Farang or not, I’m still kick ass at pinball!

Finally arrived back in Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station, then got the Metro, changing at Mo Chit, to get on the Sukhumvit line train to Punnawithi station. This was where the room I’d booked the day before was supposed to be.

I got off and walked up the road, heavy bags in tow, got around half a kilometre before giving in and realising it wasn’t that way at all – stopped and asked in one of the ever-present 7/11‘s for ‘Merlin’s Lodge‘, they were none the wiser. So I walked back to the BTS station and found the nearest café with WiFi to hole up in and take stock.

It was then – when my emails started working – that I got an email from Merlin’s Lodge saying HostelBookers.com had cocked up the booking and the price I was quoted online was based on two people sharing, so twice the price, and would I like to cancel the reservation. I agreed and started looking for the next place instead via TripAdvisor.co.uk.

A highly rated, inexpensive guest house called Soi 1 Guest House was recommended as a place without tourists and for those seeking the true nature of backpacking – result! I finished my coffee and hopped onto the BTS for 8 or so stops to Phloen Chit.

When I arrived, still not very clear where in relation to the station my guest house was, I asked the nearest security guard. He pointed me in the wrong direction, I realised when I crossed the road. So I crossed back over and avoided asking him again and took the road my map appeared to show as the right one.

Wrong!

Half way down it closed off to a private residence, so I asked the lady peeling fruit outside her house where to find the right Soi (side street), she motioned over the road and one more road up. So I walked, and walked, and walked and walked and walked – about 1 kilometre in total. Realising once again I had the wrong road I holed up in a quaint little restaurant for a shake and to gather my bearings. The lady was right, it was one street up, but not the other side of the road.

TAXI!!

I was buggered if I was going to walk down that long ass road again, so I hailed the nearest taxi and tried to show him on the map. He didn’t speak a word of English so he passed his mobile to me to speak to the controller who gathered where I was going and told the driver.

After 20 minutes or so I was outside the rather unassuming Soi 1 Guest House. The fare was 55 Baht but I had 53 in coins, or a 1000 Baht note.. he balked at the note so he caved to the 53 Baht.

I walked in and up to the 2nd floor reception, met a beautiful Thai girl behind the counter called Jenny and asked pleadingly if there was a room. Result! 8 man dorm and one bed left, so I took it for 400 Baht per night, stuff trying to find cheaper, I was knackered and needed a shower.

She showed me to my room and I met the residents, all Aussies and Americans, so guaranteed good chat and a laugh. One Aussie, Sebastian, was looking for a local arcade to play some games, I asked if they had pinball and it turns out they did. So after showering, chatting and introducing, and then hearing an almighty bang outside that turned out to be the power transforming giving out to the heat and needing repait.. 5 of us headed to the MBK mall in National Stadium, a ride to Siam, change, and one more stop.

The power company in Thailand that came to fix the broken transformer

With an almighty bomb-like explosion, the transformer gave out in the heat

On arrival, it’s huge! 7 floors, 1 clothes, 2 iPhones/tablets/gadgets, 2 food, 1 camera porn level and 1 entertainment. After checking out the food floor and grabbing a photobooth moment with the crew, we headed up to the top floor to play arcade games and most importantly – pinball!

The gang from Soi 1 Guest House in Bangkok

The December 30th Soi 1 Guest House Crew

30 Baht, and 5 games later I secured my nickname in potentially Bangkok’s only Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine, scoring the Davy Jones high score! Farang or not I’m still kick-ass at pinball!

Pirates of the Carribbean pinball machine in MBK mall, with my high score and TUT initials

Famous in Thailand! Davy Jones high score for TUT!

Some of the crew had headed down to eat, and when I’d finished, me and Sebastian also headed down for some Thai food before heading back to the guest house around 5 to chill out before a night out on the town.

I’d had enough though, worn out from my journey up, and knowing if I went out I’d come back at 9am, I grabbed an insanely expensive beer from the guest house reception (80 Baht, double and more than I’ve been paying before) and sat in the common room catching up on Facebook and chilling out. By the time the others had woken up I’d moved onto Black Label and coke for 100 Baht, reasoning it was less expensive in the long run (wrong!) and we all sat and gathered talking about stereotypical Brits, Aussies and Americans.

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Sebastian the Australian from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist

Jenny (left) the Soi 1 Guest House receptionist, and dude, sorry, you said your name but I’ve forgotten, get in touch!

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

Amy from Australia from the Soi 1 Guest House crew

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner

David, the Soi 1 Guest House owner, full of awesome advice and tips

Most went out around 10/11, leaving a few of usleft to chat more in depth about the respective cultures. David, the guest house owner, and officially Thailand’s first guest house ex-pat owner, had turned up to chat and give advice. This guy – apart from trying to push us all on his pub crawl for NYE the next day – was stuffed full of amazing advice, not just for Thailand, he’s been everywhere. He also strangely has a Dutch twang to his accent!

After whiling away the hours, and drinking David out of Jonny Walker, I crashed for the night around 2-ish. Woke up around 10am to pack up, grab the minivan to Hua Hin from Victory Monument roundabout and join Peter and his family for a few days.

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

In the minibus en-route from Bangkok to Hua Hin

Despite the driver’s 120km/h driving, he was actually quite good and managed to get me to Hua Hin central around 2:30pm. I holed up in ‘The Shed’ guest house for a long deserved pineapple shake and texted Peter’s phone to tell him I had arrived.

Robbed!

After realising that I hadn’t saved anywhere near enough money for a 3 month travel, I did have an “I must do” moment.. and that was going to see Ella’s brother, Peter in Hua Hin.

As I waved goodbye to Krabi, and the staff at the two places I spent the most time in – the Chok Dee (Good Luck) restaurant, and Café 89 Café – I set off for Surat Thani, the hub for travel around the Southern islands.

Sun, the head waiter at the Choke Dee restaurant, Krabi

Sun the head waiter at Chok Dee restaurant, this guy was always smiling

The owner of 89 Café Restaurant in Krabi

The owner of 89 Café, always friendly and smiling

The grandmother of 89 Café's owner in Krabi

The mother of the owner of 89 Café, face like a bulldog chewing a wasp until you make friends, then the beaming smile comes out!

I paid 300 Baht (£6) for an air conditioned bus to Surat Thani train station. I got a minibus to the local staging point and then waited 2 hours for the bus to Surat Thani to arrive. There I met a couple of nice ladies from Utrecht and a South African lady to while away the time with some laughs.

The staging point in Krabi for buses to Surat Thani, Phuket and Krabi Town

No respite from the heat during the 2 hour wait for the bus to Surat Thani

When the bus finally arrived and the number 2 was called (it was either 1, 2, 3 or 4, luckily mine turned up first) I set off on the 3 hour ride to the station.

A beautiful sunset and sky just outside Krabi

A beautiful sunset and sky to send me off back up North to Bangkok

At Surat Thani I made sure I was first off and I’d already planned my backpack to be the first off so I could secure a better seat on the sleeper train to Bangkok.

I’d been told that travel to Bangkok around New Year’s was hellish so I already anticipated either no seats or a 3rd class no-sleep seat. I asked the guy for a 2nd class sleeper and he said they were available, at 350 Baht more than my hellish journey down here, I thought I’d pay the extra £7 and get a 598 Baht 2nd class sleeper ticket.

