It was dark and the heat was terrible, one of those encompassing heats that knocks you off your feet as soon as you step out of the air conditioned comfort of the plane. It was Thailand Jim, but not as we knew it.
My first thought was what the hell we were supposed to do now we had arrived. We collected my bag once more and headed through the confusion of security and out into the arrivals hall. There were a gang of beautiful faces. They were not waiting for us. We withdrew some baht and considered our options. There were already more people than in the airports of Malaysia or Singapore, all trying to get our attention, all offering a cab ride or a flight or a hotel. We knew where we were going, we were just reliant on not getting ripped off before we got there. Staring at a laminated map on a desk we found the rough location of our hotel, the only place I had left Adam to book. The only place that still had vacancies seven hours before we were due to arrive in town. The hotel was near to Rassada Pier, where we were due to get the ferry to Koh Phi Phi Don from the following morning. It was away from Patong and the party side of the island.
We paid our 650 baht (£13.46) and headed outside where there were rows of beautiful white cars waiting in the heat of the night. We were ushered into a backseat. I felt tension shift beneath the leather and assumed everything was fine. Our driver half said something before starting up the engine and pulling out in front of whoever else was waiting. On the walls beside the car park were huge posters for club nights and full moon parties. We stared at them like dogs into the window of the butchers. The car just kept on going.
Some way out of town he pulled up suddenly and without explanation, the taxi idling in the light of a travel agent as he disappeared inside, leaving the windows down. A woman came out and asked us to clarify where we were going. Adam fumbled with his phone like Hugh Grant proposing illicit prostitute sex and pulled the address. They struggled with the English translation and ended up calling to confirm. The directions were then explained to us in English and the driver in Thai before we headed off. The tales of Thailand were always those of legend. It was the place people had been most excited about us visiting, assuming a certain lifestyle or expectation by a visit to the fair land. That was not our intention but if it happened, I was happy to play along.
We pulled up on the driveway and a small Thai man came out onto the street to greet us. He offered to carry our bags and we headed into his immaculate home. Everything inside was tiled. It was too clean. The walls were probably covered in plastic wrap and the host zipped up in a biohazard suit just hours before as he disposed of his last guests in the harbour. It was that kind of clean. He couldn’t stop bowing.
He proudly showed us the table where breakfast items had been set out for the following morning. He then introduced us to his maid who I instantly fell in love with. Then he methodically led us up the stairs, making sure we paid attention to every painting and frame along the walls. The place was completely silent except for our creaking nods of agreement. We were the only guests at the Bleach Hotel. Our room was on the second floor and was somehow hotter than the streets. We quickly turned the air conditioning on full as our host showed us everything from the towels, to the toilet roll, to the water in the fridge, to the folded swan on our double bed. We approved of everything. We were tired and we were hungry. All he kept saying was that if we needed anything he was right next door. I know he meant well but it had a touch of the serial killer catchphrase about it. When he finally left I turned to Adam and let out a huge sigh.
‘He’s a bit intense’ I said. ‘What’s his name?’
‘I don’t know know.’
‘You kept saying something.’
‘I know, it’s something like Criterion but not that.’
For the rest of our stay that was what we mumbled at him.
Criterion return a moment later to introduce his wife. He seemed proud of his hotel. He simply could not do enough for us. We asked if there was anywhere locally we could get something for dinner.
He gave a series of confusing instructions which Adam and I hoped the other had been paying attention to and then we were out on the hot street. We came to a bar that we thought might have been where he had suggested. There was nobody inside. It was so quiet that the barrstaff were stood in the doorway, chatting with a bunch of prostitutes. We ordered our first pints of Chang, the lager of Thailand, and took a passing look at the laminated menu before making our excuses and moving on.
Somehow we found our way to another restaurant. At the front, two giant plastic prawns faced off against one another, lit from beneath by a series of garden lights. It appeared to be popular with locals. We went in.
As we bungled our way between tables of families a handsome waiter grabbed us both by the collar and led us to a table where the majority of the fans could be directed. We were under a canopy but exposed to the elements so the humidity still caught up. We were told to go and collect whatever food we wanted while they fetched a grill for us. We ordered another two Chang. Other tables, more developed in their understanding, had globular BBQ pits set up on their tables and were taking turns at grilling meat and fish. I returned to the table with a tray of overlapping plates, some fish, some meat, some vegetation. Our waiter took a piece of pork fat and ran it across the hot plate over the coals of our personal BBQ and layered meat onto it for us. Around the edge was a moat of chicken stock where the fish and seafood could be cooked. We got to it. There was a surplus charge if we didn’t eat what we cooked so we filled our bellies and ordered another Chang. The waiter kept excitedly bringing more food over for us to try, keen to introduce us to more Thai cuisine. We ate prawns and octopus, chicken, something that might have been beef and who knows what else. It was the best meal for the occasion and we felt stuffed and treated.
