Angkor Whatever

Friday 20 January

I was feeling like the weight of the world had lifted off my shoulders. In the days following “the death wank” I’d be born again and made the life-changing decision to stop traveling. Six years is a long time, and my recent health debacle was the catalyst for serious reconsideration. In booking a flight – first back to Bishkek and then later to Croatia, I was suddenly the happiest I’d been in many a moon. In the meantimes, I was sure there was something to see around this shit hole?

I knew there was a reason I’d come to this insalubrious dump. Siem Reap is the feeder town for a visit to Angkor Wat – one of the most important religious and archaeological sites on the planet. Siem Reap itself is a hell hole of a place – especially on “Pub Street” which just becomes a fucking mess every night. The problem was – I was partaking in said mess, and becoming a mess myself. However, in finally coming to my senses and sorting my shit out, I was going to leave it all behind – but I might as well see this temple thing right?

Siem Reap's nefarious "Pub Street". The seventh circle of hell.

Siem Reap’s nefarious “Pub Street”. The seventh circle of hell.

And yet it took all of my willpower to do so. I even contemplated not going as my flight rapidly approached, as keen as I was to get out of here and simply going through the motions until it was time to leave. I honestly couldn’t believe how much I was looking forward to being back in Bishkek, and that really tells you something for how distasteful I’ve generally found south-east Asia. One late afternoon, on my last full day in the country, I forced myself into a tuk-tuk for the 30-minute ride to the temple.

The last tuk tuk ride.

The last tuk-tuk ride.

And yet still I wasn’t excited. Unlike the millions of tourists who flock here every year to get that all important money shot of the sun rising or setting over the temple – a picture that has been taken literally billions of times – I felt dead inside as I joined the stream of visitors to the site. The growth has been rapid too, around 8,000 people visited in the early 90’s, and the figures to date have jumped to over two million every year. It’s overrun. Nobody has an original idea anymore. Sheeple.

My first glimpse of the Angkor Wat temple.

My first glimpse of the Angkor Wat temple.

And well it might be overrun – for it is beautiful – and the Cambodians know it. It’s revered so much that it’s even made it onto their national flag. A one-day ticket costs $37, a three-day $62 and seven days costs $72. They are raking it in. But at least that money is largely going to the conservation and upkeep of the site, which surprisingly hasn’t seen as much tourist damage as you might expect. It appears revellers destroy Siem Reap instead, and are respectful to the monument itself. We can be thankful for small mercies.

Approaching the main complex.

Approaching the main complex.

The complex is actually huge, as well it should be for being the largest religious monument in the world. Built in the 12th Century, it was originally a Hindu temple before over time becoming a Buddist one. It’s more of a city consisting of several temples and spread out over a large area – although Angkor Wat itself is the one everyone knows and photographs repeatedly. This was surprising to me, and to see it all you would indeed need a few days. As you might have guessed, I have absolutely no interest in doing so, and I ask my tuk-tuk driver to only take me to the must-sees.

Temple of Doom.

Temple of Doom.

Ta Prohm is a stunning ancient temple, slowly and dramatically being reclaimed by the jungle. It is archaeological porn for any Indian Jones wannabe. Fat trunks and roots of trees spindle through the architecture, reaching through cracks and openings, pulling stone back into the earth. It’s a place that looks as if it doesn’t belong in this world, with an eerie, mystical aura that captures you when you manage to experience a moment of silence.

Ta Pagon. If stones could talk...

Ta Prohm. If stones could talk…

Which is few and far between – as you would expect, the place is crawling with human bacteria, shuffling slowly along, plodding behind one another on the walkways, inching onwards like elephants linked tail to trunk. I loath people in photographs – unless I’m actually photographing people – but I managed a few shots I’m pretty pleased with. I was in a hurry – my driver couldn’t wait too long and the sun was dipping rapidly – so I whisked around as best I could, weaving in and out of thousands of Koreans, getting the gist of the place, before making it back to the pick-up point. Angkor Wat was still some 20 minutes away – and as much as I berate everyone else about it – I still wanted my shitty point-and-shoot sunset photograph that would obviously be chosen as the cover of a National Geographic.

Arty shit.

Arty shit.

I try and keep to myself through the throngs of people, staying away from the crowded areas, and indeed at certain moments, I find myself alone. I actually think I’ve been pretty lucky – maybe coming late on a day when there are not that many people here. The season isn’t underway yet, and I’ve heard horror stories of just how bad it can be. I’m pretty thankful I can wander the full circumference of the complex lost in my thoughts with little to disturb me. Watching the twilight evening sun as it catches these ancient stones, it’s all rather spiritual. Wait. What is that? That feeling? I’m having a good time…?! Surely not?! Push the self-destruct.

Religious types.

Religious types.

Upon turning the corner and completing my solo wander around the walls, I spy the gathering throng, lining up their telephoto lenses, holding up large iPhone pads, jostling for position, freaking that they’re not going to get their shot as time is running out. I feel a wry smile creep across my face – I really am done with all of this. Any lingering doubts about making the right decision evaporate, and I take a few snaps of the temple at sunset before turning for home. A proper home. A more permanent and lasting home. A home where I’ll put down roots similar to those that have held these temples together for centuries. And anyway – Machu Picchu was way better.

