Thursday, 13 December 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 26: Today’s salvation will be televised

After some well-spent time enjoying the north, it was time to go down south and finally experience some beach life, so we chucked our loads onto the back of a truck and headed back towards Chiang Mai’s airport. Due to time constraints, we couldn’t waste the best part of two days travelling down on numerous trains and buses, so instead forked out on a ninety minute flight which shot us straight into Koh Samui by mid-day. We realised soon after getting there that neither one of us had checked a weather forecast, both assuming incorrectly that it would be sunny. It wasn’t. It was gloomier than Jimmy Saville’s recently uncovered past, and started to rain as we rode towards Chaweng Beach. We got to a place called Z Hotel and hoped that its name wasn’t based on a rating scale. I checked out the room and it seemed nice, bright white walls and a Bob Marley stencilled canvas above the bed. “Alright Bob”, I said to our man, then turned to the manager saying we’d take it. He told us to return in an hour as the bed wasn’t made up, so we left our bags there and went off for a walk to see what was about. After going into a few shops it became apparent that shopping would be cheaper in London, where you aren’t quoted prices based on your complexion, so we headed back to check in to our hotel, and each other, after which I fulfilled my role as male by rolling over and going to sleep. After a few hours snoozing we awoke to the sound of crashing and banging outside of our ground floor window, and it turned out that a new hotel was being built next door, and they were still working at 7pm. Great news. We hit the street in search of somewhere to eat, and further realised that we’d made a big mistake. This place was a fucking cultureless tourist trap, offering overpriced everything, everywhere. We settled for one place on the beach after a long walk in disdain, witnessing the depressingly underwhelming faux paradise we’d found ourselves in. Why no one ever warned me against it, I’ll never know. You’d at least expect some great seafood, being on the beach and all, but I’ve made better calamari at home using frozen squid bought from my local Chinese supermarket in Hackney. How depressing. We bowled back, bemused, opting that an evening in together would greatly surpass that of going to a bar around there.

On recommendation from Rachael I’d picked up some tramadol in Cambodia, as she said they were a really strong painkiller with opiates which give a good high, so I gave them a try. We had no weed, as we had to finish it in Chiang Mai before flying, so we popped one each and stuck the telly on. In amongst the fuzzy Thai soap operas and foreign news, which I could just about ascertain was describing war everywhere and money ruling all, as always, I found one saving grace, a channel showing films in English. The first was the Martin Bashir documentary which he did on Michael Jackson. It was pretty sad viewing. We’ll never know for sure what he did and didn’t do behind closed doors, which I think is most likely bullshit stemming from the greed of immoral individuals and the media completing its celebrity cycle of building them up and then knocking them down, but either way he was clearly an abused individual, destroyed by those around him from an incredibly early age. I was feeling pretty mellow as I went outside to smoke one of my now favourite branded, Honghua Laotian cigarettes, and returned to find Sarah drifting off as Fight Club was just starting up on the screen. I sat up, in a blissful haze, and wrote a few days away as the film rolled on in front of me, and by the time I’d finished my down time, it was time to lay down. Finding Nemo was just starting, and I let it play in the background. As 4am became 5 sooner than I’d hoped, I finally slipped off the slope and slept.

I could hear builders banging outside, I was laying there, awake in my dream, getting more and more aggravated as it continued and rueing my luck at the choice of room and lack of warning I’d been given. It was too much. I woke up, realising it was still before 6am, and there was no building works currently happening outside. My earlier worries had obviously manifested themselves into my dreams, so I lay there, tired and then I heard it again. “BANG BANG BANG BANG” coming from somewhere outside my room. I opened the door to my room, shouted “SHUT UP”, slammed the door and then laid back on our bed. After a five more minutes of shouting and banging I walked out of our room and down the corridor in my boxer shorts, trying to see where the noise was coming from, but there was no sign of life, even my reflection in a hallway mirror didn’t seem to be there. Then all of a sudden a tubby Thai guy who I could only assume worked there came through the reception door. “What’s going on? I’m trying to sleep” I exclaimed. He looked at me blankly, I went back to bed.

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 25: Poo Pie

One of the things I love about psychedelic drugs (of which there are many) is the lack of hangover or comedown the following day. I remember the morning after my first mushroom trip, when I was nineteen, waking up feeling great and wondering why alcohol was ever made legal over mushrooms. Of course, you might have to deal with those introspective thoughts on your existence, which probably wouldn’t inspire you to get up for your assistant team leader job at Argos, but if you ask me, that’s infinitely better than having a heavy hangover from a Tuesday booze-up. Despite our mixing of both acid and alcohol, we awoke feeling decent, had a shower with a few thousand ants, then started making waves away from yesterday.

I find it somewhat unusual how, when travelling, your trust in strangers seems to increase drastically. Few people in their day to day lives would leave all of their valuables with someone they don’t know, or in unsecured rooms, whereas when travelling the rules of karma always seem to be faithfully adhered to, you do good to others and expect the same in return. Once again everything we owned was left by a bookshelf at our guesthouse and we scooted off to enjoy our final hours in Pai before our 3pm bus back to Chiang Mai. We wanted to find the pool which we’d missed out on yesterday, but we had little idea where it was, and after driving for thirty minutes around where we thought we’d lost the gang the previous day, we realised we had no hope of finding it alone. We drove back to Ting Tong as the boys were getting up and readying themselves for another lunch, but time was short so we couldn’t join them. Tutu gave us directions and told us it was called the Phu Pai Art Resort, how I couldn’t recall ‘Poo Pie’ as a hotel name was beyond me, but with his brief but helpful directions we arrived around 11am, as the sun was reaching its peak. We ordered breakfast, and did a few laps in their incredible infinity pool, which was circled by a backdrop of rice fields, mountains and fluffy white clouds painted onto a bright blue sky. We remained there getting roasted like cheap chickens on a Tesco rotisserie until 1.45pm, then whizzed back to the bike shop to drop off our death-trap. As we were driving there, Tutu whizzed by, late for our date at the pool. He turned and drove along behind us, beeping wildly as we ground to a halt. He apologised for his lateness, gave us both a hug and handed me a watermelon, which he must have been bringing to share with us by the pool. What a lovely man.

Poo pie has never tasted so good
We collected our safely stored luggage and lugged it to the bus station and by 3pm we were ready to head back down the seven hundred odd bends and curves to the larger, louder city of Chiang Mai. Sarah believed that some money had been removed from our stash whilst staying at the Top North a few days before and didn’t want to go back there, I personally thought we’d more than likely spent it without realising, but regardless, we checked into some cheap dive opposite, dropped off our bags and then headed straight for my date at John’s Bar where we’d had a drink a few days earlier, to watch Arsenal play Manchester United. After the first three minutes seeing my former favourite player, Robin Van Persie, score against us after a calamitous clearance from our new captain, Thomas Vermaelen, I knew that things weren’t going to go our way. I suffered the full ninety minutes drinking Chang and smoking cheap cigarettes like they were going out of fashion, fulfilling my role as a typical Brit abroad by shouting profanity at the screen, as if the players could hear the echoes of my discontent. A fantastic consolation goal in the dying embers of this lukewarm game by one of our only glimmers of hope, the Spaniard Santi Cazorla, did enough to soften the blow of this wasted time, and then it was time for some guaranteed relief in the form of a hand-rolled goal-post. I toked myself happy, then took a brown-water shower as the dysfunctional plumbing coughed its catarrh all over my once clean body, then swan-dived onto my mascot for a cuddle and fell soundly to sleep.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 24: Too much Thai-high for one guy in Pai

Blue sky thinking

Like so many cash cows that came before us, we handed in our Blue Lagoon room key and moo-ved on to greener pastures. After a short walk up the road and down another we reached the Pai Pura, which had a series of small, clay-like huts, stone pathways, various greenery and an authentic buzz of bugs and life emanating from its simple but well-kept grounds. The room was formed with stone interiors and a raised platform which the bed rested on. It was quaint. The bathroom, however, nearly made us faint. There was a rather bad ant infestation, and even a few blasts from the booty hose beside the toilet couldn’t eradicate their existence in and around our crapper. This would have to be deemed a necessary evil in exchange for the greater character on offer at this relatively inexpensive guesthouse.