Afterwards we washed the fish guts from our fingers and found our way to a bar where a four-piece band were playing, the cocktails tasted sweeter than necessary and we were the only European faces. We drank and smoked and applauded the band. The heavens opened as we were preparing to leave. We decided to risk it anyway, sure we were just minutes from Criterion’s safe house.
Adam lost a flip-flop as we jumped the flood along the gutter and I ducked back inside as he watched it head downstream. He caught up with it somehow and we ran back laughing in the darkness, worrying about our wet footprints on the white tile and having to hang our money out to dry before we climbed into our last matrimonial bed.
In the morning we quickly showered and dressed, heading downstairs to Criterion’s demonically wonderful grin and offers of croissants and coffee. He said he would drive us to the pier in his 4×4 and refused to take any money for his troubles. At the very least I had found myself a Thai sugar daddy.
We were instantly able to identify the clichéd travellers at Rassada pier. There were the vested dude-bros, the girls looking to Instagram their way around Asia and the honeymooning couples. I don’t know what they made of us. We didn’t care.
As soon as we got aboard we headed downstairs to find somewhere to rest our asses and maybe even our heads. The lower deck stunk of fumes and they were showing Mr Bean. I don’t know what hell looks like but…
Adam and I made a game of it by pretending we were on the lower deck of the Titanic with all the Irish folk.
I soon grew tired of jigging alone and headed up to watch the sea. I’ve always been fascinated by open water and there’s something about the wake of a ferry that reminds me of holidays I took as a boy. The sun eventually beat me and I had to seek cover again, watching Rowan Atkinson crawl around a hotel in the buff.
Two hours later we made it to Phi Phi and everyone hurried to their bags. We were staying on the far side of the island and were told we would need to locate the taxi boats that ran up there twice a day. A man in Oakley sunglasses and what Adam called “a Jumanji hat” holding a sign for our “resort”. It wasn’t really our resort, but we were apparently welcome to use their taxi services. We took this permission to be fairly liberal and open. He told us the boat would not be leaving for another two hours, that we were welcome to leave our bags with him and should come back fifteen minutes before we were due to leave.
I dropped my huge bag off my shoulder and breathed a sigh of relief.
‘What are you doing?’ asked Adam.
‘I’m putting my bag down’ I said, ‘the guy said we can leave them here.’
Adam stepped closer to me.
‘Are you going to trust him with all your stuff?’
‘It’s just stuff man.’
Asia had clearly changed me.
Adam eventually dropped his bag too and we started walking off.
‘Are you sure about this?’ he said.
‘Yeah, I’ve got our passports and my card, what else do I really need? Anyway, I trust him. He had a good face.’
Adam didn’t seem so sure. ‘I think he had teeth missing’ he said.
Our first stop was for breakfast where we each ordered a Chang before anything else. I had the American breakfast which was the least American thing I have ever eaten. Adam ordered a spicy noodle dish. It looked like Asia was changing him too. I got an orange juice and a coffee and sipped my three drinks in turn. It felt good. I wanted to keep on going and never look back. As long as I could get online every couple of days and tell my mum I was okay I never wanted to go back.
The issues with such a plan were several-fold. Mostly they came down to the fact I had left some cherry tomatoes in the fridge and they really needed chucking in the bin.
We walked up and down the market stalls in search of something. Adam considered getting a bamboo tattoo but balked at the price. We checked out clothing and massage parlours, bars and private boat hire stalls before returning to the pier for our next boat. Jumanji was still there. As were our bags.
‘I told you he was alright’ I said.
Adam and I were the only passengers on the narrow boat. It was fifteen foot long with a motor on the back. The “captain” stood at the back directing the rudder while we sat under a cover and shouted to one another over the sound of the suffering engine.
After half an hour we turned a corner and pulled into the kind of bay a Bond villain would set up base in. There were palm trees and private boats, chalets on stilts and handsome tanned people enjoying life. We had arrived.
As we clambered down into the surf our bags were taken from us and loaded into a motorcycle sidecar. We jumped in and took a leisurely ride to check in. Along the way we passed between a row of shops and the five star resort I secretly hoped we would be staying. Our place was slightly more basic. Once the air conditioning was on and I realised I had my own bed I felt a lot better. Adam and I threw our stuff down and headed out for a swim. I only had Converse to wear and felt a bit of a dick because everyone else was bare foot or in flip flops.
The sea was so warm it offered no comfort from the humid air. I swam out as far as I could and watched boats fly along by our harbour as they ferried travellers to different islands. It was possible from Phi Phi to visit Maya Bay, the beach popularised by The Beach. The Beach beach. I heard there was no point in going in search of quiet paradise because it was now a queue of people looking for that one shot.
