Asia

Bungy in Patong

To be a successful pharmacist one must possess something of an obsessive compulsive personality. The drugs have to be stacked on the shelves in such a way as to minimise the risk of accidentally giving Mrs Blogs antidepressants in place of blood pressure tablets. Every time a script is presented there are a series of checks to be done, such as their compatibilities, dosages and timing of dose. Not to mention numerous checks to ensure government concession cards are valid. These checks must be done with every script, however the obsessive checking needs to be somewhat controlled otherwise customers will be left waiting for half an hour just for a simple antibiotic. Fretting mothers with pyjama-clad kids would understandably be upset at the wait and business would suffer. Community pharmacy, therefore, is a balancing act between keeping the customers happy and keeping them healthy.

Pharmacy is an important job, Mrs Goggin needs to know that side effects may include barking like a sea lion and delusions of grandeur. Mr Blyth must be told to, ‘see his doctor if symptoms do not improve’, yellow warning stickers need careful placing to tell you that sleeping tablets may cause drowsiness. Seriously now, I do not want to downplay the importance of the pharmacist in healthcare but, these days with the internet returning diagnosis of life threatening disease at a frenetic rate I found that much of my time in ‘past life’ was occupied with reassuring customers that a pimple is just that, not the first sign of metastatic liver cancer. Customers aside, the routines and systems in place safeguard and maintain a happy pill popping community.

Throughout my career I mostly controlled my obsessive nature while also avoiding selling pep pills to schizophrenics. This obsessive aspect of my personality definitely worked in my favour during my sticker adhering career, but I quickly realise that these traits are something of a hinderance to my evolution into a footloose traveler. I have planned my trip down to the last detail; airport transfers arranged to and from every hotel stay, accommodation booked well in advance.

Even the way I pack my bag has quickly became systemised with checks in place. My banking widget and pocket knife clip to a string inside the top pocket of my pack, I have a spare credit card taped inside the padding of my rucksack, another in my little bag, one in my wallet. I pack the big red rucksack in reverse order of clothes needed. For example, my next stop is Thailand which means hot weather so I pack my warm jacket and jeans at the bottom, followed by light pants and shorts at the very top ready for use. My small backpack has a specific spot for my laptop, camera and wallet, my sunglasses live in the front pocket, spare camera cards in a leather change purse. I find comfort in knowing exactly where everything is, kind of like a buffer against any cultural shock or unexpected surprises, not that I have any planned.

With the smell of way too much Everest lager lingering on my breath a pre-booked private taxi shuttles me from the airport in Patong to the Hotel Graceland. I check in and neatly fold my clothes on the bench to ensure everything is in order. Shoes are neatly lined up next to my clothes, I have checked my small pack to ensure nothing is missing. Next I hide inside my room for two days, eating hotel hamburgers, watching bad movies and being too timid to venture further than a few blocks.

Halfway through a forgettable scene where Richard Gere is busily flashing his winning smile I look outside to the shining sun, remember why I left Tasmania and mentally slap myself in the face. Richard Gere was never meant to be part of my intrepid adventure. Throwing caution to the wind I check out of this luxury hotel early and pay my hefty room service bill. I shake off two days of catatonia and strike out to find adventure. With my red rucksack on my back I nervously flag down a local taxi and move to a slightly more gritty hotel closer to the beach. Having wasted two out of five in Patong I shake my pack empty onto the floor, hastily arrange my clothes and find the nearest tourist information centre. I need to book some activities to avoid this catatonia, the first activity I book is a bungy jump that afternoon.

A pre-booked taxi drops me at the bungy centre where I am greeted by a heavily tattooed and very bored looking man with a New Zealand accent. Behind and above Tattoos is another man, pale and overweight he quivers high on a ledge and does not dare look down. This sight makes me chuckle confidently and think,

‘I have recently done scarier things than this. This will present no significant challenge sir.’

I watch the man shake on his ledge for a few long minutes before he jumps. More to the point, he leans out into the emptiness too far and before he can catch himself gravity takes control of the situation. Like a surprised fish on a line he silently plummets until the cord catches him and bounces him up and down a few times. Red faced and visibly shaken he is lowered to a pontoon over the shallow dirty lake where he is released from his bindings. He jumps to his feet before scuttling to a waiting taxi, which he no doubt directs to the nearest bar. I am now left alone at the bungee centre with Tattoos. Random bird noises from a nearby wetlands punctuate a heavy silence over the grounds.

