A beginning and a bit of a rant.
And so it begins. I am beginning this piece sitting in the departure lounge at Dubai airport. My watch and body are telling me it is ten to five in the morning and I have been awake since about seven yesterday morning, yet the clock here shows ten to nine in the morning. After another longish flight, a few more time zones and the shortest day imaginable, the clock in Bangkok will hopefully say 1840 and my body will think it is next week. Still, I have done this many times before and there is little to be done except grin and bear it.
It is a while since I posted my first blog, and there is much to speak about, although I sm still not convinced anyone is in the slightest bit interested really. I just spent three wonderful, if slightly hairy days on board the good ship Crimson Pirate, a lovely narrowboat, on the Oxford and Grand Union canals. More of that later.
OK, so circumstances went against me and I did not manage to get any more written yesterday. I am currently sitting on a bus in the Southern Bus Station in Bangkok, awaiting what should be a fairly imminent departure to Cha am. I was going to spend another night in Bangkok but awoke early this morning, still a bit disorientated with the time difference I suppose, and decided to go to the coast. This is the great joy of my kind of travel, instant decisions are possible. It is also the reason I invariably travel solo. I have heard it said many times on the road that the quickest way to lose your best friend is to travel with them, and I think there is a degree of truth in this. So I have three hours on what I believe is a fairly uninteresting highway South to write down a few thoughts.
Which brings me relatively seamlessly to my next point, the whole blogging thing. Will I keep it up or will the novelty wear off after a few posts? In truth, I don't know, I have tried unsuccessfully to keep travel journals in the past, but the tedium of physically writing them deterred me as much as anything. Certainly, tapping away on a notebook is much easier, handwriting being totally out of the question in a situation like this. Note the immediacy, we have now started out! Bumpy road notwithstanding, I have just increased the font size and am carrying on regardless.
There are a few things I was thinking about on the journey out here, and there is certainly plenty of time to do it on a journey that takes the best part of a day door to door. I suppose the primary question is why am I on this trip at all. Am I just another middle aged man having a midlife crisis? Very possibly, although I am inordinately fond of travelling and this is somewhat of a new departure (pun intended) for me, going away for such an extended period.
Right, just to confuse you further, I am now not on the bus, the Thai highway having finally defeated my best attempts at travel journalism, literally travel journalism as in writing whilst travelling! I am sitting in a small seafront bar in Cha am now with a bottle of Chang in front of me and a beautiful sea breeze cooling what has been a pretty hot afrternoon. The concept of actually wanting a cold shower in late November is somewhat odd,but that is exactly what I did this afternoon. Eat your heart out all those of you still in Europe. Before this all gets too disjointed, I will finish my quasi-philosophical bit snd then get down to the actual travel.
To be honest it is not so much about travelling to Southeast Asia, pleasant as that is, but the idea of getting somewhere, anywhere, out of a UK I am feeling increasingly alienated from. I never thought to hear myself say this but I really do not consider the UK to be my country any more. Organised criminals masquerading as "freedom fighters" now run Northern Ireland, the increasingly ridiculous Gordon Brown has just about bankrupted us, we are no longer a sovereign nation having been subsumed into the ever-expanding Federal States of E, and every day the news seems to get worse.
Only this morning, I saw on the news that Dame Ashcroft (I think that is her name) has been promoted to effectively be the Foreign Secretary of Europe, overseeing a "diplomatic staff" of 6,000 and presumably with the ability to lead us, as part of this unholy alliance, into yet another war. Be honest, a month ago, had anyone ever heard of her, I certainly hadn't. She has never held any elected office and comes from a background in the Health Service. How the Hell does that qualify her for the post of being told what to do by Frau Merkel and everyone's favourite garden gnome Sarkozy. The only saving grace is that the loathesome Bliar (this is not a typo) missed out on the post he so obviously coveted. Finally, a dent in his huge ego. Immigration and political correctness, mostly imposed by the same Federal Sates of E have just about finished us off.
However, you do not want to hear all this so I shall return to the supposed subject of this blog, namely the travelling. The first disaster happened before I had even packed. On Wednesday I went to pick up my travellers cheques and $US from my branch of Lloyds TSB, having been assured when I ordered them in another branch that they would definitely be there for collection. Well, you can guess what is coming. Needless to say, there was no sign of them. Not only that but when I asked the totally indifferent young man what he was going to do about it, he literally shrugged his shoulders. After a brief verbal exchange, unnaturally restrained by my usual standards, he realised the error of his ways and arranged for me to go to another branch (at my own expense) so I could at least get some $US. Not the denominations I had ordered and consequently bulky but some cash nonetheless. The problem is that some of the places I intend to go to aren't exactly the places you use a credit card. My paarting shot, and it is true, was that my first act on returning to UK would be to close my account with Lloyds TSB. He looked like he couldn't really care about that either. I didn't know the arrogance inherent in the banking system extended as far down as tellers.