For a less cynical article on Angkor Wat, I suggest you check this one out over at gonomad. I generally just depress everyone.

Alright, there is is! Can I go now?

Alright, there it is! Can I go now?

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The Death Wank

Monday 16 January

I always believed that something to do with sex would be the death of me. I dunno man, just a funny feeling. Like I’d turn my head while driving a car to look at a huge pair of boobs and wrap the vehicle around a lampost. Or step into the road while staring at an ass and get hit by a bus. Or fall out of a tree while peeping in a window. Little did I know, that masturbation was to be the catalyst to change my entire life around. If you’ll permit me, allow me to explain.

I was languishing in a hostel bed, somewhere in the shit-hole that is Siem Reap, wasting away. Breakfast was a can of beer and a bowl of rice. Dinner was more beer. Siem Reap has become Siem Reap because of its proximity to Angkor Wat – the world’s largest, religious monument and all round tourist magnet. The local town has boomed(?) into a dump of a place, catering for the enormous influx of foreigners of all shapes and sizes. Much like Aguas Calientes – the mini-America resort that serves Machu-Picchu – it’s just as much blue-rinse coach tour as it is know-it-all backpack destination. Consequently, you’ll find all sorts here, all ages, all nationalities, all manner of humanoids, all turning the place into the mess you see today.

So, when in Rome right? I was going off the rails again. I hadn’t even seen the monument that brought me (and everybody else) here in the first place, and instead, I was donning the kilt pretty much every night, snorting cocaine and getting smashed until dawn. At least, it might have been cocaine – I couldn’t tell at that time of the morning, as I was hoovering a suspicious looking white powder up from an outdoor hostel table as other guests left to catch the sunrise over the temple. I’m a classy guy.

Around about this time I’d managed to finally score an online job. After traveling for 6 years, spending my inheritance money seeing the world, searching for something I could do remotely so I’d never have to work a desk job again, I apply for and get offered a position as a ghostwriter. Now, that isn’t telling ghost stories – as a few people have already enquired – it entails writing copy for a travel blog website which they then claim as their own. Standard practice for most blogs really, travel or otherwise, with extremely large readerships. Hell, it takes me almost a full day to write one post with pictures – so it’s a full-time job if you’re one of the big boys on the block. I’m just small fry – and as I don’t particularly want to put in the work to get any bigger than this, I’m alright with my word-of-mouth pseudo-fame.

I digress. So, I’m writing travel blog articles for this website, and finally getting paid for my work. I’m officially a published writer. Of sorts. I am coming to the point of this story – I promise. One particular weekend a short time ago, I was yet again drinking myself into oblivion, but with the necessity to write four articles by Monday hanging over me. This was to become something of a struggle, as I wrestled my way back into routine and working practice. I’ve not had a proper job in seven odd years.

Anyway, I decided to sober up for the remainder of the weekend, and plow through the articles, staying up all night to do so. It was around 4 o’clock in the morning, two pieces in, that I began to feel a little frisky. You know what I’m talking about – you’ve all been there. A cheeky little sneak attack of the horn. I decided to take a break and rub one out.

As subtly as I could I slipped my laptop into the toilet (which is a common occurrence in hostels – if you see someone taking their laptop into the toilet, it’s not to skype their mum) I pulled up a selection of choice pictures and began to do the deed. Stroking away like there was no tomorrow, shortly before the big finish I experienced one of the worst pains I’ve ever had the misfortune of experiencing – across the right side of my head. A searing, fiery headache that came out of nowhere, and pounded my brain into submission. I all but collapsed on the floor – but not before finishing off; it was a lot of effort to get that far and I wasn’t about to waste it.

In a pool of cum and pain, I struggled to my feet, cleaned off, and staggered back to my dorm bed. With the ache crescendoing into an unbearable affliction, my hands were shaking as I frantically dosed ibuprofen, and then self-diagnosed with a google search. There was no doubt in my mind I have a brain tumour – and indeed WebMD confirms my worst fears. I’ve got moments to live, apparently.

OK, so I might have been a somewhat hypochondriacal with my prognosis, but I do discover that I’ve experienced something called a “thunderclap headache”. The checklist was a rap sheet of my condition:

1. You’ve never experienced pain like it before.

2. It comes on incredibly fast, usually localised to one area, and increases in severity over the next 60 seconds.

3. The pain might not fade for an hour or more.

4. You were engaged in some kind of physical activity at the time.

Well, the last one was pretty obvious. I was having a wank. Flaying the emperor. Punching one’s clown. Bucking the slobbering donkey. Etcetera, etcetera.  I’m going to have to explain to a doctor that my masturbation session was the catalyst for getting a CT scan.

And explain I do. At around 5 am I email a local British doctor and spill my guts. He responds quickly and insists I go to have a brain scan immediately. I’m booked in to get my noggin looked at that afternoon.

