Day 40: “The gooch scraper…” – Kunming

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As we’d managed to knock off 543 km in one go, we allowed ourselves an extra night in Kunming, a large city of 5 million people with historical origins dating back 2’400 years. For most of the day we wandered around trying to find somewhere to wash our clothes but, because everyone charged per item, the prices were extortionate. So we gave up and decided to try and find a spa to relax in instead. If we couldn’t get clean clothes, we reasoned, we may as well get clean bodies.

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We asked our receptionist where we could find a ‘clean spa’, meaning not a brothel. She gave us some vague directions to the part of town she thought it was. We followed them and eventually found a spa-like place. It was ridiculously cheap, and even though I doubted it was the one the receptionist had in mind, we went in anyway. After getting very naked, we walked in and were instructed to have a shower.

Once showered, we were ushered into a large Jacuzzi where, being the only ones in there, we started to relax. It was at this exact point that my memory was ripped out of my head and irrevocably scarred for life. Just 20 meters ahead of me, at eye level, was one of the most horrific sights I’ve ever seen. At the side of the Jacuzzi was a middle-aged, fat Chinese man, getting exfoliated by a small, prepubescent Chinese boy, perhaps 12 or 13 years old. What was particularly gruesome was the fact that the man was lying on his back, with the soles of his feet facing me, legs shoulder width apart, while the boy was exfoliating his perineum.

“Are you okay, Richard?” asked Michael in response to my look of open-mouth horror.

“No. I’m not okay. I don’t want to play anymore. I want to go home”.

The contorted look of determination on the boy’s face, while he scoured away at that man’s crotch, as if he was a squire scraping the rust from a suit of armour’s cod-piece, will haunt my dreams for many years to come. Just as I was gulping down a mouthful of vomit, a member of staff came over to us and asked if we wanted a ‘beautiful girl massage’, for five times the price of a normal one.

After such a vision, though, it was highly unlikely that I was about to be lured into soliciting any sexual services that may have been on offer. If it was my joint, I would certainly have moved the gooch scraping kid into a back room somewhere, out of sight of the other customers. It seemed to ruin any kind of erotic vibe, which would have been difficult to establish anyway, considering I was sitting in a Jacuzzi opposite a naked, lanky version of Willow.

Reading my thoughts, Michael explained that we were only after a ‘normal massage’, not a ‘beautiful girl’ massage. Eventually the man led us upstairs and my spirits were brightened somewhat when they forced Michael to wear a strange pair of see-through plastic underwear, whereas I wasn’t required to do so. His look of indignation was priceless.

While he was putting on his little plastic pants, one of the little kids started drying Michael’s back with a towel.

“Cheers Rich,” said Michael, thinking it was me

“That’s not me Michael. That’s the gooch scraper.”

“I thought it was a bit weird that you were drying my back.”

“Yeah well, to be fair, there’s very little chance that I’d be dabbing your back dry while you’re slipping into a see-through plastic thong”

“Why is the gooch scraping kid still drying my back? He’s been doing it for five minutes now. It’s been dry for ages”

“Yeah, it looks pretty red. Plus he’s using the same towel as the one he used to dry that bloke’s rotten crotch. That’s blatantly his gooch towel. I can tell because it looks and smells like he’s just rubbed a wet skunk with it”

“I want to go home now”

Day 38: “Cock blocked…” – Jinghong”

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“Are you alright?” Michael asked me

“Yeah”

“Why are you walking like that?”

“Like what?”

“Like you’ve shit yourself”

“Heat rash. Too much heat, sweat and walking. Need to find some baby powder”

“That’s nasty”

Despite the considerable discomfort of my heat rash, we were really happy to be entering China. It was a country we’d both been excited about seeing since day one. This said, we approached the Chinese border with trepidation. While researching the journey, I’d read many accounts of the fastidious nature of Chinese immigration officials. Our first impressions, however, were great and it turned out to be a very easy and friendly crossing. The border patrol guards chitchatted with us using the little English they knew.

“Ahhh England?” said one.

“Manchester United!” said another.

