Week 3, December 19th – 24th
Hey, look, it’s the blog! I found it hiding under a pile of Australian sand in the bottom of my bag. Oops, real time is January 25th and I’m writing about 19th December!! Thank goodness for the journal from Neil and Joanne where all the gems are stored. It’s the most valuable thing I’m carrying at the moment, I cannot bear to think about losing it! It’s full of my notes, poems (yes!), my fledgling beer label collection and messages from other travellers I’ve met. It’s gonna need more paper very soon!
Well, the last few days in Bangkok were an emotional rollercoaster (and that doesn’t mean the Nemisis broke up with Oblivion and felt sad). Back in Koh Tao I was tempted to move on to Koh Pangan with Seija to go to the Full Moon party (google it if you wanna see what that is, it is the craziest party ever!). If I had, then I would have been travelling back up to Bangkok on the same day as my flight, a bit risky even by my standards! So, I did the ‘sensible’ thing and travelled up the day before.
After I left my ‘prison cell’ in Bangkok, as featured at the end of the last blog, I found a nice guest house on a road parallel to Koa San Road near where I’d been out with Topsi and Chantel, called Tuptim. It was a cosy little room and had free wifi and free breakfast (coffee and toast!). I logged on to the Qantas website ready to check in for my flight and got hit with the news that, to all intent and purpose, my Christmas was cancelled due to bad weather. . . . . . . IN ENGLAND!!!
The only part of my trip that had any kind of real plan about it, and it goes tits up!! Christmas and NYE in Sydney was something I was really looking forward to. My thoughts were spinning, and one downside to solo travelling – no-one to talk it through with! It’s amazingly character building when you have to ‘have a word with yourself’! In the end, I did what any other self respecting Englishman would do in the same position. I headed for the pub.
I wasn’t actually planning on drinking through it, I was just looking for some inspiration. And it came. Well, not exactly inspiration, but something to take my mind off my crashed and burned christmas plans. Sitting in the bar, I asked a guy near me if he knew where the travellers bar was. I mentioned it in one of my earlier blogs and said something like ‘this place was awesome, and every traveller to Bangkok needs the details. I’ll look it up’. Which I didn’t. Well, it’s called ‘Travellers’ and it’s opposite the airport pick up point just off Khao San Road for future reference. Anyway, the guy didn’t know but invited me to join him for a beer. He was one of my travellers angels. I know, sounds a bit mental, but too much stuff has happened for me to ignore it now. I’ll come back to that later.
So, I spent the next few hours with my new found Dutch friend – Sido. I can’t remember his exact title (blame the Chang) but it was something to do with International sales for a company called Thermomix (www.thermomix.de). They make this great device that basically cooks what you tell it to, in the way it should be cooked. Each one costs around 1000 euros though! He was in the middle of setting up their Austria operation (or maybe Switzerland – Chang!!) and was taking a vacation. We had a great chat, some of it business related which felt weird to be taking about volume sales and market share after so many weeks of these things being of no concern to me anymore! I really think his product would sell well in the UK, I even started thinking of people I could take it to back home. They are pretty strict on their business model though, and would only operate on a direct sales basis which is why they will never get big numbers in the UK. Haha, anyway, now I’ve bored you back to the tale.
Sido was a great guy, he even bought me a few beers and was very interested in my ‘story’. We couldn’t have been coming from two more different directions. His vacation consisted of 5 star hotels and gourmet meals whilst I’d just come from my prison cell and was feeling pretty pleased with my ‘free coffee and toast’ for breakfast deal! He certainly helped take my mind off things before he headed off to meet a girl he’d become friendly with whilst in Bangkok. Fair play to the Dutch man!
The night finished late after I met a few more people, including a couple of crazy Israelis! I got back to the room at around 3am and skyped a while with home. Ended up not sleeping until 6am, too much going on in my mind. Also, a fight outside my window with some drunken english fools and a few locals didn’t help. I’d received an email from Topsi during the day, inviting me for Christmas with her on a trip to the Mekon River which sounded ace. I had narrowed it down to 3 options – North to Chiang Mai with me, South to Koh Pangan with Seija or North East to Mekon with Topsi.
I didn’t sleep long and, after my free breakfast, I emailed my travel agents STA to see if they could help me out. I also called in to a local travel agent to ask about a flight to Sydney. The best price was £600. Plan shelved! STA got back to me, bascially saying that nothing could be done (it’s the weather you see) and that I’d just have to wait for my rescheduled flight. It’s down to the airline and is completely out of their hands. Makes me wonder what is in their hands, apart from my money, as all I booked with them was the flights! They also helpfully pointed me away from them and towards my insurer regarding any kind of recompense for lost accomodation already booked in Sydney.
