Tuesday, 21 April.

After breakfast, we once again headed down to the Raffles Centre where we hung out in the air-conditioned comfort.

The movie Cape Fear was being shown so we walked down to the movie theatre and settled in, enjoying the air conditioning while we watched the movie which featured a great performance by Robert De Niro.

After the movie, we caught a bus up to Chinatown and wandered around there for a while but most of the area was being renovated so lacked any atmosphere. Back at the crash pad, we relaxed for a couple of hours then once again walked up to Little Indian for a rice meal at Cove Villas.

Singapore street scene.

MONDAY 19 APRIL – SLINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS

The border was a picture of organised chaos, with hordes of Malaysians crossing into Singapore on foot, on motorbikes, and in cars. There was also a score of passenger buses and everyone had to pass through a bottleneck at Immigration then reboard the correct bus on the side of the road beyond the customs office.

When we reached Singapore, we were dropped off on Bridge Street right in the heart of the city and we asked an Irish tourist about good places to stay. He recommended a crashpad¹ called the Why Not Homestay and so we caught a bus up to Raffles Hotel and walked for 10 minutes to find the place. 

We took a room for 3 which cost us 8 Singapore dollars each, then after cold showers, we went to a nearby McDonald’s for shakes and burgers. Back at the homestay, we rested for a few hours then walked down to the Raffles Centre: a huge shopping mall with great air conditioning. We changed some money with a money-changer and fiddled with toys in a toy shop while we enjoyed the cool climate, loathe to go back out into the heat.

Raffles Hotel was as we expected: an oasis of Colonial splendour heavy with atmosphere and old-world charm. We settled in at the Writer’s Bar in the lobby, sipping Singapore Slings and contemplating the extortionate rates they charge…from 600 to 8,000 Singapore dollars per night.

Stick out your little finger. Ferg and Barry in Raffels Hotel.

From the opulent splendour of Raffles, we walked up into Little India: a part of Singapore where many Indian people, the descendants of indentured labourers, live and work. We went to a restaurant serving South Indian vegetarian food on palm leaves to be eaten with your fingers. Delicious!

On the way back down to our crashpad, we spent an entertaining 10 minutes riding up and down in a glass elevator in the Paradise Centre.

¹Crash pads in Singapore were apartments that enterprising owners had converted into backpacker accommodation. They were rough, dangerous and very, very cheap!

Colonial splendour in Singapore.

Sunday, April 18th

The ferry docked at Surat Thani at 5:30 a.m. just as the sky was beginning to grow light revealing a sluggish tidal river with pole houses lining its banks. We had some breakfast at a little cafe next door to the bus stop and then stuffed our gear, along with that of 8 others into a little Isuzu minibus for the four-hour trip down to Hat Yai on the Thai/Malaysian border. The minibus was air-conditioned and had a good stereo on which we played some great, great tunes: OMD, Oils, Van etc.


When we reached Hat Yai the three of us boarded a crowded bus bound for Singapore loaded with Thais and Malaysians. It was aircon but still bloody hot. The border was straightforward but interesting. The entry card had a warning on it that read “Death to Drug Traffickers in Malaysia” and several of the passengers had warned us that if we had any drugs left we had to get rid of them. Of course we didn’t, but we made sure there was nothing left in our bags by emptying them completely on the side of the road and repacking just to make sure. A drug dog came onto the bus as we left the Malaysian side then w south all day and all night arriving at the border with Singapore at 5:30 a.m. on Monday morning.

Wednesday 14 April – Saturday 17 April

The bus arrived in Surat Thani at 6 a.m. and we were all dumped off onto the sidewalk to wait for our connecting bus which duly arrived at 6:30. Down at the Bon Don Pier, we boarded a motorboat for the two and a half hour trip out to Koh Samui. It was hot as hell on the boat but we found a small shady corner and snoozed.

On Koh Samui, we changed boats and went across to Koh Pha-ngang Island¹ where a tout sold us on his bungalows along with about 8 others. We took a taxi out there and chose one of the bungalows which consisted of a double bed with fan and net and an attached shower and toilet.

The beach was nice, but the sea was shallow and rocky. We made friends with an American guy called Barry and a Geordie lass called Lisa and settled in to enjoy our island paradise.

¹In those days, Koh Pha-ngang was the “backpacker island.” It had yet to be discovered by large scale tourism, and we travellers smugly considered ourselves to be way ahead of the tourist hordes. Of course, as soon as backpackers discover a place it rapidly gets exploited by tourism operators and becomes the sort of place that real travellers, like us, frowned upon. In the meantime, we had all moved on to the next real traveller destination and the process would repeat itself. “And thus was the Empire forged.”

