Day 55 and a half: Trains

For two days this is my house:

This is my room.

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This is my hallway.

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This is my backyard (it changes a lot).

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This is my dinner.

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This is my family.

Auntie:

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Adorably gnome like with the kind of sumptuous edges that could be used as a billboard for hugging. When she moved her hands each of her fingers expressed themselves independently like a dance of silken worms. Most of the trip she sat cross legged happily gnawing on fried chicken or sticky rice. She offered me food and I helped her lift her bags. She didn’t speak english but she said a lot in her smiles. When a hawker came through the carriage flogging treats she told me what to get.

Donnie:

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Our first interaction:
I offer to help jam his bag under the seat.

“No don’t worry. It just needs a massage,” he said. He laughed and affectionately weaved the luggage folds out of his bag as if they were fatty knots in the back of war veteran.

He’s a unique man – equal parts family man and independent traveller. He spends half his time cutting hair and raising his sons and the other half befriending the world. I saw him like one of those dads who had successfully traversed the notoriously rocky border between fatherhood and friendship.
We talked about food, sex, politics, race and friendship – all the really juicy stuff. Sometimes he gave me advice.

I’m going to ride to his place on my way to Kuala Lumpur. He’s going to show me what a real curry is (we had an argument about this), take me to some local fisherman and cook me a fish that’s ‘ugly but delicious’. Sounds fucking excellent.

I think there’s two main ways to produce excellent food, with precision or with love. They’re not exclusive and neither is necessarily better than the other. I think of precision as the use of knowledge and skill – attention to ingredients and knowledge of how to make them taste good. I think of love as intent – how the maker feels about the food. I can broadly categorise things in two columns.

Precision:
Ferrero Rochers
Frozen yoghurt
Asahi
Hot dogs
Zumberoons

Love:
Peanut butter lunch box sandwiches, squished into balls
Gelato I made for my friend Haley
Heston’s christmas feast
Whatever your mum makes
Iggy’s bread*

It’s probably obvious where my allegiances lie. My relationship with food, or you could say my love for food, is in a large way thanks to the influence of my step mum. She’s an amazing cook and has for most of her life told people she loves them by making them food. I’ve been happily indoctrinated to want food this way.

I don’t think making food with love imbues it with some kind of spectral tastiness. It’s the feelings from the maker transferred from them into the me that acts as a kind of emotional seasoning. Sometimes it’s obvious and straight forward – a friend makes me spaghetti and they’re proud of it – in a way I consume their pride with my meal. Other times it’s more abstract – I eat at a michelin starred restaurant, I’ve read about the chef, why they make the food they do and when I eat it I can understand, whether accurately or not, their intention and care. So there is no spiritually induced molecular change or anything just a change of perception.

This definition is how I understand my obsession with seeking street food, why I feel awkward buying pre-made supermarket food and my dreams of being invited to home meals. It’s my way of seeking food made with love. It’s also why I’ve loved Thailand. It’s an inseparable part of their culture to love food. Eating bland food is unacceptable good food the norm – everyone cares about the food they make. Wherever there are Thais eating I know there is food that’s being loved.

People in South East Asia wave differently. It’s rude to show your palm. Instead raise your arm and hover your hand palm down. When you wobble your hand it should like snake’s head nodding in agreement.

I’m in Penang now waiting to meet a local. We’re going to eat together.

* This list is in no way scientific, comprehensive or objective

Day 44 and 45: Aranya Prathet to Battambang

We got to Aranya Prathet, a scam filled transit town on the Thai side of the border, at about 5pm – there was no fucking way we were going through Poi Pet at night time so we found some accommodation. All the gaudy, brightly coloured guesthouses offering cheap rooms and potentially sexy massages were booked out so we got a room in the only ‘fancy’ hotel in town, Aran Mermaid Hotel. Alice described it like this:

“This is what Aliens would build if they were given the description of a fancy hotel but they run out money.”

We had two options:
1. Just the room – $23 (the cheapest one of course)
2. The room and an all you can eat breakfast buffet – $28

I have this weird relationship with eating and stinginess. If something is free – it doesn’t matter if it’s rehydrated goat turd and I’ve already vomited from overeating – I will eat it. The same goes for finishing meals. I find it incredibly hard to leave anything on my plate, doesn’t matter how awful it tastes or how full I am, I can’t handle wasting food.

So when it comes to all you can eat buffets I see an opportunity for exploitation. I didn’t matter how shit the hotel breakfast was, I needed to eat enough to not only cover the $5 meal cost but to ensure I was so flabbersizably full that I wouldn’t require any lunch – thus, in a round about way, reducing the cost of the hotel room I was so annoyed about.
This is what I ended up eating:
1st course: a bowl of pork congee with fresh ginger, chilli and sugar
2nd: fish porridge with vinegar, fresh ginger and chilli
3rd: fried noodles with egg and chicken with some orange juice
4th: fried rice with crab, carrot and mushrooms
5th: chicken rice with fresh cucumber
6th: cucumber soup
7th: omelette with capsicum, luncheon meat and onion with a coffee
8th: fried egg and butter on toast with a glass of milk
9th: green pea soup
10th: bowl of syrupy ginger broth
11th: Fruit – pineapple, watermelon, rockmelon and paw paw

“I was expecting armageddon.” – Alice on Poi Pet.

I had spent the morning prepping Alice. Like a father with a young daughter at the horizon of a zombie apocalypse, making sure she knew what kind of hell was approaching and how to deal with it.

There was no apocalypse. Poi Pet was nothing like how I remember. What was once the Earth’s crustiest most shit covered section of rectum is now a relatively easy and stress free border-crossing. The only vestige of it’s inglorious past is the sand, there’s still fuck loads of sand but all the pimps, conmen and smugglers are gone. Now they have trees, free shuttle busses and government employees who drift around only to offer free advice to confused travellers. The poor guy who latched onto us must of thought I was such a paranoid freak, it took me so long to trust him.

I could hardly believe how easy it was. At first I thought maybe my memory had betrayed me – when I first came to Poi Pet I was only 19; I probably saw one conman then immediately shrank into a sheltered cocoon of mistrust and self-pity. But our helper guy reassured me. He said since 2008 they’ve been planting trees, getting rid of con-men and putting in helpful stuff like him.

I was strangely disappointed. Some things are so shit they become interesting, like North Korea or fermented fish guts, Poi Pet is one of those things. Although I happily missed out on all the anxiety and stress I also missed out on sharing a unique bonding experience with Alice. Poi Pet is still shit but it’s just not shit enough to be interesting anymore.

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Hanging out with Daisy is like being a willing participant to one of those evangelical sermons they hold in stadiums. You become imbued with a strange energy that propels you to say and do silly things, your limbs and voice box flail like cordial children and your cheeks tire from smiling. You come out of it feeling tired, happy and hopeful about life.

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Daisy lives in beautiful terrace house in Battambong, an intermittently hectic city full of statues, pharmacies and coffee. She’s been living here for two and half years working for CCT – an NGO that gives Cambodian kids futures*. We’re going to spend a week here hanging out with her and her work mates, eating, maybe get some massages and doing pretty much nothing else.

* Here’s their website http://www.cambodianchildrenstrust.org and this is what Australia story said the founder http://www.abc.net.au/austory/specials/thehouseoftara/default.htm

Day 41, 42 and 43: Khao Yai national park to the border

All the foreigners say Australia is the most dangerous place – snakes, spiders, sharks, crocodiles, tiny invisible jellyfish that make you wanna kill yourself, poisonous shells, poisonous fish, platypuses, truck driving murderous bogans – everything is fucking dangerous. Well that’s all bullshit, Australia is the safest place around. My reasoning – all the dangerous shit in Australia is so massively spread out the chance of you encountering any of it is massively slim.

Rainforests are where the real action is at – all the dangerous shit all hyper-condensed in one place; Elephants, tigers, poisonous shit, malaria, dengue fever, big hairy spiders, snakes, trees covered in spikes, penis parasites, worms that bury into your eye and evil fucking monkeys. And all of them have to live together all the time. How fucking stressful. Every second of their life is struggle against danger. Humans aren’t made for this shit, we’ve evolved to the comforts of roofs, clothes and weapons.

