(**With advance apologies for Mr Bob being under the affluence of incohol while authoring today’s edition. Don’t worry, I’m a professional, I’m sure that you won’t even notice**)
We’re stuck. It’s a funny sentiment to be feeling, as the palms sway gently above us, as the warm sea laps quietly to tickle our toes on the soft white sand, the sun shines down from a cloudless blue sky, and we sip chilled drinks from coconuts dressed only in swimwear;
“Well Honey, now we’re screwed.”
But before we come to punctuating the pitfalls of our present precariously perilous predicament, it’s time to update everyone on the adventure, and on how we came to be in the pickle we’re currently in.
I’ll begin where I left off; with a hunt for a motorcycle.
It wasn’t an easy quest, given that the Bangkok Shutdown was still in full swing, meaning that large swaths of the city were either closed altogether, or otherwise inaccessible because of the protesters’ barricades, but on the second day of searching, I found her. A little gem, hidden away in the oily recesses of a back alley mechanic’s shop; a mint condition Kawasaki GTO Speedster. In purple. I’ve always wanted a two-stroke, but emissions regulations have killed them off altogether in Europe. I had to have it.
Problem number one; this is a part of town where tourists do not venture, and the proprietor of the shop in which I found her spoke less English than I do Thai. And that’s quite an achievement, given that the number of words I know in Thai could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Even if the hand in question belonged to a Saudi Arabian shoplifter. Still, I’m a great believer in the power of testiculating (it’s much like gesticulating, only that the arm waving behaviour must also be accompanied by the talking of bollocks). I pointed at the bike, I made interested-sounding noises, and I made the universally recognised, finger-rubbing gesture for ‘money’. Given the excellent condition of the bike, I was expecting him to ask for something in the region of 30,000 baht, anticipating that I’d then go in at 16k, and we’d settle somewhere around 22.
Not so. When the fellow went to retrieve his calculator, the number he actually keyed in was 14,000. An absolute bargain. I can’t resist a small haggle though so I took the calculator and typed in the number 12,000 (just over £200) and without hesitation, he gave it the ‘thumbs-up’* and went to fetch the paperwork. So to recap, that’s discussing the sale of a bike, pointing out the work and modifications I needed doing, haggling over the price, and completing the transfer of ownership papers, all done without speaking a single word of each other’s language. ‘Language Barrier’ is a myth.
You’ll have noticed I keep referring to the bike as ‘She’. That’s because, with it’s slimline figure and purple paint, we’ve decided this one is definitely a girl. Accordingly, and in reference to the awesome film Sin City (also rather appropriate for a bike bought in Bangkok), the new steed has been dubbed ‘Miho‘. Because it’s small, Japanese, and will happily kill you in the blink of an eye if you fail to pay it the proper respect.
Where Desmond was slow and ponderous, Miho is fast, twitchy and highly unpredictable. With only half the weight of old Desmond, coupled to three times the horsepower and over twice the top speed, it’s a lot more fun and a lot less comfortable. The engine may still be small by the standards of home but it’s a two-stroke which means a sharper power delivery, a lot more smoke, and a sound that’s reminiscent of the crazy frog ringtone. Twist the throttle more than a few degrees in either of the bottom two gears and you’re getting a monster of a wheelie, whether you want one or not. Similarly, snatch the brakes in anger and it stops like you’ve just driven into the back of a cow (I should know, on my last trip I did in fact, crash into a cow. . . ).
Wheels sorted, it was time to head to the beaches for a short holiday. And as a result of the chaos caused by the opposition’s ‘Shutdown’, it took us close to four hours to escape the city itself and find our way to highway 3, heading Southeast and bound for the islands. So much time wasted in Bangkok however meant that it was too late in the day to reach the ferry, and we were forced to stay overnight in the infamous city of Pattaya.
Everybody has heard of Pattaya, I’m sure. It’s the one place in the world that makes Bangkok or Amsterdam look like a Greek Orthodox convent. It’s the place you come to if you want to be robbed blind, to shoot crack cocaine into your eyeballs, or to watch an endless procession of fat 50-something American and European men walking arm in arm with their teenage Thai girlfriends. Or for that matter, it’s the place you come to if you ARE a fat 50-something westerner looking for a bit of nookie with a 17 year old Thai girl. But if that’s you, you ought to beware that here, in Karma’s own backyard, there is swift justice for dirty old men. Because Thailand is famous for something else beyond glorious beaches and muay thai kickboxing. And accordingly, a good one in four of those gentlemen will be in for a surprise when they arrive back at their hotel after an expensive meal and fancy drinks. A big surprise. A great big penis-shaped surprise. Because, statistically speaking, beneath the makeup and the wonderbra, 25% of all 17 year old girls in Thailand are actually 29 year old men. Called Nattapong. Anyway, enjoy your holiday gents, and good luck.