Now it is my turn to test gravity. The dark skinned man in a faded bungee T-shirt wraps a towel then some straps around my ankles before calling his colleague over to check as a rusting crane creaks nearby under the weight of the platform. The second man lowers my confidence in this operation further by undoing the whole assembly and retying my legs. The rickety crane laboriously hoists me and the dark skinned man about fifty metres up into the air over the water. He is trying to make friendly conversation in pidgin English as we rise, asking questions such as,

‘Do you like here? and Where from you?’

‘Yes. Tasmania, in Australia’

As I speak the view around me opens up to reveal lush green jungle. The ground slowly drops away taking with it my ability to maintain casual conversation, it is all right for this guy, he only has a commercial interest in the fraying straps around my legs, mine is much more personal. At least the centre is empty so there is no one to hear me scream like a little girl. My mind throws up a random image of a lone spacecraft orbiting earth; ‘In space, no one can hear you scream.’ The crane shudders to an unconvinced halt but I continue shuddering as I look down. Near the car park I see a group of drunk but beautifully tanned tourists materialise from the kiosk, apparently in Thailand there is always someone to hear you scream.

I must look quite a sight up on that ledge, last night I checked out my skinny frame in the mirror. Twenty-eight days of hard trekking at altitude has left my face dark above a snow white torso, I am now long bearded with very unkempt hair. In short I would be able to scare small children without breaking a sweat. At least I am starting to look like a footloose traveler, if not always acting the part. I force all thoughts of breaking bungy cord out of my mind and instead focus on executing a graceful swan dive. I look down, trust that Ameshi has not left me, gulp and jump.

Despite trying to keep all my openings clenched, at mid-plummet I let out a little squeak of fear. Two weightless seconds later the cord grabs and slows my fall. A few upside down bounces stills me, hanging by my feet over the dirty water. My head fills with blood and I can feel a rapid pulse pounding in my temples as I wait for the crane to lower me onto the jetty. Once safely on the platform and full of adrenaline I let the man talk me into doing another jump, this time in reverse.

My feet are tethered firmly as I stand next to the pond, the bungy cord is attached by a hefty harness to my chest and slowly extended by raising the crane platform, I hear my back cracking as the strain increases. My feet are now hovering about two inches above the ground and I can feel a great deal of the tension in the rope through my legs. The little Thai man counts down aloud from five and pulls the knot around my feet on,

‘One’

But nothing happens.

He looks up at me with a bemused expression before crouching down to inspect the knot more closely. He yanks the rope a few times and looks up at me apologetically as I bob up and down slightly. He then gives one final big pull and falls backwards. I do not see him complete this fall as I suddenly launch up towards the top of the crane. Somewhat surprised by this sudden departure I yell all the way, my yell turns into a laugh then into manic chuckling as I run out of breath.

Back to the hotel and feeling somewhat proud to have achieved something, even a very touristy something, I check that my room is still in order before braving the gauntlet of alleys that lead to the beach. I dodge lady boys and massage parlours to find an Irish pub free from molestation. A few hours are spent sipping beer and watching a steady parade of fat tourists with their young girlfriends. Thinking about the bungy I mentally pat myself on the back and feel totally relaxed, ready to scuba dive the next day.

River Kwai, Tiger Temple

 

grey River Kwai, Tiger Temple The morning arrives bringing with it more massage offers and a clear sunny day. Over my morning coffee I wait for my River Kwai and Tiger Temple Tour driver while daydreaming about the possibility of sharing a tour bus with a holidaying volleyball team, in my mind they are Swedish and female. They would place unreasonable demands on me throughout the day such as asking me to help rub suncream lotion on their backs while jokingly calling me Mr Sven or Kangaroo. They would throw their arms around my shoulder and tilt their heads in a flirtatious manner as we have photos taken near the tigers.  Strangely, Frank Sinatra’s ‘New York, New York’ is playing in the background. We all get along famously and meet out afterwards for a drink, dinner, maybe a dance…

The unfortunate reality is being shunted into the back of a Toyota Corolla with Noel and Mr Douna my husky voiced Tour Asia rep. I settle into the back seat and do up my seatbelt clutching at fading memories of my volleyball team. Noel, a gangly chap from Mackay with a thick Australian accent is my entire tour group. Mr Douna spends the next two hours pointing out handy facts in his husky voice such as, ‘the highway is heading south’, ‘that building wasn’t there last time’ and ‘that is a sugar plantation.’ Noel happily spends the time reading every sign he can find in English. He randomly chuckles to himself and mumbles, ‘What a place! Not like home.’ Fifteen minutes into the drive I give up and feign sleep. Three hours later I wake when our motley tour pulls up outside the River Kwai Museum. ‘You have half hour’ states Mr Douna authoritatively before settling against a shady tree for a snooze.

