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First Trip




I was an extremely green 22-year-old backpacker (I know, wankers the lot of them!) flying in from Hong Kong on a plane whose final destination was Dubai. I know that because I almost ended up there. A night of Guinness at the Kangaroo Bar, Kowloon, followed by a wine soaked 2 hour flight left me dribbling down my Mr. Lee’s original copy Armani lapel. On approach, putting up the tray meant me putting down the shutters, and the next thing I remember was being shaken awake by a very petite cleaning woman pointing at a list ­ I was supposed to be an empty seat for her to clean. For me, I was supposed to be in Bangkok, the capital of Taiwan, where working visas for Australia were a lot easier to get than in Harry Honkers. And I was. In fact I had been drunkenly there for over two hours and had thus begun a (never-ending?) series of me making an arse of myself in Taiwan. Funnily enough it was that night when it was renamed Thailand and an island somewhere else adopted the moniker Taiwan.

Where was the Armani-wearing backpacker planning to head to? Well only to that famous hippy haunt, Khao Sarn Road, located 96 kilometers from the airport. How did I know it was 96 kilometers from the airport? Well, the nice taxi driver/man with a car who had accosted me inside the terminal and agreed to charge me 200 baht to go there, decided to divert down a dark lane and renegotiate the price based on that distance. I thought 800 baht was cheap at half the price for such a long journey and quite readily paid him in advance! Well, all that wine and beer must have really done in my time and distance perception as it only felt like, oh say 30 minutes and 20 or so kilometers later, that we pulled up in front of the Hello Guest House.

Three days and one Aussie visa later I was off to Don Muang to catch a plane to the just opened Samui airport. The very nice minivan driver from Khao Sarn Road must have misunderstood my heavily Geordie accented “domestic airport, I go to Samui” to mean “why don’t you just drop me at the international terminal with the rest because I’m sure you’ve somewhere more important to go to and the 5 minute diversion would just bugger up your plans.” This was in the times when there wasn’t an air-conditioned walkway linking the terminals, and I can’t recollect there being a regular shuttle service either. Panic was starting to set in as to how I was to get to the domestic in time, with check-in time fast approaching. And the fecking heat!! When I had stepped off the plane at two in the morning three days earlier it was unbearably hot, even after Hong Kong, but now the midday April sun was shrinking me like the evil witch in the Wizard of Oz. Fortunately, before I withered into a heap of Khao Sarn Road backpacker garb (I had replaced the Armani with attire which now makes me cringe in recollection ­ I think the fashion police call it a youthful indiscretion), some gun-wielding army blokes had grabbed my bags, threw them and myself into the back of a jeep, and off we sped to the domestic terminal. In that very short journey I found the true international currency and lingua franca ­ cigarettes and football. Marlboros and English football to be precise. In those days international brand fags were generally hard to come by, the Thai Tobacco Monopoly Company not surprisingly having somewhat of a monopoly, and at the same time Liverpool were having a monopoly in the First Division. So by the time we pulled up at the terminal my transporters had put out their Krung Tips and were all chuffing away on my duty-free Marlboros and we had also extinguished our joint knowledge of Liverpool players. The whole time there was another fantastic common denominator between us – laughs and smiles. Could you imagine British Transport Police helping someone in a similar position?

The flight to Samui was on a midget of a passenger plane, powered by propellers, which flew quite low over the Gulf of Siam, a truly fantastic flight. My seating companion was a well-oiled middle-aged American woman, who regaled me with stories of her time as a journalist during the Vietnam War and insisted that I got to her level of inebriation by pulling can after can of warm Singha out of her bag. Warm beer is not a problem for a Brit.

The arrival at the Samui ‘airport’ was truly stunning – coconut palms everywhere, heaps of colourful flowers and plants, and no terminal building as such, just an open shack. Although the plane stopped about 30 meters from the shack we still had to all jump into a minivan for the 10-second journey! Baggage claim wait was about 30 seconds and then 2 minutes later I was balanced precariously on the back of a motorbike heading off to Bungalow Bill’s on Lamai beach, as recommended by the Ugly American. This was my first time on a bike – it’s 20 km to Lamai, I’m half cut on Singha, carrying three travel bags, it’s getting dark, and I’m wearing sunglasses. And a massive smile from ear to ear. I guess my riding on a bike for the first time was like popping my cherry ­ I’ll never forget it even though it was uncomfortable and awkward at times. Of course after sex my arse wasn’t sore for 3 days.

After taking a 60 baht-a-night hut just off the beach I settled down at Bungalow Bill’s restaurant to watch a video and drink a bottle of Mekong. (Funnily enough the mere thought of drinking that stuff now makes me want to join the Temperance Society). After downing the whisky I trundled off in the direction of Lamai village, passing bungalow after bungalow, all decked out with swinging hammocks, the occupants of which were lazily drawing on hand rolled cigarettes and saying ‘yeah man’ a lot. About 10 minutes stagger later I was being ushered to sit down at the Black Cat bar by some very attractive young ladies. Well another bottle of liver pickler later and I’m ready to try my patter on these young wenches. It must have been good because one comes and sits with me within seconds (this never happened with Newcastle Brown Ale) and the next thing I know we’re exchanging names. She’s able to get her tongue round ‘Dave’ quite easily, however the beer, whisky and loud music were heavily affecting my ability to listen and then repeat her name correctly. Well, you know what these long Thai names are like. After about the twentieth time of her garbling her name, I got a pen and beer mat and asked her to say it very slowly so I could write it down. Problem solved. Some time during the remainder of the evening I guess she must have told me that she loved me longtime because I woke up the next day with her lying next to me. A quick delve in my shorts produced the beer mat with her name written on it. Her name was Mainam Ning and I didn’t have to go through that terrible dilemma of trying to remember the previous night’s conquest’s name. For the next 4 days Mainam and I enjoyed a very intense time together. (My arse even hurt after sex but I’ll leave that area for Dana). She spoke very little English and I spoke zero Thai but we seemed to communicate on a basic level. Funnily enough though, whenever I called out her name in the throes of passion she would look at me oddly and then shout out my name, and sometimes she just plain ignored me until I added her surname. Women. Never been able to figure them out.

