which is perfect as there's a communal and very popular restaurant, and my room overlooks the River Kwai, which is nice. There's a constant stream of travellers coming and going and I've met some great people; Dan from Wolverhampton, Shay the unstereotypically friendly Israeli, Luke and Mark from Gloucestershire, Fiona and Miriam from Reading, and a bunch of lovely English girls I don't want to talk about in case I jinx anything.

I went on a cheap tour a few days ago to a waterfall and hot springs where I met Kelly and her boyfriend Gideon the ginger Jew from Edgware, who's currently studying Media at Bournemouth University, and I've had to force myself to stop visiting the No Name Bar up the road as I'm now on first name terms with the English owners and all of the regulars.

As already mentioned, there have been a few financial difficulties over the last week or so which has soured the already unpleasant feeling of being robbed a fortnight earlier, and so I am wrapping up this trip with more than a little eagerness although it has been great. Tomorrow, I'm planning a trip to the former Thai capital for a couple of days before returning to Bangkok where most of the travellers will have left as the Full Moon Party will be cranking up in Hat Rin on Ko Pha Ngan island down south, so that's that. Kanchanaburi has been a great place to stay put as it's cheaper than most places and friendly to boot, plus I've lost the will to up sticks and move around anyway. On 31st August, I fly back out to Sri Lanka where I will not be extending my trip, then I face a 12 hour wait til my flight to Heathrow - after presumably sleeping on Colombo airport's fairly clean floor and getting my rucksack stolen - and will be returning to Willesden Green some time around 9pm on Wednesday September 1st. I fully expect to return to a ticker tape parade in a Melrose Avenue thronged with crowds of cheering people, crying women and brass bands. If not, flatmate Dave will get an ear-bashing for not arranging it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Some bastard in Britain is nicking my money

It's official, now Next directory has made a 200 pound debit from my account. As I told Abbey National that I cannot have my card declared stolen as it's my only lifeline out here (and thus, they can wash their hands of me), I have potentially lost for good nearly 600 pounds due to some weasle-eyed little slag going on a spending spree with my number.

I am going to phone Abbey now and suppose I have to get my card declared stolen after all as I now have 20 quid to last me a week - unless more money leaves my bank, and my guess is that it will. Can someone send me a Western Union transfer please? Sorry.

This is clearly bad karma for mocking a larger lady, and calling my bank an ineffectual bunch of tossmonkeys when someone really was nicking my cash. I'm being perfectly calm and reasonable but feel pretty hard done by and despite having had the time of my life, I wouldn't actually mind being on a plane to Heathrow right about now, mainly so I can wrap an iron bar around whoever has my card number.

I think in a past life I must have been Hitler.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

"What have I done?"

is of course Alex Guinness's last words in the film 'The Bridge On The River Kwai', loosely based on the true story of Allied POWs forced by the Japanese to build the Bangkok-Rangoon railway bridge over the Kwai river in the Burma-Thailand jungle, and I crossed that same bridge yesterday afternoon. I am in Kanchanaburi, a nice little town a few hours drive from Bangkok.

Back in the city, I had a pleasant few days wandering around the Khao San road (again) and generally getting hot, although it did rain every day and bloody heavily, but I did get to watch Fahrenheit 911 at a nearby bar even though it left me suitably angry and pissed off at the world. I got to chat to random Americans afterwards, the travelling variety being much nicer liberal people than the flag-waving mob-mentality psychos they have back home. I then decided to nip into Shamrocks bar to listen to the live bands when I got the biggest shock of my life.

About three years ago when I went to India with Jason, we had nipped into a bar in Dharmsala in the north of the country, the home of the Tibetan government in exile, and where the Dalai Lama had driven past us in his Merc earlier that day. As we sat there idly chatting that evening, a girl appeared from nowhere and asked me if I had gone to Bournemouth University like her. She had recognized me six years after I had left there, and it was a bizarre coincidence. A couple of days ago, as I sat in Shamrocks in Bangkok, idly watching some Thai men belt out surfer rock anthems, the same girl walked up to me and said "What are you doing here?"

Natalie was really sweet company, and it was quite surreal to be chatting like old friends, based mainly on the fact that we had hardly spoken to each other in India and now we had the chance to catch up. To my romantic mind, this was undeniably kismet, a fate that had long ago sealed our lives as intrinsically wound up in each other no matter what we did or where we went, and even now it astonishes me that we just bumped into each other like that. Regretfully though, she's an elephant. I think she'd put on a stone in weight for every year since I last saw her, and she disconcertingly looked like and ex of mine and my cousin Roslyn, which was plain odd. She also had the largest breasts I've ever seen on a mammal, although they were probably bigger than normal due to her size, and I couldn't help thinking that if mens' penises grew the more weight they'd gained, the Earth would implode under the strain of all that excess weight.