grey River Kwai, Tiger Temple

Noel sets about reading the first info board while I take off to explore the museum. I amaze at what the Australian troops endured during their time building this railway. Just as Noel is about to tackle the second sentence on the info board Mr Douna arrives to take us to the bridge proper, stating, ‘We see bridge now!’.

A plaque near the bridge says, ‘The bridge stands as a memorial to the pain and suffering of many.’ Remembering the photographs at the museum I wholeheartedly agree. In true Thai fashion we are accosted with vendors bearing all manner of trinkets and memorabilia. Noel bless him, buys up big and is forced to spend the afternoon shuffling about with numerous tea towels, a River Kwai snow shaker model and two pirated books under his arm. I do not find the bridge itself that impressive, it is the story of how it got there and the suffering these chaps endured that strikes me. A lone violin player standing midway along the bridge deepens the mood.

grey River Kwai, Tiger Temple

We move on to a buffet on the way to the Tiger Temple. Noel is mumbling about not wanting to go to Burma as we head closer to the border. By this stage I am tempted to slip Mr Douna 100 baht to shunt him over the border, Mr Douna gives me a look that suggests he would accept. Over lunch Noel treats me to an hour long soliloquy,

‘Ben, I think that the Australian fifty cent piece is unwieldy and not necessary in modern Australia. If you abolish the five cent piece you could make the ten cent piece the size of the current five, the twenty the size of the current ten, abolish the fifty and you would have so much more room in your wallet…also why is the two dollar coin smaller than the one dollar? Crazy politicians eh…’

I eat as he rants, making a mental note to request a friend shoot me if I ever lie awake at night worrying about these issues. Noel then gives me a detailed analysis of the bridges in Mackay and how the council has messed up where they put them, ‘Where is my Swedish volleyball team dammit?’ Finally lunch is finished but not Noel’s rantings, we move to our next destination.

The Tiger Temple is a Buddhist site where the monks raise rescued tigers. I am unsure if the monks have saved these tigers from the wild or hunters, they avoid the question when asked. The tour starts with a brief safety talk, the salient points being, ‘Don’t walk in front of the tigers, approach from behind and don’t look them in the face.’ When the talk finishes Noel wanders off muttering about not understanding these crazy Thai people. He immediately walks right in front of the biggest tiger in the park, crouches down in front, eyeballs it raising his camera and happily snaps away. Noel fails to notice that a crescendo in a tiger’s growl may mean, ‘Nick off’, not ‘I think you are nice, will you be my friend?’

grey River Kwai, Tiger Temple

Thankfully Noel is promptly whisked out of harm’s way by the not-so-friendly-at-this-point park staff, before asking me what he did wrong. Resisting the urge to say, ‘You were born.’ I slowly explain the safety speech to him again. Mentally I start drafting a document to the Australian Minister for Immigration explaining why, as a country, we shouldn’t admit to ownership of ‘the Noel’ and why he should safely detained on a small island somewhere. I avoid Noel for the remainder of the tour and enjoy wandering amongst dozing tigers in the shade and taking some photos which include one with a very cute one month old cub.
Back in the car I am treated to Noel commenting about the traffic and electrical wires, ‘Look Ben!  The poles here are concrete, not like home’ and Mr Douna ‘This is a farm, Ben, a farm!’ The Tiger Temple and Bridge over the River Kwai are both well worth visiting however I promise myself to be more careful when deciding on tours and to independently navigate sights in the future.

I would have much rather shared today with my Swedish volleyball team.

 

grey River Kwai, Tiger Temple

Bed Supperclub – Thailand

grey Bed Supperclub   Thailand I wash away the dust and tiger fur before treating myself to a whiskey sour on the roof. I absently watch a behemoth thunder storm brewing over the city while sipping my drink and brace to explore the city one more time. My mission tonight is to find the Bed Supperclub Thailand, the club which enjoyed rave reviews from my crazy sunburnt friend in Gokyo.