We then had a 10 minute conversation which mostly revolved around naming football players. It was when they greeted the name Marvin Morgan, a Shrewsbury Town player, with the same reverence as David Beckham, that I started to suspect they were perhaps humouring us.

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We made it to a nice, tropical looking town, called Jinghong, in three short hitches, including a few kilometres in the back of a painter and decorator’s van with 30 or so Chinese workers.

Jinghong is known in China as ‘Green Treasury’ and ‘Gene Pool of Species’ due to the large area of tropical rainforest. There are oil palms, coconut palms and mango trees, as well as various other tropical plants, displayed in the parks, on the sides of the streets, in front of or behind the houses. This scenery, combined with the relaxed and affable attitude of the local people, made Jinghong one of our favourite places in China.

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We were walking down one of the many palm tree lined streets when we saw a sign for tourist information in a European style cafe called the Mekong Cafe. The owner, a lady called Lee-Jeung, spoke perfect English and was able to translate for us our hitchhiking mission. I cannot overemphasise how essential this translation became for us on our journey through China.

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That night, at the hostel recommended to us by Lee-Jeung, the Dodo Hotel, we met a nice American couple called Hill-Billy, or ‘Hillary and William’, as they perhaps prefer to be known. Hillary had a bit of a Gwyneth Paltrow look about her and William looked like Steve the bar tender, from Sex and the City.

We were walking along the promenade, next to the river, sharing travelling stories, when we stumbled across some live rock music being pumped out of a buzzing venue.

“It must be a wedding!” said Hillary, as we were ushered to sit down by a few people in tuxedos. We were sat at a bench to the left of the stage while the wedding congregation were all revelling in front it. The band that was playing seemed as drunk as everyone else and a few members of the party went up on stage to have a go at singing.

“We did exactly this the other day,” chuckled William, “We were walked past a wedding party and the bride and groom invited us to join them”

“We were the guests of honour! Everyone is so friendly here,” added Hilary.

Once we’d sat down and the beers were ordered, a young man approached us with a camera.

“Hello!” he said. “My name is Du Yao, I’m the photographer. The bride wants to know if she can have some photo with you. Is okay?”

“Sure sure!”

“No problem”

“Bring her over”

Soon a large crowd had gathered around us and, after one of them had heaved a crate of beer onto our table, complements of the house, they all had their photos taken with us, some of them in groups and some individually. It would always end the same: once the camera had flashed, the person would yelp, “Gambe!” which basically means ‘down it!’ –the method of drinking favoured by the Chinese, especially when with foreigners.

Once ‘gambe’ had been called, our excited companion would start glugging down their drink as fast as they could without so much as a glace to confirm that we’d accepted the contest. The fact that in China we felt like we were representing the entire western hemisphere made it very difficult to reject such challenges. The trouble was, as soon as the first ‘gambe’ domino had been tipped, this set off a chain reaction, and just as we’d squeezed that last drop of warm, frothy Chinese beer, another guest with a cheeky smile would be at our side yelling “GAMBE!”

It didn’t take long before we’d had to ‘gambe’ with every single guest at the bar and very soon we were all as wrapped up in the happiness of the occasion as the guests were themselves.

Towards the end of the evening, after more ‘gambes’ of beer then my mind will allow me to remember, I was busy trying to impress a pretty Chinese girl that Michael and I had decided looked like a glasses wearing version of Chun Li, from the computer game Street Fighter II (1991). I’m sure you can imagine the scene: there I was, oozing charm from every conceivable orifice, when I spotted Michael, across the table, giving me envious glances because he was stuck in a conversation with a girl that we had decided looked a bit like E. Honda, from the computer game Street Fighter II (1991).chun-li-e-honda-1

Mwah ha ha, I thought, with a smug look of self-satisfaction. Spinning bird kick for Richard, 100 hand slap for Michael. Perfect. Just when I thought my prospects couldn’t get any better:

“So, Chun Li, would you like another drink?”

“I really shouldn’t, I feel drunk already,” she tittered.

“Double gin and tonic it is. I’ll be right back.”

Upon my return with a triple gin and tonic, to my dismay, that snake Egan had somehow managed to slip out of his chair and, in Grinch-like fashion, had slithered up next to Chun Li, who he was now smoozing with his despicably potent charisma.