L-R: Linda, Barry, Lisa.

We occupied our days swimming and sunbathing, and our evenings eating and drinking in bars and cafes. On the Wednesday night, we went to a neighbouring resort to watch a video which was a trashy American jungle opus.

Thursday night found us on the beach in a small restaurant run by an Austrian guy. The food was very good and he sold us a small bag of ganja for 100 baht so after we had finished our meal we went and sat on the beach under a hazy full moon and smoked 3 joints then lay back on the warm sand and listen to the gentle wash of the sea in the whisper of the breeze in the palm trees. Some of the local dogs came and joined us and the whole lot of us just lay there on the warm sand chilling out

At 11:30 on Saturday morning we said goodbye to Lisa, and along with Barry we caught a taxi truck into the island’s main village where we settled down to wait out the hottest part of the day at a cafe. We booked tickets on a bus to Singapore from one of the agencies and moved to another cafe where we sat outside watching the sunset and eating a small meal. The night ferry departed at 10 p.m. and we stretched out on the mattresses lining the floor of the upper deck. We had a couple of joints left but we’re all too tired to smoke them.

Monday, April 13th.

After a totally appalling night in the sweatbox of a room, we were glad to get the hell out of there at 7 a.m. and walk up to the Hello Bar for a Coke. We hung out there for a couple of hours then went and booked two seats on the VIP bus for the evening.

Back of the hotel we picked up our stuff and left it downstairs then made our way back through the escalating water fights to a cafe where we settled in for the day. I made several forays out onto the streets during the day, returning soaked every time. I went and retrieved our packs later in the afternoon and bought two tapes: OMD Greatest Hits and Cruel Crazy Beautiful World by Johnny Clegg and Savuka.

At 6 p.m. we went down to wait for the bus. But no so-called “air-conditioned VIP bus” ever arrived. Instead, we were bundled onto a bus with most of the other backpackers who had only paid 250 to 300 Baht¹. The 19 of us who’d purchased VIP tickets objected strenuously, but the dishonest little bitch of a woman was intractable on the issue of what constituted “VIP treatment” so for our extra 150 baht we each got a small bottle of drink, a chicken leg and some rice!

The bus rolled southward all night and the reclining seats allowed us to get a bit of sleep.

¹The Thai currency is called the Baht, pronounced “bart.”

Sunday, April 12th – The Songkran Festival

ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK
AND THE WORLD’S YOUR OYSTER…

SUNDAY 12 APRIL – SONGKRAN   

ONE NIGHT IN BANGKOK

AND THE WORLD’S YOUR OYSTER

Unbelievably, despite the stifling atmosphere in our tiny room, we didn’t wake up until 12:30. Out on the street in the heat, the Thai’s annual Songkran Festival¹ was underway, with parades and people throwing water at each other. We spent the day in and out of cafes and every time we went outside, a thorough drenching insured!

We spent a couple of hours in a cafe drinking a bottle of Mekong whisky then, after watching 10 minutes of the movie Die Hard, which was being shown at full volume on a giant screen set up across Khao San Road, we caught it tuk-tuk over to Pat Pong Road to see a “shoot banana” show.

Bangkok.

Pat Pong Road itself is a street market: brightly lit and crowded with water pistol-toting Thais. Luckily we were also armed with our own water pistols and a general atmosphere of festivity was in the air. We bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked them to put us in the right frame of mind then went into the Pussy Galore Club which had been recommended by some other travellers.

We were surprised by how clean and classy it was, with constant service, ashtrays emptied, tables wiped and spotless toilets. The show was bizarre, and slightly sad in some ways, with about 20 naked Thai girls flaunting themselves at the mainly single male crowd. Each girl wore a number for ease of choosing. Some of the tricks were quite impressive, to say the least: eggs inserted, cracked and dropped into a glass; darts fired at balloons; whistles blown and horns tooted; razor blades and sandpaper produced; cigarettes smoked; bottle tops removed – how did they do that? – and messages written out with a felt pen inserted thus. 

Man…it’s no wonder that sad, unattached males come here for sex! After an hour so, however, it all became a bit boring so we caught a tuk-tuk back to Khao San Road where we sat on the sidewalk eating corn on the cob and talking to the four young English people we’d met at the airport.

¹The Songkran Festival celebrates the Thai New Year. It is traditionally marked by water fights which represent ritual cleansing.

