Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Koh Phangan Diaries 1993 - India to Bangkok, Thailand

I recently found my diary from my first trip to Koh Phangan in 1993.
The exultant naivety of a 21yr old's new found freedom on the road. Hey, why not? Let's go back to the beginning...  Mia Escobud, April 2013

Arrival to Bangkok from India, Feb 1993

I arrived into Bangkok this afternoon, astounded that I'd finally reached that geographical point on the atlas. After five months on the road, following the old hippy trail on a double decker bus from London to Kathmandu, then continuing down into India, I was finally here. 

The ultimate achievement of my 21st year, to look out of the plane window, to find a new and long sought after land before me; one I'd first dreamed of five years ago, one I knew I would get to sometime... and that time was now.

As I headed for immigration, I saw myself in my brother's footsteps three years earlier, and I couldn't help wondering whether he'd been as excited as me to set foot on this soil. That never failing grin, the inevitable elation… the dream realised!  

The moment we landed, India disappeared into another existence, lost into memories that couldn't help - and didn't want - but to be suppressed.  

There was no recalling her; I'd known that this new experience would eclipse India without a moment's notice, and I'd spent the time on the plane furiously writing down all the last impressions, so as not to be drowned out by the magnitude of this other.  

So I passed over Burma with only the twinge of a raised eyebrow, intent on finishing my work and arriving with a totally clear head, to take it all in. Only when we touched down did I really stop - to see, to think, to feel, where I was.  

 And ah, what bliss! The Land of Smiles at last. Thailand!

Bangkok, A Modern Metropolis

It took us two hours to get from the airport to Khao San Road, on what to me were unbelievably modern roads, amidst hundreds of cars who now had - amazingly - ceased to throw black fumes out of their exhausts.  

India now seemed so incredibly dated: here I was, suddenly back in the modern world - the 20th century. The palm trees and the heat triggered memories of arriving into California a few years before, only this time it was the tropics of S.E.Asia - Bangkok!

Bumper to bumper the cars slowed to a crawl; in this mode we crept across the city in the blazing heat, untouched in the ice-cool shelter of our air-conditioned taxi.  

Golden temple Stupa at Wat Pho Bangkok Thailand
The two hours passed without my realisation: 

Too caught up in golden temples and highways and modern people to notice the time...

... And when we finally arrived, I couldn't believe my eyes at what I was so in awe to be seeing. 

A new world.   

Newly Liberated-from-Society Travelling Souls 

Khao San Road. The hub-bub of a market street, filled choc-a-bloc with travellers wares to delight the senses: silver jewellery, Buddha amulets & beads, and tie-dyed clothing

Friendly Thai hawkers, only too happy to bargain amidst the honking traffic and the sights and smells. Street-side fare of pad thai and corn on the cob to keep us going, while we wandered and pondered this metropolis for backpackers.  

The streets were filled with farangs of all nations, all in their cotton fibre clothing, some obviously - by the unkemptness of their threadbare clothes and bedraggled hair - just landed from India. 

Others, straight from Europe or Australasia or Japan, had quickly blended in by donning the tie-dyed hippy clothing, available everywhere, that appealed somehow to our newly liberated-from-society travelling souls.

Suddenly there were no more Indian beggars and cripples by the side of the road, no more rubbish left to rot in the gutters; dogs that actually didn't look mangy. 

And after the predominantly vegetarian India, here now were stalls and stalls of ready cooked meat - I had to scour at first to see if there was anything I could eat! Five months on the sub-continent road had turned me into a vegetarian, too.

Tuk Tuks not Rickshaws - The Far East

We found a guesthouse near the post office adjacent to Khao San Road, dropped off our bags and headed straight out into Bangkok, tiredness totally forgotten. We wandered the streets for hours, returning only to shower before heading out to Pat Pong, a 20min 'tuk tuk' ride away from Khao San Road.  

Finally out of the world of rickshaws: this time I hadn't seen my world change. For the first time since I'd left London, I'd had no altering scenery or slowly changing faces to prepare me for my next destination - just a two hour plane journey through the air. So I arrived into Pat Pong, amazed to find I was actually in the world of fake Guccis.

It took me a minute to realise I didn't have to go any farther east: I was here, in the Far East itself.

Thais by the side of the road tried to drag us into their infamous 'balloon-blowing, razor-pushing pussy shows'. In the open doors of the not-so-illicit bars, we caught glimpses of scantily-dressed girls dancing on the bars, coming over to entertain the customers with open wide Thais smiles on their faces.  

Amused, I watched as a half-naked girl came to sit with the lone man at the next table. She glanced at me a few times, and when we looked at the same time, we exchanged open friendly grins. My first encounter with a Thai bar girl, where I would realise we are all just the same - regardless of the clothes we're wearing, or the job we're doing!   

No judgement needed here, we're all just people, whichever role we're playing. Finally feeling the exhaustion of the day, and with 'One Night in Bangkok' under my belt - that immortal song that has surely called to many a soul - I headed home to bed, full of it: tired eyes still wide open.  

I went to sleep that night with a vision of bumping into my friend in Khao San Road... 

And strangely enough within five minutes of wandering there the next day, there she was. Vicky's boyfriend and another friend from home were two minutes behind her, and before I knew it I was back in the company of my best buddies, five months after leaving them in my hometown.  

They were leaving for Koh Phangan in a few hours, and I promised to follow them within a week. They'd only arrived back into Bangkok the night before, after spending three weeks on Koh Samet, so it was a real coincidence to bump into them. 

Strange how Vicky had been dreaming of seeing me too.  

This was before the days of email and mobile phones and facebook: we had to rely on message boards, post restante - and intuition and luck! - in those days...

Diary Feb 1993   

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