Here’s the first-ever group email I sent around to friends and family after my Thailand trip, which kicked off my travels in Europe in 1998.  I’ll have to get around to scanning in some photos sometime…

Hiya all!

That’s the slogan for Thailand’s latest tourism campaign: “Amazing Thailand”.  And that’s what it has been – absolutely amazing and a great adventure in some good and some bad ways.

I arrived and spent a couple of days in Bangkok touring around with a Scot I met called Steve – we easily covered all of the touristy things around the city of Bangkok in a day: the Grand Palace, shopping on Kao San Road, and of course we had to go see what all the fuss was about so we went to be, uh, “entertained” by the girly shows along Patpong Road. An absolutely mind blowing performance and one to be seen to be believed!

Bangkok is an amazing city of 10 million people sprawled over a large area.  It’s hot, humid, smelly, crowded and polluted, but definitely worth a visit for anyone.  You have GOT to see the way these people drive – road rules are non-existent, they drive on BOTH sides, however somehow the traffic seems to move along and I’m yet to see an accident.  You’ve got to have it in small doses however – anything more than a couple of days and you begin to feel crowded and unwell I found.

I was staying at a great place called the “Merry V Guest House”, and for $5 a night you couldn’t go wrong.  Although it took me a while to work out the whole toilet thing – I mean, how do you go to the toilet when you can’t chuck any paper down there and there’s no flusher??? I eventually worked it out as nature did call…

Steve and I took a day trip to Kanchanaburi, home of the Thai-Burma Death Railway and Bridge Over the River Kwai, which meant a great deal to me as I’d met many diggers who’d been put to work building the railroad as POWs in WW2.  We decided to take a 3rd class train ride there (bad choice), and found ourselves stranded in the middle of nowhere due to an accident between a crazy tuk-tuk (like a 3-wheeled motorbike used for ferrying passengers around the place, buzzing like a hornet and polluting the environment) and a train further up the line. Taking a train down another branch line, we made our way to a nothing town and persuaded (financially) someone to take us the rest of the distance to Kanchanaburi.  It was an amazing experience up there and I did (eventually) enjoy the day.  We took the bus back to Bangkok of course!

Once Sally and Marnie arrived we spent a final day in Bangkok doing a great tour of the canals by long-tail boat.  That night we left by bus to head down the coast to Surat Thani, the jumping-off point to the island group of Koh Samui. We arrived there at dawn, and were taken by minibus to the ferry.  The driver of this minibus was absolutely driving like a man posessed – 120 km/h +++, overtaking on corners, the works.  Of course the inevitable happened and we crashed, running into a stationary truck by the side of the road at about 60 km/h.  Luckily no-one had been sitting in the front passenger seat, otherwise they would have been toast.  We were uninjured but showered in glass and shocked.  We all took turns abusing the driver with a larger deal of pleasure.

So here we were, a group of tourists sitting by the side of the road, not knowing where to go or how to get there.  We paid a farmer to use his ute, and he luckily knew where the ferry left from.  We just made it in time.

First stop – Koh Samui, and island about 1 hr ferry ride from the coast.  We got harassed by all the owners of the bungalows, but decided to go with Loi from the “New Hut Bungalow”, charging $6 for a beach-side bungalow on Lamai Beach.  The food was dirt cheap there and fantastic as well, so we found no need to move any further.  With the beach murmering outside I easily fell asleep…

Jealous yet…? 🙂

A typical day was waking mid-morning, a quick brekky including lots of fresh fruit, straight off the restaurant deck to the beach and a bit of a lazy day until the sun went down, broken by trips to the bar and a bit to eat.  Tough, huh?

While on the island we decided to hire motorbikes to do a tour of the island.  Within 2 minutes of hiring the bikes, two people had already crashed and damaged the bikes (NOT me of course!), and so we had a couple of pikers.  Around the island we saw all the touristy places like these amazing waterfalls where we went for a cooling dip, and also the “Big Budda” monastery.  We also saw the islands most popular and developed beach, Chaweng, and decided that we weren’t missing out on much.

Had a great little discussion with this American who also hired a bike, clipped a stray dog (of which there are many throughout Thailand), which caused him to crash the bike.  The mad dog then decided to bite him on the neck, so it was straight to the doctor for a rabies shot!

While on the islands, the weather wasn’t perfect, but even when it rained it was these incredible tropical downpours and still very warm.  The only time I’ve needed to wear a jumper since being here is on the air-conditioned bus!

Next stop was the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, about 1 hr north of Samui.  Once there, we took a taxi (ie. ute with a roof) ride to Haadrin Beach, the most popular beach on the island and home to the famous “Full Moon Party” (sadly the next party isn’t until Dec 3, so we missed out).  The road to Haadrin has to be seen to be believed – sealed, however with holes eroded out of the road surface and stretches with about a 45-degree incline, it turnes the ride into a rollercoaster adventure.

Relaxation was the order of the day, and staying at Palita Lodge on Haadrin East Beach allowed that.  The beach was the nicest we’d come across, and although Pha-Ngan was in fact more expensive than Samui, it was still affordable.  There was a great nightlife on the beachfront if you were after that sort of thing, or just some beers in a bar watching a pirate video if you weren’t up for a dance.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to enjoy the island as much as I would have liked.  My room-mate at Palita, an English girl called Sarah I’d met on Samui, came down with a fever and became delirious and lethargic.  At 3am on the far side of the island there was absolutely nothing I could do until dawn, and I had a really scary, worrying night looking after her.  I seriously though she might die.  Once dawn came, I established that there weren’t any ambulances on the island, and so I got some help to bundle her into the back of a songthaew (taxi) and sped to the island hospital (if that’s what you could call it).  They treated her there and a blood test showed a severe case of malaria, probably picked up in the north of Thailand.  The moved her to the Samui hospital almost immediately, where they diagnosed cerebral malaria, the worst strain possible.  The decision was made the next day to fly her to Bangkok for better facilities and treatment.

Meanwhile I was responsible on Koh Pha-Ngan to organise everything for her, and I even had to inform her parents in the UK (they’ve since flown down here).  It wasn’t something I’d ever want to repeat.  Because of everything I had to do, I didn’t even see the beach on our last three days on the island, but I’m happy to know that I did everything I could to save her life and assist her at the expense of a tan.

I’m back in Bangkok now and I fly to Europe tonight.  I went with Marnie to the hospital today to visit her, and I also got to meet the parents.  Sarah’s in a really bad way – unconscious and in a coma, on a respirator and fairing worse than expected. I’ve never seen someone that ill in my entire life.  It’s been decided that as soon as she’s well enough to fly, they’ll put her on a hospital flight back to the UK.  There may even be some permanent damage, but all fingers are crossed. 

This experience has really put a downer on my trip to Thailand, and presently I can’t wait to get on the plane and go.  It’s totally freaked me out.

So, here I am, I’ve done all my shopping now, and picked up every fake piece of clothing I could find, and the bus to the airport leaves in a few hours.  My next stop is Germany and then Switzerland to start work (and for some dumb reason I can’t wait!).  Oh yeah, and I’ve got the suitcase of warm clothes at the airport waiting for me.

In all, it’s been a mixed trip so far; a lot of fun but also some terrible events.  Thailand is definitely worth a visit, however I don’t know if I’d come back – there’s other places in the world I’d like to experience rather than come back.  If I did, I’d head straight down to some other of the islands to the south.

Hope you’re all fairing well back home.  2nd Edition when I’ve got something to say!  Keep in touch!

Cool bananas,