I remember distinctly the moment I walked to that appointment dear readers. I’ll never forget it as long as I live – which I hope isn’t just a couple of weeks. You see, my mum died of a brain hemorrhage. She called my name, and I waited ten minutes before going to see her – because I thought it was just the dog getting out. But there she was, lying face up on the kitchen floor, gone before she hit the ground. As a result, I have extreme anxiety at the slightest pain or obscure feeling in my head. I lie awake at night wondering what that must have been like. I hear the fear in her voice echo in my memory. I hear her voice. I hear her voice.


Walking to that clinic, I convinced myself of two things. One – that given my obvious family medical history, I was going to be given the worst news possible. And two – if that wasn’t the case, I would stop traveling immediately. At least, this kind of traveling. I know better than most how short life is, and it’s too short to be fucking around in this shit-hole, surrounded by a load of 19-year-old children, people who don’t give a rats ass about you, snorting cocaine and pissing up the wall.

I was tired. I was jaded. I had lost the will to continue this hitchhike. And even before the lascivious events of the night in question – I knew it. I’d been two weeks in Siem Reap and I hadn’t even worked up the energy to go and see one of the most beautiful ancient sights in the world. My enthusiasm spoke volumes.

As I lay back on the scanner bed and moved inside the machine to watch the little blinking lights do their work, I felt a peace I’d not felt in a long, long time. I was still anxious yes, but whatever the result, a decision had been made, and either way – maybe I could finally rest. Some time later, my heart beat in my throat as the doctor approached with two x-rays of my brain. She diagnosed me with nothing more than sinusitis.

I must have looked a strange sight as I danced my way back to my hostel down dimly-lit Siem Reap streets. I didn’t care – I had been born again. And, unlike a gambler who finally pays his dues and immediately goes back on their promise to change, I was going to stick to my guns. I’d made a decision, and I’d be damned if I was going back on it. Returning to my hostel, and without a word to anyone, I went straight online and booked a flight.

As soon as I had done so, I burst into tears. I felt an enormous weight lifting from my shoulders. I felt years of running were finally being laid to rest. I felt my depression and anxiety ease. I was going where I actually wanted to be.

I was going home.

Quite where that home is, however, you’ll have to wait and see.

I was 200 bucks down for the most expensive souvenir I’d ever bought – two x-ray copies of my brain scan. You can’t put a price on life though, can you?

I reckon I'm going to make this my new tinder profile picture.

I reckon I’m going to make this my new tinder profile picture.

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Hitchhike to India leg 64: Bangkok to Siem Reap

Thursday 12 January

It took me all of my willpower to drag myself out of Bangkok. Not because it was a great city – quite the opposite – but I was just slowly and steadily losing the will to continue. I can maybe attribute this to a multitude of things, but the heat certainly wasn’t helping, and trying to hitchhike in this weather while carting your home on your back is enough to make anyone order a strawberry daiquiri by the pool instead. Regardless, the time had come to press on – but at least I was getting out of this shit hole.

Easier said than done. As I’d experienced before, Bangkok is a nightmare to get out of – hitchhiking or otherwise. Having hopefully learned my lesson from the previous debacle, I opted to take a minibus north, and with a bit of luck find myself on the road to Cambodia in an hour or so. Hahahahahaha. Yeah, right.

Already sweating buckets and wedged into the kind of bus you’d usually find burnt out in a car park in Bradford, I eventually manage to persuade a driver that I want dropping on the highway east. Of course, most of them don’t understand a thing, and in spite of my protestations, and anxiously showing the prominent, obvious, large, green, road to Cambodia on my GPS – I’m still met with blank looks. I’m passed from pillar to post in another mini-van – and nobody understands that I don’t want to be taken all the way to Cambodia (although that would be nice) and that I just want to be on the road to it. Sigh. The trials and tribulations of hitchhiking.


Cambodia is that way. Now that wasn’t hard, was it…?

It’s extremely late in the day when someone grasps what I mean, and leaves me to walk up a slip road and finally in the right direction. The sun is already showing signs of that ominous afternoon glow – lovely if you’re sipping a beer in the garden, not so much if you’re several hundred miles from your destination. Darkness is around the corner. I press on.


Wedged in with a scooter. My photos are shit from today.

I think my luck has changed when I’m offered a ride in the back of a pick-up, but much to my dismay he only takes me to a bus stop. Bless them, they are doing their best to help – but once again this is simply not what I want. Rather than try to explain, I keep my face as positive and thankful as I possibly can under the circumstances, and cheerily wave them off. Then I turn the air blue with expletives when they’re out of sight. Hey – I’m only human.

Dripping with sweat and making no real progress, I begin to consider other options. The thought crossed my mind that I should turn back, knowing the route somewhat better and with the foresight to start earlier next time. It’s a close call, but as my ever perspiring brow claws at my eyes, all but preventing my ability to see, a battered old box on wheels swings in. Inside, and equally as worn as the car, sit a grinning elderly couple. The lady makes way for me in the front seat, and before I know it, we’re tearing our way towards the border.

The couple's colourful dashboard.

The couple’s colourful dashboard.