I have no idea at all what happens at this club, it could be a meeting place for rap dancing midgets or the Gay Klu Klux Klan for all I know. Curiosity sees me dressed in my best shirt as I leave the hotel refusing another kind offer of massage.

The famous Bed Supperclub Thailand turns out to be quite a challenge to find. My booked taxi does not arrive due to gridlocked traffic so I am forced to navigate by train. This proves quite a trial for the Thai speaking mountain goat, accentuated by train employees not caring if I reach my destination or not. I am on the train for only three stops before walking along a side street in the middle of the very same storm I watched brew over the city. Never have I seen rain like this, it feels like God’s bathtub is plumbed to drain right onto this street.

The streets become rivers and me a drowned rat in less than a minute. Despite the deluge I am warm and finding it rather liberating to be walking alone down the middle of a traffic free street in Bangkok. I cannot resist the urge which overtakes and start dancing down the street in my nipple accentuating white top. Joyfully I breaking into song, ‘Raindrops are falling on my head’ and kick up puddles of muddy rain while looking like a complete lunatic. Locals and other tourists hide under their eaves laughing at me. ‘I don’t care, nobody knows me here, am I starting to loosen up and find my feet with this whole travel caper?’

Finally I arrive at the Bed Supper Club, after turning down only three offers of massages, dripping muddy jeans must be lowering my appeal. Looking at the information board outside the Bed Supper Club I discover I am about to enter one of the most exclusive clubs in Bangkok. The best DJs in the world frequent this club, which has reached cult status in a fickle town where clubs bloom and wilt on a monthly basis. The outside of the building looks very much like your classic James Bond bad guy lair, despite not being set inside an active volcano. A long oval white building envelopes a totally sterile, bleached environment that contrasts starkly with the muddy street. The interior is stark white with projected light patterns and music videos lending colour to the walls and floor. Long beds covered in stiffly bleached seats provide seating or lounging space and add to the surreal setting. I feel like I am inside a womb. Soaking wet from my rain dance I squelch over to a bed, remove my shoes and try to get comfortable on a hard mattress. My jeans muddy the bleached white sheets in minutes.

grey Bed Supperclub   Thailand

Being the first customer of the night I have five waiters, six chefs and two DJs at my disposal. Feeling like a grubby billionaire as I recline on the bed I am very glad to have arrived early. The waiting staff present a seven course degustation menu as I sit on my perch, distractedly fine tuning my world domination plans while watching light dance over the walls. Two nearby waiters gossip absently but do not take their eyes off me. I start to feel a bit uncomfortable with the level of attention, not to mention the dirty sheets, but stubbornly I hold my lone post on the bed; smiling to myself, scheming and thinking about what travels are to come. Soon I finish my third dessert and can no longer ignore my increasingly itchy bum from wearing wet jeans. I peel myself off the bed, shove steaming socks into wet shoes and meander through dirty streets towards my hotel. I am scratching my behind and passing insistent masseuses all the way to the front door.

Sitting amongst cigar smoke and suit wearing executives at the now lively rooftop bar I watch the storm shrink to the distance and prepare myself for another culture shock, Mongolia.

 

grey Bed Supperclub   Thailandgrey Bed Supperclub   Thailand

Muay Thai in Bangkok

grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

 

I am standing next to my pack watching a luxury sedan melt into the chaotic flow as a short, suited man takes my bag. Inside, as if sharing a secret he covertly offers to arrange a massage for me saying with a sly wink that he knows all the best places in town. In a tired voice I decline the offer and busy myself by filling in the hotel form. Being a lone male in Thailand lends itself to receiving offers from the most unlikely people for all kinds of extra services. Before I am allowed to go to my room I have a prearranged meeting with a ‘Tour Asia’ representative… I wanna see some Muay Thai in Bangkok

Mr Douna is an elderly chap with a very husky voice who is flipping through the pages of a home made folder full of brochures for tours and sights in and around Bangkok. I decide to have one day simply wandering followed by a night at a kickboxing match then a day visiting the River Kwai and a Buddhist temple. I spend what is left of the afternoon luxuriating in the pool on the twenty-fifth floor before retiring to the rooftop bar to diarise and drink a coffee. My hotel sits right in the centre of town but is nearly abandoned as vicious riots last week scared away most tourists. These riots have resulted in many operators significantly dropping prices in the short term to encourage people to return. I intend to cash in on this small boon.

