You know it has been quite a week when you go from being sat on your arse in front of a Central London house, with some old dear asking "Are you okay, love," my motorcycle in pieces, wrapped around a bollard about ten meters away, to being in Bangkok.
I had several false starts in making it to the airport, whenever I try to go away, I find jobs coming out of the woodwork, generally that I've been putting off but can't bare to come home to. Eventually I left a much tidier house and made it to the tube. The run to Heathrow is a long, slow, sweaty ride. Crawling through stations and held at signals to "even out gaps in the service". There must have only been one train in each direction for the size of the gaps! Eventually I'm in the cool night air, riding an escalator to the doors of Terminal 2.
Mum is there waiting, for once she was early and her main concern is that we wont have enough time to make the most of our airside lounge access before we board our flight. This is a woman who always has her priorities straight. Missing a flight, not a drama. Not having enough time to maximise the number of G&T before we board, a serious problem. We trundled through baggage drop and security. Neither of us have brought much, but I am amazed that Sarah has managed to undercut my carefully but fully packed back pack by 2kg.
We make our way to the lounge with plenty of time to spare, especially as they pour doubles as standard. We start with champagne. Nether of us have had a big trip since we did this together over a year ago and we were in a very different place then. To travelling togehter and for having waited a long time to do it! A little chink and the fizz slipped down far too easily.
We have time, we chew over what we've both been doing and flip through the magazines in the lounge. Sarah is taken in by a magazine cover of Daniel Craig but the article turns out to be about Ian Flemming as I flip through Wallpaper* looking at the pictures of designer ideas and award winning houses. This seems so far from the world I'm trying to fit my own work into.
Our gate appears on the screen in the lounge. There must be time for 'one more'? Of course there is! Sarah pops to the bar. The glasses are too full of ice to drink at a comfortable but "we should be going...now" speed. Fishing half of the ice out of my glass on to a napkin and swigging a few large, rather strong mouthfuls, we are quickly walking towards our gate.
We needn't have worried. The inbound flight was delayed and so we have time to browse the last minute duty free concession. A litre of premium gin for £13 as an outside the EU price... Perfect.
There's a man with wings on his shoes in the waiting area. As we're called to board, he and his partner try to skip the queue. As the cabin crew send them back, they sit down and over engage in each other, pretending that nothing has happened, but his shoes stick in my mind. His hair is long, greasy and grey with a slight curl, a jacket, jeans... He looks like he has walked out of something surreal or that flying to Bangkok was just part of the night out... What message is he bringing? No one can hear what he whispers in the woman's ear, but she seems intent on pretending not to hear him. It can't be that important.
As we fly to Bangkok I am reminded why flying is my least favourite mode of transport. Aeroplanes are small and when all you want to do is stride up and down and stretch your legs, there's no where to go and for the most part, if it is light enough to look out of the window, there's nothing to see but clouds and sky.
Flying displaces you from time and location. When you land you're aware, on a mental level that both have changed but your body has no idea what time it is, where you are and what functions it should be performing. You want to be asleep but its light out, you're not hungry but its lunch time... Worst of all you have seen nothing through your whole journey.
As we get off the plane at Bangkok I am instantly hit by the first sensory wave that tells me I am not at home. The heat is close. Already there are smells that no amount of airport cleaning can hide. It's great!
Thailand has a culture of obsession about becoming whiter and the big national brand of skin whitening products is "white snail" which are advertised everywhere. I'm not sure what a white snail would look like but I don't think that what the very good looking lady on the posters is going for.
I look at my Thai visa application as we queue to pass through immigration. Half asleep when I filled out the form, I'm barely able to read my own writing - the hieroglyphs of my sleep deprived self represent my flight number and passport number but they are indecipherable to me. The officials say nothing. Stamp my entry visa on the same page as my last trip and wave me through.
The great thing about travelling light is that making your way around is easy - when everyone is struggling with their oversized suitcase, you're able to slip through quickly whilst others struggle to get past. We are quickly on the train into the city. It costs 80 pence for the small token, about the size of a pound coin, that you tap against the barriers as you enter and feed back into them as you leave.
My face is glued to the window as we ride into town. Bangkok reminds me of civilisation building games. There is immense contrast in houses that are right next to each other. Traditional wooden homes stand along side new brick built, multi-storey homes. The closer you get to the middle of Bangkok the bigger the contrast gets to where you have wooden houses tucked in amongst sky scrapers that's appear to exist only because someone had the wealth to build them.
We get off the train. Grabbing a bottle of water so I can take my drugs and haggle with a tuktuk driver to take us to our hotel. 250BHT or a fiver to navigate us through the rush hour traffic to our home for the night. Even then we're probably being fleeced, but we are on the edge of the point where it didn't matter.
In Bangkok the road lines don't matter. They're not a suggestion or an indication, not even best practice. No matter what you're driving you aim for spaces and play a perpetual game of chicken with the other road users. Cyclists and smoking scooters come within inches of the cage of the tuktuk. At times we crawl through traffic back logs and at others we nip between cars into impossibly small gaps, feeling at once totally alive and that the journey with its endless close calls with other vehicles will see us get out as much older people.
The China Town Hotel is clean and tidy. It's up market for Thailand and expensive but Bangkok, like any capital city, takes what it can get away with. We shower, a joy after a long haul flight and head out into China Town after dark.
Bangkok is an intense city. It's alive in an almost desperate fashion. Everything has a texture, a smell, a taste and these things assault you as you walk through the streets. Every now and then something drips on you from above to add to the sense of immersion. You cannot keep yourself out of the city. It is dirty, busy and as soon as you step onto the streets, you are a part of the seething mass. Peddlers in the street selling every food you can image and plenty you struggle to describe. Some wrapped in bags, others on sticks, sizzling over coals and others have buckets of live creatures that may have the misfortune to become your dinner,
We lap the block to check out where we are. This is a new part of town where Sarah and I have never been too, solo or together and eventually we find a very busy street seller that looks like they're preparing great food. We don't wait too long to be seated and quickly order a few beers. The menu is largely sea food - fish, crabs, prawns, served in a variety of ways but as we see dishes waft past us to other tables, we know we're on to a good thing. The beers are cold and soothe the aches of travelling but they're rammed as far as a street stall can be. We crane our necks and watch food go every where except to us and then ours arrives. The street above us is hung with tight strings of red paper lanterns. Every few minutes is punctuated by a burst of flame where the chef throws oil over a wok set precariously over an open gas flame.
The food was worth the wait. A whole crab which I dismantled segment by segment, the meat soft and delicate as it came away from the shells, the biggest whole pawns you have ever seen and plates of rice and vegetables to complete the table.
Having been hungry for a while, it doesn't last long. We head back to the hotel, back through the shouts of sellers, the pitchers, the traders of tiny Buddha charms in glass cases to hang off your keys for luck. Some of you will have had the misfortune of such holiday tat from me in the past. We glance at time tables for trains tomorrow but we're here for a holiday as well as an adventure and so we'll see where tomorrow takes us.