The train wasn’t for another 45 minutes, so I grabbed supplies (beer, water, Lays – nori seaweed flavour) and sat having a smoke. There was a guy who kept looking my way, older, looked Indian, who eventually came over.. turns out he is from Austria, and he’s seen a lot of the world, including nearly all of Thailand.. so we exhanged stories. he had to wait for 12 hours for his next train down South, but psychically he walked away telling me my train would be arriving soon and so it did!

I got on the train and looked in wonder at this crazy invention, the sleeper train – top and bottom bunk either side of the carriage, and around 10-15 rows, so 40-60 people all sleeping in the one carriage, and there were over 15 of them..

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

The 2nd class sleeping carriage on the train from Surat Thani to Bangkok

I’d already drank two small beers with the Austrian, so I’d bought two more – placed my valuables in the bunk with me, my backpack in the over head storage, and closed the curtain to settle in.

Drank another beer and then went for a smoke, then another beer and another smoke. Took a sleeping tablet to help along the way and played angry birds until my eyes drooped.

Robbed!!

I wasn’t settling and I kept on hearing footsteps up and down, so I peeked out and saw a guy with what can only be described as a walkie talkie but with a long screw driver shaft instead of an aerial. He was rummaging through a bag, and I don’t recall seeing him before so I was instantly suspicious.. On further watching I saw him reach into the front pocket of this red bag and pull out a mobile, which he pocketed.. then he nonchalantly pulled out a map from the same pocket and looked at it before shoving it in the side pocket.

Then, most suss of all, he stuck the device up his t-shirt to keep it out of sight and then went up and down the aisle again.

When he hit the end of the aisle he started talking to someone I couldn’t see from my position gesturing up the carriage and left and right, potentially pointing out targets, or that there were people watching..

I gave up after he disappeared out of sight and settled to sleep, I got about 5 or 6 hours worth before 7:15 and waking up with all the others, bleary eyed and tired.

A security guard came up the train and folded up all the beds into seats, stowing the top bunk away and moving the bottom bunk into two person sized seats. Within an hour we’d hit Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong train station ready for the next day in the journey.

Cabbages and Condoms

Yesterday I was so tired.. I don’t know why, but also I had the sweats and a bad stomach, I was hoping it was just temporary.

I checked out of the Pak-Up Hostel and into Good Dreams, just next door and half the price for a private room. Fair enough it didn’t have air conditioning but it had a powerful fan so I was happy.

I was told the blanket was still drying and they’d drop it off to me later. It didn’t bother me to be honest, I dumped my stuff on the bed, curled up around it and fell asleep from around 12 noon – 5pm.

So, I felt it was a bit of a wasted day, pootled about after waking up and a shower, just locally, came back and watched the Beach. Then noticed the stack of DVDs to borrow and picked a couple out (Bangkok Dangerous, and Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life) popped a sleeping tablet because I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep and settled in for the night.

Woke and got out for 11, hit the Choke Dee restaurant for my usual pineapple shake, then – as it was too late for the four islands tour – I thought I’d hire the bike again and go to Ao Nang beach.

Now, as a non-driver, and given that all roads seem to lead to Krabi, I went round in a massive circle at first. Then started again and intentionally took a right instead of a left at the junction I thought caused the misunderstanding the first time..

Wrong again, I headed North, up towards Ao Luek and although after a short time I knew that I’d done the wrong thing again, I still saw some great things:

Beautiful Mosque Just Outside Krabi

A beautiful mosque not far from Krabi, I got invited in but declined as I had to get moving

Krabi Golf Driving Range

Krabi golf driving range, I bet my dad’s golf course would love this backdrop!

Cabbages and Condoms, Thailand's first, global award winning, social enterprise, set up to promote safe sex

Cabbages & Condoms, thanks to Peter telling me this is Thailand’s first, global award winning, social enterprise, set up to promote safe sex

And of course, littered with limestone rock outcrops, like this:

Limestone Rock Detail

Close-up of a limestone rock outcrop

My Dream House

Now my idea of a dream home, what a view

And so it was, after an hour and a half of driving the wrong direction, I turned back, destined to head to Krabi and grab an espresso from the Choke Dee restaurant.

Sun, the head waiter there was smiley as usual, picked up on my sunburned quarter length arms, bib shape around my throat from wearing an open shirt, and bad sunglass tan face!

Refreshed I was determined to see out the last few hours of my bike rental and see the beach while I was down south.

Set off, found the right direction at last, after a measly 45 minutes ride I found paradise.

Ao Nang Beach 2

The beautiful beach at Ao Nang, limestone rocks in the distance

Transport to and from Krabi

A little piece of paradise

Panoramic Image of Ao Nang Beach

A panoramic of the beach – not amazing, but using a free online program, click to enlarge

I was gutted to have not made it earlier in the day, as I’d have definitely gone in the sea. I didn’t have the right gear with me really so I took a load of pictures whilst there, relaxed on a beach bar, watched life going by and the tour attendants ferrying people to and from the beach by boat.

Group of People Carrying their Belongings to the Boat on Ao Nang Beach

Look closely to see the girl at the back with two suitcases! That’s 3 foot of water close to the boat!

Worrying that I wouldn’t get back in time to hand my bike in, I set off early and headed back to Krabi.

Here’s my route:

My route from Krabi to Ao Luek to Ao Nang to Krabi

The cackhanded route I took to Ao Nang beach today, 125km instead of around 50

So, an eventful day today compared to yesterday.. I have to really make a decision about what I’m going to do next. Peter has kindly offered me a roof over my head in Hua Hin, but the transport situation from here is a concern.. On one hand I could hopefully check out at 6-7, get the 3-4 hour bus to Surat Thani at 10:40, and arrive at 16:01.. but, it’s a bit touch and go.. Seriously though if you want to work out train times, you should check out this site, it’s helped me a load.

The other alternative is a train at 16:46, but that arrives at 00:40, and it’s a bit harsh to expect a family man to wait up.. so I think I’ll head up that way and stop at two places along the way for 1 night each.. This coincides perfectly with Peter’s days off on the 31st/1st, so it’ll be New Year’s in Hua Sin!

That’ll be my next Skype window with the family and friends too, so I’ll hit them up when I get there.

A BMX With A Motor Became My First Truly Eye-Opening Experience In Thailand

After the longest journey in the world, arriving in Krabi proved to be far too relaxing.. as I said it’s more sedate here, but also a hub of tourism due to the central location for trips to the various islands dotted around.

This may be also because I chose to stay in a hostel, rather than hotel, but so many French, German and English folks come to Krabi. And generally they stay at Pak-Up hostel.

The outside of the Pak-Up hostel in Krabi

The outside of the Pak-Up hostel

Here is where I met Alyx..

She was on the same long-ass train as me as well as the following buses.. Immediately heard her French accent as she talked on the train to a Thai girl, asking for advice on Thai language whilst here. While I didn’t speak to her on the train, as soon as we arrived to Surat Thani and heard her say ‘Krabi’ to one of the station attendants I knew that I wanted to speak to her and find out her story.