Not a word of English was spoken, but somehow a conversation was held. This was in most part due to her insistence on constantly offering food to me from somewhere behind my head. I swear she had a kitchen set up in the back. A few miles down the road and they pull in to buy me bottles of water, and maybe an hour into the drive, they arrive at a bus terminal. As much as I’ve enjoyed the uplifting hospitality of my hosts, here I am, yet again, being dropped at a bus station. But before I can say a word, she drags me out across the road, almost by my ear lobe, and buys me a ticket to the border. I’m not often lost for words – but even so – they wouldn’t let me say any, as she hands me another bottle of water, forces a bag of food into my hand, and presses a bus ticket into my palm. And as quickly as they had arrived – they were gone.

Not taking no for an answer- being forced to eat and drink in Thailand.

Not taking no for an answer- being forced to eat and drink in Thailand.

Now, this left me with something of a dilemma. I was about to take a bus. A ticket had been bought, and I was not going to be hitchhiking to the Cambodian border. However, I had not bought the ticket myself, so technically – it wasn’t cheating. With light fading fast and still some distance to go, I reasoned that to refuse such hospitality would just be rude, and I thankfully bundled myself into the mini-van when it arrived. At least, that’s how I justified it to myself at the time.

Waiting for the bus to the border.

Waiting for the bus to the border.

I attempted to settle back in the knowledge that the next stop would be customs, but it simply wasn’t. The vehicle went all around the houses, picking all manner of people up, shoe-horned into the back, people sitting on people. Consequently, I have no doubt in my mind I could have made the border faster if I’d just stuck at the hitch, but once again – to not accept the kindness of strangers would have done them a disservice. It’s approaching 10 pm when we finally make the Thailand side of the border. The border closes at 10 pm.

Crap photo of my view at the back of the mini-bus.

Crap photo of my view at the back of the mini-bus.

Battling the usual offers of taxis, “assistance” and prostitutes, I’m clearly one of the last folk to cross the border today. But it’s not without further complication. I’m one day over my Thailand visa. ONE. FUCKING. DAY. I’m forced to wait for an age as they fill out a bible’s worth of tickets, duplicates and such like, then fine me 500 baht for my trouble. It cost me about 11 quid, but I’m more concerned with what it cost me in time. And yet nothing was to prepare me for what was around the corner.

Border crossing, or the strip? You decide.

Border crossing, or the strip? You decide.

This isn’t a border crossing – it’s Las Vegas. Expecting a handful of taxis, a couple of exchange booths and maybe a rabid dog, I push through the door that exits Thailand and enters Cambodia. And then I almost go back through to make sure I got it right and the two worlds are actually connected. I’ve somehow stumbled into this gaudy-seedy-dive-bar-casino-karaoke-hotel-resort extravaganza, and it’s all kicking off. There’s live music in the streets, tuk-tuks blazing everywhere, flashing lights, money changing hands, drunks, and rabid dogs. It’s insane – and I’ve never crossed a border like it. A portal to another dimension. And while some would imagine that this bodes well for a Cambodia experience – it fills me with abject dread.

Sitting here an age - waiting for anything to happen.

Sitting here an age – waiting for anything to happen.

I’m fending off wave after wave of taxi drivers trying to rip me off until I’m at my wit’s end and I accept the services of one guy who doesn’t seem to be as dodgy as the rest of them. We then proceed to wander up and down the concourse as he looks for someone to take me. It appears these lads are given some extra bit of crust to bring the tourists to the actual driver. It takes another hour or so before I’m finally in the back of a cab heading to Siem Reap – sharing the fare with a Russian couple canoodling in the back seat. In driving rain, I pass out and hope to high heaven I end up where I’m meant to be.

A couple of hours of this. I was happy I was asleep.

A couple of hours of this. I was happy I was asleep.

Once crossing the border, it became painfully obvious that there was no way I would be able to continue to hitch, and I’d be damned if I was staying anywhere in that den of iniquity. For 10 bucks I ensured I made my bed that night, via a sketchy-ass, rain-soaked, night-drive to Siem Reap, and then a rickety tuk-tuk ride to a darkened hostel. The owner isn’t there, nobody appears to be on duty, but some foul-faced volunteer reluctantly shows me a bunk I can crash in. I duly do and fall asleep to the whir of electric fans, a bear-like snoring, and the unmistakable stench of flip-flop feet. Welcome to Cambodia Stuart. Welcome to Cambodia.

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Back in Bangkok, medical snake farms and losing my way

Saturday 07 January

Bangkok wasn’t any less rainy that the rest of the country. Well maybe it was – it wasn’t the torrential downpour that had engulfed the south of Thailand, but it was enough to make things generally miserable. Alex was back and forth to the teaching job fair in the hotel across the road, leaving me to my own devices, and the devil makes work for idle thumbs. Basically, I was just idle.

After a couple of boozy nights out around the notorious Soy Cowboy district, I was beginning to hate this city. On one such occasion, we were having a few drinks in an (in)famous hostel bar – which for their sake is best to remain nameless, when a backward baseball cap wearing knucklehead decided to have a go at me for smoking a cigarette, in a drunken slur tirade. For this piece, vocalise a general American “bro” accent.

Soy Cowboy. Of "Hangover" fame. Fucking shite.