So, Pattaya. And we had been warned in advance from other tourists that it was impossible to find a hotel room in the city for less that 1000 baht per night. They were amateurs. We are seasoned explorers, and we know where to look. Less than half an hour in the city and we’d found a lovely room with aircon, wifi, private bathroom and (a first) each room had it’s own enclosed garage for parking vehicles. All for 450 baht. What could possibly be the catch? Well, the six square metre mirror suspended above the bed was suspicious, as were the red bedside lamps and the naked lady murals daubed on the wall, door sign and windows. The transparent glass viewing wall separating the shower from the bed was also a tad unconventional. Then there was the fact that the rooms were available to rent by the day, or (always a sign of a quality establishment), by the hour. Whatever. A cheap room is a cheap room, the bed was big, the wifi worked, and the cable tv channels offered were most enlightening.
The following day, leaving Smut City in our wake we reached the pier at Ban Phe, intending on crossing to the island of Koh Samet. “Not possible with motorbike” we were told at the first boat company. And the second. Also at the third and the forth. But at boat company number 5; “No problem”, and in a flash three Thai men had hoisted her up bare handed across a four foot span and into the middle of a wooden passenger boat. They’d never have managed that with Desmond.
Koh Samet is very pretty, but it’s proximity to Bangkok makes it popular, and consequently; expensive, so after four days in a luxury bungalow on a private beach, burning through about $100 per day (we try to keep our budget at less than $50 per day for the two of us), we had to strike out for somewhere cheaper.
Another days ride Southeast on the mainland brought us to Laem Ngop, the crossing point to the island of Koh Chang. I’ve stayed on Koh Chang before, some three years ago, and found it to be the epitome of laid-back, hammock snoozing island life. But sadly, in those three years, the tourist board has chosen to ‘develop’ the island. And rather than develop it along the path it
was on; an almost Caribbean style chill-out, of empty beaches, guitar players, rum cocktails, poets and pot smokers, they’ve instead decided it seems, to model it’s development on Ibiza, and ruined my favourite island with endless rave parties, sports-bars and pizza restaurants.
No matter, while aboard a boat heading to a snorkelling site, we circled a small island. An island whose beaches were uninhabited, whose jungle interior was uncharted, and whose coral reefs were brimming with colourful fish and crystal clear waters. It’s called Koh Wai.
It has no roads. It has not a single nightclub or vodka bar. It has perhaps two dozen stilted beach huts along it’s northern shore, a small bar/restaurant/shop and countless sandy beaches and coves. A speedboat delivered us to the island for $10, and good times were had. But no one in Europe, in January, would like to hear about that sort of thing.
And now we come to why we’re stuck.
We’ve had bike problems. Firstly, the rear tyre blew. Not a flat tyre but an actual blowout. A loud bang and the entire rear tyre split down the middle. On a car, that’s an inconvenience. On a motorcycle, that’s the stuff of nightmares. Somehow we managed to stay upright, but getting replacements on the islands is impossible. In the end I had to fit an inner-tube that’s two sizes too small (the only size available) and, with the help of the shopkeeper, repair a ruined tyre using glue and strips of rubber cut from the old inner-tube. At best, it might hold long enough to get me (and only me) the 20 km back to the ferry. This problem alone, was not insurmountable.
Then the bike refused to start. A tight schedule to make the boat to Koh Wai means I didn’t have a great deal of time to investigate what the problem might be, and it soon became irrelevant, because while in Koh Wai, we lost the keys.
Marie-Carmen might phrase that as “Robb lost the keys”. I maintain that they were stolen by monkeys. Marauding, motorcycling monkeys. Whatever the case, we’re now on a tropical island, 20km from the jetty and 60km from the mainland, with a motorcycle that is unsafe to ride, can’t be turned on, and wouldn’t start anyway even if it could be.
And our visas expire in four days. After that, one way or the other we need to be across the border in to Cambodia.
Why Cambodia? There are many reasons to visit Cambodia; many come to see the vast complex of ruins at Angkor Wat, others go for the jungle trekking experience, the chilled out island culture or even just for the chance to let rip with a machine gun or RPG at one of the country’s many recreational firing ranges (show up with cash in hand and they’ll let you loose on the range with pretty much anything the military has to hand).
We’re not going for any of those reasons. We’re going to Cambodia to find a Stegosaurus.
You heard me, a Stegosaurus. An armoured Stegasaurid Dinosaur, of the order Ornithischia. And some might say it’s a vain quest, given that the last example of the species died in the Late Jurassic Period, some 150 million years ago, and that the only fossilised remains of the creature have been found exclusively in North America. Nonetheless, Mr Bob shall not be deterred. A Stegosaurus has been promised, and a Stegosaurus shall be delivered.
ps. I took a crushing early lead of 10 – 0, but my opponents rallied, and after two weeks of fierce fighting, the Man Vs Mosquitoe scoreboard for Thailand stands at 29 to 20 in my favour.
*A ‘thumbs-up’ gesture is not quite universal. While most of the world recognises it’s meaning as “OK” or “Good”, some parts of the world such as North India and the Arab states, consider this gesture to be the equivalent of the digitus impudicus or “Up Yours”. But since he immediately went to fetch the paperwork and the keys, we’ll assume it was the former.