So it was, from day 1 to now I feel a strong connection to Alyx, very easy going and respectful, but also likes a beer and a smoke. We discussed plans (or she discussed her plans, I admitted my lack thereof) and she’s heading to Ao Ton Say (or Sai, you can’t Google Maps this place), a secluded and small island for Christmas with her friends (for French it’s Xmas eve that’s the main day) I was invited to join, throughout the two days of full on conversation we spoke of her plans and it did sound very good to go to one of the beaches, but I felt it wasn’t the right time to change my plans – and I had the hostel booked for 5 days, so, despite agreeing at first, and subsequently feeling bad for going back on my word, she understood.

What an amazing two days!

I’ve met a lot of people in my life, but rarely you find someone where the conversation is flowing and rare moments of silence. This was the 48 hours in Alyx’s company. Everything from deep to political to life in general. The one thing I valued most was an exchange of language. She spoke extremely good English, and I now understand I speak very good French. At lots of times during the conversation a word would crop up one of us wouldn’t understand and so the next 5 minutes would be explaining the word. This was neither a sexual nor physical attraction, but a very visceral and deep understanding of our lives and so the flow was perfect.

So

Arriving in Krabi during the rain, and each subsequent morning for the next two days, I had thought this could be a washout place. But, the Pak-Up hostel was super awesome, clean and centrally located, and most of all cheap.. There is cheaper, and I’ll have to find these places, but it’s a great place and definitely worth staying in if you ever hit Krabi Town.

One of the benefits is there’s people from all walks of life, and all areas of the world staying here.. You’re always guaranteed a friendly conversation and because of the nature, everyone is open to being talked to and talking to. I have to share with a potential 7 others, but by the time I hit the sack everyone’s asleep so there’s no real interaction inside the dorm.

Skype was a lifesaving and a homesick inspiring experience

I’d promised Olivia and my family a Skype the first Sunday that I arrived. The 23rd was my first date where I’d said I’d be online at 7pm here, 12 noon there.. So, as it came to it I found a place with Wifi and Chang, happened to be with Alyx but she sat reading GQ whilst I spent the next hour and a half Skyping with no sound, but everyone could hear me.

Speaking with my family made me homesick for Christmas dinner, mum’s mashed potatoes, family conversation, the sleep at 3pm and the arguments for the next 5 days.. speaking with Olivia made me happy – she was looking forward to her own family time and of course excited. Speaking with Rob and Karina grounded me and made me realise that I missed their faces and their company a lot. I won’t say in particular what it was that made me – but Rob and Karina know!

Me and Alyx whiled away the hours when Bernie turned up, from Canada, and has been to Thailand 6 times.. we enjoyed each other’s company and shared the stories that you share when meeting people for the first time. And then Dominic turned up, also French, but professed to not know English at all but actually spoke perfect English – so this forced me even more to practice the language after English I know the most. It turned out that Dominic was going to the same place as Alyx and so she had a travelling companion, of the same nationality to spend time with.

Next morning’s breakfast was coffee and a pineapple shake..mmmmmmmmmm… this is awesome, nice espresso and an even nicer and more refreshing shake (sans le lait, bien sur ! Pure pineapple)

The beautiful pineapple shakes in Chokdee Restaurant, Krabi

A pineapple shake at Chokdee Restaurant, Krabi

The faking dog

This dog faked a back leg ailment, every 5 minutes after dragging himself down the road he’d stand up and walk back up to drag himself again

But.. followed by the first Chang, then the second, then the day degraded from there.. Sadly this was not either Alyx’ or my bad influence, we were both as bad as each other.. But also not to say that the day was ruined, again we talked very fluidly and discussed life issues, politics, exchanging vocabulary and more.

For the French, Xmas eve is the day to celebrate, so she had planned to go to Ao Ton Say that day, but as the day progressed and the beer flowed it got to a point where the last boat had sailed and she had to stay one more day. Bad for her to miss meeting her friends for the special day, but good for conversation and discussion.

We said goodnight and I said I’d come say hello in Chokdee restaurant/bar tomorrow morning. And so Alyx and then Dominic turned up and we.. well, they talked for 2 hours before departing for Ao Ton Say. I met my best friend during the trip, a ginger cat who seemed to want to ‘do a Kitsy’ and sit on me all day!

My new best friend, the ginger cat

My new best friend, the ginger cat

Then came the first defining moment for me of the trip.. I hadn’t blogged (I had written in my journal) but I was very aware I was just having conversation for 2 days and nothing more, no pictures. Which… isn’t a bad thing, but was against the primary purpose of my trip – to photo blog. So once Alyx left I felt a lot more in harmony with myself and the desire to experience Krabi after 3 days of not doing so.

The first day I’d spoken to my cousin Jenty and she’d said her friend is in Krabi, so to meet up. I’d organised a meeting at Viva the pizza restaurant. Turned up at 8 and she said she’d be there with friends. I turned up and didn’t know what she looked like, there was a group of people to my right and all of a sudden a Portsmouth accent piped up “Are you Matt?” and so for an hour or so I discussed my options with some expats and came away.. well.. none really the wiser but happy to hear a familiar accent during my far East travels. I had my first glass of red wine since landing which was a good, but expensive (it’s the same price for red wine as it is in the UK) experience, and met my first vegan (who asked for no cheese on the pizza, Pizza Express-style)

I returned to my hostel and unloaded, went back out for a smoke and met a couple of guys (I forget their names) one from Finland, and one from Japan.. The Japanese guy was doing the world on a long boat! Wow! And so with his broken English and my non-Japanese we managed to talk about their travels for an hour..

The Japanese longboatman that I met

The Japanese longboatman that I met

Afterwards I met another French guy Alain, from Bordeaux, and once again I find myself connecting most with the French.. maybe I should have been born French! Alain is super cool, and on a similar wavelength to me, similar aged daughter and life situation. We decided that if I head to Laos in the next 15 days, we should meet up – I’d like to, he’s switched on and once again the conversation was flowing..

Then around 5 others turned up and we all talked, all from different places in the world – Germany, France, England and South Korea. The decision was to go up to the roof bar and get a “Black Cock Bucket” which I’m still not sure what it is.. vodka definitely, but not harsh tasting like vodka. We talked, drank and played Jenga (record 31 stacks by the way!) but the night was ending, Alain had to visa run the next day so left first, then one by one we all dissipated and I went to sleep relatively early (2am).

I was very aware of what the couple from London told me during my visit to Krabi, that they’d hired a bike and just gone somewhere and enjoyed – they were not wrong! – Next morning I hired a motorbike for 150 Baht (£3) until 7 pm, this was around 1pm, so tomorrow I’ll hire one earlier and make the most of it.

Wow

I’ve never ridden a motorbike before, this was the first time in my entire life. I felt ashamed to ask the bike rental guy how to operate a bike.. but it had to happen – I started and stopped the bike, asked how it restarted, then how it went forward and how you could refuel it.

The initial embarrassment was replaced with an amazing sense of free spirit! I mean I’ve ridden a BMX before, for many years, but once you add a motor it’s a whole different story. I went North, East, South and West of Krabi because I could, relatively quickly. I was aware that the beautiful limestone cliffs I’ve seen everywhere were on the road following the river North, so first step was to drive as straight as I could towards these.