Soy Cowboy. Of “Hangover” fame. Fucking shite.

“You shouldn’t smoke maaaaan. It’s like baaaaad mannnnn.  I know….I know…because…because my mum and dad are cardiologists right! Yeah. Cardiologists. And I know. Because I’m FUCKING RICH. I’m so FUCKING rich man! Hhahaha. I’m rich man. You wouldn’t believe. HEY EVERYONE! EVERYONE WHO WANTS SHOT COME GET ONE! YEAAHHHH!”

Or words to that effect.

He lost his way with his initial argument because he remembered how rich he was. He wasn’t the only one behaving thusly either – the hostel was and is full of them. Loud, brash, obnoxious singlet wearing individuals whose sole purpose in life seems to be to drink as much Jagermeister as possible and then throw up in a bin. I was getting tired of it. I retired to the smoking room with a brandy.

Something more worthwhile - the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, Bangkok. That's a medical snake farm to you and me.

Something more worthwhile – the Queen Saovabha Memorial Institute, Bangkok. That’s a medical snake farm to you and me.

When Alex was finally free, we did manage to see something worthwhile and interesting. Atlas Obscura has a number of cool sights to see in Bangkok, but we opted to choose the medical snake farm – an institute that houses deadly snakes for study and to develop anti-venom. Now that sounded pretty awesome, so on another rainy afternoon, we take a taxi across town to see a different kind of snake to the one in The White House.

Loads of these guys just hanging out on branches.

Loads of these guys just hanging out on branches.

And for the price of admission (200 bhat ), It was well worth it. I remember doing a primary school “topic book” on camouflage when I was around 10 years old, and I specifically focused on snakes – and as a result, I kind of developed a big thing for the creatures. I think they’re magnificent beings. I always say I’m the polar opposite of Indiana Jones, as he’s terrified of snakes, and I’m terrified of spiders. But don’t get me wrong – I wouldn’t fancy coming across a king cobra in the wild.

I'm perfectly alright up here thank you. You should have seen the way these guys were striking for their handlers legs...

I’m perfectly alright up here thank you. You should have seen the way these guys were striking for their handler’s legs…

Taking in the snake demonstration was memorable, particularly as you got to witness the cobra strike (which was awesome) and the opportunity to hold the massive Burmese python (even more awesome). The medical centre and snake skeleton exhibition were really interesting too, and the only disappointment was not being there on a day when they demonstrate venom extraction. If you’re in Bangkok and you want to do something other than getting fucked up, I highly recommend it.

Insert your "which one is the snake" jokes here.

Insert your “which one is the snake” jokes here.

The medi-centre of the USCSS Nostromo. Or dead snakes.

The medi-centre of the USCSS Nostromo. Or dead snakes.

Snake skulls. My sister would probably have wanted me to steal this.

Snake skulls. My sister would probably have wanted me to steal this.

Time was not on our side, and Alex had to finally return to Bishkek once the job fair was complete. We said our goodbyes at the airport once again – as we had done what seems like a lifetime ago back in early November. Who knows when we would cross paths again?

And so I ventured back into town to do what I always do. Like a dog off the leash, I ran riot and regressed into debaucherous ways. I did things that night that I’m not particularly proud of, but by god at the time it was magical. I’m saving this one for the book – just in case I’m ever offered a teaching position and someone reads this.

Breaking Bad was a good TV series, wasn’t it?

As a result of my deviation, I had put myself back some ways and had missed a full 24 hours because I was asleep. I booked another night at the over-priced hostel and wearily trudged the streets that evening in a fit of lonely despair, searching for a bit cardboard to make a hitch sign. Tomorrow I will rise early and attempt a difficult hitchhike to Siem Reap in Cambodia. Angkor Wat awaits – but I don’t really care.

Have a look at some random, crap photographs I took from my last ever visit to this shit hole. Bangkok is a dump.

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Hitchhike to India leg 63: Ranong to Bangkok

Thursday 05 January

Alright, so I’ve not written one of these in a while, which is what I seem to be doing of late – nothing at all. I shall remedy this in due course, as there are things to tell. Stories to regale you with. The usual utter filth and debauchery you have come to expect from this classy publication. But first, let me take you back to a time at the beginning of the year, on a cold, wet, rainy January day in Thailand. Cold – maybe not. Wet – you have NO idea.

We’d been holed up in a cheap but comfortable guest house in Rangong while my back heals. If you’ll remember in the last installment of “how much can Stu fuck things up?” I had slipped a disk trying surfing for the first time. Honestly, a new-found respect for surfers. So I was bedridden for a couple of days, going through heat patches like they were going out of fashion, occasionally lumbering to the toilet. Round about this time, the heavens decided to open.

And what a deluge it was to be. Keeping one eye on the news, we discovered that it was one of the worst rainy seasons on record in Thailand, causing a number of deaths in the country – particularly in the south. We were lucky to be on the cusp of coming out of it – or so we thought.

Trying to wait for a gap in the wall of water was proving something of an impossibility. At one point, it must have been raining solidly for 48 hours. And I mean solidly. Not just a light shower – it sounded like gods fists were smashing down on rooftops. And time wasn’t on our side (as it usually is when I’m hitchhiking solo) as Alex needed to get back to Bangkok for a potentially life-changing job fair. It wasn’t looking good.