I sat back down on the other side of her and just when I was about to regain her attention with a stunningly witty anecdote, Michael leaned across her and “whispered”,

“Hey mate, don’t forget I’ve got your crotch power in my bag if your heat rash is flaring up again”

The whole table seemed to stop for a few seconds and turned to me. My jaw fell open and I turned a crimson red, half from embarrassment, half from rage. I aimed a series of vicious kicks at Michael under the table and, just as I was about to administer my finishing move, a lethal toe-punt to his left testicle, Chun Li turned to me and, no word of a lie, said, “Richard, why are you kicking me?”

 “Sorry, Chun Li, I don’t know what came over me”.

“For the last time my name is not Chun Li!”

I sighed in resignation.

“Michael, pass me my dam baby power”

I snatched the baby powder and trudged off dejectedly to the toilets under the glow of Michael’s beaming ‘Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland’ smile.

The Rich-Mike HitchHike Insight: Hitchhiking in Malasia, Thailand & Laos

We raced through Malaysia in only two days, in half the time we’d planned for. Apart from a two hour wait near Pinang, it was rare to have to linger around anywhere. The fact that many people spoke great English also added to the richness of our journeys in terms of conversation.

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Thailand was even easier. We never had to wait very long for a ride here and sometimes people would even turn off the highway, circle back around, then re-join the highway so they could pick us up having missed us the first time. Not only was it trouble-free, but the people who picked us up were keen to engage with us, often by taking us back to their home for some food.

If anyone is thinking of recreating a portion of our adventure, I would definitely recommend from Singapore to Bangkok. The route has everything a traveller could ask for. The verdant jungle scenery of South East Asia, bordered by pristine beaches, is connected by three distinctive mega-cities: Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Although I’ve said that the treasures of Thailand lie outside of Bangkok, it’s still well worth a visit. Moreover, the combination of fantastic food, accommodating people and a constant feeling of safety gives the peninsula an atmosphere that’s impossible to forget.

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Laos, however, proved more problematic. With considerable difficulty we eventually managed to hitchhike through the northern part of the country to the border in three rides, two of which we were expected to pay for. It only served to emphasise how spoilt we’d been in Malaysia and Thailand.

Malaysia Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(9/10)

Thailand Hitchhiking Rating: af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(10/10)

Laos Hitchhiking Rating:        af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15af2e834c1e23ab30f1d672579d61c25a_15

(4/10)

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Day 34: “Jimmy the crack head…” – to Chaing Rai

Feeling tired yet happy in the Thai sunshine we continued on our way from the motel that Por had dropped us in late last night. We were picked up, for the 20th time on our journey so far, in record time by a man called Wisoot. His English was good enough to hold a slow conversation, but was by no means fluent. In these circumstances, if I want to say something secretive to Michael, usually something weird, I can just speak quickly or colloquially to make myself understood, without offending whoever we’re with.

Or so you would think.

Wisoot told us that he had a huge house in Chiang Rai, so I, sitting in the passenger seat, turned around to Michael and said something along the lines of, “Would it be cheeky to ask if we could crash at his crib?”

“What? Say that again,” replied Michael, leaning forward.

I repeated myself, slightly louder and slower: “Do you think it would be cheeky to ask if we could crash at his crib?”

“What?”

This process continued, with me speaking slower, louder and less colloquially until, finally, Wisoot himself turned around and said: “He wants to know if you think he should ask if it is okay to stay at my house!”

Michael thought about this for a few seconds.

“What?”

I rubbed my temple with one hand and the bride of my nose with the other. I then leaned forward and turned the radio on with a heavy sigh.

I wonder what Sinjay is up to, I thought to myself.

We arrived in Chiang Rai, a slightly seedy little town, and, as we were on schedule, we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. We settled down and watched the football with the intention of a chilled out evening because we were due to make it to the Laos border the next day. This was before we met Charlie, from Essex, and Jimmy, from Colombia. Both men were recovering from drug addictions at a ‘new life’ foundation, about an hour from Chiang Rai.

Charlie, who was so Essex he made Danny Dyer look like Prince Harry’s posh cousin, made his intentions for the evening clear, “Awight, who wants a tequila? Let’s get munted!”

