Saturday, April 29, 2006


Is travelling dangerous? I may have slightly unnerved a reader who noticed that two of my near-death experiences were in Thailand. Not that the near-drowning was specifically Thailand related - I could have had the same result if I went paddling off Great Yarmouth during a North Sea storm. With added hypothermia. That typhoon, though, was a moment of genuine weirdness. Once the ferries were cancelled, the island got cut off and it became clear that every other westerner on the island was a total druggie. It like the cast of Lost had headed en masse down to the heroin plane for a mass indulgence.

And even the atypical pheumonia wasn't Thailand's fault, as I caught the damn thing in Hong Kong, and just happened to be in Bangkok by the time hospitalisation became desirable. For which I'm truly thankful, as the Vichaiyut Hospital was a fabulous place to be horribly ill, with much better treatment than would have been available in, say, the back-end of Sichuan province, China.

OK, my travelling days were a wee bit pocked by unfortunate incidents like car-crashes, incapacitating back conditions, sleeping under alpine hedges during thunderstorms and seeing people (well, one person) die. But it's always been like that. I'm a person who could declare, seeing the snow falling, that I wasn't playing football as "you could break your leg out there", get talked into it and then snap my ankle. I drank nail varnish remover as a baby. I'm on at least nodding acquaintance with most of the mistakes in the book. And probably not, therefore, a good person to be handing out advice.

Another reason to be a bit wary of giving travel advice is that I haven't backpacked in over a decade, everything will have changed and I'll sound like one of those old hippies who used to say that the Pudding Shop in Istanbul was the place to head to, man, when by the time I got there it had as much ambience as the BHS canteen in St Stephen's Street, Norwich. Though it's probably back to being a trendy hang-out again. See? I'm a dinosaur.

Notwithstanding my exposure to tropical diseases, I loved Thailand, and I'd head back there in a heartbeat. I probably wouldn't spend much time in Bangkok, and I'd definitely stay the hell away from the travellers' ghetto, Khao San Road, if only because horrible, nightmarish things happen to me every time I go near the place. Concretey Pattaya didn't impress me either. I'd stay away from the sex trade, not only because it's morally indefensible but because HIV is rife. I've never taken drugs, but I wouldn't do it in Thailand anyway. You'll find plenty of travellers who'll insist there's no chance of trouble, but they're a biassed sample. You won't find the ones who got caught because they've been locked up in some unappealing prisons.

Other than that, the whole country - jungles, ruins, beaches - was gorgeous. My favourite places were Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, the Khymer ruins near Khon Kaen (whose name I've sadly forgotten, Ayutthaya and Koh Samui. The people are friendly, the language is sonorous, there's endless piles of tropical fruit (including the noxious Durian fruit, which isn't so much grown as plucked from Satan's backside), the ruins are sad and stately and the beaches really are white. You'll love it, Paul.


Anonymous Paul said...

Just woke up with general anxiety.. a million things to figure out and plan for the upcoming trip and the bazillion things to try to prepare for. When I was 24, I went to Europe for the first time, backpacking, and had one of the best times of my life. There were definitely moments of misery, such as only travel in a foreign land can bring, but overall it was pretty damn magical. Now I'm 37, finishing up my PhD, and I haven't done anything interesting in far too long, so I sort of challenged myself to take a trip to Asia... two months, backpacking, China, Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand. Because I'm in danger of becoming seriously boring. And I could use a hefty dose of magic.

So, anyway, I woke up with this whole feeling of "AAAAAAAAGH!" and couldn't get back to sleep, and suddenly I recalled that I'd asked you about Thailand, so I thought I might as well check and see if you'd replied.

Everything you said was pretty much exactly what I needed to read. Many thanks and I'll try to send you a mental good vibe from Thailand when I get there.

- Paul

5:47 am  
Blogger Disintegrating Clone said...

Now if you're going to China, and you don't mind arse-numbing day-long bus journeys, then you should definitely go to Dali, which is laid back and serene and, beyond it, Lijiang, which fully deserves its world heritage site status. It's simply beautiful. It did get trashed in an earthquake after I visited, though.

And then there's Yangshuo, which is picture postcard China, and that's a day's bus and boat from Hong Kong. Yangshuo may have been ruined by now, as it's well on the tourist trail. Lisa's Cafe used to be the place to hang out...

I've not been to Vietnam or Laos, but Malaysia was lovely - the Cameron Highlands, Penang and Malacca especially. Singapore wasn't too special, but Sumatra was fun, in a jungly way.

Post me when you get over there. Good luck.

6:14 pm  

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