The next morning, I had a huge argument with an evil, bitter, farang-hating bitch at the reception desk because I lost the receipt for my key deposit. Not the key mind you, just a slip of paper telling me I'd given them 500 baht. This woman, who had treated me like trash when I'd first moved in, just snapped "No receip', no money"at me, which was slightly galling as I'd switched hotels to save cash, not give it away. I tried to stay calm, telling her quite reasonably that I had only checked in 24 hours previously and she had been the one who checked me in and took my 500 baht, but she wasn't interested without a receipt. I then tried to blackmail her, waving the key in her face and saying "No money, no key" but she yelled "I don' care, key 15 baaat, you lose 500". I then tried to explain that I was a customer and this treatment was totally uncalled for, but I was hardly in the Hilton and she seemed to be relishing her moment of power, so I went back to my ex-room to look for a slip of paper I knew no longer existed. When I returned three and a half minutes later, I was a picture of subserviance although I refused her command to hand the key over until I saw a 500 note.After slagging me off in Thai to the other members of staff, she grudgingly put the money on the table and that's when I had my moment of revenge, maturely snatching the note, throwing the key on the desk, and level-headedly yelling, "Thank you ever so much for handing back my deposit, you miserable fucking cow" loud enough to cheer me up and shock the Swedes next to me. I do like the Thais, but when they're unpleasant, they're horrible.

In an effort to meet the world's most difficult nationalities, I grabbed a schnitzel at the Israeli cafe down the road where the Thai staff are surly and miserable after years of dealing with surly and miserable Israelis, and chanced my luck at the city bus station where I grabbed one to Kanchanaburi. It's quite a pleasant little town, and strange in the respect that twenty minutes up the road is a little bridge that crosses the River Kwai, made famous in the film of a similar name based loosely on the events of WWII. I won't go into details (although that's mainly for the benefit of my sister and Rachel), but the Japanese weren't very nice to the western prisoners of war here. It was quite strange walking up to the bridge and seeing Japanese tourists grinning as they posed next to a couple of defused bombs that fringe the entrance to the bridge, but at least this time they're armed with cameras and smiles as opposed to guns and their ridiculous Samurai code that considered POWs lower than dogs because they didn't have the decency to kill themselves instead of being captured. I got quite choked up at the nearby allied cemetary; it's one of about three around here and wasn't particularly big, but they had crammed the guys in, many of whom were "Known only unto god". The thing that got to me though were the sixty year old declarations of love from the living to the dead, a series of 'my beloved son/ husband/ brother' and 'we miss your smile' that by the end of it, I was a bit of a wreck, so I went to the Death Railway museum which was more informative and less morbid than it sounds.

I've been asking some local guys what they think about the Japanese, and one guy said he hated them, while another admitted that they've never been taught what they did during the war which is why they wander around Kanchanaburi smiling and taking pictures and presumably saying "How interesting" in Japanese. Sixty years ago, they were starving POWs, and simply not paying the Thai, Chinese and Burmese labourers to build their Thai-Burmese railway, forcing people on huge marches, sleeping them in insect infested bamboo huts and working them to death. Even the totally emaciated walking skeletons were considered fit for bone-crushing work if they could just about stand. Ironically, it was only when they were dead that the Japanese finally treated them with respect, and there were a hell of a lot of dead to pay respects to. In getting the railway line built at breakneck speed, the Japanese managed to kill 16,000 POWs, mostly British, Dutch, Australians and Americans, and about 100,000 conscripted Asian labourers.

Despite its history, it's a nice town. There is a local I go to here full of ex-pats, which isn't as bad as it sounds. They've been showing the Bridge on the River Kwai every night for about five years so I popped in yesterday to watch it. The sign said 6.30pm so I got there on time but the TV was off as I was the only customer, so I walked over to Ek, the Thai guy who works there, and asked him if he could put it on, and he replied simply, "Oh fucking 'ell".
Every so often I caught sight of him mumbling "Jolly good show!' seconds before Jack Hawkins said it on the telly. I think it's sending him mad.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Back in Bangkok...

again. I've moved out of the D&D Inn on Khao San Road as I was slowly going through every one of their rentable rooms plus it's too expensive, so I've tracked down a mattress in a nice cell for 300 baht less than I had been paying. There's no en suite this time though, just shared showers with a toilet in each cubicle - or should that be a toilet with a shower in each cubicle?