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Alice and I are in Khao Yai national park – some of the densest rainforest in Thailand. When we started trekking it was all smiles, giggles and excited pointing but we soon realised what a stressful place rainforests are. Sure it’s beautiful but the compromise you pay for beauty is danger and stress. Khao Yai is teeming with things which seem to have the sole purpose of ruining our existence. The elephants have a history of anti-human violence*, the air is one quarter mosquitos, there are tigers, cobras and spiders, everything has spikes or horns, monkeys live here, the ground has about as many leeches as it has leaves and there is a single crocodile. A single crocodile?! Apparently some nob didn’t think there was enough danger so he let a crocodile free near the campsite. WTF?!

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Threats of crocodiles, tigers, cobras, malaria and angry elephants are all freaky as but the worst part is the leeches. The ground is covered in them, all excitably perked up and bouncy like a field of erect man-penises in a strong wind. You go to brush one off before it gets a suckle only to see a dozen more of them bounding towards you like a plague of tiny rapists. We had to be so ridiculously vigilante or we would have had hundreds of them nestling into our leg flesh. It’s very hard to enjoy scenery when you’re at war like this. Once we saw some gibbons in the tree, which, of course, was very exciting, but we couldn’t fucking watch them jump around because every moment we stood still was like jumping out of a WW1 trench – bam, bam, bam enemies all over you.

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Thanks to our incredible vigilance in the line of fire we managed to go 11kms without our blood being tainted once. We got home and dry only to read that in the dry season (now) leeches aren’t really a problem – they all come out in the wet season. What kind of nightmare is that?

The forest here sounds like a factory – bleeps and tinks of electronic levers and nobs, the incessant drown of a team of chainsaws and the throb of metallic pumps. There’s no machinery though, that’s just what it naturally sounds like. I kept expecting to see some logging or mining enterprise but nothing – it’s all tress, bugs and birds. The dry season brings hoards of cicadas and all of their randy yelling saturates into one goading chainsaw sound – it’s uncannily similar. The goading drill of the saw is constant and only suppressed by the daily rain*. Many of the bird calls here are so machinal they could easily be mistaken for electronic factory bleeps. An odd and unexpected cacophony for the epitome of wilderness.

Our stay in Khao Yai has been ridiculously disorganised, not because anything we’ve done or haven’t done but because the service here is shitehouse. After wading through a labyrinth of misinformation we ended up at a campsite in the centre of the national park. We thought there was going to be cabins, food and a bunch of nice walks to go on but there were none of those things. Well there was a restaurant but the grumpy troll who worked there was incapable of telling me when she was actually open to cook things. Everything else was seven kilometres away. Do you know how hard it is to snack when everything is seven kilometres away and the only way to get places is to hitchhike or run there?

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We saw lots of animals so that was cool.
Our campsite was surrounded by tall, plump deer. The males were shaggy and had horns and the girls all had scabs on their necks. I saw a big porcupine waddle through the campsite like a disgruntled clerk and there were heaps of monkeys – only a few cute ones, most of them were evil. Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any elephants. Their shit was everywhere though and everyone else seemed to have spotted some so I feel unlucky.

I don’t understand how elephants live in the rainforest? They’re so big and the rainforest is so thick and hilly. How do they move around?

Tomorrow we have to travel through Poi Pet – the worst place I’ve ever been in my life. I would say it’s the arsehole of the Earth but the analogy doesn’t do it justice, most arseholes aren’t covered in nearly as much shit as Poi
Pet is. I would be feeling pretty down about it all but there’s a big reward on the other side – finally, after all the passport and border drama and nearly two weeks later, I get to see my friend Daisy.

*Elephants are scary. One of them killed a monk and a kid a while back and every now and then they overturn a car. Imagine, your walking down the road alone and you see an elephant, it gets all rilled up because it’s spilling testosterone out it’s nob or something, and it gives charge. What can you? Run? Nope. Hit it with a stick? Nope. Flap your arms and yell like like a moron? Nope. Get mauled? Probably.
*It rains everyday. Usually between 12 and 2 and usually for 30mins to 2hrs.

Day 39 and 40: Bangkok to Pak Chong

We’re in Pak Chong, an expansive blur like city with two distinctly different lives. On one side there’s a transit town for people going to Khao Yai national park or the Cambodian border. The other side is luxurious swankville, the most famous getaway location for local celebrities and money waggers. We’re on our way to Khao Yai tomorrow. So far we haven’t had the pleasure of spotting any pop-stars or their weekend mansions. What we did spot is a Snacktown.

This is a welcome site. Songkran was like a snack muffler – Bangkok, usually the envy of all snack metropoli, was annoyingly barren. Every time Alice and I went exploring for street food markets all we found was a handful of luncheon meat BBQs and some dudes selling pomegranate juice.

I approached a pomegranate juice vendor the other day and I asked him the cost of his wares. I heard yee-sip baht (80c) and said good stuff, go ahead and give me one. He tore the cap off and donked a straw in. I handed over the dosh and he looked surprised.

“See-sip baht,” he said. That’s about $1.60. I had misheard. I told him not to worry about it, I didn’t want it. He immediately pulled out the straw and threw it at my feet. He couldn’t speak english but I gathered from his face that he wanted to say something like ‘You fuck!’.

I’m sure I sound like the world’s stingiest arsehole but I wasn’t saying no because I didn’t want to pay the extra 80c it was because I didn’t want to pay a dishonest guy. I can easily afford to pay $1.60 for a pomegranate juice but I know there are heaps of juice vendors selling it for half that. This guy, and probably all the others in Chinatown, had just inflated their price because they sold in a touristy area.

Earlier in the day we’d tried to get a cab from the Grand Palace back to our hotel. The first driver we waved offered us a flat fee of 500baht, about $18. Obviously I said no but it left me feeling infuriated. I didn’t care about the cost, that’s how much I’d pay at home, it was his dishonesty. That guy thrives off ignorance. He’s making shit loads from idiots but the other cab drivers are earning a tenth as much, like some kind of honesty tax.

It makes me feel very awkward. I always say no to these guys, sometimes offensively but I know I can afford it. Maybe if every cab driver charged a different rate for locals and foreigners that would be ok. It’s unfair there is a discrepancy in the value of currencies, maybe having a discrepancy in cost makes it fair. I can’t decide. But as it is those guys are just taking advantage of me and all the honest people so they can get fucked.

Many of my friends and family we’re worried that this trip would turn me into an eviscerated twig – all the riding combined with my usually super-heroic metabolism would dissolve all remaining non-essential meat from my body. Well the opposite seems to have happened. Maybe it’s the eight days I’ve been without my bike or maybe I’ve just eaten so monstrously my body can no longer cope. Those who were worried about my thinness you may now take a short break before worrying about my increasing plumpness.

I’ve started sportsersizing again to counteract any flabersizing. I’m very sore. There’s no way I’m eating any less.

For my whole trip I’ve constantly thought about how my friends and family members would have been on the same journey. What would they want to eat? How would they interact with the locals? Would they care about cleaning their bums with their hands? Most of all I imagined being with Alice and all the things she would have thought and done. I was very excited to show her what my life was but I haven’t really had the opportunity until now. The first night in Bangkok we stayed in an airbnb condo and the other nights we were with her second cousins in a suburban apartment. It was much more luxurious and comfortable than I had been all trip. Now that we’re in Pak Chong I feel like I’ve brought Alice to see my new house. Our day was exactly as it would have been if I was alone (with a train trip instead of biking 80km). We arrived in mid afternoon without a hotel booked only to check into a hotel that’s perfectly similar to every other one I’ve stayed in – double bed, fan, extraneous furniture, a towel for a sheet, terrible pillows and a shower that overlooks the toilet. We’ve spent the afternoon strolling around Pak Chong looking for books and laundromats. Otherwise we’ve just lounged around the hotel room saving our energy and space for a Snacktown inquisition.