The morning sees me eating a greasy local dish from a street side vendor and bracing myself to face the city alone. This is the first time in almost two months I have been unscheduled, apart from my uneasy few lazy days when first arriving in Patong. I wander along a pavement parallel to a train line which leads to the tourist hub. Even at this early hour women of all ages are offering me massages in their drawling, high pitched English. Three raggedly dressed men loiter under a concrete pylon and watch me menacingly while passing a brown paper covered bottle. I spot a young girl with no legs and old eyes, she sells her pink handmade crafts from a bench attached to her wheelchair. So far I have been fervently avoiding vendors but something about this girl’s gentleness makes me stop. I ask her how much they cost and she tells me 100 baht. I hand over 1,000 baht, choose a Little Kitty doily for my niece, smile and leave before she can produce change. The gleeful look that she flashed at me was well worth the small expense.

I never feel at ease around crowds of people, live music concerts make me decidedly fidgety so I decide to make my way back to the hotel after a few hours of dodging drug addicts and working girls. The front door of my hotel is opened by the ever hopeful concierge who this time offers a special body massage experience with a wink. I decline, unsure if he is offering to perform the massage himself or if he knows someone.

Jumping into the abandoned pool with my camera I spend a solitary afternoon photographing the expansive views over the city while hoping that no parents will enter to find this hairy man loitering with his waterproof camera.grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

My taxi man manages to inflate my bill by taking me to two wrong stadiums and pretending he is genuinely lost, however he finds his bearings very quickly when I open the door in frustration and make to leave. Inside, the Kickboxing Stadium smells of fear and spilt lager. The local crowd behind the tourist section is one heaving mass of excited gamblers penned behind high fences. This scene certainly feels much more gritty than anything I have seen.

My pulse lifts in the electric atmosphere. Over the raucous of gambling, drums start banging a frantic rhythm when the first two contestants run into the ring. They look like plucked chickens, all sinew and stringy muscle. As they face off inside the ring the drums reach a crescendo, then suddenly stop silencing the crowd. At this signal the crowd erupts as the pair rush each other in a frenzy of knees, fists and bright oversized shorts. The bouts are short but brutal. From my viewpoint near the stage I can see blood and sweat covering their chiseled bodies. The first match ends abruptly when the fighter in blue somehow lands a spinning kick to Red Short’s head. Just as the cracking sound reaches me red shorts melts to the floor like a dropped beanbag and is promptly carried off on a gurney.

 

grey Muay Thai in Bangkok

The second and third match follow the same course, frantic drumming pronounces frenzied kicking and punching. I revel in the energy both inside the ring and behind in the gambling section. I have attended kickboxing classes in the past but never have I witnessed such energy and brutality. I have my camera clicking away on sports mode but most of my photos came out as a smear of legs and arms.

The final match of the night electrifies the crowd. The noise from the gambling section raises an octave as desperate punters trip over drinkers and families. With every match the fighters are increasingly experienced and brutal. In the third round of the final match a shorter man is looking to lose when the bigger man runs toward his tired stance. Seeing what is to come the short fighter steels himself and launches a desperate spinning knee to the chest which he lands with a crunch. I briefly glimpse knee pushing into broken rib cage before both men crumble to the ground. The shorter man stands up and is given a trophy, his opponent is quickly spirited away horizontally through a back door.

Despite my grazed cheek still throbbing from my last effort on a bike I am bold and catch a scooter taxi. The driver dons a helmet but does not produce one for me. We take off into the chaos as I try to remember if my travel insurance covers helmet-less motorbike travel. Soon my attention is drawn to the fact that my driver is clearly insane. He is weaving through unpredictable traffic like a tuna avoiding a shark, I can see him grinning in his rear vision mirror like a maniac. At one point we cut across four lanes of traffic to pull into four lanes of oncoming traffic, we travel half a block the wrong way before rejoining our original lane, one car in front of where we left it.

Trusting that my driver wants to live a much as I do these antics do not really bother me. I pull out my camera and strap it securely to my wrist to try to catch some of the action. I attempt a voiceover as the video records but a combination of adrenaline and fear sends me into fits of laughter. When we arrive at my hotel I tip the still grinning man for this fun incident free ride, tell the door man to stop offering me bloody massages and crawl into bed.

 

Chiva Som – Thailand

grey Chiva Som   Thailand

 

I have all my clothes neatly packed in my bag ready for my 9:10am airport transfer. My next destination will be something of a detour away from the adventure hunt, a luxurious retirement present to myself being six days at the Chiva Som – Thailand . Sometime later as I walk out in the arrivals hall a suited man holding a cardboard sign shepherds me from luggage claim to a black sedan with leather interior and metallic smelling air conditioning.