So with some reluctance and we decided to take a mini-bus to Chumpon, a city I had passed through a month or so ago on my way to island shenanigans. I had come full circle, but unfortunately, I’d fallen at the final hurdle, forced to take paid transport. It’s not the first time dear readers, and it won’t be the last – but more of that anon.

We had a reasonable plan. If we just get over the pass and a little further north, we’d surely leave the weather behind. Yeah right. A couple of short hours later and we’re still in the downpour, trudging through Chumpon’s soaking streets trying to locate a bus all the way back to Bangkok. By this time we’d totally given up hope of any kind of hitch, which would be a fool’s errand. Walking anywhere in this and you’re soaked to the bone within a minute. But we’re not in the UK now, and finding transport back to the capital city proves harder than it should really be. The next bus isn’t until 8.30 pm. It was 2 in the afternoon.

Wet through and knocking heads, arguing all the way through crowded markets and people huddling from the rain, we stagger into a hotel and find a receptionist that doesn’t speak much English but does manage to get us a taxi to a bus which is leaving at ten past. It’s ten minutes away so there’s no margin for error, and we yell at the poor guy to step on it. Kudos to him as he gets us there on time – but the bus is full. I’m starting to lose my cool. No, that’s a lie – I’d lost it when I woke up. Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever had it.

In a huge stroke of luck, our taxi driver speaks decent English and can take us to the ACTUAL bus station. Which – thank Jesus and the saints and all the angels – is a proper bus station. They got busses there. Actual busses. They’re supposed to be going to Bangkok every hour – which is what you would expect from a traffic link between two of the countries biggest cities. However, we learn that the reason for all the madness is because of the horrific conditions down south. Transports have been stranded, mudslides and flooding have caused impassable roadblocks, and as mentioned earlier – people have lost their lives. In the grand scheme of things, we were doing alright.


The downpour continues. Looking out from the bus station.

We manage to get a place on a bus in a couple of hours, and settle in the open concourse to read books, shelter from the weather and try to calm down. I stuff my mouth with pork scratchings to cheer myself up. The rain is still coming down hard as we bundle on a coach some time later and finally get underway. At least we were going to make Bangkok at a decent time.

Holed up. Shelter from the storm.

Holed up. Shelter from the storm.

Which of course we don’t. We make several stops which are far too long while trying to get sustenance from packets of microwaved sausages from a 7/11. Around 2 am we’re dejectedly still trying to find the hostel because Alex forgot to add the location on her phone when she booked it. Wearily wandering through deserted, dark streets by a railway station in Bangkok is not my idea of fun. There’s a cardboard city set up too, with hundreds of homeless huddled together and I’m feeling more than a little uncomfortable. Still – at least we have a home to go to.

The rain wasn't coming down - it was coming up.

The rain wasn’t coming down – it was coming up.

Which we eventually find, no thanks to a hotel receptionist who refuses to allow us to use his wi-fi to find the place. Shocking hospitality. Two shattered travelers trying to find their beds for the night and he didn’t even let us use his reception computer. Arsehole. Down another shady dark street, we locate home base, and another arsehole greets us. The night-shift worker is sleeping in the corner, and – would you believe it?! he’s got to do his job and put through two late check-ins! But he doesn’t like it one bit, and it was to be the first in a long line of abuse we would receive from the staff at this appalling excuse for a hostel. Still – it was right around the corner from the job fair. Gotta take the rough with the smooth.

Days don’t come much more trying than this, and we go to bed in all but silence. Traveling with someone has always been difficult for me – especially someone close to me – and this was proving to be no exception. But I generally think that’s because I’m the one being the arsehole. Tomorrow is another day.

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The wildlife of Koh Phayam.

Saturday 24 December

It starts off well enough. Chilling by the beach, playing board games, going out for meals. Sexy time. Then things start to take a turn for the worse – most notably with the lack of wifi. No, I’m kidding. Maybe. No, honestly I am – I don’t need to check facebook 20 times a day for goodness sake! Who do you think I am? Some 17-year-old princess? I just sit on it for 24 hours at a time, silly!

Not bad on the surface.

Not bad on the surface.

Koh Phayam is a lesser-known Thai island off the west coast of the mainland, nestled in the Andaman Sea with a few other neighbouring landforms. It’s a far cry from the Thai Gulf shit-shows of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan and is most notable for the fact that there are still no cars on the island. Koh Phayam is what Thailand’s islands used to be 10 years ago – but in spite of the imminent threat of a heavier influx of tourism (places like this don’t stay secret for very long), the locals are adamant that it won’t turn into the mess that the rest of the country has become. I’ll believe it when I see it – they’re already expanding roads and ploughing new ones through the jungle – building new resorts and bars – ready to cater for the inevitable onslaught of Germans. (There are loads of them here). The relative quiet island paradise will be no more. It’s only a matter of time.

Regardless – I still don’t like it. I don’t like it now – and I won’t like it then.