I ended up giving the bars a miss because I became mates with an Aussie who was also staying at the resort, although he was in the posh seats, or rather the executive brick bungalows, built halfway up the hill behind the beach. This guy was well into martial arts and dedicated to the point of being tea-total. He did have one vice though ­ he loved to smoke and that was why he was there. Now I had smoked hash a couple of times in my early teens and occasionally tried homegrown grass at mates’ houses back in the UK, but it didn’t really do anything for me: alcohol was my drug of choice. Within one minute of him checking-in he was sitting on my balcony trying to find out where he could buy some weed. He’d come to probably the only person there who didn’t smoke it or spoke ‘yeah man’. So off he went, clutching his green Rizzla packet, in search of pastures new.

Ten minutes later he’s back on my balcony as he was after some decent cigarette tobacco and could he have a couple of my Marlboros? We started having a chat, but he was itching to roll up so we went up to his bungalow on the hill, only accessible by some very steep steps. I’m no saint so when he offered me the joint, I hit it like the stuff from back home. Bad mistake. I was still crashed on his balcony 4 hours later, being eaten alive by mossies but totally unable to move. For the first two hours of this dope, I was rendered unable to speak. Mainam Ning had appeared sometime during the night but I found it too difficult to shout her name down the hill and I watched her disappear out of my life for ever. When it came time to go to bed I had to inch myself down step by step on my arse, standing up would have been fateful.

The next week or so was spent swimming, reading, and eating on the beach with the rest of the Bungalow Bill Beach Bums ­ a mix of Brits, Aussies, Yanks, Frenchies, Swedes, etc. Of course there were no divisions along racial lines, everyone was relaxing and enjoying each other’s company. The sea was so warm and clear you’d be in there for hours, the beach was so clean you didn’t need to look down to avoid treading on broken glass or syringes. The seafood and fresh fruits were out of this world. It was, in one over-clich?d word, paradise.

Of course it couldn’t last and as my 15-day visa was just about up I prepared to head back to the mainland to organize my onward travel to Malaysia. New arrivals at Bungalow Bill’s were raving about the nearby island of Pan Ngan, so as I was packing up to leave Thailand the rest of the Bums were packing to further their Thailand experience. Lucky bastards! I was green with envy, but had to leave.

The journey to Penang was terrible.

It started at the Surathani travel agents. I needed the toilet so I did what I had to do, threw water down the hole; it spat it back at me covering my feet. Fecking Thai toilets. Christ, they deal with tourists so you’d think they’d have a Western toilet!

Minivan arrives an hour late. Fifteen of us plus luggage are expected to cram into a 12-seater. Are they taking the piss? Fourteen of us had been to Pan Ngan. One hadn’t. Don’t want to hear about it, ok? Nightmare!

Aussie and the Bums will be in Haad Rin by now. Bastards!

Jesus, the Italian’s hand is wandering ­ is he trying to cop a feel? Sleazy wanker. That Frog bitch has got more hair under her arms than is lying on barber’s floor at boot camp. Smells as well. No, Mr. Aussie cowboy wannabe in an akruba hat, we DON”T want to listen to songs about vegemite sandwiches and zombies. Hey Yank, just shut the fuck up. You’ve not said one thing that anybody agrees with. Huntington Beach is not the best surf spot in the world just because you come from there. God I hope that prick in the Manchester United shirt doesn’t talk to me. Got to be a southern cockney arsehole that knows nothing about football.

Thank God I’m not going to Haad Rin. If it’s full of wankers like this I’m better off not going.

Food breaks were disgusting. Bet the foods not fresh. Keep the good stuff for the Thais. Give the old shit to the dumb falangs. Can’t believe I’ve been drinking this sickly sweet beer for 2 weeks. Malaysia must have some decent beer, being a civilized ex-British colony. Can’t wait.

Wonder what’s happening at Haad Rin tonight? Penang must have good beaches as well. Sod the Bums.

Driver!! For fucks sake slow down, there’s a kid on a bicycle, the roads got more potholes than tarmac, that’s a buffalo straight ahead! Shouldn’t you be taking a break?

Here’s the border. Bollocks to Thailand ­ I’m off on another adventure. Great! I can now sit on the throne as God intended. Be driven at a reasonable speed on well-maintained, safe roads. Eat food that won’t bugger me up. Drink a decent beer. Speak to people who have the ability to communicate in English. I’ll find a better paradise.

Ten hours later I was back at the border.

My second trip to Thailand had just begun.

POST SCRIPT

For those who might not have guessed it, the actual name of the girl on Samui was Ning. Mainam actually meant ­ My name (Ning). I didn’t work that one out until a couple years later when I was leafing through my diary of those carefree times.

Stickman says:

Great stuff. Hope you'll share part two with us!