On leaving the Oriental we were accosted by a taxi driver and a tuk-tuk driver, jostling for our custom. Partly as he was cheaper but mainly as it was more fun, we picked the tuk-tuk and off we set for a 10-minute drive home. For a vacuum cleaner with a seat on top it made impressive progress. For once the streets were relatively clear and as we raced along, me clutching the rail, the driver showed how versatile he was by driving permanently in the middle of the road, occasionally veering across to the wrong side, presumably to avoid the ruts. He also had an interesting habit of turning off the engine at red lights – this saved on petrol but made moving away from the lights a bit dilatory, which tends to be rather alarming when you’re in a three-lane expressway with traffic roaring past on both sides.
Sometimes, if the wind is in the right direction, they throw in a whiff of burning rubber just to confuse you, and during the wild ride home in the tuk-tuk someone lets all of the gases out of a long-derelict brewery, and someone else farts in a lift, just to liven things up. Sometimes there is an aroma of decaying rubbish so you don’t get complacent.
No-one else except me appears to notice it. I am assured that many expats and Thai nationals believe the place to smell of attar of roses, and will happily stay there for hours, or even years, on end without the desire that I had to get the hell out and some some fresh air…..
Off on my Great Adventure. I’d decided I wanted to go to Krabi, a fairly unspoilt resort from where I could hop on a boat to an idyllic island called Railay Beach. But all the Krabi coaches were fully booked. Indeed, all coaches to anywhere were fully booked. I began to despair as my long-held dream of getting the hell out of the stink-hole that is Bangkok, and go to somewhere more aromatic, began to fade.
After a fruitless request for coaches to places I’d heard of (ie, Phuket and Koh Samui – I hadn’t exactly read the guide book assiduously), I tried the tack of being totally flexible. ‘I’ll go anywhere.’. ‘All full,’ replied the clerk. ‘What, no seat to ANYWHERE??!’ I cried in despair.
The clerk looked at me doubtfully and said she had one seat left – on a bus going to Suratanawee. ‘I’ll take it!’ I said firmly and paid my £7. I had no idea where Suratanawee was, and I still have no idea, but torn between going there and staying one more night in this stinking sodding city, there was no contest. Suratanawee had one great attraction for me, and that was that it was a long way from Bangkok and that with a bit of luck it did not smell.
The coach was to leave at 8.20 so I had a couple of hours to kill. I wandered round the bus station, lined with tiny, dirty bars competing with each other for which could be the most unappealing.
It was a gloomy scene, and as I sat in my chosen bistro, a beer and a dish of syphilitic-looking rice and chicken in front of me, I thought ‘here I am, alone, in the world’s sex and drugs capital, in a vile bar, far from home, about to spend 10 hours on a bus going to somewhere I’ve never heard of’.
Everyone in my bus was Thai – none of them were dressed for a weekend by the seaside and I wondered gloomily what kind of dross-hole Suratanawee was. When the coach disgorged us there at 6.30am I realized it was a dreary one-horse town in the middle of nowhere. Luckily an opportunist taxi driver popped up and asked me and the Spanish couple if we wanted to go to Krabi. Did we half! We piled into his topless truck for a hair-raising 10-minute ride to join a connecting coach for a further 3-hour drive to Krabi.
I fell asleep again and when I woke the scenery had changed to lush green mountainous outcrops and charming little houses set among grassy glades. The air conditioning had started the trip at refrigeration standards but was no longer up to the task required of it and when the bus tipped us out, about noon, we were melting. A 5-minute journey to the jetty in a bone-shaker van and time to clamber aboard a rowing boat with an outboard engine which I suspected had been written off as an unseaworthy vessel in about 1950 and left there to rot. It toppled about alarmingly as we clambered on, but it was a pleasant journey through grey-green sea which sprayed up refreshingly into our faces and took us close to palm-fringed beaches and past green-fringed rocky outcrops. Things were starting to get a bit idyllic.
Railay was charming. Easily manageable – you can walk across the island in a few minutes – it features three ‘resorts;’ each with its own bar and restaurant, set next to each other along a curved sandy beach about half a mile long, rimmed by craggy cliffs topped with high lush vegetation.
Along with several private holiday homes, that was about it. There are some small shops, a coffee bar or two selling second-hand books, sarongs and bottles of water.
In a path through the trees I came upon a troupe of monkeys, being fed tidbits by the locals. One gave me some bread to feed them and I was charmed when they boldly hopped up and took the food from my hand with their little paws.
