Attempted Suicide in Chiang Mai

Someone tried to kill themselves during my second stint at Deejai Backpackers. I’d returned there after a great few days in Pai. My plan was to whittle down the remaining days of my two-month Thai tourist visa. I paid thirty five clams for it and I’ll be damned if I’m about to waste some days. Plus I fucking love Chiang Mai. Rob, Deejai’s avuncular manager/minder/concierge (he’s always a bit vague on what his actual role is – my inkling is that he knows he’s got a lot of a good thing going on so doesn’t want anyone muscling in on his turf) recognised me immediately from my previous (OK, it was only six days ago but think of the footfall!) stellar stay and got me a sweet deal for my remaining week.

I lapsed lazily back into my familiar routine. While playing pool one evening, me and Simon (a wannabe dotcom millionaire who thinks he’s still nineteen and thinks TRUElad is an instruction manual) heard glass smash. Someone must have dropped some crockery in the kitchen. A few seconds later some girls come streaming down the stairs, screaming that help was needed urgently. Seeing Rob’s panic-stricken face as he strode past me up the stairs (I guess I hadn’t quite yet grasped the gravity of the situation) made me – and everyone else – realise that this was some serious shit.

The glass we’d heard smash was a young Mancunian punching through a frosted glass window pane, picking up one of the shards, barricading himself in the toilet – back against the wall, legs against the door, knees locked. As Danny Dyer would doubtless say in one of his familiar straight-to-DVD debacles: claret everywhere.  Rob and a couple of others begin frantically pounding the door but the would-be victim’s resolve is steadfast. Eventually, the door is smashed off its hinges (I think a dresser got hurled at it at one point) and there’s luckily a Basque nurse on hand who knows how to staunch the worst of the bleeding until the ambulance arrives.

As is often the case, details of the preceding events are slow to emerge but it turns out three guys were travelling during their gap year before uni. One was on anti-depressants and anti-psychotics and had decided to take his dosage into his own hands against doctor’s orders. I don’t have any personal experience with such drugs so I’ll certainly be passing no judgement but I know people who’ve been on similar meds and their stories of their side-effects are far from pleasant so I hope one can at least empathise with the poor guy’s desire to want to clear the all-encompassing fog and emotional stasis that such medication can render.

The guy survived and the ambulance crew were great. I spoke to his friends the next day and they were sending him straight back to the UK once he was discharged from the psychiatric hospital in Chiang Mai. What a fucking phone call to have to have to make to his oblivious parents that must have been.

Not much shatters this whole backpacking idyll like an attempted suicide. A lot of discussion and hand-wringing inevitably followed and similar stories were elicited from other backpackers, which surprised me. I thought it would have been an isolated incident. What it really drove home for me was that not everyone who’s staying in £4 a night hostels drinking 50p a bottle beers, with an almost limitless access to any vice of their choosing is going to be your stereotypical laugh-a-minute Jack the Lad. Maybe when you strip back Alex Garland’s utopian phantasm, we’re left with the other side of the coin: sporadic bouts of loneliness, irritation and alienation. And all this thousands of miles from your family and/or support network(s) and all that’s familiar to you.   

I’d wanted to tie this all up in a neat little bow, commenting on how people are from all walks of life and everyone’s experience is different etcetera etcetera but I’ll spare you my hokey cod philosophies (for now). There isn’t a whole lot more to say.

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More pics!

ImageI have no idea who most of these people are. We’re at Roots Rock Reggae, best bar in Chiang Mai if you ask me. 

ImageErryday I’m brovesting.

ImageHad to get my poker fix somehow, so we fashioned a game out of straws. Bakes is about to hero call my all-in (with top two) and be bitterly disappointed. He just never believes me. This is in the backyard/’chill-out area’ at Deejai Backpackers. Notice the tree-house in the background. Rad, man. 

ImageOne more from Koh Lanta that slipped through a glitch in the matrix during last week’s trawl. It’s of me, checking out some wares no doubt. But it also shows what to expect when looking for accommodation. There’ll be beach bungalows scattered everywhere (sometimes finding which reception/office corresponds to which dwelling is pretty difficult). 

 

From the Archives: Koh Lanta

N.B. I have little pieces of writing scattered on my laptop that I’ve never published. Some might not ever see the light of day. It’s gonna play havoc with the chronology but fuck it. Here’s my jaunt to Koh Lanta in maybe early February. Coming next is a tale of attempted suicide in Chiang Mai.. heart-warming stuff. 