Just came back from Snacktown . . . Holy shit. I can’t remember being that excited since I rode past food paradise on my way to Chukai*. Potentially the best night market I’ve been too. The range of options was ridiculous and every one of them was glisteningly fresh or fatty. It was painfully good, literally. My stomach has stretched out far enough to make me feel like I constantly need to shit (tried, don’t need to), my lips have the chilli sizzles and my mind is awash with thoughts of missed opportunity. Lucky Alice was with me so I could try more things. Without her I may have just sadly withered under the pressure of choice – instead we got:
Mackerel and cassia leaf curry steamed in a banana leaf.
The most deliciously succulent deep fried pork with a thick tamarind dressing
A variety of delicious fried sausages torn apart and mixed by hand with fresh chilies, herbs, nuts and lettuce.
Really limey som tum with extra chilli and thai cucumber.
Some coconut, taro and corn fritters.
Some fresh watermelon.
And a fresh lime and coconut slushy.
Everything freshly made in front of us, everything amazing. I only have two big regrets – we couldn’t find room for some roti and I didn’t get to try whatever the hell this is:

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*See day 6.

Day 36, 37 and 38: Bangkok

We’re staying with Alice’s second cousins, Andrew and Mona, in Bangkok.

Andrew:
A high school teacher with a big heart and good jokes. Younger side of middle aged, post 6-pack stomach with the ubiquitous shaved sides hair cut. Talks fast, slamming down opinions like anvils off a skyscraper. Cynic.

Mona:
Ambiguously aged like most Thais, beautiful and youthfully energetic. Doesn’t like mornings, likes revolutions, wants to open a Thai restaurant with no bullshit. Optimist.

While we were organising our stay in Bangers Andrew bombarded us with warnings.
– The roads out of Bangkok are madness, go on them and you will die
– Everything will be closed
– You will get wet
– Everything will generally be disorganised and chaotic

Songkran is on. It’s Thai new year, christmas and mardigras all chaotically packed into one wet, sexy, alcoholic adventure. About 40% of locals leave the capital to spend time visiting their families or travelling to G rated, middle-class, beach getaways. It leaves the city remarkably more subdued. Streets which used to have amphetamined markets and hive-like bazaars are now just quietly suburban, scattered with the few hard-working hawkers. Half the shops are closed, the roads are empty and the highways no longer resemble stampedes. Everything is less – this is all with one GIANT exception – Central Bangkok.

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Andrew had described this several times but being a naive doubter I thought it would just be a few kids with some water pistols spraying girls they have crushes on. The morning it started I had to head out to the train station to pick up my bike.

Andrew: “You will be a target. Everyone is going to want to splash the pharang on the bike.”

Mona, waving her arms : “You are yelling ‘Hey everybody splash me. Splash me. Hey you! I want to get wet’.”

On my way back to Andrew and Mona’s place I got drenched. Every conceivable method of wetting someone was experimented on me – water pistols, hoses, buckets, bottles of water, mindless splashing, everything. One guy so fervently hauled a bucket of water at me I swerved from the impact, almost crashing into a motorcycle. Another time a man ran out of his house to swipe chalk across my cheek*, I was riding fast at the time so he really had to whack me to get it on – almost crashed again.

I got back to the house an hour after I had planned, utterly drowned and spotted by blurred hands of wet chalk. (my navigation had been shot when my hands became to damp to operate my phone, so I had to Crusoe it again). I was feeling triumphant and exhilarated, as if I had just come out of the Songkran warzone but when I arrived dripping at the door, no one seemed at all surprised or amused.

“That’s nothing.” Andrew said.

That afternoon Mona’s best friend June came over with a her teenage son and her quietly cute niece. We suited up and prepared ourselves for a journey to the heart of the monster.

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If I ever direct a zombie film, this will be the scene of the apocalypse. It was fucking madness. Thousands of people packed into a suburban highway, everyone of them armed with cheap water guns, iced water and chalky sludge. It’s a war between a million different armies – no one is safe, everyone is shooting everyone – foreigners, the heavily armed, and anyone dancing is particularly vulnerable to a good drowning. At it’s heart it’s so packed the only way to cross from one side of the fight to the other is to use your slimy chalky body to slither through the crowd like a single oil molecule swimming through a river.

As soon as we got to the edge of it Andrew became suddenly consumed by the need to arm up. With Andrew spouting American-gun rhetoric like a vengeful patriot, we bought some cheap rifles and prepared to soak some suckers.

Most of the others squirted and splashed either indiscriminately or vengefully but I went for the unsuspecting and, admittedly, cheap targets. All of my water was reserved for shots to dry people, unaffected kids and rich Chinese tourists – crotch, bum, ears and eyes were my targets. Alice said I went to far when I shot a sleeping baby in the back of the head but such was the madness of the day, it just kept sleeping anyway.

Eventually it go so packed we were unable to leave willingly. We could only subject ourselves to the drifting will of the masses. Cold, covered in chalk grime and far away from our original energy and enthusiasm we were uncomfortably pushed with the hoard until Andrew found an unlikely refuge – Sunrise Taco. Our own little war-time Switzerland, peaceful, dry and clean. We sat in the in the tawdry oasis until the fire hoses and lemming swarms had quietened to water pistols and take out queues.

I finally went to the Grand Palace.

My first independent trip overseas was to Thailand. I was travelling with my best friends and I didn’t have a clue how to travel – we just read guide books until we were exhausted of circling temples and other old things. We also had this ridiculous idea that because we were going to Europe afterwards we should conserve our money. We were unbelievably stingy. Any meal over $1 was too expensive and accommodation was as cheap as we could get – bed bugs, mosquitos and cold showers all fair game. It was like a prison, we only ate fried rice and pad thai for a month. It’s a big regret of mine. Anyway when we arrived at the Grand Palace, the most famous tourist attraction in all of Thailand, we saw the $4 entry fee and left without a second thought.

I payed for my stinginess. When I returned yesterday it had gone up to $18 and it was fucking hot. It only took us an hour before we didn’t give a fuck how gold, massive or holy anything was, we were nearing 7/10 sweaty. That’s way to much wetness and smelly ness for one person. We left and went straight to a Bangkok’s gaudiest mall – we bought somethings at Uniqlo and watched Captain America.

On the first night with Andrew and Mona we went out to a more conventional Thai restaurant, as in it wasn’t just a stall with some trestle tables. It was a bit more expensive than usual, $3 per dish instead of $1 but fuck it was good. I think it was the best thing I’ve had here.
We got:
Larb pet – minced duck with roasted rice powder, dried chilli, lemongrass and thai basil.
Khao pad pu – peppery fried rice with egg and crab.
Gang som pla – Whole snapped deep fried then basted in tamarind and boiled on a hot stove at the table.
Gai tod – sour and salty fried chicken with roasted peanuts, fresh chilli and slabs of ginger, with a sour chilli sauce
All of the dishes were very similar to what you can find in good restaurants in Sydney but better. I raked my mind thinking about what the differences were and I think it’s just a few uncommon ingredients and methods here and there – like the twice cooked fish and the roast rice powder in the larb. If this place was at home I’d go every week.

Andrew and Mona have left for a holiday and have very generously let us stay in their place. We’re in a weird kind of spot now though – because Songkran is on everything is closed. The street food markets are half empty, lots of shops are closed and it’s ambiguous what ‘tourist attractions’ are open or not. What is open and happening is guarded by hoards of water-bazooka clad squadrons intent on obliterating foreigners with icy cold water. We can’t leave Bangkok though because the roads are too dangerous. We’ll probably just chill out and eat some more and maybe get a train to a jungly national park.

* Originally water was lightly poured over the heads of buddha’s and the people to symbolise cleansing. The chalk dabbing is another blessing. Both have since been transformed from religiously significant to party fuck yeah.