My first hot bath in three weeks...
My own personal highway code is to always have the power on my side. I like to drive cars so that I have greater safety and power over cyclists, and if I’m ever cycling, I prefer to do it on the pavement, so I have power over the pedestrians. I don’t ride bikes anymore for that exact reason, and I don’t want to fulfil my own prophecy of dying in a road accident, as that is a lame way to go after surviving my near death experience in Monument Valley (see my first book) which would have been an infinitely cooler demise. Despite all this, I’d agreed with Sarah that we could hire a moped, so that we could meet the guys from Ting Tong, as planned the previous evening, and go out for the day to a nearby pool at a fancy hotel. My one condition was that I’d drive. I’d had my first ever practice in Laos and thought I’d be alright, which I was, whenever going in a straight line, but as soon as I had to turn, my arms would lock and I’d make some diagonal attempt at getting around a corner. By the grace of God alone, I managed to get us to the petrol station, handed Sarah the keys and didn’t bother after that. We drove to the Ting Tong bar to meet Tutu, Tek and Kwan, who were having lunch with a couple of American girls and greeted us fondly, offering up some home cooking. By the time everyone was ready to leave, we all hopped onto our bikes, and as we struggled to start ours up, the others all shot off. We tried to catch up and follow, but it was too late, they must not have realised that we had no clue where we were going and were nowhere to be seen. After a few kilometres of driving we saw a sign for the hot springs, which was the one thing we had wanted to do in this town, so we decided to go there instead. As we walked along there were a series of baths built out of stone which filtered down into the next one in the row. There were four or five which got progressively hotter, and after more than three weeks without my usual daily hot bath, this was heaven, I dived in and became more and more prune-like as I ascended. By the time I reached the hottest spot, which came with a warning against children or the elderly entering, like a teenage boy losing his virginity to a porn star, I approached it bravely but was in an out within sixty seconds. The next one up had a sign which said not to enter as it was eighty degrees, and you could boil eggs in it. It reeked with the eggy stench of a constant mass boil-off. We bought a small basket with three in it and submerged them, then stood waiting with the gathering locals, who were arriving in droves to make their dinner. After chowing down on our runny snack we headed back to our room just as it got dark.

We put all our eggs in one basket, we like to live dangerously.
My mischievous madam had chucked a couple microdots of acid into her first aid kit before leaving London, and had been carrying them ever since. They are the size of a grain of sugar and scentless, so the chance of discovery by customs was minimal, but this caused us a problem in itself, as we could only find one of them. After some advice from my Dr Feelgood and the internet, we discovered that the dosage was inside the red outer layer, and the best bet of splitting one was to crack the grain between two spoons, and somehow separating the tiny white inner core, which we did. We divided it as fairly as possible and hoped for the best. After about twenty minutes, I knew that something was going to come of this, as my body became heavy and my mind started fearing the forthcoming strangeness in a strange place. Sarah wanted to get out and get going, but I was functionless, allowing myself to be pulled further and further into the waves that were washing over me. We played ‘Heads or Temples’ with a 5 baht coin for an hour, every time Sarah said let’s go, I would let the coin decide. Head, we feed our heads with the weirdness beyond our four walls, and temples, we remain in our temple, safe from the uncertainty of the outside world. Fate kept deciding that it wasn’t time to leave, and by the time it did, I was just about ready to drag my body along with the spirit that controls it.
Outside, we lit the lantern which Tutu had bestowed upon us the previous evening, and made a wish as it rose into the atmosphere and became a golden star. After a short walk we reached the main streets, where a plethora of stalls had been set up, and everywhere was brightly lit and bustling. Instantly Everything became more vivid, and the intensity of our consumption was amplified tenfold, we weren’t ready for the world we’d entered, but it was too late now, we were in it. All the faces around us were slightly twisted, like we were surrounded by inbreeds with strange colourings and warped features, and their eyes all seemed to peer at us as we laughed our way down the street, checking out the odd stall until the fear crept in, or we were approached by sellers, who automatically gave us the urge to turn and run instead of communicating. “Are those lights moving?” asked Sarah, as we looked at a display of plug in glass air fresheners with small bulbs inside. “No, but the inside of your mind is” was my reply. We backed away after enjoying them for at least a minute more than we should have.

Dion and Sarah on acid.
I noticed a guy sitting behind a board which read ‘Your portrait, five minutes, 150 baht’ which had some atrocious looking examples of his work. It was so brilliantly terrible and reminded me of this guy called Chris (Simpsons artist) who draws hilarious attempts at copying the Simpsons and other characters from popular culture, usually backed up with hilarious descriptions which are completely incoherent. Look him up if you get the chance. I stopped Sarah and said “We need to get this guy to draw us”, but she didn’t feel capable of sitting for ten minutes without cracking up. Despite this, I convinced her that it was a must, and we approached him to request his services. I noticed him sketching one of the stalls to his left, and on further inspection I saw that he’d drawn a square box and a stick man in black marker pen. This was going to be great, I just knew it. He was a goofy looking guy of undetermined age, like most Thais he could’ve been fourteen or forty, and wore round spectacles and a red shirt. He reminded me of Simon from The Chipmunks and I found his odd demeanour to be very cute, albeit rather odd and jittery. Drugged and delirious, almost, or was that just me? He sat us down on two stools as we were already in fits of giggles. He gave Sarah an eye-line to look towards, and was acting rather professionally as he scanned her face from a low angle. I nearly lost my shit when he started drawing her, trying to hold down the shakes and ended up forcing myself to not look at what he was doing as it was too much. Sarah took a look and was uncontrollable, we hoped the guy just thought we were crazy as we’d been laughing the whole time, and obviously didn’t want to offend him or make him think we were laughing at his drawing, even though we were. I mockingly tickled Sarah under the armpit to try and style out her over-exuberant shaking. After a couple of minutes he’d finished her half, and gave me an eye-line in the opposite corner. ‘Don’t look down, don’t look down’ I kept saying to myself, like I was back on the mountain, ready to fall to my death. I fell, my eyes dropped and I was lost. It was too much. I was out of control. Once he’d done the outlines we sat and watched him further desecrate his drawing, mixing a few watercolours to paint us in a washed out yellow, and giving me a smoky grey mane of chest hair. Sarah’s usually wide, beautiful smile was depicted as a scrunched up little buck-toothed hole, and I was perfectly represented as a boss-eyed, square head with a glazed gaze. Good work. The phrase ‘on acid’ is often used to describe a twisted version of something, and this perfectly described the final product. Dion and Sarah on acid, although it looked more like the artist had been high, not us. I suspect that he and Chris (Simpsons artist) may be kindred spirits, or perhaps even one and the same. We happily handed over our cash, taking our still wet piece of ‘art’ away, stopping after one hundred metres or so to crack up completely, looking at what we’d just bought. It may have costed £3, but this shit was priceless. We marched it right back to our guesthouse immediately, worried that we may lose or damage this masterpiece, and discussing the clearly thriving art scene that Pai has on offer.

