January 18th – Ao Nang, Krabi

After my difficulty in sleeping, I was reluctant to get up for my 7am alarm, but I had a flight to catch later in the morning, and I was to be taken to the airport in a minivan that I booked the previous day for 150 baht (around £3.60).

I snoozed for a few minutes as I attempted to reply to the watsapp messages from Magda she had sent me at some point in the 7 hours in advance that I had in Thailand. After showering and dragging my backpack down the steep and narrow stair case of BB House, I checked out and waited for my pickup.

I can’t specifically remember what time I was due to be picked up, but it was 10 minutes after that when the lady at the front desk of BB House took my piece of paper from me to call the van driver and ask where he was. I knew that in Thailand time keeping was somewhat looser than in the West, so I wasn’t overly concerned about the lateness until around 15 minutes in to waiting, when I started to feel a little anxious. The van showed up, and the driver came in the guest house in a rush – as if I wasn’t looking him in the eye and there where a few people in the hotel reception then he would assume that I wasn’t there and would have just left to save time.

The full capacity of the van was 11 or so, and he assured that every seat was full. Transfer services like that tend to be comparable to a London Underground tube, where you are in such close proximity to another human being that apologies for physical contact are already assumed and if you do say ‘sorry’, it’s a bit annoying. The journey took around 1 hour with traffic in Bangkok being the way that it is. Airports in Asia are different to other countries in my experience – in that when you arrive you go through some form of baggage check, that appears more of a tradition than a precaution. People had 1 litre bottles of water going through, as well as e-cigarettes (which apparently the Thai government made illegal as they where impacting on cigarette sales, which affects Thai economy). I checked in quite painlessly, and when I went through security the second time I didn’t bother removing my laptop from my bag like I would have back home. Nobody said anything, so I figured I’ll try my luck with every time.

There’s a unique tension in departure lounges. Everybody is referring to the screens quite frequently to check that no changes have been made since their check in (there often are). If an announcement is made in Thai and people start moving, the air fills with a mist of anxiety with turning their heads like dogs that have heard the word ‘walk’, trying to figure out if the changes are applicable to them. People have time to kill more often, but can’t really focus on a book or anything requiring attention so they will often spend that time attempting to connect to the wifi, contemplating an overpriced coffee or snack depending on the length of the journey, pacing around the their gate, or starting to form a misinformed que over an hour before boarding. This journey had several people exhibiting such archetypical airport behaviours. I had opted to sort out an email related to a freelance job, while still holding some of the airport anxiety symptoms mentioned.

The flight was quick and easy, around 45 minutes to 1 hour in Krabi airport. I was seated in an emergency exit, which meant I had to put my luggage in the overhead locker. I was paranoid that my laptop might get damaged up there, but realised there wasn’t much I could do so I just went with it. I had extra leg room because of the seating which made it way more comfortable – significantly more so than my Jet Airways long haul flight. I had researched the best way to get into town from the airport – there is a minivan for 150 baht (around £3.60 or so) that takes 45 minutes to 1 hour and drops you at your hotel. I opted for that. It took a lot longer than 1 hour.

Before getting in the van I showed the driver my hotel voucher, and he seemed unsure for a moment before accepting. He signalled for me to get in by waving his hand as he nodded and said “ok”. The journey from airport to a town you’ve never been always fills you with a specific form of anxiety that is exclusive to travelling. You aren’t too sure where you will be situated, and on shared journeys can often find yourself thinking ‘oh God I really hope this isn’t my stop’ when you pull up at sketchy looking guest houses. Krabi has quite a safe vibe and feels quite laid back and suitable for families etc. You get that impression from driving from the airport – it doesn’t have the seediness that Bangkok presents. After around 30 minutes people started to be getting dropped off around the Ao Nang area (there are 2 areas in Krabi that most people stay, Ao Nang which has a beach, or Krabi town). The area really is beautiful, so much so that you struggle to feel part of it as it’s so surreal. It’s like looking at a painting made with overly saturated colours. I felt relieved that I hadn’t booked to stay somewhere grim for a week or so.

More of the others in the van where exiting, until it was just myself and another solo traveller left. I began to feel a little panicked. We where now way out of the centre it seemed, and going through side streets in more residential areas. I was almost bargaining with myself (as if I had any control) that I would be happy with a particular area that we where passing, as long as I could get out, which didn’t happen for another hour or so.