At the end of the night we saw Jimmy, a former drug smuggling crack-head, trying to mount his scooter like a drunk Alsatian, with the intention of driving home. We walked over to him and I confiscated his keys while Michael parked the scooter. We then practically forced him to stay with us in our hostel, giving him my bed, while Michael and I slept top and tail in the other.

Sometime in the early morning Michael poked me in the ribs with his finger to wake me up.

“Rich, why are you in my bed?” he whispered to me

“Because mine is taken” I replied, sleepily.

“Oh right,” he said, rolling over to go back to sleep again.

About 30 seconds later he rolled back.

“Rich?” he whispered once more.

“What?”

“Who’s that man in your bed?”

“Huh?”

“Who’s that man in your bed?”

“It’s Jimmy the smack head, remember?”

“Oh yeah” he whispered, his memory returning. He rolled back over again.

A minute passed.

“Crack head,” said a croaky Latino voice from my bed.

“What’s that Jimmy?”

“It’s ‘Jimmy the crack head’, not ‘Jimmy the smack head’. You can just call me Jimmy, if it makes it easier for you?”

“Oh right yeah, sorry Jimmy!”

Day 22 – 23: “Chaos San Road…” – Bangkok

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From Ratchaburi, we hitched the 100 km to Bangkok in two rides without much trouble. The first car that stopped for us typies the Thai attitude.

A car drove past us on the highway at 90 odd km per hour and only realised what we were trying to do when it was too late. The pulled off at the next junction, drove back down the highway, pulled off at another junction so they could pick us up again. What can you say?  

We hopped in the back, and raced down the highway in the wind towards Bangkok. The mother and son dropped us of at a petrol station where we told by someone selling food that there was no chance that anyone would stop for us there.vcm_s_kf_repr_960x540

90 seconds later a beautiful mother and daughter stopped, the first female hitch we’d secured thus far.

We were dropped off at the notorious tourist spot, Khao San Road, which features in the famous book and film “The Beach,” where the lead character, Richard (played by Leonardo Di Caprio in the film), returns to the mainland to see a repugnant whirlwind of tourist sleaze.

We were swept with the current into the main street like a leaf into rapids. As we shuffled through the crowds we were accosted by suit sellers on our right and by tattoo pallors on our left, all competing for our attention, as if we were a big piece of bread in a pond full of hungry ducks.

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After the serenity of south Thailand it was a real shock to the system to step into this bustling orgy of sights, sounds and smells that all seemed to be screaming for our attention

“Try a suit sir. Very good price”

“Hello sir where are you from? Right this way for tattoo sir”

To avoid eye contact with the hawkers, I cast my eyes upwards. My mouth fell open as I tried to comprehend the hovering swarm of luminous signboards. Before I could attempt to adjust my eyes to their brightness, and distinguish one from the other, a plethora of smells grabbed me by the face and wrestled me towards the pad thai, quail eggs, roti, falafel, hummus, sliced pineapple, vegetarian noodles and banana pancakes that lined the streets.

We were snapped out of our overwhelming sensory hypnosis and spun around by the beeping of a tuk-tuk driver as it squeezed through the crowds of dread-locked, tattooed, vest wearing tourists. Feeling exhausted, we managed to fight our way onto a side street where we tried to catch our breath.

“Hey that smells familiar!” panted Michael. “We must be near the fish market! Remember when we had to wade knee deep through putrid fish guts in Jakarta?!”

“It’s not the fish market Michael,” I said, quickening my step as I studied the map on my Kindle. “This is the Red Light District”

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Day 21: “Michael’s happy dance…” – to Ratchaburi

That night we again slept in the back of the open truck as it drove through the darkness. It wasn’t as comfortable as Suwarno’s in Indonesia though, because this time we didn’t have any sleeping mats.

We were on a crate and, due to the pot-hole ridden Thai roads, every so often we’d take off and slam back down onto the hard, splintered surface. It was also a bit colder in  Thailand than in Indonesia, so we both had to wear everything we owned to keep warm against the wind.