Feeling hungry and seeking further hilarity, we hit the streets once more. I’d seen a sushi stall and I wanted in on the action, but after half an hour rambling around the same streets it had seemingly disappeared. We said it’d be funny if we went back and got the guy to draw us again, but as we passed his spot, he was nowhere to be found. Had he existed at all? We’d have to check when we got home. As we strolled Sarah stalled at a stall and said “You should try that on”, pointing at a maroon linen tunic which had various embroidered panels, gold bells for buttons and two sun symbols which she originally mistook for 3D plastic patches and was hanging from a rail behind the seller. I tried it on but was unsure, and there was no mirror, so she took a photo. I wasn’t convinced but she was adamant, I thought it could be a drug impulse, but asked for the price anyway. ‘250 baht’ was the response, we didn’t even barter, £5 for a lairy jacket was hardly going to break the bank, which I’d already been smashing to smithereens. I left it on and became happier with it as we proceeded. Sarah also found a tie-dye dress at the next place along which we liked, haggling the seller down to 300 baht, using my tunic as a reference against his attempt to rip off us ‘rich’ foreigners. We agreed that we’d each treat each other to our new finds.

We passed a stall selling chicken nuggets, and opted to share some of them to line our stomachs before we started drinking. We were served by an odd, little lady who was very animated. She resembled a shrivelled prawn and scurried around, counting out nuggets with her claw like hand and chucking them into her oil-filled wok. She looked up, almost mesmerised by my presence and said “Oooh, nice jacket, where you buy?” I told her that it was just a few metres down the road and she asked how much. When I told her the price she was flabbergasted, spinning in circles and raising her hands to the sky. Her reaction was that of both shock and disbelief, she even summoned a couple of friends who quickly checked it out and agreed that I’d got myself a steal. Part of me wanted to give it to her, but the other part fell in love with it due to her reaction. An Italian guy beside me said “Give him one thousand nuggets for it”, and she fell about laughing her head off and nodding in agreement that she would. Bless her, I wanted to cuddle her, her presence was so uplifting. We’d doubted we’d laugh as much at anything else after the earlier drawing, but she gave us our second round with her sheer love for my new purchase. It was the sort of thing you couldn’t make up, too magnificent for words to fully do justice, another priceless moment in an amazing adventure. I found another sushi stall a few steps down from our new friend, but put it down to luck that we’d got to meet the nugget lady instead.

We heard some live music being played and entered a courtyard which was decked out with seats and tables and had a band playing indoors beside a small bar. We joined the twenty odd customers that were drinking there and ordered a couple Sangsom rum and cokes. This was the first time we’d stopped in hours, and I felt like I was in a crooked house as I admired the angles of Everything around me. We sat and drank for an hour, settling ourselves down and pointing out the strange things we’d spot in our surroundings as the musicians played covers of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, Dire Straits and various other classics. We agreed on the need for some weed, so finished up our cups and set off towards the Ting Tong. As we approached we found Tek and Tutu who greeted us with love and we explained how we’d lost them that afternoon. We bought a bucket of Sangsom and coke with our last remaining 200 baht and retreated to the back room to sit on some orange sofas and smoke. We spoke to a fifty-something year old Thai guy called Tom about our night, our trip, his life in Pai etc, and then showed him a photo of our portrait from earlier. “I don’t think this guy knows how to draw” was his reply. Fuckin’ ay, Tom, fuckin’ ay. We got chatting to the English barmaid whose name was Sofi, and she said she’d let us know about where to stay in Ko Phangan. Sarah added her on Facebook and it turned out that she went to school with Victoria, Sarah’s best friend at work. It’s a small world after all, but you already knew that. I laid out front, by the fire, in a stoned haze as tiredness crept over me and I witnessed the waning moon being passed by clouds, she looked beautiful. She always does. We wished the guys goodnight, then made our way back to our ant farm to lay beside each other, laughing at the events of the evening, and taking frequent looks back at our superb drawing, which we planned to frame upon our return. As Ice Cube would say, ‘Today was a good day’.

Misty Moon

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 23: Pai in the sky

My usual habit of waking up and hurriedly packing occurred once again, Sarah had sensibly packed the night before but my shit, as always, was spread out around the four corners of the room. The minivan which was taking us to Pai arrived promptly at 10am, got us first, then spent nigh on an hour picking up its other passengers. You win some, you lose some, we lost this one. After all the milling around we hit the winding roads towards Pai. Apparently there are over seven hundred twists and turns on the three and a half hour drive, but I was busy doing my homework whilst we winded up and around the mountain roads, so I didn’t notice much else. We stopped off half way and sat amongst some sunflowers, sharing a friend-maker with two Irish guys called Gerry and Philly who had been to Pai already and loved it so much that they were heading back. My friends Kat and Rachael were also planning to do that, which says a lot about the place. We arrived and checked out a hotel called Blue Lagoon which was meant to be pretty nice and have a swimming pool, which is useful in places where there’s no beach nearby, and checked in for the reasonable price of 400 baht. We realised soon after that the place was in major need of upheaval. The pool was really dirty and filled with dead bugs, there was only one sun lounger, a few broken chairs, a rusted, unusable exercise machine and a busted up pool table on offer to what few guests remained in this dilapidated dwelling. Regardless, I did a few lengths making sure my mouth stayed closed, as I’d already eaten lunch, then lay with Sarah catching the last rays as they dropped behind our building, and watching the highlights of Arsenal’s match the previous day. It was a strange, entertaining game which excited and annoyed me in one fell swoop. Typical Arsenal, conceeding a load of goals but still scoring more. Not only was our hotel in need of some drastic T.L.C, it had absolutely no vibe or character to it at all, it was the hotel equivalent of a bookish fifty year old that got left by their lover twenty years back and didn’t have the heart or confidence to try again. We decided to leave the next morning. We cleaned up, then went off to explore the town. The first thing I saw was a sign outside which read ‘Hotel for sale’, which I hadn’t originally noticed when lugging my luggage in the sweltering heat of the mid-afternoon. It all made sense after that. We checked out the main square, and walked along a rickety old bamboo bridge and back as the sun was lowering in the sky, then went off for an early steak dinner. I’d heard this town was laid back and stoner friendly, so we thought we’d test the water by smoking an appetizer at our table in the restaurant’s front garden. Nobody seemed to care or notice. Nice…nice.

A river runs through it
Our next stop was a happy hour bucket of Mai Tai at a small bar called Almost Famous, after I’d heard them playing ‘Who loves the Sun’ by The Velvet Underground as we were walking by. Whilst drinking from our bucket I noticed that one of their signs said ‘Est. 1978’ underneath the bar’s name, and another said ‘Est 1987’. It made me laugh, because both of those dates were probably made up anyway and the place was more likely only a few years old. As we were leaving they played ‘Nas is like’ by the man himself, so I insisted we stay until it finished. Pretty good work for entrance and exit music in the film of my life. As recommended by Kat and Rachael, the sisters I’d befriended in Laos, we sought out a bar called Ting Tong, which apparently means ‘crazy’ in Thai, and took a seat in front of a fire that was burning out front with chairs and cushions all around. There was a mirror which had ‘Are you Ting Tong?’ written above it, and a sign in a tree which read ‘Welcome to Pai’. There was a good energy in this place, and some cool looking Thai guys working there. I started chatting to them and it turned out that they were Tek and Tutu, the two guys who the girls had told me to find. I passed on their messages of love to the guys, had a few drinks with my lady and found a book called Steppenwolf by Hermann Hesse, which somebody had left there. Sarah said it was a great read, and as I wasn’t really enjoying the ‘Gig!’ book by Simon Armitage, which I’d been given for my birthday, so I asked the guys who it belonged to and they said that they didn’t read, and I could have it. As we left we made plans to spend the following day with them, and Tutu gave us a paper lantern to send into the skies with a wish. We decided to save it for the following evening as we’d been planning to make it special one, then turned in for the night at our neglected step-child of a hotel. I could hear the walls weeping after another night with no supper, so I gave them a stroke and said that I loved them, before switching the light and ending my night.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 22: The Free-flyin' Troubadour

