Bear with me as this blog is going to be long, rambling and covering decades of my life!
I’ve decided to stay here in Kanchanaburi for another couple of nights – which has surprised even me considering how I felt about the place when I first arrived, but that’s life for you. Then again, I wasn’t enamored by Thailand the fist time I visited. It’s a long story, but here goes. I’m dredging up memories from 30 odd years ago that I’ve never blogged about before…
In 1991-92 I was travelling through S-E Asia solo. I’d flown in to Thailand from Kathmandu in Nepal and it wasn’t an auspicious start. I’d loved Nepal, but getting out was “fun”. There was a lot of political unrest after the police had shot dead several students. We’d had night-time curfews which left us on the roofs of our hotels, watching armed police patrolling the empty streets below. The day I was leaving the opposition parties had called a ‘bandh’ (general strike) which meant there was no transport running. So I had to walk several miles from Thamel to the airport. I wasn’t alone, I met a few other Westerners on the way and a small group of us hung together for moral support. Meanwhile, we passed hundreds of Nepali’s walking the other way – to join in the protests. Some stopped to apologise to us for the fact we had to walk but all we could do was say ‘it’s really no problem – and you have bigger things to worry about’. After a couple of miles walking a car stopped and we were offered a lift by a Nepali family, much to our relief!
I remember sitting on that plane watching the Himalayas recede in the distance whilst thinking ‘phew’! But the ‘fun’ wasn’t over. I’d made the mistake of eating in a new place the day before I flew out of Nepal. It taught me a lesson that I stick to even now, because when I was queing at passport control in Bangkok my guts were on fire. I had food poisoning. I managed to make it into the country without shitting myself, but it was a close-run thing! As soon as I’d got my entry stamp I headed for the toilet, where things were ‘explosive’ to say the least.
I ended up getting a taxi I couldn’t afford from the airport to the Khao San Rd as all I wanted was a room – and a toilet – and fast! The Khao San Rd was very different in 1992. The range of accommodation was tiny and not great. I found a place where the ‘rooms’ were just studwork cells with walls that didn’t even reach the ceiling and we shared a toilet. I didn’t care – I was dying! I spent the next few days shitting and puking (mostly at the same time), grateful for the fact the sink was close enough to the toilet to let me do both! I remember wanting to post a ‘sorry for the dying noises’ note on my door as the other occupants of the hovel had to put up with them.
And that dear reader, was my introduction to Thailand. There was a lot of corruption in those days and travellers were often scammed. I got an overnight bus from Bangkok to Krabi which was fun as the a/c failed in the night. We all woke up drenched in sweat and then waited several hours in a truck-stop whilst it was fixed. No-one apologised. Next day some people found their valuables had been nicked from their luggage whilst it was in the hold. You’d been warned to keep important stuff on your person, but some folk didn’t listen. Oh, there was a general election in the UK whilst I was here too, the result of which was depressing as (contrary to expectations) John Major’s Tories beat the Labour party led by Neil Kinnock. At the time I remember wondering if I could claim political asylum somewhere as a result! All this meant I was happy to cross the border from Thailand into Malaysia and didn’t look back. Mind you, the political turbulence I’d experienced in Nepal was mirrored in Thailand. There’d be a military coup in 1991 and just a few weeks after I left the infamous ‘Black May’ shootings happened.
A lot’s changed in the intervening years. Well, apert from the military coups – obviously! I have a new respect for and understanding of Thai people now, which is why I’m very happy to be here and have the time to process so many memories. I kept diaries during my 1991-92 travels and I’ve always wanted to get around to digitising them and writing about my travels as backpacking was a very different experience back then. If you’d like to you can view my pictures from 1991-92 in this gallery. I’ll be adding pictures from today later on but for now – here’s a taster. This is the view from my verandah. Last night’s heavy rain has cleared the haze. A few days ago you could hardly see these hills.
I’ve a small favour to ask…
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