Christmas 2014, and to those who may accuse me of being repetitive with my choice of Thailand yet again as a holiday destination, I say this: you try living in the Middle East and see what vacations you fancy after a few weeks of repressed desert living.
In fact, Thailand wasn’t even my first choice of destination: for that I blame my old mate Orange, who had already decided it would be a laugh to meet up on holiday somewhere in South East Asia.
Vietnam was his first choice but, unless you actually live there, Vietnam is not the best place to be- at least on a short break.
I floated the idea of Cambodia at one point and Orange spent a while getting enamoured with the idea of seeing Angkor Wat.
I said I was easy about where to go- I had been in Thailand only in September, after all, and to get back to me if he had any questions.
When he did get back to me, via Facebook Messenger, his questions were thus:
Q: How ropy, exactly, are the $25 whores in Phnom Penh?
A: In some cases, really quite ropy- depending on how addicted to crystal meth they are.
Q: Is Sihanoukville full of 20-something Scandinavian girls, looking to fulfill a long-held fantasy of holiday romance with a middle-aged man who is carrying one or two extra pounds?
A: No, it is entirely full of British men in their late 50s and early 60s who have opened up bars as a respectable way of slowly drinking themselves to death.
Q: Is Angkor Wat really that impressive?
A: Well, yes- it is pretty amazing, really- contemplating the ruins of an entire civilisation.
Q: Can you cop off with Angkor Wat, though?
Q: Will Angkor Wat get you off your tits in some way?
A: No, but I hear Siam Reap is pretty kicking these days, although it’s been twelve years since I was last there so I wouldn’t really know.
Armed with these facts, Orange decided that Angkor Wat was just “a load of old stones really”, and there would be plenty of time for that kind of thing in the future, like when we are properly old.
I was happy with this, wanting to go to Koh Phangan anyway, after having had a great time there in September.
“But I gotta do Phuket first though, bro,” he said over Skype. “I got a DJ mate who’s gonna be there.”
“Well, if it’s Patong you mean, then it’s just really drunk Aussies and ping pong show touts,” I said. “I dunno if I fancy it. It’s like Pattaya only twice the price.”
“Yeh well, just for a bit.”
So we agreed to meet there. But then we’d head to Koh Phangan.
“Gin’ll be on Koh Phangan- you know him, right?”
“One-eyed kick boxer Gin?”
“Yeah, that’s the one.”
“Well, we met in Bristol. I haven’t seen him since.”
In fact, in Bristol he had given me a prescription drug he was then taking, purely recreationally, called Subutex, telling me it would feel really good so long as I did it with an anticonvulsant drug.
What it made me feel was incredibly fucked and like I could hardly stand up and, despite my then housemate Matt also being similarly fucked up, we thought a trip to the local pub would be a good idea.
It was not.
Very soon after arriving, I had to rush to the gents to be violently sick in the toilet.
And after that I was violently sick in the beer garden.
And then in a fire bucket.
And then in an empty flowerpot at the front of the pub.
And then down the door of the Gents when I didn’t quite make it there in time.
“Yeah, well, he was going through a bad patch at the time, what with losing the eye and everything. He’s really got his act together since then,” said Orange. “In fact, he’s gonna be scouting out locations for a business venture on Koh Phangan.”
“What, for Muay Thai training?” I asked. “Like a gym?”
“Nah, a cannabis plantation.”
It seemed fair enough.
When the taxi got to Patong, the driver couldn’t find the hotel. He vaguely waved at an alleyway as he put my suitcase on the pavement. I got out, hitting the passenger door on the ridiculously high kerb and quickly shut the door before the driver could see I had left an enormous dent in the inside bottom corner. Thankfully it still closed okay so I thought I’d pretend I hadn’t noticed. Bad karma, but hey. I was on holiday!
Out and about with Orange, he demonstrated his almost supernatural ability to charm women. He did this by utilising two cunning methods:
1. Actually talking to women
2. Hitting on each and every reasonably attractive woman he could see
These techniques had already been put to good use before my arrival with a Russian bird who had, “A great body but her face was a bit weird.”