So, made it to the departure gate with the usual unpleasantness of a rush hour Tube journey, and the hassle of security at Heathrow, and onto the plane. I have to give a plug to Emirates here, they are a very good airline. It is a while since I flew them and they just seem to get better. Everything was spot on, good meal, decent legroom for Economy Class and an absolutely outstanding entertainment programme. No more waiting for the film to start on the plane. You have your own console and can pick between dozens of films and virtually limitless music channels. If you are so inclined, you can also play video games, although my favourite function is the cameras. These are mounted on the front and underneath the plane,and it is quite smething to watch the lights disappear underneath you and I must say it was a very happy moment.
We then had a ninety or so minute change at the behemoth that is Dubai International. It really is huge. Bearing in mind it is a single terminal, they give a suggested walking time of 25 minutes from end to end, and I can well believe it. The shopping facilities are quite superb as well, although I did not avail myself of them. Interestingly, and in stark contrast to the petty fascism of our current misgovernment, there are smoking rooms for transit passengers. Admittedly they are pretty unsavoury due to legions of twitching smokers and an extraction system not up to the task, but very welcome nonetheless. I swear you could smoke kippers in there.
The second leg was another first for me. I hadn't looked too closely at the ticket but I was flying on one of those new Airbus things. It is absolutely huge. It is a double decker and you have to board by zones. Again, impeccable service by Emirartes and despite a late departure arrived within one minute of the scheduled time.
It was there in the new Bangkok airport that the panic set in a little. I had been assured by the visa people at Trailfinders that it was possible to get a visa on arrival valid for 30 days. I spied the visa on arrival desk and read the instructions. It was going on about the visa only being for 15 days, photographs required etc. Naturally, they had a photo booth nearby so I got my photos and rejoined the queue. This is not a problem as I will need them for other visas. Another long queuing session ensued. When I got to the front, the official asked me what passport I had, and when I showed him he beaned at me in that charming Thai way and said, "no need" directing me to the immigration desk.
I had also been told by Trailfinders that I would have to produce evidence of onward travel and so I had bought a fully refundable Air France ticket to Saigon within the 30 day period. I do not know if it is actually required but I certainly was not asked for any such proof. So, safely admitted to LoS (try and work that one out) somewhat exhausted after about thirty hours without sleep but happy nonetheless.
I have to say the new airport, whilst larger and better organised, lacks something that the old Don Muang airport had. Maybe it is just nostalgia kicking in. My first impressions of Thailand always used to be when I walked through to the domestic terminal, crossed the footbridge and got the local stopping train into Bangkok. Most travellers either didn't know or couldn't be bothered with this dodge. It used to cost about 40 pence for a ticket into town when the taxis were about a tenner, and it carried the advantage of jumping straight into the local scene. That short journey afforded a culturally mind-numbing shock, and reminded you in no uncertain terms you weren't at home any more. The sights, sounds and most importantly the smells of a new place all assaulted your senses. I am convinced that countries or regions all have a distinctive smell.
The new place has a very efficient desk for getting a special airport bus which will drop you just about anywhere you like along certain routes serving the more touristy areas. In my usual fashion, I had no idea where I was going to be staying (I love the uncertainty) but had decided on the Lower Sukumhvit area as I know it reasonably well. A quick scan of my trusty Lonely Planet guide suggested the Federal Hotel as a reasonable bet so off I wandered, ignoring the constant offers of "You want taxi / massage / girl etc.?" that seem to almost define this lovely country. Pitched up at the Fed as it is known locally and was shown a decent if unspectacular ensuite room. Job done and after a quick wash and brush up, exhausted as I was, headed off into the Bangkok night. Now this may sound like lunacy from a man who has not slept for a day and a half, but there is some method in the madness. My body clock was still on GMT and my aged body clearly wasn't. Best way to deal with it is to go to bed locally at the time I normally do at home, which is about three in the morning mostly. I have always been a nocturnal creature.
Posted by Fergyguitar at 07:42