Tuesday, 4 July 2017

the end - 2/5/2016 - 3/5/2016

At the hotel I took 5 minutes to freshen myself in the small cloakroom at the back of the building, washing and changing out of my worn clothes into a fresh set before wrapping my dirty rags and wedging them into my holdall. With everything now secured, locked and strapped together I was finally ready to depart.

Before leaving I asked the lady at reception for a rough guideline as to how much a taxi was likely to cost to get me to get to the airport and she informed me that it should only cost between 300 and 350 baht. So bucking my trend of using the Thai public transport system that has reliably carried me on each subsequent visit since I first visited Bangkok, I decided on the strightforward option. The day had already shaped up to be long enough and with the heat still beating down viciously outside,  it had become one that I just didn't fancy playing around in any more than I absolutely had to. I thanked the hotelier for the stay, hoisted my bag back up for one final time and broke back out into the searing heat outside.

On the opposite side from the hotel, I flagged down the first passing cab and enquired his fare. "450 baht" he said with a smile to which my first impulse was to just let him go and then flag down another. But then I reasoned that with the tip on top of the amount I had been given as a guideline, I would have paid 450 anyway, so for him and me it was going to be the same. 450 baht. No tip. As I agreed he smiled back, maybe thinking he had pulled one over on me but you can't be sure. It's just a fact that everyone likes to smile here. I returned with a likewise expression knowing that even at what he may have considered to be a tourist inflated price, this was still going to be a fraction of the cost that a similar lengthed trip in a taxi would be stiffing me back in the U.K.

At just gone 2pm with bags in the boot and me in the back, the driver drove and I watched as Bangkok passed by out of the window for what felt like the final time. The street food carts and the sellers, the cars, the bikes and the tuk-tuks, the performance and the performers, the energy and the life of the city. There was a sadness about leaving, a wistful wanting to remain, but the reality was unfortunately, it was just time for me to leave it behind.

It took just over an hour to get to Suvarnabhumi Airport, with a small additional amount of Baht being paid en-route to take the faster roads. I thanked the driver and gave him 500 baht, roughly ten pounds GBP to help keep his beautiful smile topped up, grabbed my luggage and entered once more into the large check in hall. I had arrived there suitably early, around five and a half hours before the departure time so now I had time to kill before I could go through the checking in process. It's amazing how slowly time can pass when you just want it to get a move on. I charged my phone at a phone charging point located by the entrance before then moving further inside to hunt for a place to stop, dropping my bags in an unused space just below one of the hulking flight information boards . You are aware that there's a justified nervousness that can be caused from seeing unaccompanied luggage bags laying around and I was careful to never stray too far away, but at the same time I couldn't just sit there and stagnate. I took a few minutes to make some phone calls back home, messaged a few people and captured a few final photo's on my phone. I gazed wondrously as the sun lowered itself gently towards the horizon as its blinding glow bled through the large glazed windows and coated the hall in which I stood in yellow and amber hues...

...and then I went back to stagnating, with each second passing seemingly more slowly than the last.

After what felt like 7 days, 4 hours and 42 minutes of waiting around, the time eventually came for me to be able to check my things in, walk through to departures, grab a coffee and wait for flight boarding to be called. The only thing to note was just how uneventful the next few hours ended up being. The Qatar airlines plane trundled along the runway at 9.21pm and lifted gently without the usual dramatic thrust or fanfare, a trick the pilot of the connecting flight would go on to repeat as we departed DOHA some 8 hours later. Somewhere between those 2 locations I had managed to misplace 4 hours.

It was over the middle east that I decided it was time for a costume change, quietly grabbed some things from the over head locker and sloped my way past a few rows of sleepers to the first cubical I found. Here I changed clumsily into my british ready gear, a pair of jeans and another fresh t-shirt before then unceremoniously dumping my faithful old shorts into the bin. They probably deserved more of a send off in some respects. These relatively cheap cargo shorts from the "Big C" supermarket in Bangkok had seen me through nearly 10 months of what had proved to be occasionally tough and troublesome travel conditions. They had outlived better branded and more expensive compatriots and to their credit, after everything I had put them through, even now they probably still had a good 16 or 17 minutes life left in them. If they were only a little bit longer I could a worked in a quip about it being a "remarkable feet," but alas, as it happens, they just didn't have the legs.

As the plane approached towards Heathrow just before 7am, the sun shone through the painted blue skies and the pilot took the opportunity to swing his plane over the Thames, banking over slightly to afford the passengers inside a magical view of Tower Bridge and the city below. A few moments later we had come to a halt. A chorus of phones springing back into life and heralding our safe arrival. The aisles then filled with the usual structured lines of people, each waiting anxiously for their turn to escape the confines of the plane into the beautifully drab greyness for which Heathrow itself is renowned. It didn't disappoint.

A simple question about your incoming route can prove to be difficult after sleep deprivation has taken hold. "Doha, no Bangkok....Bangkok then Doha" I recalled at the immigration stand before the officers raised eyebrow dropped back into place and I was allowed to carry on through to collect my bags and begin my wait for the bus back to Bristol to arrive. During this time I took on much needed coffee and went through a rather convoluted process of getting my phone number switched back from "pay as you go" to a monthly contract. The bus arrived late. Normal UK service had resumed.

Safely on the bus I sat back, stratched out and relaxed, put my hat, passport and tickets safely away and watched as the countryside rolled past between moments of shutting my eyes. It was good to be back for sure. I was looking forward to seeing some people I hadn't seen for a while and I had been fantasising about the taste of a Sunday roast dinner for the previous few days, but I still needed some time to recover.

In Bristol I was met by Matt, one of my friends who I was going to be stopping over with for a couple of days. With my well travelled bags dispatched into the back of his transit we headed off to the supermarket to get a coffee, have a chat and pick up some supplies before heading back to his. It was shortly after this that I realised that my hat, the one I had brought in Bangkok only the day before was no longer part of my possessions. In just 2 weeks or so I had now lost 3 of the things, this final one just about capped everything off.

It took about a week for me to start thinking about travel again, to recover from feeling exhausted. To contemplate and muse that maybe I would rather be back out there doing more of the same but with further purpose and goals. Considering how tired I had come back it was a hell of a turnaround. It had been a long 5 and a half months which hadn't gone to my initial plan but had been far from a wasted journey. But despite all I had done in that time there were still itches that I hadn't manage to scratch, stones that had been left unturned either through bad luck, exhaustion or injury. Despite those feelings and wants though, my journey was now at an end.

But maybe not the end?

Despite everything I had done, everything I had seen, smelt, tasted and experienced in some way or another, there was one thing off my initial drawn up list that remained unchecked and unfulfilled.


I never did make it to Laos.