One Night in Bangkok
Between the 3-16 February I went to Thailand to run a writing class for Skyros – although forging their reputation on the eponymous island in the Aegean, they now run their famous holistic holidays in exotic locations around the world. When offered the opportunity to run my ‘Life:Fiction’ course on Koh Samed, in the Gulf of Thailand, I leapt at the chance. Although it was the middle of term time and clashed with St Valentine’s (which required some careful negotations!) it was one of those ‘Calls to Adventure’ that you only get once-in-a-lifetime, and so I embarked upon my Hero’s Journey. Whenever I go on long trips the words of Cavafy’s immortal poem always come to mind: ‘As you set out for Ithaka, hope you’re road be a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery…’ Well, it was certainly a long road … ! It was a bum-numbing fifteen hour flight to Bangkok (with a nightmarish transfer in Mumbai in the middle of the night – after nine hours in the air, Indian bureacracy is not what you need in the middle of the night…). Flying cattle-class on ‘Jet Airways India’ (Fly-Lo airlines came to mind, from ‘Come Fly With Me’) didn’t enhance my sense of well-being – but when being sucked through the sky at 500 miles an hour in a cramped metal tube, breathing recycled air and watching recycled movies, little might.
Arriving in Bangkok in the early hours, spaced out and sore, the plush comforts of the Sofitel on Silom Road helped the process of compensation – once I had got there. First there was a high-speed taxi ride along the flyover passed the biggest billboards in the world blocking out the sky. My affable taxi driver drove like the stunt-driver protagonist of Drive – the slick and ultra-violent inflight movie I watched on the way over, worryingly within reach of any youngster via their personal touch-screen TV. The skyscrapers soared above the slums of this massive city – one emblazoned with the legend ‘BMW is joy’ – each one seemingly outdoing the next in architectural extravagance or folly, while monorails threaded through them and tiny tuk tuks and street stalls co-existed at their feet, ants in a rainforest of giant hardwoods, like something out of Bladerunner or Brazil. The concierge took my bag up to my room on the 14th floor, which afforded vertiginous views over this South East Asian metropolis – the air con hit me like a wet towel. Snowy sheets on an emperor-sized bed pulled, like a White Hole. I succumbed to its point of singularity – Z-land. About eight hours later I awoke, somewhat groggily, having slept through most of the day. I showered and dressed, making my way to the 36th floor for the Skyros welcome meeting. Here I met fellow tutors and participants. We arranged to go for a meal together – one had been conveniently arranged at a tourist honeypot. Together, about a dozen of us hit the dirty noisy streets – in such of sustenance. As we dined we were treated to Thai dancing, courtesy to a couple of colourfully dressed ladyboys, with immaculate make-up and thick hairy legs! There followed some comic stick-dancing and a gamelan-style orchestra which some clearly experienced as a form of torture. All the performers looked deeply bored – like neurotic animals in a zoo. I hoped to experience something more authentic when we escaped Bangkok, but the sordid delights of Patpong awaited us. Our guides took us there and left us to – to find whatever ‘floated our boat’ presumably. Well, a couple of cans of beer from the 7-Eleven was all my jetlagged party animal could cope with. I took these back to the hotel and flopped out, watching the hilarious Fantastic Mr Fox – tickled to see Bath’s Little Theatre in the set at one point! Within the last 24 hours I had watched 3 and half movies – even for a movie buff like me, a bit of a binge. This perhaps enhanced my impression of the trip so far as being cinematic and surreal, (indeed, Ballardesque) from the Heathrow airport (trying to sleep in Costa coffee at 4am…) to the hotel – everything glamorously shallow – digitised surfaces, plasma facades, moving adverts, massive billboards, tablets and smartphones. Everyone sucking from the virtual teat, as though we don’t exist if we’re not online, without the world’s trivia at our fingertips. Facebook voyeurs. Wikipaedophiles.
It was with a sigh of relief we escaped Bangkok the next morning, taking a couple of vehicles to the coast – and then a boat over to the island paradise of Koh Samed.
Would the two and a half days of travelling be worth it?
Watch this space!