The next day we stopped off at Badge-u-up’s family home: a small shack in a coconut tree forest in the middle of nowhere, for a break from driving. We hopped out of the truck and passed the old grandmother who, by the looks of things, had been sat in the same position, on the floor, chewing and spitting tobacco whilst weaving coconut leaves, for the past few decades.

Sinjay, their rather forward 19 year old daughter, asked, via an English speaking family friend, if she could come home back to England with me.

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When I told her that there wasn’t enough room in the truck, the family offered me an interesting exchange: Sinjay for Michael. As negotiations got underway some of the senior family members started inspecting Michael’s physical form, much like a Crufts judge would assess a dog, and earnest discussions commenced regarding Michael’s suitability as a coconut farmer.

I can’t understand Thai, but from what I could gather from the body language, they were impressed with his posture, which is only natural, but they were concerned about the strength of his buttocks (apparently vital for shimmying up a coconut tree).

“Err Rich? Can we talk about this?” Michael asked, looking anxious as he gave me his classic, ‘please, for the love of god, don’t broker a deal that involves me living out my days as a coconut farmer’ look.

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I was loving the fact that the family had, for some reason, assumed the Michael was somehow my property, to barter with as I pleased, so I started playing up to it and told him to go and do the happy dance.

Michael trudged towards the truck, dragging his feet, past the old Grandmother, who’d apparently taken a shine to Michael, perked up a treat at the news that he may be staying. As he shuffled past her, she gave him a two-eyed blink and wiggled her nose like a rabbit.

She then jeered something in Thai, which I can only assume translates as, “Ummm mmmm. Yo baby, you got some fries to go with that shake?”

Negotiations unfortunately fell through though. To the Grandmother’s dismay, Michael’s buttocks were apparently considered to be too much of a liability (story of his life).

As we left, Michael said goodbye to his admirer and kissed her on the cheek. She blurted another coy giggle and then flirtatiously spat a clump of tobacco in his direction.

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Day 19: “Sick fashion…” – Sadao

I awoke in a small attic-type room, above the bar. After the night’s heavy drinking session it was always going to be a brutal morning.

Michael went through every step of his customary hangover routine, as systematic and predictable as ever. He woke up chewing his hangover breath, then leaned over and was sick into a plastic bag (Michael never goes anywhere without at least one plastic bag. He has never faced a dilemma in his life that he hasn’t somehow managed to resolve with a plastic bag).

By this time I’d woken up and had turned away from him because I knew what was coming next: he staggered to his feet, all bleary eyed, trying to remember where he was; he then checked himself for any accidents he may have had in the night, first the front then the back.

He breathed a sigh of relief, “phew,” and wiped some imaginary sweat from his brow. He then took a few faltering steps forward, tripped over and dropped the bag of sick, spewing the contents onto the floor. I wasn’t even looking but I know his routine so well by now I was able to mouth the words “Oh Shit!” at exactly the same time he did.

“Where’s my Lee Gibson Training jumper?” I mouthed again, in perfect sync with Michael. He turned around to see that I was holding it up for him, as I had been doing since the moment he stumbled to his feet. I shuddered as I remembered that, in my drunken stupor last night, I’d resorted to using the wretched jumper as a pillow and had fallen asleep playing the “which one of Michael’s stale bodily fluids can I smell most” game.

The next stage of Michael’s grim hangover ritual is to get to work mopping up the mess with his long suffering garment. By this time it had endured so many of Michael’s various accidental spillages over the years, it now made Joseph’s Techni-coloured dream-coat look like a nun’s laundry basket.

This though, was one hangover too far, he dumped it in a bin near the house we were staying. If any of you are ever in south Thailand, and you see a local scamp skipping around in what looks more like a rainbow’s scab than a jumper, you’ll know the story of how the bin rummaging little tyke came to possess it.

Day 18: Welcome to Thailand – Alor Setar, Malasia

After a brief visit to The Chief’s new house, which he proudly explained was in an affluent suburb, the bus dropped us off near Alor Setar, only 30 kilometres south of the Thailand border.

We considered calling it a day and finding somewhere to sleep, maybe in a field or something but the allure of making it into a new country proved too great.

