DAY 2 - Sunday 28th June - Escape from Bangkok


That is how I felt after collapsing into Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport. Naturally, ughafkfhbkjhsfiuhiugzhkugxfiu sums up perfectly the crushing mix of famine, filth and exhaustion gripping my body.

Bangkok airport was only slightly more interesting than Heathrow, so it wasn’t interesting at all, essentially. The only points of curiosity were the large, tent-like sections of the roof which seemed to define Thailand’s capital air station.

Far more worthy of note was this new, creeping sensation: unfamiliarity. Suvarnabhumi was largely dominating by throngs of Thai or other people of Asian ethnicity, shuttling from location to location, chattering and jabbering away in their native tongues. This was novel. It was almost certainly the first time in my life that I had been surrounded by an ethnicity I was not a part of. My years spent in an international school in The Netherlands were comparable, but not similar; the only language spoken there was English, whereas now I felt totally isolated and alone. Any sighting of a light-skinned person was, I am loathe to admit, welcome.

After waiting, twitching, in the passport queue and nervously observing the abundance of anti-bacterial, swine-flu prevention masks sported by many, I was informed that domestic flight with Air Asia Airlines to Phuket had been delayed by 2 hours, pushing back boarding until 21:30. Bloody marvellous, I thought happily, another 2 bloody hours to explore Bangkok bloody airport. I was given a free 100 Thai Baht voucher, about £2, to spend on dinner in way of an apology. I swiftly discovered “Bangkok Airport’s Only Restaurant” (as it proudly proclaimed) and spent my gifted currency on an enormous bowl of (authentic) Thai chicken and noodles, which I barely managed to consume entirely, despite my empty stomach.

Moderately happier, I set off and found an internet room, paying 50 of my crisp Baht notes in return for 30 minutes of contact with the outside world.

I found my gate and was greeted there with the news that my flight had been delayed for a further hour, thanks to the fierce storm battering the walls and windows of the airport. Needless to say, I was buoyant with undiluted joy to learn this.

I huddled into what felt like the hardest, coldest seat in the building and watched Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (which is nonsense, by the way) on my iPhone, only surfacing to be informed that the flight had been delayed again.

And again.

And again.

Delirious with fatigue, caked with dried sweat, and pretty damned miserable, I was finally ushered onto the plane at about 23:00. The pilot then announced that 3 passengers had failed to materialise, and so their luggage would be offloaded, eating up a further 15 minutes. My young Indian neighbour cast me an alarmed glance as I slammed my head repeatedly on the seat tray.

Finally, finally, finally we landed in Phuket and, breaking all promises to myself of setting a good impression of English etiquette, I threw myself into the baggage claim, forcing an old man to lurch out of the way sending a tiny Thai lady spinning.

After stumbling out of airport and being hit by a choking wall of humidity, I began to look for a means of transport. The answer came quickly and loudly. Ahhh, the taxi. Quite an experience, it’s fair to say. A young Thai man leapt at me, screaming the word “Taxi!!” his voice shrill and his eyes bulging; I almost felt morally obliged to go with him. Once he had lugged my case across the car park and dumped it unceremoniously into the boot of his silver Renault.

Once inside the taxi and after demanding the address of my hotel in Patong (which required me telling him at least 4 times and having to exasperatedly resort to scribbling it down for him to read) he became perfectly affable, and we chatted about a variety of topics, ranging from his adoration of and devotion to Michael Jackson and how he had seen him play Bangkok in 2005, to his ambitious plans to travel around Europe. I enthusiastically encouraged him with the latter, although I am dubious about his understanding of my support, as he excitedly replied by listing his favourite Patong bars. Over Michael Jackson, I gave a few mumbled grunts, but didn’t mention that Jacko hadn’t performed a concert since 1997 before his untimely demise. His driving was sensible and steady, barring a few necessary swerves to avoid overtaking motorbikes (more about those later) and he safely delivered me to the hotel, outside of which Nick (who I was immensely relieved to see) was reliably waiting, though he barely recognised me due to my shorn cranium.

After a very short walk which barely allowed me to take in the surrounding Patong area, because of drooping eyelids and desperation for a bed, the room welcomed me; small, basic, but comfortable, I collapsed into my mattress, a deep sleep claiming me instantaneously.

DAY 1 - Saturday 27th June

Awaking to the drone of BBC Radio 4 on Saturday morning, I launched myself out of bed to begin the lengthy preparations for the flight which would, that evening, propel me for the first time from western society into the exotic and alien land of Southeast Asia.

In the bathroom, it was only after shrieking and snatching up the nearest potential weapon with which I could defend myself – in this case, a small bottle on spray deodorant to be utilised in lieu of pepper spray – that I realised the wide-eyed, shaven-headed escaped convict I was aiming at was, in fact, my own reflection. It came back to me in a rush; the downright reckless decision to purge my head of hair in an impromptu visit to the hairdresser the day before.