Adam and I stretched out under palm trees and snoozed. We then sauntered into the infinity pool for the five star resort. Adam kept muttering to me to look like we belonged there. I was in a pair of swimming shorts that didn’t fit me, Converse flapping on my feet. I was covered in tattoos and had shaved my head just days before. They all knew I didn’t belong there. A waiter came over and offered us a drink. We considered charging it to one of the rooms in the hope we could scram before anyone picked up on it. We were too recognisable. We drank from coconuts and took a dip in the pool, drying ourselves with the plush towels stacked at the side.
Later in the evening we went in search of a night out. On the north end of the island this was a hard job. We stopped at the first restaurant we found and ordered pizza and beer. Every tourist who walked into the joint ordered pizza and beer. Adam was distraught. Amongst the other patrons were the German couple who had been eyeballing us as we sunbathed on deckchairs in the private resort. They knew our game. We didn’t care.
An hour later we were in Freedom Bar watching a Thai band cover Hotel California. When they finished they asked if anyone wanted to get up and perform. I don’t think they were expecting it. I got up and played covers of The Cure and David Bowie before letting them slam through some more songs. They were cool guys and our bar bill was half what it should have been by the end of the night.
The next morning we decided to head back over to buy cliché travel items. I was done with Converse and bought flip flops, leaving my trainers under a cart for fate to decide upon. Adam bought a vest and instantly regretted it. We got some food on a balcony overlooking the cove. I ate as much seafood as I could and knocked back a beer.
Our heads were turned at the thought of a Thai massage. We found ourselves off of the hot street and in front of a large fan in the doorway of an open room with four low beds. There was a curtain around each for privacy. As I kicked off my new flip flops I could feel my t-shirt clinging to my back with sweat. Whoever ended up seeing to me deserved a lot more than the 200 baht for a half hour massage.
I didn’t even get to buy her a drink first. She was on me. Smart hands and digging elbows starting on my calves, working up the backs of my thighs. I felt things being pulled that were surely not designed to be pulled. The pleasure and the pain continued up onto my back until I realised she was standing on me, tiny heels and toes undoing all the trouble my poor posture and terrible desk habits caused. She worked up to my neck and then massaged down my arms before yanking each of my fingers in turn. She turned me onto my back and pulled my arms free from tension with a sharp click. I gasped.
The next thing I knew she had her knees in my back and was pulling me over on top of her in the most bizarrely uncomfortable but mildly sexual position I have been forced into in some time.
She was like Xenia from Goldeneye. I wanted to be put to death by her thighs.
As Adam and I walked up the road feeling soulful, taller and lighter I waxed lyrical about how I would return to make her my wife. We went for another beer and to enjoy paradise before getting the boat back.
We started talking to two German boys with matching pencil beards and baseball caps on the ride back. They had arrived in Thailand after travelling around Australia for six months, living out the back of a converted van and doing construction jobs whenever they needed money. Their stories all revolved around how stoned they had got in a particular location. We made plans to go for dinner together on the basis that, unlike the vast majority of people in the area, none of us were honeymooning couples.
Over Thai curries we talked about Frankfurt, David Hasselhoff and drugs. We bought more beers and ended up nearly passing out in their rooms.
The following day all I wanted to do was sit by the sea and soak up all the sun and memories I could. We got back into the honeymooners resort and pretended we belonged there. We swam and read and went and got food. We went out into the sea and I wondered why we had to go back to our own lives at all. We decided to group our funds and go big for our last night. It turned out Adam didn’t have any money left. This meant we could scrape a dinner and maybe a round of drinks for the pair of us. It was already too late in the day to get to the other side of the island where there was access to an ATM. We wandered through the posh resort and asked at reception if they would charge our cards in exchange for cash. It wasn’t happening. We asked at our favourite restaurants and none of them would take card. We got to the end of the road and there was one place left to try. As we walked by Adam noticed a sign he recognised above the till – VISA.
‘No way’ he said’. We were in luck. We would eat like kings.
We ordered a beer, a cocktail and a bottle of water each. We sat out the back and in plastic candlelight watched the sun go down and people go by. We ordered two lots of starters, four lots of main course and deliberated over the idea of dessert before getting more drinks. It came to two thousand baht (£41.40), the most we spent on anything while we were away.
We went back to Freedom bar and spent everything we had on two vodka and cokes before falling in love with a South African couple. He wore a vest, worked on oil rigs and swore at us, she painted our faces and was too drunk for our own good. They picked up the tab for the night and we ran out to the beach.
I fell asleep some time later and Adam drank whatever else he could find and smoked something he found on the floor. Our last night in Thailand was not without mishaps.
The following day, with his head rattling and mine as fresh as a daisy, we took the boat back to the other side of the island, got another beer for breakfast and waited for the ferry. The whole trip felt very sombre. My shoes were not where I had left them.
The flights back were terrible. Adam kept trying to talk to me. I was watching The Good Dinosaur. I slept. I ate something unspeakable and before I knew it we were back in Heathrow and I felt like a tit in a pair of flip flops.