En-route there were a few, but in fact they’re dotted everywhere as I’m hearing.. so tomorrow I’ll maybe hit Ao Nang, or nearby, because it’s so close (and Bernie the Canadian recommended) I was even looking at buying a bike of my own, but they’re no cheaper there than here – around 50,000 Baht (£1,000) so out of my price range.. maybe £50 perhaps, but not a grand.

I went and came back to Krabi a lot, but towards the end of my rental, and fuel gauge, I drove out North again.. at one point I saw a road sign to a waterfall and decided to drive the 22km there.. fair enough my fuel was short so around 7km from the goal I headed back to avoid a potential charge for missing the 7pm return time.

This is a really liberating experience, wind in your hair, as fast as your 50cc will allow, on relatively quiet – and straight – roads. I recommend this to anyone visiting Thailand, but please be careful – the drivers don’t give a crap about safety, especially the car drivers. So if you’re not careful you could end up in a bad way like the French guy, Mat (also a photographer) that I met.

I settled down to blog in the hostel and Alain turned up again so we chatted at length before his trip to Koh Tao tomorrow.. this is why this is being posted around 7:30 instead of 5pm UK time!

I’ve enjoyed Krabi but I think my time is near to ending here. I don’t really want to spend a lot of time in one place so tomorrow after the bike ride, and to maintain the 2 days minimum at the Good Dreams guesthouse to satisfy the 150 Baht price (£3) instead of a single night 200 Baht (£4) price, I’ll look at where to go next – definitely North to stay with Ella’s brother Peter in Hua Hin, but not sure about the journey on the way.

If I can offer you any advice though, it’s to hire – and be sensible with – a motorbike in Krabi. I’ll leave you with some of the beautiful sights from along the way, and fill you in when I get to the internet next.

Some mysterious building on a hill near Krabi

Some mysterious building on a hill near Krabi

More limestone rock near Krabi town

More limestone rock near Krabi town

Me, on a motorbike! With beard!

Me, on a motorbike! With beard!

Limestone Rock near Krabi Town

Limestone Rock near Krabi Town

Just one of the beautiful limestone rock outcrops near Krabi

Just one of the beautiful limestone rock outcrops near Krabi

Beautiful scenery near Krabi town

Beautiful scenery near Krabi town

A random boat near Krabi town harbour

A random boat near Krabi town harbour

The river near Krabi

The river near Krabi

 

Thought I’d Be Crabby In Krabi

The last night in the hotel proved to be…… interesting to say the least, and for fear of offending some I won’t go into full detail.

Evening started with a 3 hour long chat with Mike, from Scotland.. he’s 44, has MS down one side of his body, and – together with his wife – is 3/4 of the way on his round the world trip.

This guy has seen a lot, and he gave some amazing and inspiring advice, we talked about my budget and he said it’s gonna be tough and I’ll have to slum it, but it’s absolutely do-able. I always knew budget would be a problem, but after speaking to Mike he allayed my fears so long as I know to reign it in.

It was after speaking to him that I decided on my next step and the place I was going to stay for the next stage. The Pak-Up hostel in Krabi Town.

Why Krabi? Well…

Krabi picture courtesty of travelourplanet | cc

Not my photo, Photo courtesy of ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/travelourplanet/##Travelourplanet## | ##http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/##cc by
2.0##

All the reviews on TripAdvisor showed this to be the best possible place for a budget and not willing to put up with any troubles. So, booked, looked at how to get there from Bangkok and settled in for the last night at Imm Fusion Sukhumvit.

At some point a girl turned up, Lita, from Denmark but half South African.. she’d arrived with a local, Pong, both wasted. Turns out he’s a taxi driver, bottle of vodka in hand. She was pushing for him to leave and me and Mike both wouldn’t allow it so she handed over the keys to her room and let him sleep it off.

Then we all got chatting and she’s in Bangkok for cosmetic surgery, after having two kids she has stretch marks and she’s not happy with various other parts of her body, so she shelled out 200,000 baht (£4,000) and she was checking in tomorrow. After various remarks from the staff for her to keep it down, and me and Mike both trying to calm her down the evening turned out to be pretty easy going and I like to think I’ve made a couple of friends from this chance meeting.

To cut a long story short, it was 6am before we turned in, and by then a Moroccan guy and a French girl had joined in the fun. By the end of the night it was just me, Lita and the French girl left and.. well.. the first sentence of this blog says enough.

I woke up at 1pm to the telephone ringing “Hello, would you like to check out, or would you like to stay another day?” The receptionist politely asked.. I realised it was well past checkout at 12 noon and apologised profusely. She let me have an hour to get ready to check out and I showered, made ready, checked out and stayed in the cool of the hotel, recovering.

Lita joined me around 3pm, looking as red eyed as I was, we shared a hair of the dog and chatted. Turns out she missed her op appointment, the doctor wasn’t happy, but managed to get her an appointment the next day. Then the French girl turned up and we chatted some more, but I had to go and get the train down south to Krabi.

A beautiful sunset to send me off from Bangkok, turns out Thailand has air pollution too!

A beautiful sunset to send me off from Bangkok, turns out Thailand has air pollution too!

Didn’t even think of pre-booking, so I turned up at the train station at Hua Luamphong expecting a lovely choice of seats.. mistake #1, the only thing left before the 27th was 3rd class non-sleeping.. I’d already booked the hostel, and taking Mike’s advice from yesterday thought that no matter what, I’ll get to my destination through hell or high water, and even if it’s non-sleeping, I’m sure I’ll grab some hours kip.

It cost 507 Baht for the train to Surat Thani, plus a bus (I thought) to Krabi. I had half an hour to wait so I stocked provisions for the trip, grabbed a hot meal then sat and waited.

The train was called – platform 4 – I headed down to the train and must have walked past 15 carriages, 1 first (first class) 2 second (second class) and muggins at the very end in 3rd.. Jesus.. no frills indeed, and won’t be taking advantage fo the free water

3rd class sleeper train to Surat Thani

Yum, fresh as a daisy water!

After choosing the wrong seat and being ousted by the right ticket holders, I looked at my ticket and put myself down on the right seat opposite a young girl, what a wonder though to have open windows as you’re riding half way down the country – shame it was going to be dark for all but 2 hours of it.

As we set off, hawkers stormed up selling everything you’d need, so long as it was foreigner priced food and drinks – though I was determined before the end of the journey to haggle my first purchase, I’m not paying double just because I’m travelling!

Through central Bangkok, along the river, passing by shanty town living and destitution, yet everyone’s chugging along. Material possessions don’t have such a hold on these folk. Lodging, food and – well, heat! – seem to be the primary concern.. I’m envious in a certain regard for them to have such moral fortitude despite facing hardship while I’m stressing about my next iPhone contract, or that I can’t go out every other night..

On the sleeper train just outside bangkok

Beautiful tree lights just outside Bangkok

After leaving Bangkok it was pretty dark all around, such a shame because I could make out palm trees, hear us going over rivers and bridges, but it was dark and I’d have to wait until sunrise, we’d come across the occasional station, or level crossing, or some habited place, but all in all it was pretty bland.

Everyone else seemed to fall asleep, me and the girl opposite had picked up another in our booth of 2×2 seats and he sat her side so I had two to myself, then why couldn’t I bloody well sleep?? Everyone else in the coach was snoring! It seemed every conceivable position had something sticking in my back/neck/leg dead/dead arse.. No.. sleep… till Krabi!