I’ve been here before. Not specifically to this island, but to similar, and in this kind of environment. It isn’t long before my clear dislike for island life and its people begins to take a toll on my relationship with Alex, as more often than not we’re niggling each other and I’m pissing her off. We spend a lot of time apart, and the only time I feel truly content is when I’m drinking. The story of my life.

Ok so it wasn't all bad...

Ok so it wasn’t all bad…

I just don’t like the people I meet here or have met before in beach areas, islands, and such like. Dreadlocked, hippy dippy, multi-tattooed, damn-the-man, living off the grid, henna-ed up, ankle-braceleted, tree hugging, weed smoking, fake/pseudo-spiritual types. And the reggae. Don’t get me started on reggae. FUCK REGGAE. Now don’t get me wrong I don’t mean to tarnish everyone with the same brush – there are plenty of people that fall into that sweeping generalisation that I know and love – but just as an overarching, all-encompassing term – I feel a deep sense of loathing towards them. Blah, blah, blah each to their own, live and let live etc, etc etc. Yes I get it. I really do. But some people just don’t wash with me. And some people don’t wash at all. Remember I’m a misanthrope.

These things are alright.

These things are alright.

These things not so much.

These things not so much.

Compounded by this, is my ongoing battle with Mother Nature. I’m something of a scaredy-cat when it comes to jungle life. The ominous, dark, leafy chaparral puts the fear of god into me. This is especially true at night when it really comes alive with alien sounds and hidden, unknown dangers. We’re glamping as well. Living in a large, posh tent thing, but we still have to constantly be on our guard for things getting in, always stooping low to zip up securely. Of course with the bathroom outside, this makes things difficult for me as it means a run to the crapper in the dark if you need a wee in the middle of the night. This must explain why, after one particularly heavy session, I decide to piss in the corner of the tent.

Understandably, Alex wasn’t happy.

Kill it! Kill it with fire! If you think I'm putting my hand next to this for scale you've got another thing coming.

Kill it! Kill it with fire! If you think I’m putting my hand next to this for scale you’ve got another thing coming.

Round about the same time, we receive a visitor in the toilet/shower cubicle. A large, hairy spider. This can just fuck right off. Can you honestly blame me for wanting to do my business inside?! Surely you would do the same?! And it doesn’t leave! I’m hiding under the bed sheets, screaming at Alex to take the bastard broom to the thing, which – bless her – she’s trying to do without killing it. I could never kill it – it’s not the right thing to do. But for the love of all things holy get it tae fuck! Try as she might, it won’t budge, simply shifting from one position to another, sometimes hiding behind a wooden slat. Then Alex drops a bombshell.

“I think it’s living under the stones in the shower.”

Well, that’s just it. I’m done. I don’t shower for days – and when I do – I’m half standing out the door, washing my bits and pits and that’s the lot. I don’t care who sees.  In, out, shake it all about. Job done. And I certainly don’t shit in there. Not on your life. I’ve seen Arachnophobia. I head down to larger, better-lit toilet by the beach. Luckily living in there is only a very large gecko, motionless, high on the wall, watching you poo. He can stay. I like him.


Perverted toilet gecko.

Around day three I begin to feel a strange itch all over my back. I reach round and feel a couple of bumps. A short time later, there are more of them. They seem to be spreading. I peel off my shirt in terror to discover this:



Sand flies. At first, I thought mosquitos – and while annoying they’ve never really bother me that much. But these little bastards went to town and it’s agonising. For the rest of the trip Alex plays Florence Nightingale, liberally bathing me in tiger balm and coconut oil to take the itch away – but I’m miserable. I’m not having the “holiday” I desired. Woe is me. Boo hoo fucking hoo.


Surfs up. These had better stay on.

To cheer ourselves up, we try surfing for the first time. Neither of us has ever done it before, and since there is only a gentle swell of waves, it’s the perfect opportunity for two total beginners to give it a go. When I manage to stand (extremely briefly) for the first time, I fall off and slip a disk. You couldn’t make this shit up.

Jesus, I’m getting old. After about a day I can barely move, and with the constant bending down to open and shut our tent – I’m over it. Totally over it. To cap it all, there’s the sheer terror I experience while riding on the back of a scooter. Regular readers will know how much I loathe those things, but we hire one on the last day to do a little more exploring and as a cheaper option to taxi our own bags back to the pier. Alex is more than competent – being a motorcycle enthusiast back home – but I’m a terrible passenger, and it’s one of the most unnerving experiences of my life. I’m wearing flip-flops, and being low to the ground, half expecting a stone to rip my toes off. Consequently, I’m squeezed up on the back of this thing using every muscle in my body not to fall off and to keep hands and feet inside at all times. I can barely move when I dismount, with all the grace of a pissed-up gazelle.


These guys were all over the place too. Scuttling about. Threatening your toes…

The sand flies, the mosquitos, the spider in the toilet, the slipped disk, the constant bending to open and shut the tent, the hippy island people, the lack of wifi, the terrifying scooter rides, the sand flies, the mosquitos, the spider in the toilet, the slipped disk, the consta…

It’s just not for me dearest readers. It’s just not for me.

New Years Eve.

New Years Eve.