The other guy got out at his guest house, and the driver asked me to remind of the name of my place. I realised at this point that whatever exchange we had earlier that implied his knowledge of where to go was just to ensure a prompt exit from the airport. He pulled over, and google searched the hotel, ‘Al Salam KB Guest House’ to try and get a phone number for directions. It didn’t have a website, and the only reference to it online was on hotel websites (which also didn’t include a phone number). I gave him the address that I had (which I thought would have sufficed as it was in both English and Thai) but he still seemed uncertain. After a while pulled over trying various means of finding a phone number, he continued driving – somewhat frantically.

We circled around a few areas of Ao Nang for about 40 minutes, with him saying things in Thai that carried enough aggression in how they where express to make me assume they where swear words. He pulled over to a tuk-tuk driver who looked at me and looked at the address for quite some time, squinting as he did so from the 3pm sun. I exhaled audibly as I realised that It wasn’t likely I was going to find the place that I had already booked and paid for. With more momentum still, we resumed our journey, covering areas we had already visited. I have no mobile data over in Thailand, so I had requested that I could use his phone and change the settings to English so I could try find directions. He gave me his phone, but didn’t understand the English request, and I was unable to navigate in Thai, so I was of no use.  He called a few people, one of which I assume to be the airport staff (he had to return for another pick-up) as he continued driving. He got out at various tourist information boards to ask advice. He told me that nobody has heard of the place I was staying, and they know everywhere in area. This curbed my initial sense of optimism I had for the journey.

He started telling me how I should have got the phone number, and then took me back to the Tuk-Tuk driver I had met earlier and told me to go with him as he needed to return to the airport. As we arrived he was sleeping in the back of his vehicle, with his legs stretched from end of the broken red leather seating area to the other, dangling his blue rubber sandals. He saw us and spoke to the van driver, requesting to see the hotel details again on my phone. He was still squinting. After asking his friends who where gathered around for about 10 minutes while I sat in the back, we headed back to the direction that I had previously been 4 or 5 times. He pulled into a one-way street before searching around on his phone again, and looking for somebody nearby to ask for directions.

At this point I had surrendered to loosing my £30 for the 2 nights in the hotel I had booked, and requested that he just took me somewhere central with plenty of options for places to stay. It’s high season in Thailand this time of year, so prices are up and options are limited, plus the area I was in was a 45-minute walk to any attraction other than the beach. He seemed relieved by my request, and turned back around. As he pulled out of the junction, I noticed a sign subtly hidden amongst road signs shrubbery for ‘Al Salam KB Guest House’. I knocked on the wall at the back of the cart, and pointed to it as he turned around. He smiled for the first time, and it seemed genuine, like he was happy to have found it for himself as well as for me.

He got out of the vehicle with me as I approached the check in. The guy on check in was sleeping in a hammock next to a computer screen with a paused youtube video on. The driver leaned in – “Sawadeekrap…!”, he said, which woke up the guest house owner who at first looked startled, before assuming a professional demeanour to welcome me. I got the impression that they must not get much business. The driver said something in Thai, in a tone that seemed suggestive that he labelled his place more thoroughly, in a light-hearted but serious sort of way. I hadn’t eaten at this point and after the journey I was pretty stressed, so uncharacteristically sharp, while still trying to be polite. The owner was a young guy with an intentional haircut that he styled with product, dressed in a red t-shirt and beige shorts. His eyes where red, which I initially assumed where because he was sleeping, but I found in my time there that they where like that all the time. I think he maybe just liked getting high.

I checked into my room, keen to drop my bags, get some water and go for some food. The room was large, and not too dirty but also not really very clean. It had a wardrobe and a fridge. There was no water in the room, but a load of mosquitoes that seemed to increase the more I looked around. I was unsure of if they carry malaria, and I’m not taking any medication for prevention, so felt uneasy. I left the room, asking if there was anywhere near that I could but some water, and if he had mosquito spray. He pointed me in the direction of a Family Mart store, about 2 minutes away, as he sprayed my room. He told me not to return for around 30 minutes, so I assumed the spray must have been decent.

I went to the shop, bought my water and a snack that I managed to find which had ingredients I could understand that where vegan. It was a taro paste filled bread bun, which felt hugely unhealthy but was enjoyable.

The beach was a 10-minute walk away, and then around 35 minutes after you start to come into contact with other people and restaurants etc. I settled on the first one that I saw that had a menu I could read and wasn’t ambiguous as to if it was a restaurant or somebody’s home (although if it was they probably would have still offered me food). I sat down with a Thai green curry and soda water which was presented well enough by Western standards for me to know that It was going to be Western prices, which it was. It was enjoyable all the same. After I finished I walked along towards the more central areas. The beach looked beautiful, and they had catered for the tourism it would bring. Ao Nang centre is a little bit like a typical European tourist destination, in that there are a lot of Western food restaurants and things for sale such as replica branded sunglasses or overpriced sun cream. Though lacking in culture somewhat, I was comforted by the accessibility after having the journey that I did, and felt a little closer to home (or at least Benidorm), which eased some of my homesickness.