I awoke to a text message from my home boy, Sav, telling me that Arsenal had beaten Reading away from home in the Capital One Cup, 5-7 after extra time, and that we were 4-0 down at one point. Part of me was glad that we won, but shipping five goals to Reading hardly screams out ‘Title Contenders’ to me, so I was a little bit annoyed at the same time. We grabbed a couple croissants from the restaurant and got into an awaiting mini-van, which had four Canadian twenty something guys already seated at the back. We said good morning, then started our adventure of the day with a one hour drive up a mountain, and into a rainforest where we’d be spending the day zip-lining. The company we’d chosen was called Jungle Flight and our guide introduced himself by saying “Hello, I’m Singha, I’m crazy” and that was it, we were strapped into our harnesses and taken off to our first zip line. The forest was full of enormous trees that were one hundred feet high and centuries old, which they had somehow managed to rig with thick wires and platforms to stand on in-between each potential death spot. We had clips on both our chest and back, which would be used individually and one hanging from our hip which would always be attached to a safety wire of some sort so there was minimal chance of taking a plunge. I was surprised at how safe and well put together it all seemed to be, until I saw how Singha was pushing people off of the platform, then I had my doubts about survival. Nevertheless, I’d bought the ticket, now I had to take the ride. My front clip was attached, as was my hip clip to the second line, just in case, and I took a leap of faith off of the platform, dropping a few feet then whizzing across to the next platform. Now things could only get easier, I thought, unfortunately that wasn’t the case, as after a couple more zips from tree to tree it started raining. Hard.
The rainforest was living up to its name as buckets full of cold water lashed down upon us, soaking the platforms and making the terrain infinitely more treacherous. Then we came to a platform with no line, and before I could ask, Singha pushed a small Chinese girl off the side, then stepped on a rope which was whizzing by just in time to stop her from splattering onto the platform below. He did the rest of their group the same way, then it was just Sarah, the Canadians and I left, and Sarah was first in line. She stepped up gallantly, and he attached the clip to her back instead of the front like everyone else, she begged him not to but with a shove and a scream she shot down safely. Usually if a guy was to push your lover thirty feet down from a tree you’d swing at him without hesitation, but instead I just laughed. My laugh, however was short lived as I was next in line, and beg as I might, I too had nothing to hold onto as I was clipped to my back and dropped like ecstasy at an acid house rave. It was terrifying, so much worse than the zip-lines where you got to fly, this was just straight falling with only a thin, white rope and a tattered, white plimsoll to stop your body being pulverized below. Still, the crazy bastard had his shit together, and the funny Canadians followed, all screaming “STONEY” as they plummeted. By this point we might as well have been seasoned professionals, the fear decreased dramatically and the buzz and excitement heightened with every line, which were increasing in length as we progressed through the now sunny forest.

We reached the mid-way point well in need of a break, so we stopped with the group to rest and sat eating these small, dry cakes with the most minimal, pointless swirl of icing sugar on top of each of them, which amused us probably more than it should have. It was like the baker only had enough for one cake but decided to split it between fifty instead. Yum. We washed it down with some warm water, then hiked off in front of the other groups and guides, across a rickety old rope bridge and through more forestry for five minutes. One of the other guides came running past us and told us to wait, then a second rushed by, then a third. By the time the fourth arrived, we asked what was happening, and he replied “Snake”. I could see the commotion twenty metres ahead, culminating in one of the guys striking five or six times downwards with a huge piece of bamboo. Each hit rang out, like bullets echoing through the trees. We moved forwards to see a giant, blue-ish snake which was nearly three metres long and headless, trapped between two sticks. These guys definitely don’t fuck about. We all said we were lucky that we didn’t reach it first, as we quite easily could’ve. Sarah asked how I’d have reacted and I told her that I personally would’ve strangled the fucker and made myself a new belt or two, but I’m obviously more conventional with my techniques than these raggo Thai guys.

Tonight's dinner for these happy snake charmers.
By the end of the route we’d done more lines than Kate Moss at a Rimmel Christmas party, thirty-two in total, and the last couple were the best. One of them was one hundred and sixty metres long, the other was three hundred. Sick. The view across the forest was amazing as I practiced my Superman pose, shooting along at sixty miles an hour. Unfortunately, due to the existence of gravity, what goes up must come down, and we still had fifty feet of tree between us and the end, so once again Singha lined us up, clipped our backs and bid us farewell. I screamed as I headed down first, being stopped with enough impact to nearly lose a nut, but luckily I checked as I made the ground, and the world had not been robbed of my potential future offspring. Next my lady fell, more or less into my loving arms, and we looked up to see a sign which said ‘Happy Ending’. Unfortunately, this didn’t mean our guides were going to masturbate us to relieve the stress of the day, but we did get a cheesy picture in front of it, before being taken for lunch, which was part of the package.

We both managed to squeeze in a power nap on the drive back to Chiang Mai, then spent the next few hours by the pool, where Sarah slept and I wrote. We returned to our room to become one, then split again for more sleepy Sarah time, whilst I continued to catch up with this beautiful albatross which I’ve carrying around my tired neck. Another two hours passed before I shook the dreams from Sarah’s hair and we showered and shot out of our room, and down towards a place called The Saloon, which we’d read about in the travellers bible and wanted to try out. It was decked out like the Wild West, except all the tables had writing in black marker pen all over them, and the menu consisted of some all-time American greats aka deliciously fattening, fried shit. I ordered chicken fried steak with mash potatoes, bread and white gravy, with a side of crispy onion rings and mozzarella dippers to share with Sarah, who had a burger with some of the tastiest meat I’d had in a long while. It was sickeningly superb. Sarah took a pen and wrote ‘Sarah + Dion’, and drew a heart around it, then for the second time on this trip, I wrote ‘The Freewheelin’ Troubadour loves YOU!’.  We gladly paid our bill and left feeling more satisfied than a nymphomaniac at a swinger’s party.

There was only one thing that could top off this day, a massage. After twenty-two days, thousands of miles and a number of missed opportunities, it was finally time to get soothed by some healing hands. We made our way down through the red light area and back towards our hotel. It was Halloween, and although there wasn’t much happening a few of the girls and lady boys had spooked themselves up a bit for the occasion.  In India, I would always walk ahead of Sarah to fend off leering men with their eyes on my lady, but after being grabbed up quite heavy-handedly by what I assume was a really strong woman giving me the ‘handsome man’ spiel, we swapped roles, and I made her walk ahead to stop them from intimidating me with their overly forceful come-ons. We reached a massage parlour near our place and I spent the next hour being fondled by a small Thai guy who was camper than a row of tents. The oil massage was amazing as I lay fully naked, being cracked into place, but I could’ve sworn the muscles around my bum and balls would have been alright had they been missed. Either way, they weren’t, and I left feeling more liberal and looser than I had in a while. All oiled up like St Tropez swimsuit models; we slid across the street to our beds, and drifted off on an oil slick that wasn’t caused by BP’s gross mishandling of their rigs.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 21: When nature calls, answer your phone. It might be important.