Where do I begin?

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I’m currently living in a bamboo hut 30 metres from the beach on the western coast of Koh Lanta. I found this place after renting a motorbike early yesterday morning then fastidiously combing the beaches looking for cheap and decent accommodation.

I spent the previous night in some concrete, open-air room looking right out onto the sea front. As soon as I arrived there I realised I had to move on as quickly as possible. I guess the seeds of my predicament can be traced back to a loose promise made by an acquaintance (let’s call him Oregon Gary) in Krabi. He told me a few days before I left for Lanta that he’d tried to book a single room at this one hostel but had been unsuccessful and had therefore had to book a twin room. He therefore had a spare bed, did I want it? Why of course, mon ami. With that seemingly settled I endeavoured to enjoy the rest of my time in Krabi, safe in the knowledge I’d soon be supine on white sands, drinking Mai Tais with Ty Ty.

The path to true love seldom runs smoothly and on the very morning I’m due to meet my new pal in the hostel lobby, he informs me that it’s actually a double room not a twin room therefore all bets are off. Whether this is true or whether it was the sheer force of my personality slash my awkwardness that had made him reconsider remains a mystery. Surely not though, right? What to do? I’ve just checked out. I could have meekly insta-checked back in like some kind of chump. No. I’m a solo traveller; a nomad; lone wolf to wolf den, I’m coming in.

The bus to Koh Lanta departs in an hour and since Oregon Gary has left my squarely up shit creek, I get on HostelWorld and see what the crack is. 1000 Thai Baht ‘resorts’ all over the gaff. What the fuck is this? I found an obscure website, booked some weird looking place and jumped on the bus. Needless to say the reception girls at Pak-Up were sad to see me go.

I should note at this juncture how green I was and how this is not how it’s done. The right play once you get got by OG is to fuck off any notion of booking anything and to jump on the bus anyway. Most of the budget places on these Thai islands (especially the less developed ones) don’t even advertise on the internet. This is some underground shit. Fucking Omerta bidness. Rock up, get a vehicle, get talking to people, get personal recommendations, negotiate prices, be charming, be friendly, be polite. Profit. Someone will sort you out. People are nice.

This is essentially what I did once the mini clusterfuck of the first night was dispatched. In that sense, maybe it was all part of the plan: part of my Coelhian Personal Legend and a watershed moment for the rest of my trip.

But let’s hop back into my fresh-off-the-boat mindset, where HostelWorld booking numbers and prior reservations are the cogs essential to the continuing survival of humanity.

The minivan I’d booked wasn’t your typical off-brand drop-you-at-a-dusty-shack affair. It took each guest right to their hotels (and most were hotels, no extra s). Koh Lanta is a pretty small island so maybe the magnanimousness of such a feat is being a mite over-blown. The whole minivan empties and I’m still sat there listening to some Frank Ocean. This is all begin to appear rather ominous. The more ‘beachy’-type places begin to thin and we drive down a bare expanse of road before I’m finally dropped off at my place. I’m on the south-Eastern tip of the island. No sandy beaches; fierce Andaman winds; population density: negligible. Interesting. I check into my room. It’s all concrete with a mosquito net. No windows, just an open expanse that looks out to the sea. Think of Tyrion Lannister’s cell at the Eeyrie. Looking back it was fucking cool as shit but I still in my gimpy phase so I was unable or unwilling to appreciate its qualities. There was also a fucking gecko the size of a Comodo dragon chilling in there with me. I bailed and decided to check out the ‘beach’.

My first step onto the sludgy sand produced a discernible ‘whump’ as my foot sank a metre into some quagmire. Fuck this beach.

Things improved from here. I began writing this blog. I ate some really nice fried rice and watched a moon as big as a dinner plate illuminate the entire Andaman sea before gracefully descending behind its horizon. The fierce whip of the Andaman wind became a cooling, soothing breeze. I got onto Whatsapp and spoke to my sisters. The owners of the establishment came over and offered to drive me to the Eastern side of the island the next morning for a nominal fee. That’s what I was looking for. They knew. They could tell that their place, while being an amazing retreat, was definitely not what I was looking for. They clocked the Byronic good looks, the pseudo-‘wacky’ swim shorts and the £73 pounds in my back-burner and consequent desire to wax the lot (the Milky Bars are on me!) and helped out a guy in need.