Day 33, 34 and 35: The Great Passport Stamp Fiasco Pt.2

The train ride

The train ride

Not ideal

Not ideal

My train was due to arrive at the border town at 11:20. I had a ticket on the next train out of there departing 14:20 on the same day. That gives me exactly three hours to get to the border, sort out my shit and get back to the train.

I really wanted to get that train back. It was the only one to Bangkok that day and I really didn’t want to be stuck in bomb-town* again. But far more important to me – I REALLY want to be there at the airport when Alice arrives. Every second she’s here and I’m not with her will seem wasted.

The trip from Bangkok to the Malaysian border is an 18 hour journey (so they say). Originally I had bought a 3rd class ticket but considering the potential stress I had ahead of me I fucked that right off and bought an air conditioned seat with a bed. World of good that did. Should of bummed it the whole way. When morning came I didn’t have to wake up – my body had been prematurely enlivened my eight hours of shivering. My bunk happened to be right underneath the snow-stream and the one blanket you get provides as much warmth as a bag of lemons. Gingerly but still hopeful I rolled out the lemon bag and made my way to the restaurat carriage to warm up and caffeinate. A young Malaysian guy I befriended had the same idea.

“Hey, where are we?” I was eager to know if we were on schedule.

“We’re not at Hat Yai yet.”

FUCK. It was about 7:30am and we were supposed to be at Hat Yai two and a half hours ago. I found a train attendant and with the translation aid of my new friend, who at this stage felt like my mission sidekick, established it didn’t matter what time the train arrived – it was the same train that goes back to Bangkok. It stops at Sungai-Kolok and leaves again soon after.

“How long do I have?” I asked my sidekick. He did some translating.

“20 minutes.”

20 Minutes . . . 20 minutes to get the border, avoid getting deported, get my passport stamped and get back to the train and load my bike on. Alright then.

I want to reflect on two big influences on my life for second. Skip it if you just want the story.
1. My best friend, long time confidant and chief mischief co-conspirator used to have the saying ‘No compromise’. Sometimes she would raise her arms in a fisted X in front of her chest. I made fun of her because she was intolerably stubborn and ridiculous but in reality it had rubbed off on me.
2. I read IQ84 a while ago and one chapter stood out for me much more than its peers. It was about this top-gun security guard (I don’t mean security guard as in a guy who stands around a parking lot every day thinking about masturbating while his brain rots) I mean a guy you pay heaps of money to look after all the violent messy shit if your a fucked up rich person. This security guard had down the rounds on the street and doing criminal stuff. He had moulded himself into the total zenith of security guard efficiency. He said what separates the amateurs and the experts is hesitation – if you hesitate you die. He’s totally right, not just about dying, but in life generally. Hesitating is shit. I try to hesitate as little as I can.

I spent the next few hours mentally preparing myself for every eventuality I could think of. If I was going to make it I had to really go for it. No fucking around at all, just running and doing. I convinced my sidekick to hold onto my bike while I got a cab to the border and back. I stored all non-essential items in my bike panniers and arranged my passport, wallet, money, and embassy documents so they could be easily accessied in order through my shoulder bag. I swapped my thongs for my sneakers, pissed and waited at the door which was to arrive closest to the exit.

BOOM, train slows and it’s show time. I jump off before the train has stopped and race through waiting crowd to see a group of disinterested motorcycle cabbies milling about. I single one out with my eyes.

“Hey! Border and back. Hok-sip (60) baht.” He nods and obviously recognises I don’t wanna fuck around. He spins his moto around like a badass, I jump on and he speeds off. The champion swerved through every red light and drove me right up into the mouth of the immigration centre. I jumped off, spared a second to nod at him, and ran inside.

There was a queue but I bowed like a spastically excited parrot until everyone gave in to letting me go first.

“I need an entry stamp.” I said sharply with a smile, handing my passport with the page ready. He glanced down then slowly flicked through as if browsing though an airplane magazine.

“I ask my boss. You wait.”

Fuck being helpless. This part sucked. It felt like ages.

Eventually, this smiley old guy came out. He looked like a small bell stacked on top of a bigger bell.

“I have a train in ten minutes.” I said, still trying not to be rude. No one wants to help a dickhead.

“It’s already left,” he said, his hand lofting up to point a the clock like a lethargic tentacle, “relax.”

What an anti-climax. I really wanted to get emotional – angry, hysterical, cry, whatever. I just wanted this guy to understand I was only entangled in this fuckery because one of his nob-head employees neglected to stamp my passport. I didn’t though. He was so friendly and relaxing – it would have been like kicking a dodo. You can’t kick dodos, they’re cuddly and extinct. You can only kick animals with claws.

I sat down on a sack of rice and listened to dodo-bells talk about how much he loves Sydney while gliding through a bunch of forms.

“What happens? Do I get my stamp. Someone said I could get deported or go to jail.” He turned to his employees and translated. Everyone had a good laugh.

“No you will get your stamp but you have to pay.”

He told me about his love for Kings Cross, why sex is good and what he thinks of Chinese food and then handed my passport back with a bill for $100. I hadn’t given up hope yet. I singed his forms and paid as fast as I could without turning my handwriting into sludge. I sprinted the 300m to the Malaysian side, bowed a shit-load more, got a stamp, and sprinted back again.

My taxi driver ran into the station with me only to find my sidekick standing over my bike looking sorry.

“I tried to get them to wait.”

“That’s ok, thanks a lot for your help anyway.”

“I think if they had seen you they would have stopped the train.”

I was concentrating on something else. There was another train at the station. My mission now was to get to Bangkok by 7pm the next day to see Alice – that’s it. No compromise.

I called out to the station master.

“Is this the last train for the day?”

“Yeah.”

“Are there any buses?”

“No”

“When does this train leave.”

“Now.”

I handed him 100baht.

“For my bike.” He followed my eyes and understood. I gave my sidekick a hug and ran to ticket office.

“Third class to the last stop.”

“Yala.”

“Yeah sure.”

As soon as I was on the train it left. Yala is a bit bigger than Sungai-Kolok and I thought it would be easier to get out of there and maybe it would be less bomby?

Wrong and wrong.

Yala was dead. There were no more trains and no more busses. The sun was going down and I knew I only had a small window to get out. I rode my bike to the edge of the highway and stuck my thumb out. A few volleys of cars tooted and waved but no hooks before dark. I was stuck. I trotted off to a lonely, quiet hotel and checked in. All of the hope I had, all of my adrenaline and all of my desire sunk down into the earth. I immediately felt hungry, dirty and full with enough self-pity to govern an asylum. I wanted to cry. I wanted to lie on the ground and cry while someone hugged me.

I made myself pull out my iPad and search for some solution. I thought my last bet was to get to Hat Yai (the next big city) early in the morning and hope for an express something which might get me to Bangkok airport just in time. This is what came up when I searched Yala to Bangkok.

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The bombs had occurred two days before I arrived. I had ridden past the rubble on my way to the highway. There was no building left, it was just a dissident heap of splintered planks and metal scrap. I thought it was probably a planned demolition and thought nothing of it but it really was a fresh bomb site. The insurgency was here, it was real. It was scary. Out of everything I’ve done and everywhere I’ve been – this was the lowest point. I felt really fucked over. I left immediately to eat.

I ordered a shit load of fried pork, a chicken curry, some coriander root soup and some kind of amazing capsicum, eggplant hybrid thing stewed. It was all excellent. As I was monstering through it at an unhealthy pace, a well dressed Chinese man sauntered in. His fancy shirt and big, round, happy face stood out among a sea of disinterred, tiny men.

“Where are you from?” He asked me. No doubt surprised at seeing a westerner appear two days after a bomb blast.

“Australia.” Feeling keen for some company, I slid a chair out.

“Please, join me.”

A veterinarian bachelor living in Yala. I couldn’t tell whether he said his name was Ryan or Lion. I called him Lion because I never want anyone as likeable as him to suffer the indignity of being called Ryan. We talked about how much we both loved eating and I told him about my trip. He asked me how I ended up in Yala – I laughed and told him the short version of the great passport fiasco pt1.