We jumped on the back of the truck at 8.30am and said good morning to an American couple, three guys from Belgium and an older guy from Australia, then drove off to collect an Englishman who was born in Hong Kong and a girl from Argentina, who immediately said “I think I’m going to regret this, I don’t even want to go” as she got on and sat beside me. “That’s the spirit” I replied. We drove about an hour and twenty minutes away from Chiang Mai to the Mae Tang area and hopped off in a sandy little spot with a few huts dotted around and some stairs which led to a platform. We swapped cameras with the other couple, Dawn and Brian, in order to snap a few shots of each other from afar, then climbed on top of the thick skinned jumbo I named Dumbo. He was big and beautiful, like a fat girl with a nice smile, and his skin had course strands of hair sticking out, like a vegan chick’s armpit. I stroked his hairy head and stuck a banana in his trunk which he rolled around and into his mouth. There was a naughty little one that kept trying to nab all of our small, sweet bananas, we gave him a couple but had to save some, teaching the young kid the lesson of sharing. The elephants were all pretty disobedient, even with guides there to lead them, if they fancied stopping off for a munch on a few bushes, there was no way some feeble little humans were going to stop them. They weren’t whipping them or mistreating them, which we were glad to see, and we were happy to wait whilst they did their thing. We rode down and along a river valley where Dumbo had a drink and a few blasts of water out of his long schnoz, then hung out for five minutes with his mate and the little big nipper, before going around and back up the hill that had brought us there. We struggled to get snaps of Dawn and Louis as we were behind them and a few others, but they got some good ones of us, and we also bought one for 100 baht which was encased in a frame made out of elephant dung. Recycle, save the environment, have a house that stinks like shit. Sounds like most East London house-shares anyway, may as well take it to the next level, I thought as I handed the little old woman my crumpled cash.

Our group was whisked off on another twenty minute drive, but after that bonding session everybody seemed a lot more talkative and awake than before. We had lunch of egg fried rice, followed by some chopped pineapple and watermelon, then set off on an hour-long hike, hopping rocks and climbing gradually up a mountainside, until we finally reached a beautiful, cascading waterfall. I pulled a doobie brother from my box of tricks, and had a few number one hits, then pulled my Doors vest from off my back and dove into the blue pool of fresh water. The waterfall wasn’t as powerful as the last one, which was too powerful. With this one, although strong enough to blast me back, I was able to stand my ground with it a bit more, lashing blows into its mouth as it spat down at me, taking it on until I became tired, at which point we made friends and I laid next to it for a while, enjoying its onslaught of love. After half an hour swimming and splashing around with Sarah, we started heading back towards the van. Unfortunately for our gang, we were caught behind a group of Japanese tourists who clearly weren’t up for or informed about the hike. Most of the girls were wearing heels of various heights and screaming like Godzilla was attacking Tokyo again, every time they had to walk on uneven ground or skip a stepping stone. It was kind of funny for the first ten minutes, then it just became excruciating. Luckily Mikey, our guide, also got tired of the snail’s pace, and arranged with their guide for us to overtake them. He led some of us around them, and somehow I ended up crossing on a narrow log, all sweaty and stoned, feeling like I was tightrope walking with no prior warning. I noticed the older guy wasn’t on the same death trap as I was, so I jumped down the ten foot drop at a suitable point before I had the misfortune of falling like a fool. After around forty-five minutes trekking through the heat we made it back to our truck, which then drove us to a spot on the Mae Wang River where two inflatable yellow rafts were waiting. We split into two groups and started paddling down, through a few spots which you’d struggle to call grade one white water, but we had a few big splashes and drops on our thirty minute journey, so I was happy with that for a first try, although I’d quite like to try out some grade fives, but I’d have to do that without Sarah as she is scared of the water and doesn’t like being splashed in the face. I like to joke that she has a really dirty face because of this, but that is untrue, it is simply beautiful.

Don't go chasing waterfalls...walking there is less tiring.

We were promised a ride on a bamboo raft for the last part of our journey down river, and were expecting a venetian gondola type experience, so we laughed when Mikey said it was time for the bamboo submarine, however, he was serious. They loaded all twelve of us onto one raft, which completely submerged it and we sat for the next fifteen minutes in the murky, brown water which had more bugs than a Windows PC. It was far from peaceful or romantic, but it was pretty funny nonetheless. We got back to where the van was parked and Mikey told me to get on the roof. I asked why, and he said “for fun”, he seemed intent on getting me up there, so I didn’t argue. All I’d have needed was a straight road and ‘Surfin’ USA’ blasting from the stereo and I’d have been able to perfect some flips like Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf, but instead I laid back on the roof, drying off whilst numerous bumps and bends were navigated by the driver below, with various leafs and branches brushing over me every now and then. Ten minutes of roof rack on back brought me to the Shan village, and I jumped down to re-join the group. We had a little look around as the locals tried to peddle their wares, then made our way back for the hour and a half drive back to Chiang Mai. After dropping everybody else back to their hotels we were the last to get home, had a quick shower then went for an all you can eat sushi, which I demolished and Sarah despised. There was a nearby night market, and I managed to find myself a shirt to wear to the wedding that we’d be attending in Phuket, then we headed to a bar named Bo Bo Ba Ba which had the Rolling Stones lips and tongue symbol as its logo. We’d recalled it from passing the previous evening, and told the others from our trek that we’d be going there for drinks if they wanted to join us. Maria the Argentinian girl was already there with some Dutch friends she’d made at her hostel, and an hour later the Belgian guys arrived. We sank a few beers and shot some pool, and then headed back to the Top North to hit up a Buzz Lightyear before shooting off to infinity, and beyond.

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 20: Subconscious Terrorism

I was driving on a busy city motorway in the not too distant future when all of a sudden a happening occurred. The view of my front windscreen suddenly switched with the rear view, so I could only see what was behind me, not in front. After a few seconds of panicking I felt the impact, my car crashing into another and flipping over. I managed to pull myself out of the wreckage with blood pumping from my badly sliced foot. I phoned my best friend Sav to come and help me, but he was chatting to our old friend Dimitri about Arsenal’s recent poor form, so I had to wait for him. It turned out the car I smashed into was a futuristic police car and the officer was also injured. We were taken to a metallic shell of a room, in what looked to be a surgery, and my foot was stitched up hastily by an automatic needle and thread. A towering, powerful figure entered the room and stood over me as I sat tending to my wounds. He looked like the illusionist Derren Brown, but on a mega dose of steroids and sporting a shaved head. He warned me that what I had endured in the car was just a dummy run for what would be the largest terrorist attack on this future world, and it would soon happen to all the cars at once, causing carnage everywhere. He told me to say no more to the police, or I would suffer his wrath. I was unsure what I could do in order to stop this terrible attack, and he could read my mind, and knew that I was wondering how to save the world. He bought out the police woman, who had a large metal device pinned into her arm and was crying. He looked me in the eye with an evil stare, then as I looked at the police woman the device on her arm aimed at her head and blasted needle after needle into her skull, making a complete mess of her face and killing her almost instantly. I awoke in a cold sweat, scared shitless, buried my head into the soundly sleeping Sarah, thinking I may still be in trouble and then she awoke and calmed me down as I explained what was happening in the other world.

It was only 7.30am, but I had too much on my mind to go back to sleep so I laid there for an hour whilst Sarah snoozed and my tummy turned. I could hear the downstairs restaurant workers clattering around and I could smell the food, so when Sarah came to again and noticed I was still awake she said we could go and get something to eat. It was an all you can eat buffet, so I stuffed my face with an odd array of different dishes, then we returned to our bed where I soon passed out into a food coma. At around 1.30pm, we both awoke and I finally felt rested enough to start my day. We went down to the pool which was empty except for one guy who was with a Thai girl. After a while sunbathing we had a swim, and whilst in the pool I saw the guy smoking what looked to be a bifter. The way he was toking it made me think that it must be, so I went over and asked him if it was weed. He said it wasn’t, but that he did smoke it, so I asked if he could get us some, which he confirmed he could. He said his name was Richard, he was a thirty-something guy from Holland, although he looked more Spanish then Dutch, who had been in Chiang Mai for a few months. He said he could get us a portion for 1000 baht, so I said that’d be great, and he said he’d sort it in a few hours after he’d had ‘a shower, a massage and perhaps some sex’, looking towards the Thai girl who didn’t seem to notice his comment.