The next morning, the owner drove me to the ‘party side’ (and I use the term loosely, Lanta is chiiiilled) and wouldn’t leave me until I’d secured lodgings. The kindness of such people continues to astound me and you’ll have to forgive the lapse into cliché when I say that the concentration of such incidences of such generosity is definitely higher in SE Asia than in the UK. I hate the inherent condescension in the “aaaw they have so little, yet give so much” proclamations (I’m looking at you, wide-eyed Cali girls) but I suppose these twee little asides exist because they’re at least partially true. Plus I’m allowed to say it cos I’m on some council estate of mind shit.

Frankly, I was beginning to get a bit embarrassed by her munificence (and I guess by how flustered I’d briefly become the previous evening) so I walked into a place, discovered they were full, left my bags in there and went out to inform her that I was all good. Profuse thankyous dispensed with, I began my mission. Walked into a dive shop (of which Lanta is absolutely laden with), some cool as fuck Devon girl tells me to dump my bags there, hires me a scooter at a great rate, gives me three beach bungalow company names with directions and sends me on my way.

And here we are.

This is being written months from when it happened (bar the first paragraph, obviously) and as always I’m playing fast and loose with tenses so the details might be hazy but understand this: Koh Lanta is fucking cool. Get a beach bungalow (500b in high-season for twin so try to have friends); rent a scooter; grab a good book* and kick the fuck back

*I was briefly a bit fucked here cos I’d grabbed some weak Everything is Illuminated at a book exchange in Krabi. Don’t ask. People might try and tell you I gave 50 Shades of Grey a quick whirl but it’s all mendacious propaganda designed to discredit me as a purveyor of all things good taste.

Luckily, our beach bungalows were within a concentration of similar type accommodation attracting similar type revellers so without having to resort to forensic dissection of each night in turn (not that I even could), rest assured a good time was had by all, many great friendships were either struck up or cemented and a pretty awesome and memorable beach party was attended.

ImageHere’s the ‘ferry’ that takes you from mainland Thailand to the hallowed Koh Lanta. It smelled of diesel and fatigue.

ImageThe terrace of the first place I stayed and witnessed the moon setting.

ImageThe view from my room.

ImageThe room. The Comodo is lurking behind that chest, best believe.

ImageApropos of nothing, my scorched back. Listen to Baz Luhrmann kids: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTJ7AzBIJoI. Peep the original HTC Desire taking the photo, courtesy of Hugh Madborough.ImageFun and games on my new beach.ImageImageThese are pictures of the sun setting.

ImageImageI was gonna ask these Thais if I could join in but I didn’t wanna start any beef and get got by embarrassing anyone. Plus I was still nursing my well-documented busted toe so I left them to their rudimentary game. Thai football is not yet adequately prepared for the European élan I’d unleash.

The Life of Pai

Bakes and I had planned to go to Pai during our ‘tour of northern Thailand’ (a tour which amounted to squarely Chiang Mai, give or take an elephant sanctuary..) but never got round to it. We fell into a lazy pattern of wild nights out, parties, pulls, poker and pool. Our hostel had some weird system in place – you had to be really vigilant with renewing your room for an extra night or they’d fill it and boot you out. Usually the protocol is that a hostel or guest house will assume you want the room for an extra night until you actually check out. I must say that the latter system works better. It’s almost as if Deejai were trying to be too clever and not wanting any dead time for any bed, ever. It resulted in a lot of hassle and a lot of moving about. Bakes and I got shafted a couple of times; we were in a cool 3 bed dorm (!) with a rather attractive Dutch girl but we didn’t renew our vows on time so we got unceremoniously turfed out the next morning. All that remained were some twin rooms. Sound in theory, but these twin rooms are at the arse-end of the building and ours harboured an unmistakable  mouldy musk. This would be our home for the next couple of weeks.

So Bakes leaves Chiang Mai for Australia and I decide to head to Pai.

Pai is cool. The road from Chiang Mai to Pai is a twisting and bumpy slalom through the northern Thai jungle. I think two people threw up on our journey and it’s only three hours long. It feels as if you’re on some ancient Roman road through the North Walian mountains, but the hills are steeper and the roads nowhere near as smooth. I even felt a little nauseous and I’ve usually got an iron stomach. About half-way in, there’s the obligatory refreshment stop which is for once a welcome respite: everyone begins to look a little green around the gills after an hour of travelling.