Out and about, he would accost random Russians, disarm them with his Cockney wideboy manner, bundle them into a hug or a kiss, take telephone numbers and make arrangements to meet up later that he didn’t intend to keep, cheerfully waving the now elated girls as they went off to meet their mothers. And this was outside the 7-11.
“It’s all a bit of laugh, ennit, eh?” he’d chuckle, lighting his umpteenth Marboro as he swaggered down Bangla Road.
“Ave it!” he’d cry. And “Tits on that!” jostling me with his elbow.
“Ere, don’t fancy yours much!” he laughed, pointing out an enormously towering ladyboy with an Adam’s Apple the size of a Cox’s Pippin.
“So where we gonna go then?” he asked.
“How about a go-go bar?” I suggested. “Not one of the ping pong ones though. They’re all a con these days.”
“Fair play, mate. Fair play. Let’s grab some valium as well, while we’re at it!”
Following the pharmacy, I led him down Soi Seadragon to Suzy Wong’s, where you can smack the girls on their bare arses with foam paddles that make a lot of noise but don’t actually hurt. Then we hit the Devil’s Playground where the girls stand on hydraulic shaking platforms that make them all jiggly.
It was okay.
The next day we had to attend a tiresome pool party where the beautiful people had gathered, purely so Orange could try to butter up the DJ and hopefully get a ‘play’ somehow or somewhere.
Orange is obsessed with getting a ‘play’ wherever he goes, USB sticks stuck forever in his pocket and although he only vaguely knew the DJ, he knew he was playing at the Koh Pha Ngan Christmas Day Jungle Party. I skulked at the periphery, not wanting to engage. As per usual.
“It’s proper shit here, sunshine,” Orange said on returning. “Let’s get our arses to Haad Rin as soon as, bruv!”
This we did- we said ‘fuck it’ to Phuket and flew to Koh Samui, where we promptly took the ferry to what had once been one of the coolest (metaphorically- it’s sweaty as fuck, really) places on Earth.
“Gin’s gonna meet us in Haad Rin, bruv,” Orange said. “He’s on a fackin slow boat from Cambodia with his bike. Don’t worry about the wobbly stuff- he’s got it in spades!”
“How did he get it in?” I asked.
“What do you think, you muppet? He shoved it up his arse!”
“Well, let’s hope he wrapped it well,” I said. “It won’t be ‘good shit’ if it’s all smelly with bum germs.”
As it was, I needn’t have worried. Gin had wrapped everything up well.
This was about the last careful act he performed before arriving back in the Land of Smiles.
Gin hadn’t always been one-eyed, of course. He wasn’t a cyclops or anything. In fact, despite being a ‘bird shit farang’, he had been kicking the asses of all and sundry in a successful career as a kick boxer in Southern Thailand.
This really pissed off members of the Thai underworld who were always betting on the Other Guy, out of reasons of national pride as much as anything.
Gin had destroyed everyone.
Then, one evening, he got into a wholly-engineered argument at a 7-11 store which ended up with some Thai scrote sticking a knife in his eye. This ended his career.
He returned to England and ended up on diazepam, downers and despair- hence the Bristol Subutex incident.
Orange and I were checked in at a place on Haad Rin when he arrived in a bizarre blizzard of froth and vinegar.
“You wouldn’t fucking believe the journey I just had. Slow boat from Cambodia. Couldn’t get a signal. Squeezed in the back with me bike. Got any valium?”
“Hi Gin,” I said. “How’s it going?”
“Oy oy! Got the Mandy then, you tart?” asked Orange.
“Yeah, but we should save it for tomorrow night. Jungle party. I don’t plan on going overboard. Gotta keep it together for me business. Yeah, I got it all worked out this time. It’s foolproof. Got any valium then?”
Orange fished around in his wash bag and handed Gin a strip. “Have one of these, Gin,” he said.
“One?” said Gin, incredulously. “That won’t even touch the fucking sides!”
Before Orange could stop him, Gin had necked all ten pills.
Ten minutes later, he was staggering around the room, speech slurred and glass eye all wonky. Fifteen minutes later he had collapsed.
“I’ll go get some beers, then,” I said. “Let’s have a couple here and head out. Gin’s wasted.”
“Sounds good to me, bruv,” said Orange. “Get us some Chang.”
(Part Two of this story is here)