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Thai Green Curry – A reminder why i keep coming back to Thailand.

It was starting to get dark, and I realised that my hotel was quite some distance away. Although the route was pretty straight forward and basically a straight line, there was very little street lights around the area I was staying, and I had to walk along a main road for 10 minutes before getting to my place. The sun setting by the beach is psychedelic; shifting tones of pinks and purples, casting silhouettes of couples, families, and friends creates filter free Instagram style imagery. It was a nice reminder of the positives of my journey after the stressful start. As I walked further out of the centre, you notice the sound of animals and insects are at a volume you would never imagine possible could come from such small beings. It’s like some form of jungle/trance/jazz music, with birds coming in and out of rhythm like high pitched trumpets in a Dizzy Gillespie track, while the crickets and cockroaches provided the tribal bass percussion. The sounds of the the electricity wires buzzing give a mechanical sense of activity to the otherwise mostly uninhabited streets.

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Sunset In Ao Nang
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My walk to the Centre (Just before stuff started to happen)
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About 30 minutes walk from my hotel.

I had noticed as I walked that although I did have a desire to eat more food, I didn’t feel obliged to ignore the fact I was full in it’s pursuit. I still hadn’t adjusted enough to my new environment to feel comfortable, and so my stomach didn’t find the prospect of a second dinner appealing (which is never usually the case). I assumed this to be because my bodies lack of comfort meant that it wasn’t willing to be overly stuffed when put in a fight or flight situation that may follow. It wasn’t certain if I was safe. Neither was I, but I would have been willing to risk. This may not be the reason I was food, and it could have just simply been because I’d eaten an hour earlier, but If I was correct then I was thankful that my gut seemed to have my back.

As the sun had set and I was walking back from the populated to unpopulated streets, I became aware that I could barely see my hands in front of me. I got out my phone torch, which I nervously utilised to navigate through the streets. I eventually got to the main road that my hotel was on with a couple of street lights, but it occurred to me that I had not had my torch then oncoming traffic would have really not been likely to see me whatsoever. The sounds I had heard previously where amplified to the point where it was uncomfortable at this point, and I was constantly feeling phantom sensations of insects on my body and legs as I walked to my room at a swift pace.

Once back I was still holding onto a sense of alienation and lack of acceptance. Although I was glad the mosquitoes didn’t seem to be there anymore, the lizard in my bathroom made me uneasy. I have learned a technique when in situations where nature has reclaimed the property that you’re a guest of – basically close the door and hope it goes away. This time it did, to my pleasant surprise. I spent the night googling what to do in the area, and trying to pan out some form of morning itinerary. I have since learned that having zero expectations (unless you have an excursion) is a good way to go about days when travelling when you have no specific intention. I had known this intellectually prior, but have recently come to utilise it in my approach. I was keen to attend some kind of yoga retreat, and found a one based in Ao Nang called, “Marina Yoga and Reiki’. They had 3 nights, 4 day retreats which involved yoga twice a day, alongside 1 session of Reiki, Sound Healing, and Ear Candling. I was aware but not overly interested in the healing aspect of it at the time, but was keen on improving my yoga, so sent an enquiry as to if there where any retreats starting Friday.

I spent the rest of the night on my laptop, which I’ve found is a good escape from travellers’ loneliness when you can get wifi pretty much everywhere and your loved ones are only a few clicks away. My anxiety around the travels came out in my relentless searching for the best prices of flights etc for my potential itinerary’s. I had decided that if Marina Yoga was full or she didn’t get back to me, then I would head to Chiang Mai on Friday. I realised that the part of my mind that needs structure also gets uneasy if it doesn’t feel like I’ve got the most of my money. I’ve always been good at saving as I tend to dislike materialism and value security. While this has its benefits, it was also impacting on my experience as I was in the place where I allowed myself to spend my savings, but worrying too much about not getting the cheapest flight that It was preventing me from enjoying it fully. It was at this point when I went through to the payment section of a flight booking that I realised my STA Travel Cash card was pretty much a con on behalf of the travel company (I’ll go into that in more detail later).

Still in jet lag mode, and with a mind filled with attempts to work stuff out and simultaneously enjoy my experience I attempted to sleep. It wasn’t really working. It was my first day of settling in to a place for over a night, and I was still resisting through fear of uncertainty. It was also the first day when despite earlier events I started to experience pleasure and insight into my own neurosis that I couldn’t have got back home. With some sense of satisfaction gained from that realisation, alongside my exhaustion, I fell asleep.

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