Finally, we arrived in Pai, and I managed to locate Spicy Pai without much drama. Spicy Pai is part of the Spicy ‘brand’ of hostels. There’s one in Chaing Mai (Spicy Thai), one in Ko Tao (Spicy Tao) and one in Luang Prabang (Spicy Laos) though I have doubts about Spicy Laos’ authenticity. They’re cheap and cheerful (outside toilets and shit) but are meant to be really ‘cool’ and consider all tenants ‘part of the family’. You know the type. What they lack in nomenclatural creativity they make up for in price and, for want of a better term, vibe. Spicy Pai lived up to the billing but I only stayed for two nights. My bed in the dorm was right next to the common area and since everything is made from bamboo, there’s no sound insulation. Every night, the same group would congregate in the common area and chat absolute shite till about 5 a.m. Their favourite topics were which drugs gave the cleanest high, how authentic they were as backpackers and how determined they each were to escape the throes of conformity in the Western world. To my mind, this breed is the worst kind of backpacker, probably worse than the Spring Break Full Mooners from Grantham type. I don’t know if it’s the supercilious smugness or the irrepressible folksy bonhomie that does it. They all have hemp covers (authentic ofc.) for their iPhone 5s though so maybe they’re the real winners.

Here’s a picture from Spicy Pai’s common area:

ImageNightly scene of crimes against Grice’s Maxims.

This is where I met Dave, who I’d later meet again in Luang Prabang and end up ‘doing’ all of Laos plus a lot of Cambodia with.

On my first full day in Pai, Dave and I went to hire scooters and did a reccy of the surrounding area. You can hire scooters for 100 baht/day in Pai, which is the cheapest I’ve encountered. You can add insurance for 40 baht/day too, though I’m pretty sure that if the shit did hit the fan, there’d be ways and means to make you liable for a lot of dough. Still, I took the insurance.

My days in Pai where whittled away checking out waterfalls, canyons and sunsets.

It’s a place that’s massively geared towards tourists (or indeed, backpackers) but it’s a different kind of emphasis to what you usually see in the ‘tourist-facing’ spots in Thailand. There isn’t much mention of “2-4-1″ buckets, happy shakes or laughing gas in Pai, though I’m sure you can easily acquire all three. Eco-accommodation, vegetarian restaurants and tea houses (25 types of tea!) are the order of the day here. Most people come here to smoke weed and chill the fuck out. There are some really cool bars just over the bridge as you leave Pai though: fire pits, dub reggae and laaaate closing times.

I’d definitely recommend Pai to anyone who’s thinking of heading to Chiang Mai. Go for a couple of days at least. Chiang Mai is meant to be a bit of hippy retreat itself, purged of the toxic miasma of bustling Bangkok. People go to Chiang Mai to relax, to ruminate and to recuperate. Pai is maybe Chiang Mai on valium: sleepier and hazier. Don’t expect to see any working Thais in Pai though, unless they’re serving you your morning wheatgrass shot. It’s purely for passers-by, and while it maybe lacks soul as a result, it should not be missed.

Chang Yais in Chiang Mai

Aight so I guess it’s time to resurrect this here blawg.

I’m still in Chiang Mai and I think that makes it two weeks here. It’s definitely not a bad place to spend two weeks and we found a pretty shit hot hostel after getting out of Little Bird. Bakes also reckons he has “travel burn out” meaning his get-up-and-and-go hasn’t been what it once was (not much to write home about).

It’s been good though, for a few days in the middle we had a really cool group of people all staying here, all pre-drinking/playing pool together then all going out en masse. I’ll try and run down how the two weeks panned out.

After the debacle of the first night, on the second night we headed to Loi Kroh Road (which was where we’d ended up the night before and which was where stray digits got seared..). Loi Kroh Road can probably be accurately described as CM’s right light (ish) area: lots of ‘beer bars’ which are bars where scantily-clad women try to draw in Westerners in the hope they get bought drinks at vastly inflated prices. I’m not quite sure on how it works, I imagine the girls themselves get a cut of the drinks (and best believe they’re not gonna be ordering a water). I’m sure other services can be sought too, though you’ll need to pay the bar for the privilege of extricating said girl from her place of work. They’re OK though, there’s no pressure to buy anyone anything and you can just go in and play some pool though in order to do so you need to beat one of the girls to ‘win’ the table. Naturally I was usually the sacrificial lamb. I think I held my own. One night we stumbled into a bar staffed solely by kathoeys (or ladyboys..) not entirely by accident and I won a fair few games in a row. Before every game I was offered the wager of “I win you buy me drink, you win I buy you drink”. I’m confident in my pool-playing but there seemed to be too much downside risk to such a proposition so I had to meekly decline every time. I could have got me a fair few Changs had I stepped up, alas. (Of course, after I’m done, Gus steps up, boldly accepts the wager, gets duly schooled then has to pony up for a way-too-elaborate cocktail that I’m pretty sure was off-menu. Some guys will never learn.)