After 7 hours attempting, and around 2 hours of broken sleep, I thought sod it there’s no chance, and pulled out the pad and paper to draw and while away the hours.. The hawkers had stopped out of respect of people sleeping so there was only one or two people awake. I was in and out of the vestibule because you could smoke in there. Amazing – open doored train, one jolt and I could have been out into the fetid parallel ditches!

As it got closer to Surat Thani, the dawn broke.. excited as I was on the right side to see the sunrise, I hit a storm, pissing it down and clouding over the first chance I’ve had at seeing a far East sunrise. Ah well, plenty more to come I suspect.

Storm brewing in Southern Thailand

Storm brewing

The daylight did give me an opportunity to take some photos of the scenery I’ve been missing out on all sleepless night, varied from relatively opulent houses, to beautiful temples, to jungle and to destitute.

Southern Thailand destitute houses

Destitute houses en-route to Krabi

Southern Thailand more opulent houses

One of the more opulent houses en-route to Krabi

Finally arrived at Surat Thani at 7:15am 45 minute wait for the bus to Krabi. The usual cries of “tuk tuk?” or “taxi” as I left the station for a cigarette and towards the bus station. Queue was pretty big, so there wasn’t enough room for me on the first – luxury air conditioned – bus, instead I was bustled onto some rusty, suspension issued, cramped, leaking, ugly ass bus from the 1940’s.. I was surprised the suspension could handle the 40 bags loaded into the back seats.

Bus 1 lasted around an hour, then we hit an intermediate bus station to pick up people coming from the south, and headed to Krabi on a different bus (the same bus, we had to get off and unload our bags only to be told this was the right bus) – then to the stunning XX pier for another interchange onto a minibus to Krabi – 2 hours and a final interchange to Krabi town.. the 1 luxurious bus I was hoping for, and advised would be the case thanks to an online source I won’t mention – turned into 2 buses, 1 minibus and a taxi to Krabi.. still only 557 baht all-in, but sheesh. This journey took longer than my flight from the UK to Thailand, including Vietnam
stopover!

BUT! The icing on the cake, Krabi town is a lot more sedate than Bangkok, with promise of short journeys to the most beautiful beaches and islands – I’ll check them out tomorrow, for now I’m relaxing again, doing my washing and not thinking what is going to come next.

How To Lose 500 Baht In A Bangkok Hotel

Here I was, cursing the drunken Welsh tourists yesterday and I have to eat my own hat today..

Last night I was jet-lagged, body-tired, but also excited about being in Thailand. I’d had a few beers – nothing to make me drunk, not by a long shot – couple that with the above and taking some sleeping tablets to knock me out and I was set for a great nights sleep.

Woke up at 5:45 am, the air con was making noise like a windy Lincolnshire night and blissfully cold, but something wasn’t quite right.. I turned over and saw something out of the corner of my eye, felt for it and felt wet – God I hadn’t wet the bed had I?!?! Gingerly sniffed my hand and found it to be beer (phew..) I’d done the old ‘falling asleep with a bottle of half-full (always the optimist) beer in my hand’ trick and paid the price.

White linen, when confronted with Chang beer, goes dark grey!! I was slightly freaking out that it had stained the mattress, so I stripped the bed and sighed at least some relief when I found it hadn’t. I put all the linen on the floor with the towels so it looked like I was being helpful, rather than hiding the evidence.

My sheets at the hotel, after being washed in beer

The linen had to go!

That’s not the worst of it.. Overnight it seems the weight of my laptop on the rather fragile bedside glass-topped table was too much, the 500 degrees heat it puts out the fan probably didn’t help either, it had cracked in two pieces..

Shit!

I tried everything, putting the two pieces together so that you could only notice it side-on, cunningly placing the bedside lamp over it and running the power cable right over the crack. I resigned that I’d probably have to tell someone, but that it didn’t need to be right then, at 6 am..

It was like that when I found it, honest guv

Look, you can’t see it at all!

This also came after a night where I asked for the usual 2-for-1 Chang beers, put one behind the bar, and came back 2 hours later to an innocent look from the person who I thought had served me, calling me out for being a liar! I know I have a bad memory, but these were beers 3 and 4, way before forgetting time.. She gave me the freebie, but when I went back later to get beers 5 and 6, she – via a handy local translator – thought I was asking for 2 free beers, I said that I was prepared to pay for both, of course, but this re-ignited the earlier conversation and I was left with bowing out and saying I’d only have the one, for the 2-for-1 price.. sigh..

I intentionally came on this trip to be respectful.. and In the first two days I’ve vandalised my room and nigh on insulted the staff!

Oh but still, lesson learned and check out the pool, nice!

View from my room to the pool, it's just the right temperature after a hot day out.

View from my room to the pool, it’s just the right temperature after a hot day out.

After watching Nacho Libre badly dubbed in Thai, I went down for breakfast because I couldn’t sleep after all the stress, and – if anything – the air-con was too cold! Breakfast looked decidedly dodgy, all fried egg and salad and some weird meats with noodles.. croissant it was! Did something quite stupid and had the juice and a coffee – not sure if juice is okay to drink if you don’t know the source, so I won’t be doing that again.. 120 Baht (£2.40) for two mini croissants, some juice and a coffee – not that cheap, won’t be doing that again either..

Showered after breakfast and wandered out, the road looked way too suicidally busy to risk crossing

If you're contemplating suicide, try Bangkok's road crossings

If you’re contemplating suicide, try Bangkok’s road crossings

I went further down the road to find a crossing and came across a 7-11, they’re all over the place in Bangkok and I know where I’ll get my shopping from in future.. 8 Baht (16p) for water and 10 Baht (20p) for a bottle of juice (of unknown flavour, it was orange coloured) didn’t check the beer prices but I imagine they’re a lot cheaper than 100 Baht.

Sadly on the way back I witnessed one of Thailand’s big problems, stray dogs.. they’re everywhere, seriously, they don’t seem to bother anyone and no-one seems to bother with them, each one that goes unspayed/neutered though, leads to an exponential increase year after year.

Stray dogs are a huge problem in Bangkok

Just one of many, many stray dogs on the streets of Bangkok

Dogs aren’t the only ones either, stray cats everywhere, though I’ve seen more dogs.

Stray cats are also a big problem in Bangkok

Kitty taking respite from the beating sun

I loaded up the day’s trappings, camera, meds, cash monies etc.. and because of the Skytrain’s 30 second walk from the hotel I thought I’d take a random trip into the centre.. 40 Baht (80p) for a 9 stop ticket, not too bad, not amazingly cheap though either – clocked the Tesco Lotus nearby, will check that out later, looks massive – hopefully I can get some flip-flops there, cause I sure in hell can’t find any anywhere in central Bangkok..

Got on the air-conned Skytrain and found it to be as rammed as the tube, but at least it was cool and I guess rush hour at 8:30 am, then took the 9 stops to Siam. Siam is pretty touristy, you can tell where the tourists go because it’s slightly cleaner and you see more English language everywhere, I’d always thought Siam to be a magical sounding place (turns out Thailand was called Siam before ’39 and after ’45 to ’49.. learn your history Matt!)