Anyway, I was pleased to be getting out of Hua Hin with its middle-aged sex tourists and older British and German couples with small children, and back to the 'Kok (hmm, I'm not sure I like how that abbreviated.) Dump though it was, it's a shame that Hua Hin was typified by ABBEY NATIONAL BEING A BUNCH OF USELESS AND INEFFECTUAL TOSSERS, but at least I got to speak to someone after a day of emailing my hotel number to them, even if the Visa representative I spoke to was a complete jobsworth. Apparently, this 200 pound transaction to a company I know nothing about has to declared 'fraudulent' and my card has to be declared stolen. If that happens, I may as well sleep on the beach and dine on whatever I can find from bins, although the daft cow from visa disputes didn't quite seem to understand why on earth I would refuse to go along with company procedure. I tried to explain without swearing how I couldn't care less about procedure so long as I got my money back but she didn't see it that way, adding with more than a little impatience that if I refused to have my card declared stolen, any further money that Telewest Online took from my account would be tough, as I wouldn't get it back. None of this concerns me of course. If anyone is stupid enough to take any more money from my account, I will embark on the Mother of all Vendettas. That, and the fact that in my initial angry emails to Abbey, I correctly guessed the email address of the backwards name-sounding Luqman Arnold, the Chief Executive of Abbey National, whose PA astonishingly promised he'd get back to me.
I think I get my anger and well-honed sense of injustice from my Mum.

From Hua Hin, I took a local bus up the coast to the capital, drinking gallons of water all the way, although I was in considerable pain by midday as I needed the bathroom beyond belief. I was overjoyed therefore to see a woman return to her seat in front of me from the rear of the coach and sure enough when I looked around, there was the toilet. Trouble was, when I got there, the door wouldn't shut properly enough for me to get the job done, and it was going to be a lengthy job, so after much fannying about, I was able to be understood enough to get a member of the coach team to lean on the door, allowing me to lock it from the inside. Even better was despite all the efforts of the Thai Stirling Moss behind the wheel, I was able to leave the asphixiating dark unit with my conscience and trousers clean and noticed as I left, the woman from earlier patiently waiting outside for her turn. She hadn't been able to go last time because of the door, and now it was my time to do some leaning so she could lock it.

I was a bit bemused ten minutes later when, from my seat, I became vaguely aware of pounding even over the music I was listening to on my headphones. I took them out of my ears and heard the unmistakable sound of a woman frantically banging on a coach toilet door to be rescued. As I turned round I saw a sea of grinning people much nearer the toilet than I, none of whom seem bothered about actually helping - for some reason, that was supposed to be down to me, so I stumbled to the back of the coach and let the angry woman out. 'Grateful' is hardly the word I'd ascribe to her - fucked off would perhaps be more accurate - and some of the grinning passengers exchanged some words with her as she answered while shooting me a filthy look. For some reason, I'm pretty sure her reply to them wasn't "Why didn't you bastards let me out?" as I know it would've been mine.

As soon as I checked in to my hotel in Bangkok, I made for my STA travel representative to get an early flight home, the upshot of which being... I can't get an earlier flight home. After the woman had done all her checking and I asked her to try some more variants, it became apparent that I can't change flights without a significant cash outlay, and considering that I'm only trying to get home in order to save money, it kind of defeats the purpose. I was initially panicky, gabbling at the woman that I had money stolen and I've been spending too much cash and I have to get back for Jamie's 31st (guess which one I didn't actually say), only to get the weirdest response; she just sat back and grinned. Sensing a dead end, I tried upping my panickiness some more and added some arm flailing for effect, but she just grinned harder and went mute, so I thanked her for smiling and got a cab back to Khao San. Recalling something I read about Thais, I found a passage in my guidebook about 'Saving Face'. Apparently, the most important social aspect for Thais is the ability to avoid confrontation and embarrassing situations, unless it's fun to do so. This would explain, albeit bizarrely, why as I became very farang-like and loud, she grinned in response. It's the Thai way of defusing the situation - not actually helping, but smiling politely. It's also one of the sources of the famous Thai smile as most of the time they're presumably thinking through clenched teeth, "Oh shit, this is awkward".

So that's that. I'm taking my time now, firstly as it's bloody hot, and secondly because I have two weeks left and a few places I want to see - plus I don't want to go too far out because of the cash situation, so I've earmarked Kanchanaburi, home of the famous Bridge on the River Kwai (also known as the Death Railway) where thousands of Allied POWs and Thais died back when the Japanese were vicious racist maniacs, before their interest in home electronics and strange television shows, so that'll be fun. After that I'm planning on visiting Ayutthaya, the former Thai capital and Unesco World Heritage site, which sounds nice. And lets not forget budget, budget accommodation, the cheapest meals around, and no more presents for anyone, hooray!