My memory is slightly hazy but I think the next night followed a similar pattern but by now we’re beginning to get a bit sick of the neon lights and off-brand house music and pine for something more.. real. Word on the street is all the cool Thai kids get down north-west of the square, near Chaing Mai University. After some rather awkward exchanges with tuk tuk drivers, we roll up at somewhere called Warm Up. Despite the fact that we were woefully under-dressed (these students make an effort - delicately coiffured hairstyles abound) and despite the fact we managed to arrive with a rather dry English police man in tow, we had a pretty cool time. It’s all live bands till about midnight in these clubs (and club is used loosely – they’re sort of restaurant/bar/night club hybrids) and the Thais really let loose. It’s actually quite refreshing not to see pouting, posturing wannbe hipsters everywhere, all self-consciously trying to look cool and aloof. The Thai pop songs seemed went down a storm and it all got pretty raucous, but in a good way.

We go to a few other venues in the area but they’re all broadly the same. Everyone just goes for bottle service in these Thai clubs. Mostly Johnnie Walker Red Label, maybe four or five to a bottle/table. So many precariously balanced tables in a club in the UK wouldn’t last a second.

We had meant to go back to this student area, but with plans of getting a bottle and of maybe swerving the ultimate bogan attire next time but we never got round to it.

Having conquered the red lights of Loi Kroh Road and the student ghettos of Nimmanhaemin Road, we thought we’d complete the trifecta and go and check out where all the backpackers hang out. I’m surprised it took us so long to find it but we eventually discovered a little enclave with maybe 6-8 bars. The two busiest are Zoe’s Bar and Roots Rock Reggae. RRR is actually a pretty cool place, cheapish drinks, a good crowd (a nice mix of locals and travellers) and a live band every night. Zoe’s is more hit and miss but closes later so everyone just ends up there anyway.

Once Zoe’s closes, most people walk ten minutes to a club called Spicy. Spicy is a bit of a dive, lots of freelancers, lots of dirty old men literally grabbing girls as they walk by, lots of shite music. If you’re ever in CM, it’s probably worth going once to see human nature at its most debased but I’d avoid it otherwise.

Tomorrow, I’m going to Pai. It’s about three hours away, much smaller than CM but meant to be chilled as fuck. It was personally recommended to me before I flew here so I figure I best make good on my promise to visit. There’s a hostel there called Spicy Pai that everyone gushes about and I’ve managed to secure three nights there. Once I arrive, I plan to hire a motorbike and check out some stuff nearby. Hot springs, caves, all that Ray Mearsy stuff. After the three nights are done, I’ll either stay if it’s good or come back to CM. I met an Aussie guy last night who’s looking at slowboats down the Mekong into Laos too, so we’ve made a loose plan to do that together in a few days.

Reports of the slowboat vary wildly but it’s definitely the right play for me. Even if it’s an absolute nightmare, it’s only a couple of days. Character-building and shit. I’m optimistic though, crawling down the Mekong sounds pretty good to me. They apparently stock the much-coveted Beer Lao on the boat too, woo.

mekong

First Night in Chiang Mai

For our first couple of nights in Chiang Mai, we stayed at somewhere called Little Bird 2 Hostel. It had some pretty solid reviews on HostelWorld and it was fairly cheap (200B/night). It turned out to be an OK choice, but we’d soon be moving on. The staff were beyond friendly, the rooms were pretty clean and it had a pretty cool roof terrace. It was a bit too quiet for our tastes though: not much of a party hostel. Since we’re looking to meet some people to maybe do some trekking and/or zip-lining with, a hostel where lots of people with similar interests reside is important.