“Maybe you can help me?” Whatever fears and self-pity I was meekly hanging onto had been washed away on a raft of crispy pork.

“I want to get to Bangkok as fast as I can. What can I do?”

He looked quizzically from side and side.

“I will drive you to Hat Yai.” He seemed unsure of what he was saying.

“Really?”

“Yes.” He broadly smiled like well-oiled buddha. It was decided. I was flooded with hope and invention. My brain ticked on and, like a virginal intelligence, eagerly flexed all the muscle it had. Lion and I rapidly traded ideas and decided my best bet was to get to Hat Yai soon as possible and fly to Bangkok. I would drop my bike at the train station early in the morning as luggage for the Bangkok train and then get a taxi to the domestic airport. I would have to act quickly in the morning but I could probably get to Bangkok around lunch time.

“Let’s go.”

Lion seemed to have been infected with my adventure. He called his Scottish friend Mark and excitedly asked him to come along. I sensed Mark required another reason to go to Hat Yai than dropping some random traveller at an airport so the three of us ended up at Lion and Mark’s favourite dig – a kind of ultra soft-core strip club. Instead of women taking their clothes off, they touch your arms and giggle at your jokes. They sing karaoke and invite you to flirt with them while you pay for their drinks and dinner.

Lion and Mark, a man with a head so big he looked like a midget, lapped it up. The girls flitted around them like insects on heat and they whispered things back to them. All the while we received a gigantic feast similar to what I imagine royals eat – all expensive shit but none of it cooked with any particular imagination or craft. It never ended, it just kept pilling up on the table and in our stomachs. I was worried about having to fork out a ton for it all so I did my darn best to pack it down more than the rest of them.

At one point Lion put a 1000baht note in a glass and said any women who kissed me could have it. I had a few young ladies try me out but I was determined to be charmingly obstinate. It seemed to go alright – all the young lasses kept smiling and no one seemed offended when I made jokes about my chastity and batted their arms away. One woman had a real hot go though, she sat right up against me and tried to rub my leg. I gave her hand a little disciplined slap and edged my chair away. Her reaction was to go straight for the kill – lips to lips, a big smelly masterpiece of slop. I dodged in time and her tongue to lash at the air in front of my nose. She looked hurt and asked me how she could feed her seven month old baby without any money? I handed her the fruit platter and said her milk would taste delicious. The other girls laughed and I felt like I’d won.

Later in the night, the manager of the store, June, a loudly playful lady dressed like a bank clerk, told me she admired my will.

“Mark is all oooohhh yeaaah llaaaa. But you have love and you are strong.” She was the only woman I felt 100% comfortable talking to so I felt quite flattered.

We were there for three hours. I anxiously waited for the bill but it never came. When we left Lion just threw money around like a mutiny of anarchist vending machines. Everyone was well tipped. I offered to contribute but he just laughed.

It was 2am afterwards – too late to go to the airport so Lion and Mark drove me to a hotel near the train station. I tried to thank him as much as I could but in the end I understood he had enjoyed the escapade and took pleasure in helping me. I had a feeling he had taken a lonely Mark under his wing some time ago.

I went upstairs and sat on the edge of the bed. I was thinking about what a crazy day I’d had when I noticed how fucking ugly my feet were. They looked like scorpions puffed out by injections of rotting lard – all spiny and oddly coloured with braises and blisters. I laughed at myself and had my first shower in three days.

I set my alarm to fucking loud mode and resigned myself to another night of inadequate sleep.

The next morning breezed past. The winds of victory were propping up my ass like the second coming. Nothing was going to stop me. I secured my bike on the train and got to the airport by 7am.

I’ve always wanted to say this.

“When’s the next flight out of here?”

“In 20 minutes to Bangkok.”

“I’ll take it.”

I fucking made it. I FUCKING MADE IT!

Now that I’m sitting in my hotel room remembering everything that happened, I wish I could tell everyone. Alan, my sidekick, Lion, Mark, the taxi driver – all those people who become wound up in my adventure, I wish they could know I was here sitting in a luxury condo about to head out to meet my girlfriend.

I’m so excited for Alice to arrive. I keep thinking – what will she be wearing? Will her hair be down or in a pony tail? Will she be hungry? Will she walk or run to me? What will be the first thing she says? I want to see her smile, I want to hear her laugh and I want a hug for hours.

*Sungai Kolok, the border town on the Thai side, is at the at the heart of South Thailand’s Islamic insurgency. Bombs, bomb threats and murders are common.

Day 31 and 32: Krong Pailin to Battambang Pt.1 of The Great Passport Stamp Fiasco

This post was supposed to be a drunkenly joyous tribute to my friendship with Daisy, an old and dear friend of mine who lives in Cambodia. I was probably going to sop around about it all day. Maybe I would have given a summary of what touring in Thailand is like and maybe my impressions of Cambodia. But no instead of all that you’re welcome to read Pt.1 of the Great Passport Stamp Fiasco.

There are two main border crossings between Thailand and Cambodia. One North, Poi Pet, and one South, Krong Pailin. Poi Pet is the simpler ride – it’s much closer to Bangkok and it’s flat all the way. It’s also the worst place on planet earth.

You know that island where James Bond gets imprisoned by Javier Bardem in Skyfall? It looks like that only instead of a handful of moderately handsome goons milling about there’s a sea of petty criminals, prostitutes and beggars. There are no charming crackled European roads here – only sand, sand, more sand and rubbish. Worst of all there are no trees, so while you are stressfully evading attempts to take your money and soul, your skin unavoidably melts off your body leaving your bare muscles to become barbecued husks. Oh and there is a river, it has no water though, only sludge, black sludge which smells like death.

Naturally I fucked that off and went to the South border, a lightly mountainous (or heavily hilly?) place with more trees than you can poke a stick at*. Half of those trees were naturally sprouting around with typically chaotic tropicalness and the others were in lines branding tropical fruit for the harvest.

Many of the Longan trees had heaps of fruit. Naturally, I had many snacks.

Many of the Longan trees had heaps of fruit. Naturally, I had many snacks.

I wanted to get to the border as fast as I could so in case I encountered any queues or difficulties I could sort it out quickly and still get to Pailin at a good hour. I spent most of the day in my highest three gears pumping it out of the saddle like a zumba-ing tyrannosaurus*. The rest was spent regaining my fortitude on long stretches of down hill. This created a funny kind of routine for my body – as I would push up hills I would sweat like buggery. It wasn’t just dripping but flowing regularly making my face and arms estuaries of salt rivers. The deluge was so thorough even my socks got soaked. By the time I got to the top of the hill I may as well have jumped in an ocean. Then on the down hill stretches I would go so fast that the wind resistance would quickly dry me out. After each decline I would end up as a crusty, starch pole covered in salt and dirt (from trucks, bike grease and road dust). By the time I arrived at the border I had gained a crusty exoskeleton and all my clothes had become rigid and crisp like some nice Italian crackers. But whatever I was at the border and only 20km to get to Battambang and Daisy!

Nope.

“You can’t go through.” A stern man with a savannah forehead.

“What, why?”

“You have no stamp?”

“What do you mean? You have to give me a stamp.”

“You have no entry stamp. I cannot give you an exit stamp without an entry stamp.”

What the fuck?! I thought crossing the Malaysian Thai border seemed unusually quick. I even remember saying to the border official:

“Is there anything I need to do?”

“Nope, just go through.”

The fucker had forgotten to stamp my passport? All I had was a useless departure card.

“So what can I do now?” I asked the man with the stretchy head.

“You have to go back to Sungai-Kolok.” That’s the border town between Malaysia and Thailand. I pointed at my bike and curled my face up. Do you have any idea how hard it was for me to get here? The man just shook his head.

“What happens if I go to Sungai-Kolok and they say the same thing you said?”

“Maybe you will go home?”

“What? Get deported?”