Suddenly a rogue monkey appeared from nowhere and grabbed my bag of pineapple. I was bigger than him and probably would have won if it had come to a fist fight, but he had the advantage of surprise, determination, cunning and an overwhelming desire for pineapple. I held on, laughing, as he tugged harder – the bag tore and he grabbed the fruit and was up a tree with it before you could say ‘give me back my pineapple, you long-tailed bastard’.
The path brings you out on Pra Nang beach, which features the cave of a goddess of prosperity and fertility, surrounded by wooden carved phallic symbols of great length and girth.
The rock here looks as though it has been formed out of great slow dropping icicles of rock. And the trunks of great trees have grown side by side among the rock, twisting and dripping so that they look like the rock itself.
Arrived back at Sunrise Beach where the bars, set among palm trees, made out of wood, are just yards from the sea. There is a coffee bar and open-air internet café. Railay becomes more idyllic the more you see of it – the ideal place for a chill-out holiday – everything you need is here but there is essentially nothing to do – wonderfully enforced idleness in lovely weather.
Stopped for a beer at a beach bar and got chatting to an American couple, who rolled up a joint and passed it round. I’d been under the impression that you got banged up at the Bangkok Hilton for 20 years for this kind of thing, but apparently not – no-one turned a whisker.
Some hours later, the Americans walked me home still clutching a margarita and I promptly went out again when they’d left and sat on the deserted beach in the dark watching the water gently rolling in and thinking pensive thoughts about life and lurve.
There was a definite atmosphere between Faye and Geoffrey; you’d have to have been back in London to miss it. Each was taking pains to talk to the rest of us, as though to show us how reasonable they were, but were ignoring each other. At one point, the rest of us having got into a good-natured debate about Jane’s Mulberry obsession (which she was taking in good part, her good humour having been restored), Faye and Geoffrey were thrown back on each other’s company and were giving each other the silent treatment. Faye was the first to break it, as she obviously had something on her mind. “We’re here together,” she snapped. “The least you can do is try not to show me up. Were you trying to make a fool of me?”Geoffrey caught my curious eye at this point and kept mum, but I was massively intrigued: what had he done, apart from being a general, all-round knob? Catherine had heard it too and we came to the conclusion, in the lav, that Geoffrey must have spent too long the other night before talking to Maeve, the artist, who we agreed was rather attractive with her Titian red curly locks.“I don’t get it though,” said Catherine, puzzled. “Faye’s not the jealous sort, she really isn’t. There’s no way Geoffrey could pull a bird like Maeve anyway, even if he wanted to, and Faye knows it. “
I had to agree. Maeve was open, articulate, and rather “hippy” if you know what I mean – quite the opposite of the prim and anally retentive Geoffrey. Plus she’d told us she is embroiled in an unconventional but passionate relationship (“twice a night unless things go horribly wrong!”) with an artists’ supplies salesman from Looe.Even if she hadn’t been getting it twice nightly there was no way a woman of her calibre would look twice at an oaf like Geoffrey. No, it had to be something else that had prompted the Faye/Geoffrey breach……
Last chapterFor readers who haven‘t been paying attention to the recent chaotic events, let’s tally up the total of sorted and sundered hearts…
Jane and Pirate Pete
Kim and Shy Giles
Geoffrey and Olivier
Michaela and Ian
Me and Dan
Faye and Geoffrey
Jane and Jonathan
As Michaela, Faye and I sat gazing into our pints that night, rather too shell-shocked for much conversation, I got to thinking that there was something we all had in common. Sorted or sundered, we had all secretly been looking for a hero. I don’t mean a beefy guy who rescues golden-haired toddlers from burning houses – though that would be good too – I mean someone you can admire and respect, someone who would, well, look after us. In a way you need to admire your partner for them to bring out the best in you – because unless they give their best, you can never really give your best.
Had we really admired our respective partners? Geoffrey was an arrogant, emotionally disconnected know-it-all homosexual, Dan a self-absorbed, stressy, lazy alcoholic, Jonathan a drug-dealing narcissist. And Ian had been shagging two other women for years. Had we really admired them, believed them to be our heroes, or were they and their faults simply our comfort blanket, our security, our protection from the scariness of being alone?
They say “better the devil you know than the devil you don’t”. Would the devils of being alone be worse than the devils of our previous partners? I posed the question to Faye. She couldn’t answer it either. We decided there were some things we simply couldn’t know. Emily Bronte wrote of the North Yorkshire moors “what have those lonely mountains worth revealing? More glory and more grief than we can tell” and I rather felt that way about the Cornish cliffs.
What we could tell was that outside the gusty winds were scudding the clouds around, the seagulls were crying and swooping across the harbour, the moon was coming up, the lights of the little village were twinkling in the cottage windows. The village lay cosy and protected in its little cleft. By an unspoken decision we got our anoraks and handbags and set off for the pub.