On our first night, we ate at some kinda American Deep South/Tex Mex joint. Sometimes you just want a break from noodle soup and fried rice and just to eat something substantial that doesn’t taste of lemongrass. It was nice, the portions were definitely Western sized but having been weaned off such huge portions since I’ve been in Asia, I struggled to finish my meal and sure enough it took me about an hour and a half to not feel bloated and drowsy and to generally get back on it. I’m definitely beginning to get to get on board with the small-but-often eating philosophy that the Thais adhere to.

After heading back to the hostel with some cheap Leos from Tesco Lotus to get us on our way, we headed into town. Chiang Mai’s old town is a square and these red pick-up trucks with seats at the back (or songthaews) drive round and round the square’s perimeter and you just jump on and jump off at any point for a flat fare of 20 baht. It’s refreshing to just be able to pay a flat fare and not have to haggle on price for once.

We decided to delegate where to go to Gus, an (ex-)primary school teacher from the UK whose proudest achievement to date is managing to get a 10 baht discount on an English breakfast in Krabi because he didn’t want either of the included hot drinks. Gus duly took us way out east, past the gate, past the moat, through the night market and past the river. After walking for an age, we hit upon his intended location, some riverside restaurant-cum-club. There were a lot of rich Thais and Japanese there and I’m pretty sure they had the most expensive drinks in Northern Thailand. We left pretty soon. We tried another nearby bar but that was only marginally better so we jumped into a tuk tuk and asked him to take us back to the city walls.

Between the city walls and the river on the east lies Loi Kroh road: littered with bars, pretty Western-orientated. It wasn’t perfect but it looked pretty lively and fun. About ten seconds after getting off our tuk tuk, another one was passing us in the opposite direction. Bakes decided it was time to try out his best Brits Abroad! shtick and slapped (or I guess, drummed) an admittedly bongo-looking contraption hanging off the back of the tuk tuk. Turns out it was actually a hot plate from a just dissembled street food stall. Cue a lot of yelping, a lot of wincing and a lot of regret for such foolhardiness. I’d have liked to have a look around first but Bakes’ singed fingers dictated that we must dive into the nearest watering hole, which of course turned out to be a rather seedy ‘girl bar’. While I demonstrated by not inconsiderable talents on the pool table, Bakes was not allowed to run his hand under cold water or use any ice on it. Instead, the girls insisted he rub fresh aloe vera into it. Eastern medicine prevails. Now I reckon cold water/ice would have been a better choice but what do I know?

While we waited for Bakes to stop crying, I played some more pool and tried to avoid the clutches of a girl that kept getting pushed my way by a rather overbearing mama-san. Various men of questionable repute came and went, including some weirdo who insisted on asking the young girl he’d just bought if she really liked him. “You do like me right?” “Do you really like me?” Yeah mate, you’ve just paid the bar 800 baht to take her home, you’re gonna pay her nearly double that but she’s going home with you because your neediness and desperation are so powerfully endearing and viscerally enchanting that she simply can’t resist.   

After an hour or so, Bakes was still wimpering in the corner so I told him he maybe best go home, stuck him on a tuk tuk headed back to our hostel and went to find a bar that was showing Real Madrid vs. Man Utd. I’m such a good friend. 

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Here’s a map of Chaing Mai.

North by Northwest

OK, so I’m writing this from the night train. This is some serious gonzo journalism shit. Yo, John Pilger, where you at? Of course, I’ll have to publish it when I happen upon some wi-fi but the sentiment remains. Dispatches from the front line.

I’m a bit deflated that the restaurant carriage closed at 11pm. It seemed like it was set to go all night but we were cut down in our prime. To be fair, I guess everyone needs to sleep. If you ever find yourself on a night train in Thailand, head for the restaurant carriage. It’s pretty small, I’m pretty sure it has no discernible suspension (people were literally getting bounced out of their seats) and they steadfastly refuse to play anything other than Mambo Number 5, Macarena and the ubiquitous Gangham Style on a loop. I think I even spotted some disco lights at one point.

