I'd invested in a half bottle of whisky whilst over at Thonburi in a futile attempt at saving a little money, but late hours chipping away at my diary meant that I was still out half the night. Though still frequenting the same joints for the want of better options, I tried to stand at the sidelines these days and it was surprising how I didnt get hit on by Thai women anymore. Maybe my face was well known now and I wasnt considered gullible enough? I struggled to believe that but it was a welcome relief anyhow. The last week had turned into such an impromptu blowout and I had come to realise that obviously I had needed it. I paid too much for my room, drank like a fish and dozed till noon but it didnt matter, it was like for a short while I was on holiday. If you cant beat them, join them eh? Now a little bored and vaguely ashamed of it, accidentally it proved to have been just what I needed to inspire a new refreshed sense of impetus, I needed a challenge back in my life. I accepted Sumatra now as inevitable and just wanted to get on with it.
One complicating factor had been that I had an appointment to catch in Australia in mid July and that wasnt so far away now. A trek I had wanted to do in Queensland was restricted in numbers to the point that you had to book it 6 months in advance to secure a place, it was the only prior reservation I had made before leaving home. Accepting now that short of curtailing my Asian odyssey once again and just flying, I knew I would never make it in time. Liberated from that restraint then and finding new resolve, I now accepted that even if it took 3 months to get to Oz then I would just take a deep breath, grit my teeth and get on with it. One perverse consideration though was that with only just over 6 months remaining until I had to start work again (as a postie in Scotland in January, for Christs sake), I had to make sure of preserving at least 2 months for New Zealand. That meant that although returning to Australia had been the original inspiration for the whole trip, I might not now be able to afford that land much time at all.
All the more reason for not hanging around then, and I endured another sweltering rickety bus ride out to the main train station today in order to asceratin availability for the international service to Butterworth. On my previous visit with the same intention, some 8 weeks ago now, I had been dismayed at waiting in a queue for the best part of an hour, only to learn that the train was booked out for the next 12 days. Imagine my disbelief then when I entered the booking office to find it deserted to the point that I presumed it to be closed. I recognised the same clerk from my previous visit though and expecting disappointment I said I just wanted to go as soon as possible. That proved to be the very next day and without even any time to fully contemplate it I amazingly had a ticket in my hand maybe 20 seconds later. Wow! It was a little pricey and for just a little more I had considered treating myself by flying down to Hat Yai and then minibussing it again over the border, but this was less complicated and a trip also of interest. The only real downside was that my first journey on Thai Railways was going to be a whopping 22 hours. After my experience of arriving in Bangkok from Bangladesh I wanted to be careful of not giving myself another culture shock again, but conceivably I could be in Indonesia in just 2 days.
It was at the train station that I also chanced upon a board bearing photos which had been put up for public display. A local explained that the photos were of atrocities which had been committed by separatists in Thailand's southern border provinces. I knew that the area around Satun for example had only joined the Thai federation in 1923 and had always retained a distinct local indentity, reinforced no doubt by Islam. This particular hotspot had only come to my attention post 9/11 and I wasnt sure of the legacy, but suffice to say the photos showed gruesome scenes of random killings and Thai Army operations. 2 guys passing by on scooters and a pizza delivery guy lay shot in the street as did a few terrorists, and a buddhist monk was now just a yellow robe and a big red smear. I couldnt resist taking a few snaps of them despite appreciating what a bloody tourist I must have looked, I was politely asked to promptly delete them by an Army attendant. Later I learned that Pattani Darussalam, an independent Sultanate of which 80% is Malay speaking was annexed by Thailand, and Narathiwat and Yala are the 2 other troubled border provinces. Rebel action is spearheaded by a group known as the BRN Co-ordinate. The subsequent days proved to be a daily litany of bombings, with 7 explosions in Hat Yai and 2 women and 2 kids killed in Songkhla.
Upon leaving the station I then spotted the Metro entrance and realised I hadnt ridden it yet. Upon checking my map I could see that it would take me to Sukhumvit district, an allegedly upmarket quarter where some travellers preferred to stay, and so on a whim I went there. First impressions were not favourable, with especially bad traffic and pollution, giant testimonies to 1970s architecture and barely a sight of note. What I had not expected was a strip of full on girly bars, thankfully still relatively dormant, a fish and chip shop, and a British style pub called the Ship Inn. I treated myself to a mini splurge of a pint of Heineken in a mock Dutch pub with European prices (where I wrote this!) before heading back underwhelmed but curiosity satisfied.
Another point of note was that after searching on and off for weeks in vain, importantly I finally managed to track down some quality mosquito repellant, all of the local brands were inexplicably lightweight and ineffective. It was left to Boots the Chemist (thankyou globalisation) to oblige me with some 50% DEET preparation, expensive but crucial for Indonesia. Even in Bangkok they had been a persistent menace.
Back in Gullivers meat market that night I got approached by another dazzling Thai hopeful, and I had acquired enough by now to give her the knock back in Thai, at which she was very surprised. It probably would have spurred her on all the more but "Mai aow, khaup khoon" meant no thanks, and no meant no. To balance that, Sam, a Kiwi chick from Oz also decided to talk to me, she was a new arrival who laughably had 10 days to try to take in Bangkok and Cambodia. She had no idea it was the monsoon season, could not recall Angkor Wat, Cambodia's outstanding attraction, and at the age of 30 had never been outside of Oz/NZ in her life. Good on her for finally taking the plunge, but she was blissfully ignorant and re-affirmed that I really didnt belong here. Outside I was surprised to see for the first time a vendor cart selling fried insects and insect larvae and I couldnt possibly believe that he did much business but obviously did enough. Cockroach anyone? Next morning despite having spent a fortune at my longterm guesthouse they still wanted to charge me an insulting 5 Baht for the sake of leaving my bag with them for 2 hours. It all just re-affirmed what a bloody tourist I had become and I was so glad to be getting out of there.