“You are not in my system. There is nothing I can do for you.” He gave me a bottle of water and said have a nice day. The second stupidest thing I’ve ever heard after a mugger told me to have a good day after punching me in the face and stealing my phone. Thanks guys, your generosity is my engine for happiness, without your support I would surely crumble under the weight of life’s many stresses.

At this point I had a few ideas.
1. Bribe stretchy head
2. When the gate opens for another car quickly ride through and take my chances on the other side
3. Attempt to cry, appealing to any humanity stretchy face might harbour in that enormous head of his.

This is how it turned out.
1. I went to the booth to try but I couldn’t do it. I felt bad. Thailand is embroiled in a political stand-off because of some horribly corrupt leaders and here I was about to bride a border official. No attempt made.
2. Success. I rode through and no one tried to shoot me. I walked into Cambodian immigration and triumphantly said I wanted to buy a visa. Same response. No Thai stamp, no visa. I thought about bribing this guy as well but then what would I have? A Cambodian visa but no record of being anywhere for a month. That’s probably going to give me various problems later in life. Unsuccessful.
3. I couldn’t bring myself to emotionally manipulate this guy. Instead I tried to talk kindly and rationally like I always do. Of course it contributed fuck all to my oncoming ocean of problems. He simply told me to go to Bangkok and sort it out there.

There’s shit all at the Southern border. There are no busses in the afternoon and no train service within 50km. It was around this point while contemplating my own misery when a different voice popped into my head – Action Man Nick.

Action Man Nick: “HEY you fat suki-la-la. What are you going to do? Sit around in this shit hole until you cry yourself to sleep. Deal with it.”

Suki-la-la Nick promptly crawled out my ass and action man Nick took charge of the afternoon.

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Within a few hours I was in Bangkok. I hitchhiked with my bike to the next town, got a old man to help me convince a bus driver to jam my bike over a third of his available seats and then got a real bus to the capital, arriving at around midnight. I booked the nearest hotel and woke up six hours later.

The bad thing about Action Man Nick – he doesn’t give a shit about anything other than mission completion. When my alarm went of at 6:30am I didn’t bother to clean my salt encrusted skin or eat last night’s dinner or breakfast – I had ride to the Australian embassy first thing.

They don’t have the authority to doll out stamps so they signed an affidavit-like thing, gave me some supportive smiles and pointed me towards the immigration bureau. Perhaps it would have been a good time to eat something or maybe wash of my ever deepening level of disgusting – nope, immigration bureau is 30km away, no time for fucking around I want to get to Cambodia.

What I should of done at this point is leave my bike somewhere and get a cab or train all the way there using the directions the embassy gave me. Instead I got a sky-train (only transport which takes bikes) as far as I could and then rode the rest of the way relying on the directions of 7/11 employees and cab drivers. I got so many unbelievably shite directions I ended up 15km from my actual destination at a Cosco like mega mall some idiot had confused for the place I needed to go. I had to ride the extra mileage up an express way while busses and trucks tried their best to consign me to any early grave. I crashed twice, hit a pedestrian one of my pannier bags broke and I swallow enough car fumes to turn all my future kisses into cancer donations.

I intended to get to the bureau when it opens to avoid any lines. Instead I got there at lunch time when half the offices are closed only to be met by a line extending out the office and twice lapping the connecting lobby. Several hours later this is the information I get:
I have to go back to the Thai Malaysian border where one of four things could happen.
1. I get deported
2. I go to jail
3. I pay heaps of money
4. I get a stamp

What a fucking ocean of problems. All because one border official forgot to stamp my passport.

I’ve got around 30 hours of train rides ahead of me and a rather uncertain future. I have to consider what to do with my bike now that I can’t leave it with Daisy and whether I will make it back to Bangkok in time to reach Alice’s flight. It’s been a stressful two days and I’m quite worn out and hungry but there’s nothing I can do until I get to Sungai-Kolok so there’s no point feeling like shit. Time to eat.

Silver linings:
1. I have been dreaming of roti ever since I left Malaysia. I can finally get some.
2. All of the stress and ardour of the day’s journey manifested in an incredibly euphoric dinner.
3. I’ve seen a lot of Bangkok.

I discovered a new tongue twister. While riding down the express way I would chant landmarks to myself so I would remember the turn offs. One of my chants was freeway, river, freeway, river, freeway, river, very hard to say quickly.

*I’ve been thinking about the phrase more than you can poke a stick at. I reckon a human being of average stick holding skill can hold 29 sticks about their body while ensuring each of them are pointing in different directions and none of them are overlapping. By my calculations that’s 5 held in the mouth, 8 in each hand, 1 in each armpit, 1 in each elbow pit and 4 in each foot. It’s conceivable that you could use those sticks to poke at 29 things at once but any more than that would become very difficult. So when someone says ‘more than you can poke a stick at’ what they actually mean is more than 29.

*Maybe this analogy is a bit of stretch. I was thinking that tyrannosaurs, like me, have really big legs and tiny little arms. I imagine they would always ride in the highest gear because their enormous legs would provide so much oomph. I imagined seeing them bob up and down like that would be quite joyful as if they were engaged in some kind of Zumba like exercise.

Day 29 and 30: Klaeng and Nong O

Travelling with Alan made me realise two things.
1. Next bike tour I’m bringing better navigation. Although there are way more aggressive dog gangs, the rural roads are much more beautiful and eventful than the highway.
2. In Thailand waking up at 5am is a good thing.
Alan insisted on waking up in the 5am hour every morning so we could get on the road by 6. At first I took to this task like an arthritic hippo at the bottom of a hill but now I do it every morning. Thailand is a dream at 6am – the roads are barren, the sunrise is long and the joke* is plentiful. It’s so cool and breezy at that hour I usually end up riding about 60-70 kilometres before 10am (when the sun transforms into a merciless rain of acid).

Yesterday I got to Klaeng at 12:00. I checked into a hotel, crammed down some lunch, did some exploring and then it was 1:30. Well then . . . what to do? Usually I spend the afternoon pillaging snack stalls like a tape-worm possessed viking but Klaeng was snack deficient. There was no snack town, the markets were full and busy but only with produce and the restaurants were closed or empty. What do I do? Bewildered, lonely and weighed down by anvil thighs I decided I should relax but it was such a decisive decision that the usual relaxing (reading naked in my hotel room) didn’t feel adequate. Instead I got a haircut and drank some whiskey with a gaggle of old thai men. I felt very relaxed afterwards.

After the old guys and I were finished discussing Thailand’s political future (ambiguous and sad), Manchester City’s football squad (all cunts) and the strength of my legs (I received a thorough groping) the two old men who were left standing pointed me towards their favourite restaurant.

Marvellously hectic, ridiculously long menu and an inappropriately young staff. I was greeted by one of the older, young waiters. He was so dumbfounded by my attempts to speak Thai he refused any attempt to understand me. He waved his hand around like a washed up pop star until his mum came to sort it out. I asked her what’s delicious in Thai. She gave me a big smile and led me towards a squadron of well armed pots. Her hand swung down to point at a light broth with some ambiguous corpse looking things floating around.

“This is the most delicious thing we have.” It was chicken foot soup. I had a quick scan of the restaurant and, sure enough, everyone was eating it. Finally! No pussy footing around with fried rice or any other bullshit, this woman means business.

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“Chicken foot soup hey.”

“Hahaha yes.” I don’t think she had heard anyone say it in English and the sound of it amused her.

“I’ll have one.”

It was fucking good! The soup itself was pretty simple, just chilli, coriander, lots of garlic and stock, the feet were excellent. The few times I’ve had chicken feet before I thought it was just a novelty – the difficulty in separating and spitting out bones was never worth the numbly flavoured flesh. I always wondered why people served it at all. Now I understand they’ve all eaten at this Klaeng restaurant and since then they’ve been trying to copy it but they’re all jerks so they failed.

Back to my meal. I started off by just timidly drinking the soup, thinking maybe the feet are just used for good stock flavour. As soon as I tried one of the wrinkly suckers the rest of them were all gone without another suckle of soup. The flesh was delicious and supple. You grab the wrist end and put the foot in your mouth and suck. All the flesh and skin slips of like an oily glove and leaves all the bones in a separate pile inside your mouth. Pull the bones out and savour some good shit. Seriously, it was really, really good.