Our time in the restaurant carriage was going swimmingly until an obnoxious American (or “American-Kiwi” as he insisted on) came and sat with us. The seating arrangements are pretty tight, with 4 to each table. The seat AK parked himself in was actually already occupied by an Australian girl who’d gone for a cigarette but hearing this news wasn’t sufficient to perturb our new buddy as he proceeded to extol the virtues of being a tour guide (and indeed, the entire concept of the humble tour) at great length. No-one was particularly interested but obviously such details are infinitesimally minute for such blustery fellows. When the original occupant came back and saw that her seat was taken, our chivalrous hero naturally decided to stay put, such was the head of steam he’d built up, forcing the poor girl to sit on some other table opposite with some Thai guy who’d been shouting and I guess you’d call it dancing one his own for a while. The fact that this guy had a table to himself in an otherwise overcrowded carriage should tell you all you need to know. Guy almost lost his shit when Gangnam Style inevitably dropped. Sure enough, barely two minutes later, Australian Girl decides to cut her losses and head to bed.

After we’d been turfed out of the restaurant carriage, some middle-aged woman (who’d been the 4th member of our exclusive club) came bounding through the sleeper carriage shouting into her mobile phone. Bear in mind these sleeper trains carry all sorts of passengers, from families with young children to elderly Thais just going about their business. All the curtains were drawn, the main lights had long been turned off and I’m sure many were genuinely asleep. She’d seemed OK until this happened, she was also a tour operator but the fact that she tried to peddle of manner of her dubious wares on us (“where are you staying in Chiang Mai?”, “How are you getting to Laos?”, “What activities do you want to do in Northern Thailand?”) notwithstanding, she seemed nice enough. Such scant regard for her fellow sleeper trainers made me change my opinion pretty sharpish though. I think the rational response here is a blanket dislike of all tour operators in the southeast Asian subcontinent.

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The carriage.Image

Bedding down. Sick quads,

Chaing Mai bound

Tomorrow I head to Chiang Mai on an overnight sleeper train.

Yesterday I met up with Bakes, a good friend from university, and we were lucky to be able to secure some sleeper berths for tomorrow’s train. When a couple of girls and I tried to get a sleeper train down to southern Thailand a few weeks ago, it proved to be a lot more difficult so I’m glad this time was relatively hassle-free. I say relatively because we still had to navigate at least two people telling us first that there were no sleeper trains until Wednesday. If I’ve learnt anything since being here it’s that one should always look to deal in large sample sizes. The alternative to getting a sleeper train is getting a seat in the 3rd class of the same train (these trains are the biggest behemoths I’ve ever laid eyes on..) but every account you hear of these 3rd class seats make that option seem at the very least undesirable.

I kinda enjoyed getting the sleeper train down to Krabi so I expect this’ll be similar. We might even have better beds this time cos for Krabi they’d promised us an air-con carriage but it the end sat us in a carriage with a rather rickety fan.

Almost everyone I’ve spoken to about Chiang Mai (“where are you off next?” is always the second question in that Inaugural Chat I’m already growing slightly weary of – guess the first) simply gushes about the place so it’s fair to say I’m heading north tomorrow with rather high expectations for the place. I’m excited, there must something about being in the more rugged north, among the mountains, that rouses me.

The two most frequent things you hear in discussions about Chiang Mai are that it’s cheap and that it’s chilled. A cursory glance on any hostel booking site shows lots of choice, lots of 100-150 baht establishments and a lot of satisfied reviews. Should be decent.

It’s nice to be getting out of Bangkok too. I really enjoyed my first stint here but this one’s felt very much like a short (as possible) stop-over. When I first arrived I was fresh-faced and curious, this time I’m still carrying the coattails of some illness I got in Krabi (nothing too serious: bit feverish and clammy, weird localised headaches – some kinda dengue fever-lite maybe) and I absolutely destroyed my big toe* on my last night in Krabi so the grimy, steamy, sweltering morass that is Bangkok doesn’t feel as welcoming this time around.

*My biggest gripe about Thailand has to be how monumentally long it takes for everything to heal. It must be the humidity. Cuts on my feet that I wouldn’t give a second thought to in the UK are still here three weeks later in Thailand. I had some minor cut on the base of the nail of my big toe, so seemingly insignificant that I forget how it happened. I managed to re-open and make worse said cut while snorkelling a couple of weeks ago. Then, on my last night in Krabi, I smashed it against some concrete step and pulled off all the skin. It’s probably gonna take about 8 months to heal. It’s a pretty big surface area too so I’m liable to get got by sepsis and all manner of pernicious ailments besides. Great. At least there’s a tidy symmetry to it all: my two stays in Krabi were bookended by two foot injuries which did, and which will, take way longer than they should to heal. Maybe this is how it feels to be old and frail.

Still, northwards we travail:

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