By 5pm the sun was getting low, and Richard handed me a cigarette packet that seemed empty as we were heading upstairs to our room. When I got up there I opened it to find a shy amount of compressed weed, probably weighing about a gram and a half. I took it back down to the pool and said that although I appreciate the favour, there was no way that was worth £20. He said that he had bought it for me, so there was nothing he could do. I showed him how much was there and he agreed it wasn’t a great amount, and said he’d try and speak to the guy and get us a bit more. Now the chances are that he probably only paid half of the money I gave him, if that, for this measly bit of turf, but we had to bite the bullet and hope to find a better hook-up in future. I’d been ploughing through cheap cigarettes in the absence of weed, but Sarah doesn’t smoke them, so she was happy to finally have something she could pollute her lungs with. We showered then skinned up, smoking only half before both feeling happily high, then immediately going to complete stage two in the order of stoner living. Eat. We shared a few Thai dishes at the relatively swanky Hotel M, then went and booked an adventure trek for the following day. We strolled the streets looking for a decent bar, stopping at a place called Inter Bar, where there was a covers band churning out classic rock hits with a Thai guy singing. They were pretty tight musically, but the vocals killed it. The singer, a term I use loosely, was hilariously tone deaf and it sounded extremely similar to when the South Park guys do comical Asian impressions. Sarah and I were in fits of giggles as they did ‘Living on a Prayer’, ‘Smoke on the Water’, ‘Sweet Child of Mine’ and even Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take me out’, to muted applause from the patrons of the place. After a couple of drinks, the band had finished and almost immediately another band started, you can’t beat that kind of efficiency, however they sounded worse that the guys before them so we decided to make like a rubber ball, and bounce.

We grabbed a bottle of water and some crisps from one of the ten million 7 Eleven’s that occupied the one mile radius, then headed home for a smoke on our balcony. There was a French girl sitting opposite us, having a Skype chat in her native tongue, so I pretended to Sarah that we were watching the French Big Brother on TV and that the girl was in the diary room complaining. I made up translations of everything she said, to make sense of my suggestion and we sat there laughing until the scented candle was burnt out. We returned to our chamber and laid silently in the darkness, awaiting the return of light. Goodnight.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 19: Everything in its right place.

I awoke with my arms around my lover, she said I had been sleeping like that all night, I said I was just making up for lost time. We snoozed for a few minutes then ambled downstairs at 9.30am for our complimentary breakfast of fried egg, frankfurter, tea and toast. We packed our bags, leaving them with the front desk when we checked out and headed off in a tuk-tuk to the weekend market at Chatuchak Park which I’d visited a fortnight previously. Due to the early hour the market wasn’t as busy as the last time I’d been, but it was just as sweaty as I remembered it, squeezing down the narrow isles filled with various goods. We both grew tired after two hours or so of passing pretty much the same stuff in different locations, but left with a few bags each. We took a taxi back to Sarasinee Mansions to collect our bags and change, then hailed another to take us to Don Mueng airport for a domestic flight to Chiang Mai. An hour later our plane touched down on the northern grounds of Thailand, and we followed the recommendation of some girl I’d chatted to in Phnom Penh, asking the taxi booker to take us to the Top North. She said there was both a hotel and guesthouse by that name, so I asked which had a pool and she said it was the hotel. The driver dropped us there, and rode off with our fare before we could discover that this place was way beyond our price range, and that the guest house also had a pool. My back was killing as I lugged my heavy backpack back and forth up the road numerous times trying to find exactly where this place was, spitting angry venom at the annoyance the taxi lady had caused us, and wondering why I’d paid for the pleasure of breaking my back walking around. Sarah kept her cool, asked somebody on the street and got directions for us to follow. Five minutes later, we were there. I threw my bag down, along with 300 baht, and went up to our room. We had a decent sized bed, our own bathroom and a small balcony with a view of another guest house ten metres away. It was perfect for what we needed.

Multi-talented, some might say, but his musicianship left a lot to be desired.
Rachael and Kat had spoken highly of the Sunday market and it’s variety of street food, so I’d planned our flights to bring us here in time to go out and sample the grub and goods on offer. We hit the strip by 8pm and browsed the stalls selling handicrafts and clothing, then grabbed some dinner. I opted for a decent selection of freshly made sushi rolls, which were all priced between 5 and 10 baht each, knocked them back in record timing, then returned for the same again, whilst Sarah sat at a plastic garden table behind the stalls, eating some delicious pork shoulder and rice. I concurred that the food there was excellent, feeling the sushi buzz as we strolled around picking up nice little bits and pieces at decent prices. I was digging Chiang Mai, it’s a fairly big city, but a completely different vibe to Bangkok, more laid back, not so intensely polluted by noise, smog and dirt. We followed the crowds down Walking street, and were faced with even more market stalls. It started getting a bit too much for me, I get stressed when unable to freely move through crowds and it was starting to feel like a festival for foreign tourists all wandering around aimlessly with no sense of direction or social awareness. We ducked down a quiet side street to avoid the crowds and made our way quickly back to the main street where the market started. We stopped into a place called John’s Bar to have our first drink together. Sarah opted for a large bottle of Chang, a local beer that is 6.4% alcohol, and I went for a Mai Tai, because I was tired of drinking beer, which I don’t even like, except for Beer Lao, which for some reason I find excellent. It made for a funny photograph of us with our first drinks, me looking like a dandy whilst Sarah sipped her man-sized bottle happily. They were showing the Liverpool vs Everton derby, so we sat watching that, rooting for Everton who are by far the superior team in my opinion. It was stuck at 2-2 for most of the second half, until the dying seconds when Liverpool banged one in. The scousers there all cheered, but their celebrations were short lived as the goal was ruled offside. I laughed and we left. We returned to the Top North hopped onto our bed and back into each other’s arms, where we would stay until the roosters started crowing again.
His and Hers beverages.

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 18: The Return of the red-eye

My alarm rang at 11.30am and I woke up dead. I rolled off of my lower bunk and promptly expelled a pint or two’s worth of alcoholic orange bile and noodles, that had still been doing its devilish work on my insides as I slept, into the blurry toilet bowl. After over two weeks without her, I was finally going to be reunited with my Sarah, and I felt both drunk and hung-over at the same time. Brilliant. I staggered around slowly packing, having breaks every minute to sit on the edge of my bed and hold my weary head, before making my way downstairs. Randy and Eric were sitting with two girls from America whom he’d told me about the night before. He’d been hoping to hook up with one of them, but he put her on the back-burner and she’d ended up copping off with some European guy or another, much to his annoyance. It worked out well for me though, as we had a great time together, but I’m sure he’d rather have had a cheeky bang instead of a six man dance-off, and who could blame him. Regardless, we sat around in a state of zombification questioning how we ended up like this. Randy’s eyes were redder than a prostitute’s lipstick and my tummy was turning like a washing machine on its final spin. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything on the menu, so opted for a Fanta which I slowly sipped through a straw, then returned to the toilet to puke some more. I had enough weed for two more Boom-Bats so I rolled them up and sparked up the first. Weed is funny like that, whatever your ailment, I swear a few hits on a James Blunt and you’ll be feeling beautiful, it’s true.

I joined Randy and the girls for a swim in the dirt and pube infested pool, then showered and got ready for my flight, said my goodbyes and met Pauli, who was waiting outside for me. I sparked up numero dos, and floated towards the airport in my space-face-ship. By the time I’d checked in I was in dire need of food, so I stopped into some nearby joint for some fried squid and garlic bread, which I swallowed whole, then made a dash for the plane. It was only a one hour flight which I spent pouring Pringles and water down my throat at an alarming speed, trying to fix my battered bod’ as excitement reached boiling point. Not long now.

