After a particularly harrowing ‘long-maul’ flight on ‘Swiss Air’ via Zurich, Paul arrived in Bangkok wanting to burn every shitty Cuckoo Clock in the world. Slit cute little ‘Heidi’s’ throat, using a Swiss Army Knife of course, and then kick her into a boiling pot of Fondue.
Suffice to say it was an airline of which he was yet to become fond!
The miserable ‘millennial’ couple who were sitting in front of him and Andrew, for over ten hours, had not helped. The wretched pair had obviously suffered from a form of physical Tourette’s. Jerking their way enthusiastically across Eastern Europe into Southeast Asia, sometimes under a blanket. Paul’s snitchzel had gone flying more than once.
He thought at least the happy couple could have waited until landing in Thailand for a happy ending!
As he and Andrew alighted the aircraft, Paul felt as if he’d scaled the Matterhorn.
He had always loathed travelling alongside the inconsiderate. Especially those ‘gappers’, whose gaps, he considered, would be better filled by staying home and learning some manners.
Perhaps he was getting old.
After all, Paul too had once joined the ‘mile high club’, but he’d been considerate enough to do so in the ‘club class’ lavatory. He considered that real class. And there was no blanket necessary.
The boys hit Bangkok in the early morning. It was already thirty degrees and the eternally grey city sky looked as if it were ready to explode. Paul knew how that felt. He usually did long haul rather well, but this time, thanks to the cheesy Swiss in 46 E and F, he had arrived ‘effed’ right off. He had no eyes to speak of, his face was the colour of an ageing grey mullet and his lower limbs looked like something of which the ‘Montgolfier Brothers’ would have been most proud!
It was usually Andrew who ballooned after a jaunt at thirty-six thousand feet, but this time he appeared quite normal.
Paul momentarily loathed him.
On most of their previous visits to this ‘City Of Angels’ they had stayed in the business district. This time, however, Paul had booked them into a scruffy guest house just off of the infamous ‘Khao San Road’.
A rather seedy area which Paul had first read of in Alex Garland’s novel ‘The Beach’. Back then, it had been the haunt of druggies and backpackers, yet the success of the book, and the subsequent film, had made the area more ‘mainstream’. Indeed, some ‘real’ travellers which Paul and Andrew had met on previous visits to the city had warned them off the place. They had maintained that it was now not ‘cool’ to stay there. The tiny room Paul had found on a small back alley had the cool price tag of twelve quid a night. Paul felt that was street cred enough. Especially as it had air con included in the price – no con.
Besides, he and Andrew came to Bangkok to feel hot, not cool!
Later, after a testing siesta, (the bed having been constructed for one of Snow White’s mates), Andrew and Paul hit the once unfashionable environs of Khao San. The junkies and hippies were certainly still around, but they were now much diluted with hip young families, gin swigging pensioners and a couple of superannuated cabaret artistes. It seemed that there on the Khao San Road there was at least one kind of every kind of person existing on the planet.
Even with a jet lag of Swiss efficiency, Paul found the place exhilarating. It was an intoxicating cocktail. Certainly one more potent than the famous ‘Sukkhumvit Road’ where he and Andrew usually stayed. They had both noticed that that area had grown more clinical over the years. Sanitised and somewhat devoid of any real character.
All high-rise and no low life!
The real characters were to be found around their new favourite suburb.
They felt at home already.
Even breakfast was a religious experience in Khao San!
When night-time fell hard, as it so often did in the Tropics, they slipped down into the sultry night and then slipped up by ingesting a little too much ‘Prik’ (chilli that is!).
Andrew most especially.
Paul knew he had behaved like a bit of a prick when asking for their street food to come ‘Thai Style’. It was always a dangerous order. But it had been more than delicious, and he and Andrew had so often been dissatisfied by the preparation of traditional Thai dishes being adapted for Western or ‘farang’ palates which made some of them pointless, and sometimes unpalatable.
Andrew, however, had a gut feeling which strongly disagreed.
As he and Paul lay on two rickety deck chairs to commence a prandial foot massage, the ‘Prik’, not for the first time, got the better of him. He swiftly made his excuses to the masseuse, whose mood went from sunny to sullen in the blink of a Thai ! She doubtless thought that she had been the cause of Andrew’s untimely exit. Paul explained the situation. Once she knew that it was Andrew’s other exit which had nearly behaved in an untimely fashion she seemed most relieved. Although she still hoped for him to come back later. Paul assured her he would, but knew that this was highly unlikely, knowing full well that his partner could be in the land of the bum gun for days.
Paul stayed on the dodgy deck chair and allowed his charming lady to finish her probing. Both physical and mental. He learnt a lot about her life too during that long, long hour.
Her father, apparently, hailed from Siem Reap in Cambodia, and her mother was Thai. Paul noticed at once that she took after both parents. Although she was quite obviously much more like her father below the waist!
It had been a strong massage. Paul tipped heavily.
He made his way back to his partner, who was, unsurprisingly, still ensconced in the bathroom. They spoke through the door for a while about their travel plans, or lack of them, before both falling onto the bed and into that nightmare that is sometimes known as sleep in better establishments. With firmer beds!
The hedonistic sound of the nightlife below drifted up into their room, along with the scent of filth, fumes and frangipani. That unmistakable perfume of the oriental city they had both come to almost love.
Andrew lay on the tiny mattress, dead to his husband, and the rest of the world.
Paul, finally supine, also imagined he could feel the stress of the previous few weeks starting to dissipate.
He knew there was no place like home. But for now, it felt really good to escape the clutches of that wicked bitch of the west. At times her nails were cruel and unexpectedly sharp.
The distance he had put between them felt good. Healthy.
And this time – it was him that was melting.