TUESDAY APRIL 7th – SATURDAY APRIL 11th

We spent the week at Mark’s flat, resting up, doing all our washing, and spent a lot of time doing pretty much nothing.

Among the items of business we had to attend to was getting our air tickets to Bangkok with Air Lanka which cost us £75 each one way; Linda bought the silk for her wedding dress from a Chinese craft store – 11.5 m of Dupion silk cost HK$1,105; I bought 8 rolls of film – 5 of Fujichrome 100, and 3 of Ektachrome 100 – which cost HK$285; I went to see a doctor about the infection of the bladder I had picked up in Nepal and he prescribed me some tablets which seemed to do the trick – that cost another 250 Hong Kong dollars; and I bought a set of SONY headphones and a small high-performance torch. We also posted a lot of stuff home.

At about 3 p.m. on Saturday we took advantage of a brief lull in the rain that had bucketed down all morning and left the flat, caught a bus down to Central, and walked around the Star Ferry terminal for the last time. As it crossed Hong Kong Harbour, we looked back at the cluster of glass and steel towers, backdropped by the green of the Peak, and down the harbour to where the Jumbos were landing, seemingly amongst the apartments.

We paused at Mac’s Bar for a drink then caught one of the air-conditioned buses out to the airport, leaving Kowloon to the rain and to the tourists. Everything at the airport was way beyond our meagre store of money and after we had gone through immigration we looked for something to spend our last HK$5-50 on, but the cheapest thing we could find was a plastic pencil sharpener which cost HK$10.

Our Air Lanka flight was surprisingly good for a cheapie! The wide-body Tristar 100 jet was comfortable and roomy and the service and food were excellent

We were kept amused by a group of Chinese, obviously on their first-ever flight or possibly their first-ever time on a mode of transport not powered by animals!

We landed in Bangkok at 9:30 p.m. local time and sped quickly through customs and immigration. We teamed up with four English chaps to catch a bus into town which only cost us to Bart each. As we stepped from the airport bus, the 33-degree air hit us like a solid wall! Once in the city we found Kao Sahn Road and took a room in a small guest house. The room was like an oven, with no window and only a small fan to circulate the already stupefying air. It was probably the hottest night we have ever spent.

Monday, April 6th.

We went to see Mark at his office on the 18th floor of the Kowloon Building. He hasn’t changed at all since I last saw him in 1986 except that he is going grey! We yarned about family and our travels over a cup of tea, and he explained to us how to get to his apartment up on Conduit Road over on Hong Kong Island. We arranged to meet for lunch which we did at 12:30 and he took us to a place near his office.

Back at Chungking Mansions, we collected our packs and lugged them in pouring rain over to his flat. We spent an hour trying to find the right bus after a woman pointed us in the wrong direction

Mark’s flat was cosy and well-decorated, with prints strategically placed on white-painted walls, a blue lounge suite and a bitching stereo. We settled in with a vengeance!

APRIL 5TH

APRIL 5th

HERE SHE COMES

SILENT IN HER SOUND

HERE SHE COMES

FRESH UPON THE GROUND

COME GENTLE SPRING

COME AT WINTER’S END

GONE IS THE PALLOR

FROM A PROMISE THE SEASONS BRING

WAITING FOR THE COLOUR OF SPRING

LET ME BREATHE…

HERE SHE COMES 

LAUGHTER ON HER LIPS 

HERE SHE COMES

SHAME UPON HER KISS

COME WANTON SPRING

COME FOR BIRTH YOU LIVE

YOUTH TAKES A BOW

FROM A SUMMER THAT’S NATURE’S GIFT

WAITING FOR THE COLOUR OF SPRING

LET ME BREATHE…

Saturday, April 4th.

It had been raining in Canton but by the time the train got to Shenzhen, it had cleared. The border was reasonably easy although the complete absence of any order or rational scheme made finding our way through a bit trying. Back in Kowloon after a 40-minute ride on the KCR, we walked around to Chungking Mansions and got a room in the same hostel where we had stayed before we went to China.

I rang [my cousin] Mark and he invited us to stay in his apartment even though he was off to Thailand for the week. The first decent meal for 2 days was at McDonald’s then we return to the hostel to watch the Hong Kong rugby sevens tournament on TV. The weather for it was abysmal, with torrential rain turning the pitches into a quagmire.

Some impromptu entertainment was provided at night when a fat bloke in the Hyatt Hotel across the street gave his Chinese wife a damn good rogering with the curtains open!