Having finally found the Travellers bar thanks to a travel angel (haha!) I met the previous night, I sat down to research Chiang Mai. I kind of decided I didn’t want to back track to Koh Pangan (although it was very tempting), and also that I didn’t really want to gatecrash Topsi’s vacation (although it too was very tempting!). Chiang Mai looked great, loads of things to do and also a 14 hour train adventure up through the country. (It’s unavoidable, but when you travel everything is an adventure! At home, a 14 hour train journey would NOT be described as an adventure. Nevermind the fact that if you actually went for 14 hours on a train at home, unless you took the channel tunnel, you’d end up very wet! haha!) I made a load of notes in the famous journal and headed out to grab a taxi to the train station. The taxi driver wanted 200bht to take me. Way over the top. I said meter please, he said no. I said bye. He called after me ‘too far to walk’. I carried on walking. I’m British, Mister, I’m walking!
After about 1 hour in the Bangkok heat and smog, 200bht didn’t seem so bad after all!! But, I’d navigated this far and knew I was on the right track (having had a stealth look at my map whilst hiding under a bridge, haha!) so I carried on. The sight of the train station was a welcome one. A couple of other things happened on this little walk, I’ll tell you about it when I’m home! (come on, I have to have SOMETHING to talk about when I’m back!)
The station was immense! One thing that sticks in my mind was the Monks Only area. There was this little sea of orange amongst the masses where the monks were hanging out in reserved seating! Interestingly, a monk is not allowed to pass anything to a girl. If he wants to, he must give it to a man first to pass to her. Interesting monk fact #7. Stay tuned for more!
I approached the ticket counter and asked for a single to Chiang Mai. The guy tippy tapped on his retro looking computer, looked up, coughed and said – computer says no! Thailand might not celebrate Christmas, but New Year is a big deal and all the trains were fully booked up until 29th December which was when my rescheduled flight was due to leave anyway. He tippy tapped some more and then said he could get me on the train tomorrow (23rd Dec) but it would be in 3rd class which basically means 14 hours in a seat. No bed. No reclining seat. No air con. No fan. NO CHANCE!
I left the station and sat outside for a while. How many times was I supposed to rethink my plans?!! I am quickly adapting a real sense of ‘meant to be’ about life. So, I tried hard not to feel too despondant and went to find a taxi. Having saved money on the taxi ride to the station, I decided just to pay the guy what he wanted and get back to my room. But this is Bangkok. And this was also Bangkok rush hour. I hailed 3 taxis, and none were willing to make the journey across town to Khao san Road at that time of day. They would stop, I’d ask for K S Road and they would literally just drive off shaking their hands in the internationally recognised sign language for “you must be joking mate, have you seen the traffic??”.
I recalled some of my local knowledge garnered from my day with Topsi and found the Taxi bike guys hanging out on a street corner. Bingo! After a brief discussion amongst themselves, a willing contender for the journey stepped forward, handed me a crash helmet (there’s a first!) and said 100THB. B-E-A-UTIFUL!
This is getting a bit wordy, not many pics of all this stuff so here’s a pic of one of my bathrooms from Koh Tao. Literally outside, it even had a tree in it!
So, back at base I headed to one of the many places touting joint bus and boat tickets to Koh Pangan. Before I did, I had sent a text to my nephew Neil asking him to see if he could maybe get in touch with my airline, Qantas, directly to see if anything could be done. The Lomprayah bus/boat ticket was available and would get me to Koh Pangan just in time to witness the world’s biggest hangover after the Full Moon party! Not ideal, but preferable to hanging around in Bangkok just waiting.
Armed with this info, I went to a bar playing some live music ordered a Chang and sat down to make my final decision. I was kind of hanging out for some news from Neil and Qantas. My Chang was interupted by the DING of a text to my phone. It was Neil. He’d spoken to Qantas (who infact, called him back as he was calling from overseas – nice touch). The news was this – flights were again leaving Heathrow and they fully expected the Heathrow-Bangkok-Sydney flight to leave the next day and a seat was available if I wanted it. I immediatley sent back the response that first came to mind – DO IT!!! Seriously, what a day! But, it all fell in to place perfectly. Someone was watching out for me, as much as I tried to derail the plan by attempting to book a train north or a bus south! Neil (and Qantas!) had saved the day. My ire turned to STA at this point and I mailed them stating in no uncertain terms how disappointed I was with their seemingly total lack of service or compassion to the situation. The guys at the Leicester office are supposedly all travellers themselves and surely, had they put themselves in my position, would have at least lifted the phone to Qantas on behalf of one of their paying customers. Anyway, that’s forgotten now and I just hope I don’t need too much assistance from them during the rest of my trip.