Several hours later, stuffed with a wonderful yet coronary-clogging brunch prepared by Grandma, I found myself jammed into a seat on the coach heading to Heathrow airport, seated next to a gentleman with arms so hairy, they could have been stripped from carpet. Every time this wolf-man’s arm would brush against mine, a disturbing rippling sensation would ensue, akin to the feeling endured when hearing the sound of nails on a blackboard, or perhaps the strangling of a cat. I swallowed the urge to dive into my bag and attack the man’s arms with my razor. I instead satisfied myself with scratching frantically at my stubbly scalp in a vain attempt of convincing my neighbour of a head lice infestation.

Arriving at Terminal 4 almost 5 hours early, I checked myself in immediately found departure gate 23. It occurred to me that I had come perhaps slightly too soon:

Here was the aeroplane 4 hours before boarding time:

Airports fascinate and disgust me in equal measures. They’re all the same: a melting pot of skin colours, cultures, and languages; a tiny world of their own – a small-scale gathering of world nationalities. Despite being located in London, Heathrow could be located anywhere in the world. Airports are also unbearably dull. Unaesthetic and boring, with grey speckled walls, mountains of concrete and glass, and little to do to pass the time, it is as though, years ago, a Convention of Unbearably Dull Airport Architects had gathered and designed a dreary, anodyne monochrome blueprint, upon which they could base every single airport on earth.

On the aeroplane, I was markedly delighted to find an entire row of seats to myself, until an air hostess requested I remove my legs so another passenger could sit down. Glumly, I prepared to meet an overweight businessman, but was cheered considerably to instead have two beautiful young Irish ladies take their seats.

The flight was long. Very long. 12 hours to be exact. I am still not entirely sure how I survived the excursion, possibly due to the mixture of movies and white wine, but I do remember a particular low point, weeping my eyes out at Yes Man with Jim Carrey at 33,000 feet, which I imagine would not raise such sentiment had I been watching it on terra firma. Tear ducts are especially susceptible to influence from low pressure and high altitude, it would seem.

Long after the flight attendants had ordered all windows to be blocked out and all lights to be switched off, I realised that not visiting the loos beforehand had been an unwise decision – I sat there in my window seat, gripping the armrest, teeth gritted, desperately attempting to concentrate purely on a film and not on my straining bladder, while the two Irish girls slept on soundly and undisturbed.

I amused myself somewhat with the challenge of sliding open a blind and snapping a surreptitious photograph of the eye-wateringly beautiful sunrise without a patrolling flight attendant noticing and telling me off.

As my fogged brain grappled with the concepts of time zones, I realised that Saturday had, at some point, melted into Sunday, and when it had occurred was not something I was willing to calculate. Somehow I eventually managed to drift into an uncomfortable, dreamless sleep, floating into a restless unconsciousness as the plane churned on, over the vast, dry stretches of the Middle East and onwards towards the luscious humidity of Thailand.

This is Nick.

This is Nick.

Nick, or Nicholas Simmonds as he is not-known to his friends, could be considered a taller, better-looking, cleverer and more-cynical version of Edward.

Nick, who initially proposed this excursion back in November 2008, has actually ventured outside Europe to different places several times, unlike Ed, who can only claim a few journeys to the United States of America to his name (fabulous though those United States are).
Nick, unlike Ed, does not bounce with excitement like a puppy on ecstasy at the prospect of visiting somewhere not inside North America.

Unlikely friends they may seem, Nick and Ed know each other well from the hellish, torturous educational course they took together from 2006-2008. Ed's first impression of Nick was "seems like a nice chap" whereas Nick freely admits that his was more along the lines of "what a cock". Nonetheless, they bonded.

Nick enjoys watching football, playing football, eating football, and occasionally breathing football. A lifelong, passionate supporter of Bristol City FC, Nick chose Cardiff University as his place of learning, which he will attend in October, not only in view of its towering academic reputation, but mostly because he realised he could easily commute back to Bristol in order to watch Bristol City matches.

Nick is the only student brave (or foolish) enough to choose to take Higher Level Maths and Higher Level Physics in that hellish, torturous educational course I mentioned earlier.

Nick, rather impressively (if not unsurprisingly) would like to be a rocket scientist after he has graduated.

This is Ed.

This is Ed.

Ed, formally known as Edward Charles Nicholas Ulrich, has been described as:
  • Patronising,
  • tactless,
  • condescending,
  • clueless,
  • naive, and, least importantly,
  • an alcoholic.
The last point is a lie.

Just a face for the camera!

I was tired!

...Look, can we move on?

Ed enjoys skiing, reading, cycling, reading the news, irritating people, swimming, wishing he could meet Stephen Fry, more reading, admiring Barack Obama, and reading.

Ed confesses he has made some, quite frankly, horribly alarming choices for his appearance in the past.

I don't know either.

Rest assured, these days are behind him.

A self-confessed bibliophiliac, hypocrite, and Grammar Nazi, Edward will be attending the University of the West of England to study history in September, and hopes to fiddle with the law one day.

Ed will you be your official chronicler for this journey, unless he can poke Nick into submission and persuade him to write something. (Unlikely.)

Ed hopes desperately that Nick will take on the role of the responsible, respectable adult for the majority of this journey.

...For both our sakes.