Fidgeting after a long drive from Bangkok I am ushered into a spotless waiting room sporting vases full of flowers so fresh they don’t yet realise they have been cut. A submissive attendant presents me with a hot herbal concoction before a tall suited woman glides in to greet me. Wearing a healthy, relaxed aura she puts a questionnaire silently onto the black glass desk and starts quizzing me, ‘What do you want from your time here Mr Wess? What are your goals for your stay at the Chiva Som ?’ Resisting the temptation to say, ‘One of those happy massages’, I just say that I want to chill out, eat some healthy food and enjoy the surroundings.

I feel totally underdressed in my green rickshaw jeans and white top which is still red stained and sweaty after rock climbing, if my new friend notices she does not show it. Money is money I guess. My interrogation or ‘Health and Wellness Consultation’ is finalised with the lady outlining the rules, ‘For best outcomes we prefer that you do not leave the retreat…oh, and cameras are banned as we regularly have celebrities visit.’ I am photographed and think that with my scrappy beard and dirty clothes, mine must be the most mug shot style photo this camera has taken.

I am shown to a seat on a pure white golf cart which bears my muddy red rucksack like a tumour. Sitting on the buggy facing backwards we buzz our way through a manicured forest, I reveal my immaturity by sticking a little finger in my mouth and performing some inspired Dr Evil impressions. My driver pulls up safely and healthily outside a room before showing me inside, the room drips luxury and opulence. Folding my mostly grubby clothes into the closet I peruse the pillow and fruit menus, the bathroom has three different brands of shampoo depending on your hair type and preference, the bath robes are ridiculously soft and fluffy. Leaving an impressive dirt ring clinging to the lily white bath tub I crawl into bed and prepare to be transformed in the morning.

I draw floral blackout curtains back to reveal a sapphire clear day. Wandering to one of three restaurants all covered in the price I pull up a seat and inspect my fellow inmates. Quiet piano music wafts across from a grand piano nearby. I am easily the youngest captive here, most of my cellmates are overweight, busy types who fail to fake a relaxed air. It would seem that I am already the most relaxed person here, everyone else looks like they have stolen a few days out of a busy schedule to quickly recharge before they plunge back into a corporate whiteout. A waiter approaches and greets me by my preferred name (I really should have put down Sir Willy Wonka not boring old Ben) before making polite small talk as he hands me a menu.

Last night’s mugshot must have been shown at an early morning staff meeting.

Breakfast in a word, amazing. The freshest of the fresh fruit, eggs cooked exactly how I like them and freshly ground coffee, the healthy type of course. Full of antioxidants and starting to feel distinctly invigorated I wander the gardens and set about doing what you should do in a health retreat of this calibre, absolutely nothing.

By mid morning I am completely bored out of mind. I explore the cold plunge pool and the sauna but avoid the swimming pool due to an imagined risk of inhaling a stray incontinence pad. Sick of lounging in the sun I return to pace my bespoke room with its new fruit basket and the medium to hard pillows I ordered the previous night. Flipping through one hundred channels I settle on an Arnold Schwarzenegger classic while rummaging through my bounty of fruit.

Looking around the candlelit restaurant at sunset I sit by myself within earshot of a group of American business types who are currently trying to outdo each other with stories of relaxation and healthy feelings, ‘Competitive relaxation, come on guys, I am so relaxed I am not joining your little relaxation competition, wait hold on…’

I tune out and stare across the bay wondering if these Lilliputian portions of organically grown stir-fry will truly detoxify my body. Dinner finished and not yet ready to face my brochure perfect room I sneak past the guard to stroll along the beach and watch the pale moonlight play on politely orderly waves. I can hear the sound of a raucous party nearby and consider joining in but settle on buying some cigarettes to smoke on the sand as the day lazily slips away.

grey Chiva Som   Thailand

My second day at the Chiva Som is nearly a mirror image of the first, starting with the same perfect breakfast, again punctuated with fake-relaxed business people, followed by a sauna and catatonia in my room. At 1pm I have an appointment with a chap who regularly meets visitors to discuss happiness and life, he left a Buddhist temple to spread the love. An hour of being fed tired old quotes makes me realise that the path to true happiness may be to charge gullible Westerners an extortionist fee to talk under a fig tree in the heat.