So, Christmas was quite literally saved and I was all set to arrive in Sydney on Christmas eve! I told you before, my life is lastminute.com!
My departure from Bangkok was far more swift than the arrival, although they still took their time through the boarding process. I did have one typically ‘Gordie’ moment though! Waiting patiently in the queue through to departures I spotted one of the airport staff walking up and down the line ahead of me, waving a boarding pass and calling out a name I couldn’t quite make out. Haha, muppet I thought, someone has dropped their boarding pass. I casually checked inside my passport where I’d safely stored mine. Ok, don’t get ahead of me here. That’s right. Gone. I had my baggage label but the boarding pass was nowhere to be seen! I leaned over the rope to try and hear better and could just make out something sounding like “Mr Wooracott, Mr Wooracott”. What a killer! I had no choice but to make myself known and shamefully, but gratefully, have my boarding pass returned to me. She even kindly pointed out the passenger who had found it and handed it in! I smiled at the guy and gave the internationally recognised hand gesture for ‘yes sir, I am and idiot and you have saved the day’. If nothing else, it was something to write about in the blog eh?! Haha! It made getting through the departures all the more sweeter and, don’t tell the cabin crew who greeted me on to the plane, but I stored my pass just inside my boxer shorts until I was safely on board!
Now, here’s something you don’t expect to see when walking through the duty free area of Bangkok International Airport. I’ll let the pictures do the talking.
It would appear that Leicester played Thailand in a friendly and they were still trying their best to flog Leicester City FC shirts – don’t they know they have a hard enough time doing that in Leicester? (just kidding Ash!)
I managed to get some pics of my 747 this time as it was a daytime flight. I’m still amazed by it, and probably always will be! It such a beast of a plane.
The flight to Sydney was interesting, if not a little uncomfortable! We got some good turbulence on the way. I don’t know if this is the norm as it’s the first time I’ve experienced some real turbulence in a 747 but it felt like we dropped about 2 miles out of the sky every now and then during the worst part! Very weird feeling. But that aside the flight itself was perfect, they even brought round something that resembled a Magnum (although it was about 3am in the morning!). Due to being unable to check in online I didn’t get to choose my seat. I ended up with the 2nd one in on the row of four in the middle. Not ideal. I had some big ass Ukranian guy next to me on the left wearing boots more suited for the Himalayas than a flight to Sydney. You might think that’s a weird thing to notice, but when you are wearing only your feet and then these himalyan boots rake down your leg and crush your toes everytime dude gets back in his seat, you kind of notice it. The seat in front of me was fully reclined, and there was another big ass Ukranian behind me meaning I could not recline my seat! Mr and Mrs fully-in-love were sat next to me, and Mrs fully-in-love was keen to cuddle up to Mr fully-in-love meaning her butt was underneath her armrest and nestling into my thigh. Normally, not a problem, but with all the other elements to my situation it was not welcome. Add to that, my media thingymejig on the screen stopped working meaning I couldn’t select what to watch and just had to do with whatever was on, and you’ve got yourself a fairly uncomfortable 10 hour flight. That probably sounds like I’m complaining, but I’m not. I think I was still in a state of elation at actually being on the thing! But, them’s the facts. That is what happened, and let the blog show that. I think, amongst it all, I did manage a short period of sleep so it wasn’t all bad! Note to self – make sure you are able to check in online for flight to NZ!
So, here we are. The blog has finally caught up and touched down in Sydney! Well, at least we are in the same country now. Up until this point we were in different Continents!
I mentioned the travel angels thing earlier on. There are more to come in future episodes, so stay tuned! As I write this I am actually on day 51 of my journey. People say they are going travelling to ‘find themselves’. I always thought that was a bit twee. I know myself. Come on, I’m 33 years old!! These kids who go to ‘find themselves’ are like 18, 19, something like that. Well, maybe I do know myself but there have certainly been some revelations. One of them has been a bit of poetry coming out! I know, I’m purely open to ridicule here from some but you know, it doesn’t matter! This is how it is. Some of the stuff I’ve written is most definitely not for public consumption and is very personal, but it’s developing on now. So, here comes the first effort to be made ‘public’ if you like. And, it’s about the travel angels. Hold tight, here goes. . . .
Must angels have wings,
And floating rings
of gold above their heads.
Must trumpets sound,
and light abound
to signal their presence is found.
Or can it just be
that the angels we see,
are people like you
and people like me?
A kind word.
The angels who brighten up life.