I made it back to Bangkok feeling a lot better than I had done earlier, hopped on bus 150 towards the Sarasinee Mansions where I had booked us a junior suite, then spent twenty minutes lugging my bag up and down the streets until I found it. The little cash that I had was all but spent, and Sarah was bringing me some more, so even though I’d paid for our room entirely upfront, the little old woman on reception wouldn’t give me our room key without a 500 baht deposit which I didn’t have. I was too tired to argue. I waited in the lobby for about an hour before leaving my bag there and making my way back to the Saphan Kwai train station to find Sarah, who had now landed and was on her way to meet me. I danced around the platform listening to ‘Baby it’s you’ and ‘Do you want to know a secret’ by The Beatles repeatedly, singing along and staring out across the barrier whenever a train arrived. After about half an hour, I looked up to see her, my heart automatically kicked in, pumping harder than it had done in weeks, the wait was over, my best friend and lover was finally here. We kissed immediately as she came through the gate, gripping each other tightly as if we were in the midst of a tornado and didn’t want to risk being separated again. It felt magnificent. At long last, we were home, in each other’s arms once again. We hurried back to our hotel, finally got our key then headed upstairs. After a quick shower we fell straight into bed, our energies combining passionately, dancing through each other's souls for what seemed like an eternity in heaven. I held her tiny body close to mine, she laid her head on my chest, Everything was right in the world once more.

Both drained and feeling slightly peckish, we hit the street to search for supper, but neither of us really fancied anything. We saw a sign which said Tesco Lotus, so we decided to grab a few bits from our favoured supermarket back home. I didn’t get any Clubcard points and they never gave us a Tesco carrier bag, it was just plain white. What a jip. We spent the rest of the evening catching up, exchanging small gifts and getting used to being with each other again. As great as it felt to be reunited, we both agreed that something seemed odd, I assumed that it would just take a few days to get ourselves in-sync again, but after eighteen days apart I was more than happy to put the work in. As my eyes finally flickered to a close, the butterflies in my tummy rose, I had my best friend back, and the whole world was our oyster card.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 17: Death and Disco


I showered the sleep from my tired eyes and jumped into Pauli’s tuk-tuk which was waiting for me outside. He whisked me off to my first stop, the Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum, aka S-21, a former school turned prison under the ruling of the barbaric Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979. As I went to go in I was approached by a guy whose face looked like it had been melted with acid, it was a featureless puddle of muddied orange skin, swirled together in scars which looked like they’d still cause him great pain to this day. His eyes were filled with agony as he gestured towards me with his cap in hand. I dropped a few bills in it and moved along quickly. This was all the introduction I needed to a day in which vast quantities of both pain and suffering were on the menu. I walked into building A, the first floor had ten rooms, each with a rusted iron bed in the middle, some sort of container for excrement, and an array of chains or bars, differing slightly in each. These were formerly used for jailing, interrogating and torturing prisoners who were once high officials. The idea behind this genocide was to eradicate all of the educated Cambodian civilians and turn their nation into one of agriculture and submission, with no intelligent people left to lead the population away from slavery. Apparently even the slight sighted would be killed for wearing spectacles, even though we all know that despite that old stereotype, having a stigmatism is no sign of intelligence. That goes to show both the stupidity of these murderers, and their utter disregard for human life. Each room would only feature one picture, that of the decomposed body which was found there when the area was reclaimed by the resistance. They were in such bad states after being left there to rot that they were unidentifiable when discovered.

Faces or torment
The second and third floors were both split into five large rooms, with a few beds in each and a blackboard still on the wall. These were used for the same purpose as downstairs, except large groups would be gathered here. There was a sign on the bed of this former classroom which read ‘Do Not Touch’. I followed my urge and placed my hand on the frame, instantly witnessing the screams of the death and torture of hundreds of people flash through my mind in that split second, before pulling my hand away. Should’ve done what I was told. It’s not the first time I’ve thought that.

Building B was filled with photographs of the victims, looking under fed and desperately miserable at the fate they had been dealt. None of them deserved this, but like many places, even to this day, thousands of people die for no need due to the greed of their leaders. Building C comprised entirely of very simply built cells, cement and brick shoddily thrown together to create these claustrophobic sections which measured no more than three and a half feet across and had chains cemented at the ends to shackle the prisoners. You could imagine the mass wailing of forty chained people who were slowly dying, away from their families and loved ones. It was breathtakingly grim.

Building D was a whole different kettle of fish altogether, it was now used to display various pieces of artwork from local school children, all of which portrayed a future much brighter than the past that they have been born out of. My favourite piece was a painting which depicted an hour glass with missiles, grenades and barbed wire in the top half, filtering down into water with a single leaf growing out of it. In the background a young child prayed. It was titled ‘A sandglass to the future’. Let’s hope so.

To put this into perspective, approximately a quarter of the population were murdered during this period, which basically means you would be hard pushed to find somebody over the age of 35 that hadn’t lost either a friend or family member under the ruling of this barbaric regime. The youngsters I’ve met have all seemed upbeat, positive and generally happy at face value, however when you look into the eyes of the elders you often get the feeling that there is a lot of darkness behind their weathered smiles, and it is something that constantly made my heart hurt during my stay.

I left and waited for Pauli who was late to pick me up, but I ignored the advances of some other Tony that was trying to steal me away, and after ten minutes, he turned up to take me to the killing fields. On the way there, he pulled over at a shooting range and gestured for me to go inside. I am of the thinking that no human being should ever be allowed to own a gun, especially when you factor in all the drugs, alcohol, aggression and greed that play a part in our day to day lives. However, I played a lot of video games in my younger years, ranging from Goldeneye, to Call of Duty, to Grand Theft Auto, in which I must’ve shot thousands upon thousands of fake bullets, but never in the real world (unless spud guns count). Curiosity had me, and the chance to try out an AK47 saw me pulling $40 from my wallet to cover the cost of this new story in my quest for YES! I realised it was a strange mid-point during my day seeing the exact reason why guns and armies shouldn’t exist, but fuck it, I was there, I had a full clip and a target thirty feet infront of me. I let off some single shots, feeling the force of each bullet kick back against my shoulder, then switched it onto automatic and sprayed my final bullets in a matter of seconds. The guy filming asked me how it was, to which I replied “Fun. Now I never want to shoot another gun again”. The power I feel when coming off stage after doing a spoken word set to a silent room, filled with ears that hear and then cheer, surpasses that of pulling a trigger one-hundred times over. True power comes with love and is given gladly. It cannot be stolen, nor gained through fear via the barrel of a gun. The most truly powerful people throughout history have been those that share knowledge and enlighten the masses with peace, and they remain revered continuously, with people still quoting their thoughts and theories freely, because it makes sense to real life, and makes that life more bearable. Those historical characters that have used force, despite periods of power, always end up condemned for their actions, their entire existence left to fester and stink in the cess pools of time. In a world that’s constantly changing, only one of these paths is worthwhile, even if you do enjoy a spell and the top, sooner or later you will die, and then all that is left behind is the memories you instil in others. Obviously, as we all know, history is often manipulated, but even if you do manage to polish a turd it will still stink like shit.

True power lies in peace
I arrived at The Killing Fields and it was beautiful, from a distance it was just a blossoming landscape in a rural area of Phnom Penh, but when the headphones were turned on and the tour began it soon became ugly and sad. I was led around by numbered signs, walking from spot to spot and sitting to listen to the atrocities which took place. Even with the grass and greenery growing all around you could still see the signs of past terror on the ground, where bone fragments and items of clothing were scattered around, semi buried with the soil but protruding enough to make you aware that they were there. This was the spot where the prisoners from S-21 were brought to be killed off like diseased cattle, in the most efficient and cheapest ways possible. Many skulls found were cracked from blows with axes and hoes, headless skeletons were grouped in mass graves, hundreds at a time, and blood stains still remain on the floor as throats cut with jagged saw-like leaves from trees would have dropped victims to their knees. Death was everywhere. The worst point for me was the killing tree, where soldiers would take the children of the prisoners by the legs, swinging them head first into it to kill or badly injure them, then tossing them into a nearby pit, one by one. The most precious possession of each parent, left as wasted scraps of worthless life. It’s unthinkable to us uninformed westerners, but whilst we were dancing to the early sounds of disco, this was happening on the other side of the globe.
The Killing Tree
The tour concluded at a building which was erected in more recent years to commemorate those lost, and it held many of their recovered remains. On each tier sat hundreds of skulls, assorted bones, and the clothes of the victims. As shocking a sight as it sounds, I was so numb by this point that it didn’t really faze me, the tears had been and gone, and like the beautiful people of Cambodia, I was moving on.
Just as the body is destined to perish, the spirit will never die...

