14. Back to Bangkok (continued)
I am glad when our cab deposits us at the end of the Khao San Road. I’m not used to this level of activity in this sort of weather and in this kind of metropolis. That said, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed our trip about town, so we indulge in a shandy to celebrate our modest achievement.
We’re set on having barbecued sea-bass tonight, sitting outside, serviced by the restaurant that trades beneath Dong Dea Moon. The fish turns out to be not all bad, despite the battle with its bones, but I do feel a little exposed eating on the road-come-pavement. But this is a mere introductory offer to the evening, for we are building towards a night in the Mango – aka, Hendrix!
I almost passed out. Before us was nothing but rubble. At some juncture during the six weeks we had been away, somebody had decided that Hendrix wasn’t worth the recovered timber it was built from. This humble bar, where I got stuck into some serious drinking that first, fragile week, covered in sweat and bothered by mosquitoes, to be reduced to this.
So instead we returned back to Dong Dea Moon and befriended J (Mk.2), fresh off the aeroplane from England and travelling alone. He took great interest in our story so far, as the Noisy American occasionally glanced over from the opposite side of the bar, and when it came to the subject of the islands and their accompanying Buckets of Joy, my companion saw fit to educate him in the practice. So comprehensive was her teaching that I was forced to bail out of the lesson early.
The walk home was an unsteady one, but I recall it vividly. I remember a desperate need to be back in my hotel room and a real fear that I might not make it. It wasn’t that I thought myself incapable of walking the 300-odd metres to the hotel, but more that I might find myself interrupted, be it by the Bangkok Police or a hostile traveller, or even an opportunist citizen. Worse still, I feared the possibility that I might collapse into a random group of strangers, or some roadside vendor’s stall – and what would become of me then?
Not surprisingly, the next day was a bit of a write-off for the both of us, although, weirdly, more so for me than my companion, who had shared in a second bucket with J (Mk.2) after my premature exit. I spent much of the day getting stuck into Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas for the first time, having read Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail many years before but never having gotten around to reading Thompson’s more (in)famous tome. It seemed apposite material, especially given that I was keeping a sort of journal myself, although it did leave me feeling a bit barren in the literary department. Whilst Hunter Stockton Thompson had a car, a boot full of pharmaceuticals, a few firearms and a contract with Rolling Stone magazine to work with, all I had was a typical traveller’s itinerary, access to strong lager, and a half-decent command of the written word. But I did suffer from a degree of fear, and there was enough about me to inspire a certain amount of loathing, if I could only find a way to convey this in print. In truth, what with my morbid fascination with Apocalypse Now running in parallel, such fantasies were probably best avoided.
Rather perversely, we met up with J (Mk.2) again that evening, who brought along with him a Canadian he’d befriended somewhere or other. Not even the Hole in Wall could inspire us this time around as my companion and I wearily shuffled through the motions and soon bade farewell to our new found friends.
On Friday we collected our visas and prepared for our exodus to Laos. This involved the acquisition of anti-malarial tablets, the north of Thailand and beyond delineated as a higher-risk environment. We were probably over the worst of it because the rainy season had finally come to pass, depriving the common vector – the mosquito – of the conditions necessary to reproduce en masse. In any case, malaria isn’t a critical issue in Thailand (although persistent enough not to be discounted completely), but near and across many of its boarders one is advised to take precautions whatever the time of year. This is because the prevalence of jungle wetland enables the vector to proliferate. In built up areas such as Bangkok, on the other hand, the chance of infection is practically nil.
Malarial or otherwise, the mosquito is still an irritant that needs to be confronted. So far we had been relying on N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide – more commonly known as DEET – as a means of self-defence. DEET was developed by the United States Army and it is an aggressive solution. Sold as a ‘roll-on’ or ‘spray-repellent’, I’d knocked out a couple of unwelcome bugs on the islands with this stuff. Directly applied, it can kill a cockroach of substance within a matter of minutes, although I’d more commonly spray it on our mattresses – in anticipation of bedbugs – or beneath doors, or into any ominous looking holes where creatures might feasibly take refuge. The idea really is to apply the liquid directly onto the skin, whereupon one will experience a general tightening of the epidermis, or maybe even a burning sensation, but should otherwise remain unbitten.
Another weapon in our armoury is the ‘mosquito coil’. Made from pyrethrum – a natural insecticide derived from the dried flower-heads of the humble chrysanthemum – the hardened tendril is made to smoulder, mustering a light vapour repellent to most insects. It is as effective as any draught will permit, and therefore best utilised in enclosed spaces. Only the reluctance to let them burn whilst one is sleeping – especially in wood-based dwellings – prevents their more regular usage (it is claimed they will burn for up to 8 hours).
If the mosquito succeeds in breaching these defences, one can alleviate the discomfort with a camphor/menthol based balm. I use the White Monkey Holding Peach brand. It’s a competent application – as good as any balm, I should imagine – but when confronted with the work of the Asian Tiger Mosquito [Aedes albopictus] it is often found wanting. The wounds these insects inflict are pretty nasty: bruises as big as your fist, throbbing welts that visibly pulse, and blisters prone to infection. Fortunately for me mosquitoes aren’t too interested in my blood. Unfortunately for my companion they are rather keen on hers.
Of course, we should have sorted all this out before we left England. I actually obtained a prescription for a drug called Malarone three weeks before I was due to travel, but it took me another two weeks before I bothered doing anything with it. In Plymouth, a week before my flight, I sauntered on down to Hyde Park Pharmacy, not appreciating that anti-malarials aren’t the sort of thing a chemist stocks as a matter of course. Assuming my departure to be still some way off, the staff seemed quite put out when I told them how quickly I needed these drugs in my possession. And when they offered to rush the order through, only for me to balk at the price (over £120 for a month’s supply) and tell them not to bother, they appeared even more so. But it was the right way to go because I managed to find the same amount of Malarone in the Boots on Khao San Road for less £40, and we embarked on our 37-day course – as prescribed – with immediate effect. [This is financial disparity no longer applies: on subsequent trips to South Asia I have found that the Malarone on sale there is nowhere near as affordable as it once was. Conversely, charged by the pill, it is cheaper in the UK in 2012 than it was in 2002.]
With greater motivation we could have departed there and then, but for some reason we decided against it – we had the days to spare on our visa so why not use them. It was also determined that we would try the overnight train, offering us the beauty of sleep and saving us a night’s rent, the same trick that we’d pulled off on the journey back to Bangkok.
We agreed that drinking profusely was best avoided and settled for supping a few shandies and watching a couple of films in an institution called Chart. (If one had not deduced it already, it is best assumed that, unless noted to the contrary, every evening of my travels involved the consumption of at least a few mildly alcoholic beverages.) K-19: Widowmaker and Panic Room were the movies in question, and they weren’t too bad – the former in particular – although the watching of films plein air, in what amounted to someone’s backyard, felt innately odd.
We dusted off with a drink in Dong Dea Moon, possibly to keep at bay the inchoate unrest that tomorrow’s activities would assuredly deliver, and certainly because there’s very little else to do at night when one’s slumming it in Bangkok.