Of course, there are exceptions – as there always are – and we do meet some lovely people. There’s some really wonderful food and drink, some good live music (apart from reggae) and Christmas and New Year pass pleasantly. But all in all, you can keep island life. At least tropical island life; I could do this easily in say – Croatia – but not in this climate. It’s been an interesting experience, but I honestly think I will never return to a tropical beach as long as I live. I’ve had enough practice by now to know that I fucking hate it – and it fucking hates me. The definition of madness is doing something over and over again and expecting a different result. I have spent my last ever night on a tropical island “paradise.”

 Oh – and if you’re reading this Mr shower spider – you’re a fucking cunt.

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Hitchhike to India leg 62: Khao Sok to Ranong

Friday 23 December

The second hitchhike with the American begins a little shakily, and it’s the first test of our ability to travel together. This is why I prefer (and generally do) hitchhike solo. We’ve been waiting a good while at the end of the village road – which should usually be a great spot – but with nothing doing we begin to knock heads. Then finally at my suggestion, we walk a few hundred yards away from the junction, up the hill and round the bend – which is exactly where Alex was driving me.

Flogging dead horses.

Flogging dead horses.

And sure enough, experience pays off. Hitchhiking in a built up or busy area might seem like a good idea with a steady flow of traffic, but you’ll be hard pressed to get a ride. Once you’re out in the sticks, at least appearing to be in the middle of nowhere, you’re pretty much guaranteed that anyone who passes you (and has room) will pull over. There’s something about the desperation of it. A human being in peril and needing help, miles from civilisation. I always remember a scene in Superman II, when a newly powerless Clark Kent is trying to get back to his home in the Arctic in a bid to return to becoming Superman, and he’s wandering down a lengthy stretch of ice road in a blizzard. He’s freezing cold and can barely see his hands in front of his face when a big rig truck appears behind him and he turns to thumb a ride. It doesn’t stop, even as he desperately waves at the driver to pull over and give him a lift, it still thunders heartlessly past. In the scene, it solidifies how alone he has become. In reality – that would just never happen. In that situation, possibly life or death in arctic wastes, ANYONE who drove by would stop and give you a ride. Otherwise, you’re simply not human.

No rides mean plenty of photo opportunities.

No rides mean plenty of photo opportunities.

This isn’t the arctic wastes, but it is the jungle, and sure enough my instinct is right. We’re not really in the middle of nowhere (only having just left the village junction found the corner) but you can trick people into thinking you are, and as we struggle up the hill with our packs on in the heat, pretty much the first vehicle that passes slows down to pick us up. I bet my bottom dollar they wouldn’t have stopped if we were still by the village. We jump in the back, thankful for the first ride of the day, with me smiling like a smug bastard. I can never get enough of saying “I told you so.”

The view from the pickup.

The view from the pickup.

Riding in the back of a pickup with a partner is a lot of fun though. Usually, I do this alone, with only my thoughts and observations to keep me company, so it’s really nice to have someone to talk to and bounce off of. This is especially good if the scenery is awesome – which it really is. If you come to Thailand there is simply one thing you must do – get out of the cities.

We wanna go that way please.

We wanna go that way, please.

It’s a short ride before we’re dropped on the main highway again, and then it’s easy pickings. From here there isn’t much of a tale to tell. We’re waiting no more than five minutes before our next ride can take us up to Kurabure, and following a quick coffee/toilet break, we’re in the back of our next ride all the way to our destination.

I look retarded.

I look retarded.

From there it’s easy to book passage to the islands, but not before we meet some douche American traveler who up until that point believed that he was the best thing since sliced bread. But after seeing us jump out the back of a truck, he’s clearly dismayed that he hasn’t thought about or BEEN SEEN to be hitchhiking.

“Are you hitchhiking?” He asks with a disappointed tone, before scoffing; “Yeah I think my stuff is too heavy to hitchhike with.”

Bollocks mate. Total bollocks. He’s laboriously showing off that he’s camping, going “off the beaten track” and traveling with one of those all green army surplus back packs – as opposed to the more traditional (and colourful) ones that everyone else has. “My stuff is too heavy to hitchhike with.” Ahhahahaha. Fuuuuck offfff! You couldn’t LIFT my bag you absolute twat.

Maybe I’m being a bit harsh. Did I mention that I hate people?

Ferry time.

Ferry time.

Thankfully we’re going in opposite directions, and me and the bird pile onto a speed boat to take us across the water, and into a hurricane. Well not exactly – but we certainly hit some rough weather as we enter under a storm cloud. For someone who is fearless at getting into the back of motors with strangers, I do tend to shit myself in situations like this. I’m doing my best to show this is all completely fine as the boat rockets through and over the waves like a rollercoaster, beaming a fake smile and hiding behind my clip-on sunglasses. Water lashes from the heavens and from the sea and my gut is churning.  I’m generally not a big fan of speed, and I mean that in every sense of the word.



A little damp, we break out into sunshine on the other side and set foot on Koh Phayam – our island home for the Christmas holidays. A beautiful, relaxing, tropical paradise…

…or so I thought.

The next tale is a belter...

The next story is a belter…

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