“What a day it would be if made it into Thailand!”

With the tall trees at our backs and the open fields ahead of us we stood at the toll gate, with a sign reading ‘Thailand’, as the sun went down.

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After no more than ten minutes, a car pulled over ahead of us. Two people hoped out of the front and waved us over as they moved some luggage into the boot.

There was a Thai couple, in their early 30s, in the front. They opened the boot and arranged their possessions to make room for our bags. Once again we were thankful that we’d packed so light.

The Thai couple were evidently married and the wife had a 7 year old boy on her lap. There was also a man of Indian descent, Winrey, sat in the back with us.

“I worked in Australia”, he said with twinkling eyes.

“Thank you so much for stopping”, I said.

“I saw you had a sign for ‘Thailand’ and I thought ‘well, we’re going to Thailand’ so we should stop. And you can just tell when you see someone that they’re a good people and you look like good people”

“Where are you going?”

“Sadao. It’s 14 km into Thailand. We go there often to a friend’s bar to talk nonsense and get drunk. Do you like to talk nonsense and get drunk?”

“Of course!”

“Excellent. Well then it’s settled. You must join us”.

We pulled up at the border.

“Foreigners go there,” said Winrey pointing to a kiosk. “We’ll meet you on the other side”.

We bumbled our way to the border crossing kiosk feeling elated at having travelled through Malaysia in only two days. We celebrated by filling in an immigration arrival form.

“What’s the address of where we’re staying in Thailand?” asked Michael.

“Eerrrr Bangkok, I guess”

“Do you think that’ll be alright?”

“I doubt it”

Sure enough, when we handed in our forms…

“Address?” asked the immigration official, pointed to where I’d scrawled ‘Bangkok’.

“I don’t know the address, we’re staying with a friend,” I replied. “No address. No visa”

“But I said I don’t know the address”

“No address?”

“No”

“No visa”

“Just say China Town” whispered Michael at my side.

“China Town”, I said to the official.

“China Town?” he repeated, doubtfully.

“Yes, China Town, Bangkok”

The official narrowed his eyes at me.

“Street?” he asked.

“Errm.. Beijing road”

“Beijing road, China Town, Bangkok?”

“Yes”

There was a pause.

“Number?”

“Seriously?!”

“Number?”

“10A!”

He stamped our passports and we were granted the mandatory 15 day visa. We wondered through into a new country.

“Yeah I guess you’re right”

We saw Winrey waving at us up ahead. His car had pulled off onto a side street.

“You are trusting people,” Winrey told us, seeing has we’d left our bags in his car after meetinjg them only 10 minutes previously.

“No, just stupid” said Michael.

“The secret to carefree travelling is not to take anything nice with you,” I said.

“Which is why I brought Rich!” said Michael, looking proud of himself.

“Ho ho bloody ho. I’m so glad to see that comedy school obviously worked out so well for you, Michael”.

“You went to comedy school?” Winrey asked, sounding impressed.

“Oh no,” I replied, “It was sarcasm”

“Oh right, where is that? Near London?”

“No, it’s just erm… yeah, it’s near London”

Winrey invited us to join them for a night of a bit of food and a lot of drinking in Sadao. We arrived at Bali House, an atmospheric outdoor bar that I would strongly recommend anyone to visit if they’re ever in south Thailand.

The leafy garden was groomed enough to be practical, but wild enough to look authentic. It had a large table in the middle, which seated our crowd of 10 or so people.

We were introduced to Sakorn, the owner of Bali House. He was evidently a much respected man in the Sadao community and it was easy to see why. Though he looked like a tough guy, he wasn’t intimidating in the slightest. His shaved head and muscular physique belied his generous and gentle personality.

As the evening darkened, the low level orange lighting, draped generously throughout the garden, over the trees and across the bar, like large Christmas lights, made it feel like we were partying underwater in a luminous jellyfish forest.

The candles on the table flickered on the smiling faces of the group, and they were soon joined by plates of rice and spicy Thai-curry. The food, the company and the beer were the perfect welcome to Thailand.

Elated by our successful day of hitching, buzzing on another potent travel high and encouraged by our new friends, who wouldn’t let us take two sips of beer before replenishing the glass, it wasn’t long before the glowing orange bulbs started spinning slowly around us.