For a highway town, Klaeng is very pretty. The main square, housing a lively fruit market, is framed by streets of brightly coloured terraces and wooden houses.

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At around 6pm the residents of Klaeng evaccuate the streets to make way for thousands or sparrows. For the duration of the sunset the sky is filled with a loud ballet.

It's hard to see because of the poor quality of my camera but all those black dots are birds. There were far more than this poor quality photo reveals.

It’s hard to see because of the poor quality of my camera but all those black dots are birds. There were far more than this poor quality photo reveals.

Usually I ride until I feel like stopping, I stay wherever that happens to be but over the last few days I’ve been riding to meet my deadline to get to Battambang and back*. Today the plan was 81km to Makham, a small town in the mountains. I arrived to find Makham has no hotel. I was sent 14km back the way I came to find Nong O, a highway town so anonymously ugly it has managed to evade the interests of both Google and Apple’s navigation. Having rode a bunch of kms in the opposite direction of my journey to an ugly highway scrap, I was rather bothered – Makham was beautiful, lively and looked eager to grant me a successful afternoon of snacking. Nong O looked as snack-laden as the Ethiopian dessert – the whole town consisted of a few homes, a restaurant selling instant noodles, a shack-like supermarket, a temple and a strangely spacious hotel.

I haven’t been inside any of Thailand’s many temples and this felt like as a good a time as ever. Unbeknownst to me it was Chakri Memorial Day and the temple was alive with a flurry of activity. I couldn’t tell what all the running around and busying was leading to but it didn’t matter because I saw they had food. I gesticulated wildly hoping the food would become available to me – almost immediately I was surrounded by a team of giggling middle aged women. They beckoned me to sit down, gave me several plates of food and some treats and then just stopped. I had quite the feast ready for destruction but I was wondering what my next move was in front of my newly acquired support network. I bowed. Their eyes all popped euphorically and they giggled again. I guessed it a success and dug in. They left to ambiguously flit around again, stopping by occasionally to ask me (in Thai) whether it was delicious and what my name was.

Despite their best efforts to rupture my stomach walls I finished the feast and asked how much it cost. Again they laughed and waved their hands as if to say don’t worry. I didn’t but I figured since they were so busy . . . being busy, I should get involved. I sat down next to some ladies peeling fruit but they shoed me away nicely – same thing with the ladies washing and same with the ladies making decorative things. Oh well, I waddled off to find someone to chat to. No one had the requisite english for me to understand what has going on but some ladies said I was handsome. All in all a good day’s work I’d say.

My hotel is surrounded by fruit trees. I can’t get at them because my arms are little stumps.

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*edit. Found a ladder. Freshest and best lychees I’ve ever had.

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For those curious about how Thai food in Sydney compares to that in Thailand:
The translation is quite good. In most of the restaurants in and around Thai town, and a handful of others, the food is very similar to what you would find in central Thailand. The range of dishes is similar with the exception of fried noodles and sweeter curries (like Massaman and Panang) which are far less common in Thailand, and noodle soups which are far more common. The taste is translated well but perhaps Sydney’s version is lacking a bit of sourness. Spiciness levels, surprising to me, are quite similar.

The biggest differences are the meat and the sweets – the meat in Thailand is much fattier, and although often poorer quality, it’s much fresher, usually having been slaughtered that day. The cuts are much more broad, every part of the animal is used to great success. With a few exceptions, the range of desserts in Thailand is scarcely available in Sydney. Sweets in Thailand, which aren’t eaten as desert but as snacks throughout the day, are less sweet – they are often salty and many are savoury. Besides the sugar content they are generally healthier too, with stewed root vegetables being common ingredients.

The other main difference is the timing of meals. Most meals are fair game anytime of the day. The main delineation is between snacks and mains – the mains are what we see in Sydney but the snack range here is barely represented.

This is just for Central Thailand Thailand though. Outside a handful of restaurants at home, the other Thai regions aren’t represented at all. Also keep in mind this comparison is mainly from food in Thailand to what can be found near Thaitown and a few other reputable places. Beyond those the translation is much more strained.

*Thai congee, usually served with meat and fried dough
*I’m aiming to get to Battambang on the 8th to see my friend Daisy and drop my bike off before returning to Bangkok on the bus in time for Alice’s (my girlfriend) flight.

Day 27 and 28: Cha-am, Bangkok and Nong Yai

Breakfast time.

“Eat more.”

“Vin, I can’t eat anymore. I’ll explode.”

“No eat more.”

“Ok Vin.”

“Hehehehehe.”

The man has an unstoppable appetite, He is like a gastronomical Galatcus – his mouth ranging drifting around the food cosmos and stopping only to vacuum its every inhabitant. I tried by best to keep up with him but after every course of stuffing my face another would come. I guess if you’re 61 and still riding 30km, doing butterfly laps and yoga all daily then it’s normal to eat as much as Vin.

Several hours later once I had just recovered from the mornings tummy stretches I started packing to leave. As soon as Vin noticed he unloaded every morsel left in his beleaguered kitchen. Even as I was trying to walk out the door he has handing me fruit and insisting I have plateful more rice. I gave my stomach a big slap and he let out one of his lengthy chortles. He walked me to the lift and as the doors were closing he yelled out.

“Be a good man Nick.”

“I will Vin. Thank you for everything.”

“Be a good man and you will be happy.” The doors closed and that was that. How amazing it would have been to ride to Bangkok with Alan and Vin – sleeping in temples, eating like supermen and spending nothing.

Vin’s heading to Bangkok tomorrow. He wants to rejoin the protests in Bangkok and told Alan and I we could come.

“You will eat for free there.”

“Is it dangerous,” I asked.

“No, only at night.” He explained all the violence is perpetuated by government supporters, all of which are ideologically inauthentic and only act for the payment of 1000baht a day. Vin said he is proud of the Thai people for standing up to corruption.

“If we stop. The country will fail. We will be poor. . . Thaksin is like hitler.”

Many of the thousands of protesters live on the site through donations from people like Vin. They’re been there since October and Vin says they will stay until the government is ousted or there is war.

I was in Bangkok last night. I need to pass through to get to Eastern side and the Cambodian border but I didn’t fancy much riding in on the expressway so I got a train from near Vin’s house and another one the next morning to get to the city outskirts where it’s safe to ride again.

I figured because Bangkok is like the biggest city ever, I better do some research on where to eat. So for the first time on my trip I scrawled some blogs and found one about the best authentic street food around the area my hostel was in. The article was in Bangkok magazine, sounds reputable enough – I blindly followed it’s recommendations and strangely ended up in a kitsch restaurant not dissimilar to what we have in Sydney. It was packed full of pharangs. How can this possibly classify as street food? My foodie-sense wasn’t so much tingling as blearing like a dying goat but for some reason I ignored it and trusted BK magazine’s top pick – a shrimp and chicken pancake called goong grabuang.

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Mayonnaise?! FUUUUUCCCCCKKKKK!!! What the fuck kind of authentic street food is this? I tastes like a cheap Japanese snack that would bundle out of vending machine covered in plastic. I ate it as fast as I could and got out of there.

“Tao rai?” (how much)

“gow-sip-roi baht.”

119 BAHT FOR THAT CRAP?! FUCK THIS. FUCK FUCK FUCK.

I walked back to my hostel feeling incredibly dejected. It wasn’t because I had spent 119baht on an average meal but that I had wasted an opportunity to eat a good one. Food is what I get most excited about. Right now I’m in the epicentre of my idea of food paradise. Every time I feel even the slightest glimmer of hunger my mind races at the thought of what I could be eating. Entire hours are consumed by these obsessions. So naturally I take the endeavour of finding good food very seriously. My rules so far have been thus:
1. Only eat at stalls or restaurants with lots of people
2. Do not eat at restaurants full of foreigners
3. Only eat at the normal meal times so as to make the previous two rules more accurate

I have been extremely successful. Most of the things I have eaten have either been locally sourced, virgin to me, simply delicious or all of the above. The number of average meals I’ve had have been very low – usually confined to special circumstances – free hotel breakfasts, someone shouting me etc. Every time I eat something average I feel so sad because I know it could so easily have been something extraordinary. I’m only here for a limited time, there’s only so many meals I can have. Average meals of the world – please don’t waste my time – it’s precious beyond description.