Street art in Bangkok

Street art exists in SE Asia too

Street art in Bangkok

More street art in Siam

Seeing only modern looking, English speaking outlets dismayed me a little, but when in Rome – I had a coffee at a rather plush looking coffee shop with free wifi and noticed the cup summed up my journey.

My inspiring coffee cup with an awesome quote

“Welcome to your place, escape from all your worries, sit, relax, sip and surf”

It put me in high spirits to see this obvious portent, I checked the map and planned a route due West towards the river, this was the route I actually took:

My route map in Bangkok, Thailand for the 2nd day

Route that I took, a bit haphazard I’ll grant you

The route I took, kind of on purpose, led me down the real Bangkok streets – you can tell because there’s no English language on anything.. As cities go, it’s not at all like London, it’s dirty, it’s not clean lines and straight angles, there’s loads of vendors on the streets – mostly selling food – and there’s extremely few chains of shops. The power lines are overhead, not underground too:

Overground power lines in Bangkok

Wouldn’t like to accidentally dry my clothes on one of these lines

And there’s an insane amount of shops that put a smile on my face every time:

Goldsmiths are famous worldwide

Halfway round the world, I’m famous!

All-in-all, apart from the odd looks at this ‘farang‘ in their midst, the people were pretty nice – I got stopped a few times by people not trying to sell me anything, just for a chat. This is exactly what I wanted to see, not the polished temple floors, the sanitised hotels or the McDonald’s’s – I wanted to see gritty urban life.

Then you look at the type of shops there, after wandering a while you see so many moped/scooter repairs, parts and sales shops, hundreds of furniture outlets, countless manufacturing places that you get a sense of how they’ve built their economy.

Bangkok petrol prices are cheap

UK drivers beware, the 29.79 baht (60p) per litre is under half what you’re paying in the UK, jealous much?

It’s hectic, it’s noisy, the smells range from tantalisingly tasty, to obnoxious chemical/petrol/industrial smells – there’s something so enthralling about it all. It leaves you wondering just how it all works there. After doubling back on myself, having insane crotch rub from the badly chosen jeans for the day and 4 hours walking in the 33 degrees, I had to go back to the hotel. The closer I got, the more worried I was about the broken glass table..

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel, Bangkok, Thailand

Back at the Hotel Imm Fusion Sukhumvit

Made it back to the hotel, past reception without an “Excuse me” straight up to my room and noticed the cleaners were on the same floor as my room.. went in and the bed had been made but the table was moved! Resigned myself to going down after a shower to explain. Didn’t even get in the shower before I got a call from reception saying the cleaners had busted me, so I said I’d go down after the shower, cash in hand to say sorry and pay for the damage.

So there you go, that’s how you lose 500 Baht in a Bangkok hotel – just leave your laptop on and fall asleep.

It’s around 5:30 pm here (10:30 am UK time) and I doubt I’ll be heading out again today, I really need to get my act in gear and work out whether I’m staying in Bangkok another day (at a cheaper hotel/hostel/guest house) or heading down to the islands, maybe I’ll eat out later, check back in a couple days for the next instalment if my laptop doesn’t melt.

Escaping From Reality, Because That’s What It Boils Down To..

It wasn’t the vast cost, the quitting everything, the giving away of all my earthly possessions save from what’s on my back and my camera gear – it was a single palm tree en-route from airport to hotel that made me realise I’m escaping from reality…

Backtrack to 3 years ago, still living in Surbiton with Rob and Karina I noticed that I was using various means to stop facing up to the real world.. computer games, fantasy books, alcohol, cigarettes, work, you name it – I’d use it to escape..

Around that time I stopped fully committing to work, not doing 9-9 with PETA that I used to before. It was a real turning point because work was my absolute life! So to lose that out of the equation knocked me sideways.

I struggled on – unaware of what the issue was and blaming PETA for their (and sometimes rightly so) abuse of their staff – I just shut off after 5pm and went home to live my life each day.

I’m typing this and thinking “So what? Most people shut off after 5pm” but it’s a thing that only certain employees would be able to look at and agree with on my level.. Charity workers perraps, hmm??

Anyway, this ‘divide’ happened at the time of a revamp to PETA UK’s website and I noticed I got heavily into fantasising away, and not really living in this world and the work suffered as a result. It got worse.. I didn’t meet with my friends as often, I burrowed deeper and deeper into my own hellish psyche, but at least it was one that loved its own company.

Finally setting off

14 hours on a flight to Hanoi from Gatwick, 3 hours stopover in Hanoi which gave me a chance to prove that no matter where you are in the world, beer prices will still hit you in the face.

Vietnam Airlines Flight VN 611

This beauty kept me in the air for 14 hours, vive la technologie

16 degrees and cloudy, looking out from the restaurant already didn’t have the impact it should have, given that I was on a different continent.. it’s still an airport like any other.. (aside from the ridiculous £1 = 34,000 Vietnamese Dongs)

Heinz Ketchup - The Universal Currency

Heinz Ketchup – The Universal Currency

MERRY CHRISTMAS bunting emblazoned over the arches to the doors of the first bar/restaurant I went into, sad Vietnamese muzak renditions of Christmas classics including Slade (though didn’t stick around until the ‘iiiiiitt’s chrriiiiiiiiiiisssttmmaaaaaaas’ line, to see if they could pull it off with such verbosity!)

Couple that with $4.90 a half beer and a maximum stay of 30 minutes and I was already put off by SE Asia’s charms.. until a German walked in, mid-40’s maybe, wife in tow, had seen the world.. he was in the Seychelles when the tsunami hit back in ’05 and had some tales to tell of near misses, tidal freakiness and some other things his poor English didn’t catch my drift with.

I went for another drink somewhere else in the airport, and came back to the same place only to be turned away with a smile.. “You no come in”.. which took a couple of follow up conversations for me to realise I wasn’t allowed back in – I’m stuck in a culture where I don’t know the etiquette, was I rude? Was I English? Was I someone who just wanted a drink and no food? I’ll never know so I smiled and apologised for something I wasn’t aware of..

Then I went camera in hand around the airport

I guess most airports are similar, but Hanoi airport captured my imgination and got me when my camera was out

I guess most airports are similar, but Hanoi airport captured my
imgination and got me when my camera was out

I had a bit of an ashamed moment.. some Welsh guys, 4, or 5 of them had gotten the same flight as me and were in the airport at the same time waiting for presumably the same flight. I don’t have a thing against the Welsh, one of my best friends is one, but these guys were on a booze cruise, ladyboy lookout, drugfest, party-athon.. and at the airport at 06:15, drunk, effing and blinding. The shame came from the years of abuse other nations have had at our hands, through our overdrinking, shouting, swearing, being nasty – and because I’m not doing that I have the right to rant off on it..

I had a change of heart towards the girl who turned me away at the restaurant door – perhaps she thought I was one of them?!? I wouldn’t have let them in on general principle.

Off to Stage 1 of the magical mystery tour

As usual, all internal flights are on rickety, sellotaped aeroplanes. This was no different. At least throughout both stages I didn’t have to pay for anything at all.. food and drink were both available if asked for, or otherwise by grabbing the attention of the attendants as they rushed past.

Once again I was sandwiched between two monosyllabic people, no-one wanted to speak (well, of course, that includes me) so it was a three hour silent flight over to Thailand for stage 1, the plan with no plan, the marvellous adventures of Matt..