At one particularly surreal point in the evening, Sakorn, who’d been watching me roll cigarettes using rolling tobacco, asked me to make him a marijuana joint, which I did, under the interested eyes of Ote, a member of the Thailand anti-drugs smuggling police.

Inspired by the lyrics of Cypress Hill (“insane in the brain”), I rolled up a nice fat 3 skin spliff, the kind that would have made Bob Marley splutter. By the time I’d finished my exhibition of ostentatious origami, it looked like a policeman’s truncheon.

I fired up the beast and passed it to Ote.

“You know you’ve just passed a joint to a police officer,” someone said. Ote looked at me in the eyes, took a huge puff and then, as he exhaled through his smile, said, “Welcome to Thailand,” and the whole place exploded with laughter.

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Day 18: “Ketamin, Opium cocaine…” – Ipoh, Malaysia

Biggie and Kel drove us 140 km and then dropped us off at a petrol station, near Pinang, about 150 km from the Thailand border. We waited there for nearly two hours until someone finally picked us up. The vehicle that stopped, though, was certainly worth the wait.

A shabby white bus pulled up with three men inside: two older men, Hasni and ‘The Chief’, in the front, and a younger man, Daud, in the back with us. The men were part of Malaysia’s anti-narcotics squad.

Drug law in Malaysia is one of the strictest in the world. Long jail sentences and heavy fines are mandatory for suspects caught with controlled substances and the death penalty is prescribed for drug traffickers.

After some brief chit-chat, Hasni turned around from the passenger seat, looked me straight in the eye and asked, “ketamine, opium, cocaine? You want to try?”

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“You what?” I asked, eyebrow raised.

“Would you like to try some ketamine, opium, cocaine, or ice maybe some ice?”

A silence hung in the air for a few seconds, before the three policemen all erupted into howls of laughter.

“Your face”, wept Hasni, as Daud slapped me on the back. “If you had said yes”, continued Hasni, wiping a tear from his eye. “We would have had to kill you”.

As he said these words the minibus went deathly silence once more. No more laughing, no more smiles.

I looked at each man. Daud and Hasni seemed to be staring into my soul and even The Chief, who was driving, shot me a glare from the rear-view mirror.

The whole bus then exploded into howling laughter once more.

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Day 17: “Do you like hiking?…” – to Ipoh

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“So, anyway, do you like hiking?” Michael asked the driver, Andy, for the second time in ten minutes.

“No, not really,” replied Andy. He seemed a rather deadpan, serious kind of guy.

“What’s the name of the tallest mountain in Malaysia?”

“Errm, I am not sure”

“Have you ever hiked up there?”

“No”

“How long would it take to hike up there?”

“I don’t know”

About nine seconds passed before Michael asked, “Are there many mountains near Ipoh?”

“Yes, there are a few,” said Andy, checking his watch.

“Have you ever hiked up any of them?”

Erm, no. But I think I may have driven up one before with my family a few years ago”.

“Oh wow!” said Michael, with wide-eyed sincerity, “how long do you think it would take to hike up there?”

“I do not know, I drove up there”, he sighed, “I do not go hiking”

“How tall was the mountain?”

“I don’t know”

“Can you recommend anywhere to go hiking in Ipoh?”

Andy turned his head and through squinted eyes studied his interrogator, Michael, for a few seconds.

His moustache twitched slightly on his upturned lip and he visibly shuddered. He then turned his head forward again, took a deep breath and turned the radio on. I was nearly crying in the back, chewing my seatbelt, with repressed laughter.

Despite Michael’s bizarre hiking integration, Andy kindly dropped us off right outside our hotel, the Sun Golden Inn, in Ipoh.

“Thank you very much, Andy,” I said as we got out of the car.

“I really admire what you are doing” he replied. “Every day must be a real struggle for you. Your powers of patience and determination are truly commendable”

“Yeah, hitchhiking can be tough sometimes,” I replied.

“I wasn’t talking about the hitchhiking,” Andy said, as he eyed Michael trying to untangle his backpack from the gear stick.

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