On my way back to the hostel I was hassled by a stream of hawkers who wanted me to ride in their took-tooks or eat their fried rice and pad thai. After politely refusing a few thousand I stopped by one. He was yelling at me through a traffic cone.

“Hey you. You want fried rice? Noodle? Pad Thai”

“Sawadi Krap.” What you say as a man to greet people politely.

“Krap. Sit down. What you want? Pad Thai.”

“You offer me fried rice and Pad Thai only because I’m a pharang.”

He looked at me stupefied for a moment and then bowed slightly.

“haha pharang.” His laugh was weirdly toned – like he was sussing out whether I intended to be rude to him.

“Do you eat fried rice and pad thai every night?” I said it as friendly as I could. He smiled and shook his head. I smiled back and walked away. I don’t know why I stopped to say that, it certainly didn’t achieve anything. It was probably just a reaction to the thoughts I’d had following my average pancake thing. I’m sorry for that hawker if he was embarrassed. I’m sure he genuinely believed fried rice is the only thing I wanted to eat. His method of business is totally legit – tourists want fried rice and pad thai, and he’s good at getting them to eat it at his place – that’s just how it is. If most tourists were like me all the hawkers would be yelling out ‘hey you want some spicy fishy shit.’ Lots of tourists would hate that. I don’t really know where I’m going with this. I’m obviously having some kind of identity crisis feeling disdain at the effect tourism while being a tourist myself.

I was really hot and dirty today. My lips had become blistered from the long sunny rides of the previous week and I hadn’t showered in a day so my daily grime, which is considerable, had doubled. I had just eaten a delicious and fiery lunch so, despite my afflictions I was feeling quite buoyed. I deined to sing a little as I rode. Soon after I was singing the loudest I’ve ever sung, really belting it out. As a justifiably shy singer It was a very foreign experience for me. The song was Lean on Me but I had replaced all the lean with rain and tweaked a few other words because instead of friends all I have is heat and dirt. Luckily it worked. All of a sudden a great storm blew over my head and like, a hung-over god, poured onto me furiously.

It was an incredible relief to suddenly be cool and have lips able to work without the fear of splitting and spilling blood. It was such a roaring downpour that no part of me was left unflooded. My socks soon resembled the dank basin of a swamp and my shirt an amorous eel sucking at my skin. All the while my tongue and gums were stinging from the chillies I’d just eaten. I didn’t mind the slightest for I was having quite the religious experience getting wet and singing.

Later that day when the rain subsided (no doubt at this stage everyone thought I was disgustingly sweaty). I was able to peel my old lips off. They came off like a desiccated snake shell. A few clean pulls and my lips were flexible and moist like a young lizard. I’ve never experienced this before, it was quite bizarre.

I stopped by in a service station today to ask for directions. Having just read Robinson Crusoe, I was ambitiously (but effectively I think) using the sun to navigate. When I told the manager I was heading to Nong Yai he asked me what I was going to do there, seemingly perplexed at why I would want to go to somewhere without a beach or temple.

What a fool he ended up being – Nong Yai is a lovely place. It’s tiny, about three streets by two, and surrounded by beautifully green hills – on one side tropical forests and the other rose apple orchids. The entire town can be viewed from the roof of the only hotel.

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I guess I’m the only tourist who has come to Nong Yai in quite some time. No one here seems to suffer from the same tourism inspired gloom I witnessed just in Bangkok. On the contrary, like most small towns here, everyone has been so friendly I can hardly believe it. The hotel here, being rather luxurious, only had rooms for $25 and above. However seeing me joyfully soaked in rain and covered in a smorgasbord of dirt varieties, they gave me a room for half price. I’ve spent the afternoon watching the thunderstorm from out my window while devouring snacks from the city’s hyperactive bazaar. I will be going back this evening because the fish cakes, chive dumplings and deep-fried sardines I had for afternoon tea were all bloudy amazing. They’ve also got this great space at the back where you go once you’ve bought all your snacks. It’s just a few long tables hustling with locals but each one of them is covered in more fresh herbs you can name and about ten other saucey condiments you probably could.

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So excited to hit that up. Yeeeeeeeiiiooooooowwwww

Day 25 and 26: PKK to option 1.

Our next stop after Prachuap Kiri Khan was Hua Hin, a coastal city that had been recommended to both of us. I wish I could remember who actually told me to go there because I have to tell them they’re wrong.

Apparently it used to be a quiet beach city but now it’s overrun by tourists, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Hua Hin seems to have reacted like an opportunistic con-man. All of the things I’ve loved about Thailand are completely absent in Hua Hin. Instead of the normal street stalls selling local specialities, the streets here are lined with aggressive salesmen hawking sexy massages, over-priced lobsters and western food that resembles wet cardboard. The usual smiles and hospitably I’ve become used to doesn’t exist here – no one smiles, they all look dejected and grumpy. They probably blame all the foreigners for turning their home into an inauthentic scam.
I can’t really blame them either – most of the Westerners in Hua Hin look like total nob heads. They’re all bald, scaly tattooed Europeans hanging onto young Thai girls as if they’re stars in a romantic comedy. There were probably more of these glisteningly pink horn-dogs than regular tourists. Of course no one is going to sell cheap local food if they know there’s a queue of creepy old dudes willing to buy a steak and chips for 400baht.

What about all the genuine white-guy, thai-girl couples out there. How sad is it for them?

Alan and I had a shite dinner in Hua Hin. We didn’t want to waste any other meals in the grimy city so we promised each other we wouldn’t eat breakfast until we’d ridden out. We found a restaurant on the edge of a new town spruiking some esoteric curries in bain-maries. We were chogging into a honey-sweet pork and egg soup and a yellow catfish curry when another biker approached us.

Vin: A joyous fellow with bulgy calves and an extroverted tummy. He hates wearing shirts and eating meat, and he laughs like a prepubescent super-villain. Most of his life was spent working in university management and living as a monk. On his time off he would bike tour on his own through China, India and South East Asia. He’s recently retired and he’s looking for somewhere nice to live in the Thai mountains. Until then he’ll live like a bachelor in his sister’s luxurious beach-side apartment complex – single though ‘Girlfriends bring more love but with more love is more suffering’.

This is the view for his balconies:

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The two of us just finished jiggling our knees to the instructions of a passive-aggressive instructional dvd called Yoga for Obesity. We’re just about to leave for the local markets. I hope he doesn’t mind if I chuck up on his floor because I’m already severely bloated from the barrage of food he’s provided. Since he invited Alan and I we’ve had two platters of tropical fruit, a coconutty oat porridge with corn and raisins and a weird bubble and squeak like stew with some beans he foraged in a shrub.

While we were bathing our bike bodies in the ocean he said if we rode to Bangkok he would come with us. We could just sleep in temples and eat for free with the monks in the morning. Unfortunately Alan is already on a train on his way and I’m getting one tomorrow.

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I’m in central Thailand near to Bangkok. As I’ve rode North I’ve noticed the food change region to region.

The further from the South I get I’ve found –
Less:
Coconut
Spiciness
Sour stuff
Crispy fried fish
Prawn fritters
Turmeric
Fresh vegetables on the table
Nahm phrik

More:
Dishes you find in Thai restaurants in Aus
Pork belly
Crispy pork
Pork in everything
Joke (an amazing Thai congee with egg and fresh ginger)
Boat noodles
Lychees

I’m trying harder to take more photos. I am using instagram now. If want want to see more pictures of what if been eating and what I’ve been seeing – nickjordan88 is my tag.