Arrived at Thailand’s Suvarnabhumi airport

Taxis!! “Taxi?”, “Taxi?”, “Taxi?” offers everywhere you go.. likely to rip you off too, I hear – so I asked an information guy at a random counter and he told me to head off to the taxi rank downstairs. These guys are metered and they’ll tell you in advance of your journey how much it’s going to be, and stick to it.. 400 Baht for a 45 minute taxi ride, (that’s around £8) on meter through busier streets than a black cab could handle and I’m at my luxury hotel for the next two days!

This baby cost 1698 Baht for two nights, so around £37 all-in.. I booked it with cash at home so it didn’t eat into my fund whilst away, but I definitely needed a touch of comfort for getting over jetlag and planning the adventure stage 2.

Got to my room and at first was a little unimpressed, but it soon seemed to grow on me.

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel Room 1

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel Room

The hallway is pretty tasty, sorry for random hallway shots!

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel Hallway

Imm Fusion Sukhumvit Hotel Hallway

But most of all it’s awesome for getting places on public transport.. I found this out having arrived, shed my load and sat for a cigarette in the smoking room.. A couple, the girl from South Shields (ey Mum et al!) have been travelling for 8 months now.. they went Buenos Ares > Rio > Argentina > Rio > Argentina > Peru > Chile > New Zealand > Australia > Bali > Laos > Thailand! They’re now going to spend 2 months here and bugger off to India! It’s possible to get just about anywhere courtesy of the SkyTrain being moments away..

Chang Beer - The Staple

This is the sudden staple of my first few days!

We had a great chat for an hour or so over beer and cigarettes, gave some great advice and I was left very impressed how they manoeuvred through each country and each time without solid plans.. exactly what I want to do..

Back to back to reality..

The palm tree I saw today didn’t fit in with my usual view on the world, it was hot, there was a palm tree, it was foreshadowed with standing water, there were others around. It hit me!! Right then and there! I was on foreign soil escaping with a purpose!! I didn’t realise it until today and I don’t expect you to understand fully, but that one vista made me realise that I wanted to escape a lot, I have done since childhood.. the aim with this trip is to get that full-on dose of ‘out of reality’ which should be able to kick start me when I get back, I’m hoping!

The next step is the islands

I’ve gotta chill out and I have to see Bangkok, then plan the next stages, so tomorrow will be that day – see what Bangkok has to offer and then back in time to somehow plan the 12 hour bus journey to the islands. To be very definitely continued….

When You Make a Spontaneous Decision to go Travelling, You Don’t Think of All the Problems

What an eye-opener..

Since deciding on one of the largest life decision ever in the last few weeks, I’ve come to a realisation:

If you want to travel anywhere for longer than a day, you’re gonna need a fat stack of cash and some supportive friends and family!

I’ve now booked my flights to and from Bangkok.. not at all as expensive as I’d been led to believe tickets could be (screw you Thomas Cook – go to Sta Travel instead, thanks Crowable!) £780 all-in, and I can change my tickets for a small fee to return when I like.

Please Doctor, stab me in the arm, give me horrendous side effects and charge me for the privilege

What annoyed me most was that if I want to leave the safety, security and insect-free city centres during my travels then my vaccinations are going to cost me £450 plus!! That’s not a mistype.. that’s a month’s rent, a 40″ HDTV, or a badly timed “The beers are on me” in a busy London pub.

Now, don’t get me wrong.. there’s a load of nasty diseases out there I’d rather not catch.. Japanese Encephalitis, which you can be vaccinated against, is most common in rural areas where there’s pig farms and rice paddies.. Now I want to see rice paddies.. I find them interesting and beautiful.. so the £180 I’m going to spend on it may save my life.

Hepatitis B.. in no way am I interested in having sex during my travels, such isn’t my reason for going – if that’s for you, then great, and get protection.. but I’m not about to get my camera and laptop nicked because some Thai lady of leisure drugs me, infects me and leaves me for broke.. BUT.. what if – for example – You want to go and get some treatment in a hospital or clinic. Their medical equipment over there isn’t exactly the cleanest, they re-use it.. and without proper sterilisation you could potentially catch it whilst trying to be saved from something else nasty. Soooo.. that’s another to the list I’m getting.

Rabies! I LOVE DOGS, but damn, I’m staying at least 50 foot from any dog on my travels. Basically if you’re bitten by a rabid dog, you’re screwed – as soon as symptoms show then you’re dead not long after. Oh you can take measures to avoid this, but I seriously think I could avoid this cost.. that’s not being blasé – but if I’m bitten by a dog with rabies then I reckon I’ll die anyway, so what’s the point in vaccinating against it??

Typhoid is also something I now have to pay for, because my local GP has run out of stock and only travel clinics have it.. As much as I’d like to take a chemical analysis system with me to check the food I’m buying hasn’t got traces of shit in it, that’s not very feasible, at least I won’t be eating any egg/dairy/etc.. which will minimise my risk of general food poisoning.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s stuff you can’t vaccinate against.. Dengue fever, Malaria (F*CK YOU MOSQUITOES) and more.. but mostly mosquito transmitted.. and mosquitoes LOVE me, perhaps because my blood is 90 proof!

Sooo as much as I’m griping about it, they’ve got me over a barrel here, I don’t want to get ill or die, so I’m going to pay the ridiculous amount to ensure my safe and healthy travel.

While I’m typing this, I also realise what a trap it can be to read about diseases online (or for you old-schoolers, looking through your mum’s ‘death book’ of medical illnesses and matching up your non-symptoms with the black plague) I’m worrying over nothing, being sensible and taking the right precautions I’ll be fine. I’ve made sure my insurance is top-notch.. don’t misguidedly go for the cheaper option, better safe than sorry!

What’s the worst thing you can hear before you make your plans to go travelling?

After deciding to travel.. making a split second decision to up and leave your comfortable life to see the world.. You want to tell people.. You also want to seek approval from your family and close friends.

My dad and I have a unique relationship, we love each other very much and are very similar in many ways.. but we don’t talk very much. For me it’s enough to know that he’s there when I need him, but we’re both as bad as each other at keeping in touch. It’s a Goldsmith thing, me and my brother are the same.. love each other very much but speak infrequently – I have a very real-life connection to my brother in many ways that wouldn’t make sense if I discussed here. Though when we see each other we have a lot to talk about.

Matt, Dave, Jay, Sam

My family: Me, my dad Dave, my brother Justin, my sister Samantha

So on the list of people to speak to: My mum, dad, sister, brother, daughter et al.. I called my dad one night and went through the usual “How’s work, how’s life, how’s the love life, how’s X and Y”.. Got onto the subject of travelling and explained my plans.. He was the first of the lot I spoke to about it (even though I’d papered it all over Facebook for a couple weeks or so) and he was very supportive. Couldn’t offer advice for that area of the world as he’d never been there, but recommended a few people to speak to as well as some general fatherly advice.

Thing is though, he’d recently been diagnosed with cancer.. he’d had surgery to remove his kidney because of a tumour and later they discovered it’s spread. He’s very like me, probably scared shit-less and glazes over bad news with attempts at comedy and humour, and an ‘ignorance is bliss’ attitude.. This was about a month before I’d spoken to him.. I hadn’t, as yet, heard about the spread, only that he’d had his kidney removed and there was an issue with his lung.. but I know he’d been to an appointment at the oncologist.