I arrived back at my hostel, threw twelve bucks at Pauli and thanked him, then arranged for him to take me to the airport the next day. I dove into the pool, then swam into the evening, sitting and writing a while whilst the staff set up for a pool party that they were hosting. The manager, an American guy named Eric, told me it was the biggest night in Phnom Penh and would be pumping. I was sceptical to say the least. What with the events of my day, I wasn’t in the mood to party at all, I just wanted to catch up with some work and get a good sleep so I was well prepared for the arrival of my sweetheart the following evening. Then the music started. Hip hop and funk classics were shaking the walls of my room as I wrote, and after an hour I gave up, showered, then went downstairs. There was one person staying there who I’d met briefly in Vang Vieng. Her name was Hannah and she was friends with the other Dion I’d met. She was playing pool with some other early arrivals, so I went and befriended them and stuck my name on the board to play. Over the course of the next hour the place turned from the equivalent of a sedated school disco into a wild party at the playboy mansion. By the time the main DJ, some guy from San Francisco, got spinning it was popping off big time, there must have been about two hundred party people in the place, off their face, dancing wildly, diving fully clothed into the pool, or simply playing pool with me and our new gang. I ended up playing all night, on and off, it was not like I had friends to dance with, nor the need to try and pick up some skirt, so pool seemed the best bet to escape boredom. It was pretty great fun to be fair, bantering and teaming up with both locals and fellow travellers, chatting and getting progressively more inebriated as time went by. Before I knew it, the music was over, and I spent a while hanging with my two remaining pals, Denny from Holland, and Simone from Italy. When one of the locals asked us out for more drinks, we all declined, but something inside felt wrong, so after a few seconds discussion, we all changed our minds. I got chatting to Randy, a fellow Freewheeler from Australia who worked at the hostel and convinced him to show me what Phnom Penh was all about. Whilst devising a plan I got chatting to one of the other managers, a fifty-something Liverpuddlian wide-boy by the name of Anthony, who wouldn’t stop going on about how ‘Cambodia rocks’. I challenged him to show us why, and we headed out with a few of his young staff, Nob, Tona and Randy, along with Denny and Simone.

I had about $10 on me, and the rest of us had the same or less, but it didn’t matter because Anthony was on a big boy buzz and said he’d get the drinks in. “Watch and learn” he exclaimed, as we entered his chosen destination, The Rose Garden, a bar full of working girls and very few guys. I watched from close distance, sipping my free beer, as Anthony was seemingly rejected by every prostitute in the place. It was astonishing. They treated him like his breath smelt of death and they were all rich. It was unimaginable in this kind of environment, or so I’d have thought until seeing it for myself. The rest of us weren’t digging it at all. We wanted to dance, so we managed to drag the money man away from the uninterested brasses and hopped into a tuk-tuk, which took us to a club called Pontoon. This place was kicking, Kanye blasting out from the speakers as we bowled in, ready to move. Anthony got me another drink, followed me to the dance-floor, and then vanished almost immediately. Perhaps the less obvious hookers there had yet to bear witness to whatever it was that soured the mouths of the girls in the last joint. Regardless, we remaining lads all got bopping, shaking down the dance floor as the DJ played an array of genres with no coherency from track to track, the tunes were all decent though and no one seemed to mind. As the last song, ‘I can’t wait’ by Nu Shooz, faded out we gathered our gang and left, except for Simone, who was chatting to a pretty, local girl. It was his birthday, so we left him to it, and shot off back to the Eighty8 without him. Five minutes later as we sat back smoking in the closed bar, he turned up and we asked what happened. He said that the girl wanted money to come back with him, and he wasn’t willing to pay for sex. Out of curiosity, I asked how much she wanted, and he replied “Five dollars”. I don’t know what was more shocking, the ridiculously low figure she had priced her company at, or the fact that our man thought he was gonna get a free fuck at 5am, from a Cambodian chick. Still, I respected his reluctance to pay when he was quite clearly attractive enough to not have to, a stance which I also share. On the other hand, I’ve spent more money than that on a bag of sweets at the cinema, and I didn’t get to ejaculate into it after.

We were all starving, so I went out on the hunt for food and found a little old lady selling bowls of noodles on the street. It was all that was on offer, so I purchased her watery concoction with the odd bits of mystery meat thrown in, and shared it out amongst the three of us in a vain attempt to counteract the booze. The new people that had moved into my dorm for the night were already awake and getting ready to leave. I wished them safe travels, took a shower, nearly slipping over in the process, then drunkenly fell into bed by 7am. I had to check out at 12. Fuck.

Freewheelin’ in S.E.A - Day 16: Once upon a time, nothing happened. The End

I arose at 11am and threw everything into my bag, heading downstairs to check out before diving into the pool. Maddie turned up to hang out with us and wish me farewell, and we laid getting roasted for a few hours until my ride arrived. I hugged my three sisters goodbye, hoping we’d meet again. I sat in the van excited by the prospect of not knowing what was to come, except me, when my lady finally arrived in a few days’ time.

I was dropped at the office of the travel company that I’d booked my ride with, and waited until 2pm so we could depart. We all loaded in to a fourteen seat mini-van which would be taking us on a five hour journey to Phnom Penh. There was a bigoted, old guy from New Zealand who spoke to me for a few minutes, but he kept referring to me as a ‘Pom’ and coming out with crap about England, so I ended up introducing him to another, younger Kiwi guy, then ignoring their banal conversations . I see race and nationality as irrelevant to who I am, and who others are. I am defined by my city, London, and the assortment of everymen who inhabit it with me. We’re not English, we’re Everything. I spent pretty much the whole of the first three hours writing, and was finally catching up with the ten day deficit I’d given myself, which pleased me no end. We had a short stop in Kampong Thom which allowed me some time to have a dance with sweet Mary Jane, before exhaling my way back onto the van for another few hours. I wrote until I could no longer see, as there were no lights in the van, and very few along the windy, rubble roads to illuminate the night for me to write. I shivered the rest of the way, as boredom made the air conditioning less bearable to my near bare body, in only my old Arsenal Shorts and a vest.

By 8pm, we arrived, and I stepped onto the street to appreciate the evening heat. A couple of Tonys approached me, and I told them I wanted another place with a pool, so they took me to The Eighty8 Backpackers, a cool looking hostel with a bar/restaurant and young staff. I booked Tony, whose name was Pauli, to take me out at 10am the next day and went to check in. “How you do brother?” said one of the two guys behind the counter, asking my name and introducing himself as Lay Lay. The other, who checked me in had a name tag which read ‘John Mclane’, and I told him that I loved that the name he’d chosen for himself was Bruce Willis’s character from Die Hard. ‘Yippie Kai Yay, motherfucker’. I dumped my stuff in a locker in my empty, eight bed dorm, then did a few laps in the pool before going up to shower and change. I took a walk around the surrounding area of the hostel but there was nothing there, not even a place for dinner, so I returned to eat and write by the poolside whilst hip-hop classics were blasted out in the background. After dinner, I returned to my room which was still unoccupied, wrote some more, then fell into the world of my words, wrote myself a dream, and drifted off downstream.