He told me “Whatever happens, just don’t cancel your plans” and I was a little thrown.. What aren’t you telling me Dad? (I thought) and he reinforced it a few times. Looking back now I can see that he maybe thought the worst and I put myself in his position, questioning whether I would say the same to Olivia.. which of course I would! I’m of little use waiting by the phone while I have this opportunity, so to get this blessing meant a lot to me..

My sister is generally the best to be the point person in any crisis, and she’s not going anywhere with 3 kids still in school.. my sister (don’t tell her this) is awesome, as much as I berate her and put her down in Facebook comments, is sound minded, strong and reliable and she’s constantly on the phone to him, trying to join his appointments etc.. I did say that I would come and see him, my brother and sister later in November, because regardless of what happens.. before I go I wanted to say goodbye.

“Oh I think it’s great, just don’t expect us to fund your trip!”

Thanks Mum, that wasn’t my intention in coming to visit.. though she clearly knows me well! I came up in mid-November to Lincolnshire to see my mum, step-dad (Trevor), sister and Olivia because I thought I’d be leaving early December, and I’d just finished working at ActionAid so I had nothing to do with my time.

My intention was to get my sister, mum and Trevor in the same room together and tell them.. Planned my journey to perfection so that they’d all be at the house waiting for me when I arrived.. a little Dutch courage (as is my want) and thinking in my head of all the possible reasons they could give for me not going.

Well that all turned to dust.. my sister had plans and my train got cancelled part way, so my mum and Trevor came to pick me up 30 miles from their house.. so I had to tell them in the car. Seems they already knew about my plans from Facebook and themselves had thought of many questions to ask in the 35 minute journey home..

I was pleasantly surprised! My mum is the most practical person I know, and I half expected “You’re not going.. there’s X and Y you have to think about” but, turns out they were just worried I was about to ask them for £3,000 to do the travel! Of course there was a lot of “Stay away from prostitutes and drugs” (damn! that would have been my first stop!) and then proceeded to look into the health risks in the countries I was planning on visiting.

All-in-all I was stunned that they were okay with it.. so that was two sets of parents out the way.

Then the bombshell dropped

The next day I went to see my sister, she shoved her kids upstairs to play and we sat and talked about my plans.. my sister is a mish-mash of the nagging-ness and realism of my mum, and the strong personality of my dad, mixed with a joint understanding that comes from putting up with a crazy “little brother” for 34 years. If you take away the constant moaning about all things life, then she’s actually a very sound adviser.

We talked about dad, she said it wasn’t looking good, and she made plans to go see him at the end of November and I should come along – she’d be driving and could pick me up halfway in Bristol.. (getting to Bristol for 8 in the morning is not my bag, so I said I’d come up to Lincolnshire the night before and we travel together at 5 in the morning.)

Tears were shed, and her prognosis hit home hard (she’s a nurse) enough to know that this may be the last time I see my dad alive.. it’s not an easy thing to decide to stick to your plans knowing this but I had my dad’s words in my mind still.

That day, me and Sam talked at length about all things for about 4 hours.. I don’t normally have that opportunity, usually someone else is there and I shy away from talking deep. She was also very supportive of my plans, a little jealous that life has led her down a certain path, but not in a way that she’d choose to put me off my current goal.

Breaking down in BHS

After telling my sister and mum, the largest scare was Olivia, and that I’d be away in a foreign country for three months and over Christmas too.. it’ll be the first Christmas I haven’t spent with her. I’d made plans to meet with Olivia and Emma, Olivia’s mum. We met in BHS, Lincoln for coffee and Emma knew already that I had the plans..

I had two bits of news for them both, that my dad was ill, and that I was off for a few months.. we sat down and broached the subject. I said I had two bits of news, the first being my dad, and the rest was me talking through tear-filled eyes (if I start crying, my voice becomes some sort of staccato-didgeridoo type affair) trying to explain to my daughter who doesn’t really know my dad very much that I’ve made plans to go travelling and that I’ll be away for a few months. Emma’s dad died from cancer at a similar age, so she understood immediately and was very supportive.. Olivia was scared that I’d be gone for a long time, but we soon cleared up that I’d not be away forever, so there’s no worry, and there’s Skype, email etc.. to keep in touch with.

Visiting my dad

Expecting the worst, I travelled with my sister early on Wednesday (up at 3:15!) to Barnstaple, a 5 hour journey.. we got there around 10am-ish and my dad looked a lot better than I’d already seen in my mind.. he’s lost weight of course.. he’s going through chemotherapy at the moment, but all-in-all I was glad to see he wasn’t vastly dissimilar to the last time I saw him.. It cheered me up to hear him berating my sister comedically for various things.

I’m annoyed at myself for not asking the deep questions that I had brewing.. “What’s it like” “Are you scared” “What’s really wrong” “Can I do anything to help” even when we were alone together, but for me.. selfishly.. I enjoyed just spending time with my dad, with both of us trying to act normal while both of us are going through some major life events. I hope one day that my dad can understand how difficult it is for me to face actual situations, much the same as he.

Long lost brother

On Thursday my brother Justin came over to Barnstaple from Ilfracombe, all four of us have only been together twice in the last 10 years or so, so it was good to be in the same room together.. lunch at the golf club where my dad is the captain. Then me, my brother and sister went into town (also rare for us three to be together) before going to pick up his daughter and see his new flat.

Justin's new flat in Ilfracombe

The awesome view from my brother’s flat in Ilfracombe

The view from his flat is amazing, sea view.. all for way lower than London prices!

Me and my sister left the next day, saying our goodbyes, I really don’t know what’s going to happen with dad, you never do know with cancer such is the nature of the beast. Hopefully when I return in a few months it won’t be to a heavy heart, it will be to a worry over what the hell I’m going to do having been so irresponsible in the eyes of the British public for a few months!

“Pissed off, upset now and disappointed” 

So, after the emotional mindfield that was the trip down to Devon, I return to a rather horrendous and ill-thought-out email from someone who shall remain nameless, and incidentally has removed me from Facebook as they didn’t like my response to their ridiculous email… They’ve done it before for an unknown reason, and stupidly I tried to add them again.. this time though: Blocked. I’m not going to play games with people like this..

It was all about what I’m going to do with my cat.

See I have a cat, Kitsy, as you probably know if you know me from my Facebook, spamming pictures of her.. One of the first things I worried about after my daughter was what to do with Kitsy.. I asked my housemate if he’d look after her and he couldn’t promise he’d be there all the time to do so – fair enough – I didn’t expect anyone to take on an old cat like that without some difficulty. I do find it a tad odd that everyone is asking me “What are you going to do with Kitsy?” rather than “WTF about your daughter??”

My close friends and family are extremely supportive, yet this person is all of a sudden changing their excitement to putting obstacles in my way and calling me out for being irresponsible.. I’m claiming jealousy on this front.

I do have to rehome my cat, and I’m sorry for it, but there are people who have met her and know her and will happily take her on – call me an arsehole if you wish, but that’s how it is..

So if you know of a home for a 15 year old house cat, or want to donate to my travels, or just want to say goodbye, or piss off! Then let me know. Until next time….

Matt