The afternoon sees me braving the swimming pool before taking my seat next to the business men at the restaurant. They are now sporting white yoga-type suits and are looking far more healthy than yesterday as they compare the size of each other’s companies. I am joined by a friendly chap in his late forties who owns a construction company. Midway through a low fat, energising curry Geoff calls over a waiter and orders a glass of wine,

‘Wine! I did not know they served wine here.’

I also order a wine, then quickly another, and another. Geoff is telling me all about his busy life in the States and how he frees up a week every year to come here for a mental health break leaving his mobile phone and spouse behind. It is fantastic to have someone to chat with, however Geoff makes it hard for me to dodge explaining where I have come from. I really make an effort to avoid talking about ‘past life’ with people as frankly the subject bores me, I dodge his questions by dusting off a story about one of my least favourite customers Mrs Bonney,

‘Yeah, owned a small shop for a while, nothing as large as your company sounds though… I sure got to meet many interesting people as a pharmacist mate’

‘OK, I am listening, tell me about one’grey Chiva Som   Thailand

‘You can imagine I had the pleasure of dealing with many sick and unhappy people’

‘I can’

‘Well the best one, as far as stories go, was Mrs Bonney. Mrs Bonney was one of the very few customers who truly tested my manners over many years. She would come in reeking of alcohol, with a flotilla of grotty children in tow and make lurid comments about what she would like to do in the bedroom with me.’

‘In front of her children?’

‘Yup, and after buying her cartons of Holiday 100‘s, cigarettes, she would demand credit for her children’s medication.’

‘Good mother there’

‘For sure. Well it was my last day in the shop and I got sick of being polite. One of her mini demons had another cold and is running around my shop gleefully spraying mucous over the walls and shelves. She asked what she can do about it. With the perfect trust-me smile on my face I lent in and, very quietly so that other customers cannot hear, said, ‘Stop fucking breeding,’

‘That is brilliant, did she get mad’

‘I know it felt amazing, nope she hardly registered the insult’

‘Drunk’

‘Yup, drunk. She just asked again, No, I mean what can I do about the cold’

With dinner finished I sneak down to the beach for another cigarette before retiring to my room to watch a movie and eat the large bag of contraband potato crisps I have smuggled. This is starting to feel like grade ten camp.

Day three; my boredom is palpable. I walk around the gardens aimlessly before my mid afternoon Thai massage. I resisted getting a massage from the numerous persons of uncertain gender offering them in Patong amongst other services. I decided to wait for a proper Thai massage here by a trained masseuse.

A tiny woman hands me a pure white cotton suit just like the American business men sport, ‘Just put it on and come into room number three when you are ready’, she purrs. Inside the scented room low ambient lighting flickers over gym mats giving off a relaxing glow. The slight masseuse then asks me to lie face down on the mats, as I lay down one thought dominates my mind, ‘For Gods sake do not get an erection you idiot.’

My masseuse increases my concern by immediately straddling my bottom to begin. First she moves my right arm behind and up my back into the classic arm-lock position and massages my palm. She then continues to hold my right hand up near my left shoulder blade and gently raises my right shoulder with her free hand, this is repeated on the left side. All the time I am painfully conscious of her bottom resting on mine. My legs are stretched and contorted in a similar fashion. This delicious torture continues with me sitting upright, her back pressed to mine. Pushing her arms back through mine she pulls backwards forcing my chest out before rolling her entire body forward. This gentle motion cracks every vertebrae in my back and makes me feel like a fat paperweight, legs splayed out in front of me. I spend a whole hour with this woman in the scented room. The whole time I focus on erection un-friendly thoughts such as my fat friend’s nudey run at University and Andy’s toilet stories.

Having not showered since morning the whole experience is tainted with concerns of body odour and bad breath. I am unsure if I am supposed to make appreciative noises as my joints pop and creak or if they are frowned upon, ‘Ohhh, Hey good crack there Mi Lai!’ Just as I start to enjoy being manipulated by this small powerhouse the quiet music stops. Immediately my masseuse disentangles herself and stands up saying, ‘Thank you, you can now get dressed’ as she leaves with a businesslike stride. Sitting alone on the floor of the deathly quiet room I feel slightly violated, she didn’t even say she would call me. I slowly raise myself up off the gym mat and check my breath, finding nothing to worry about I relax, erection free.

I change out of my yoga uniform and go back to my room to attack some potato chips I smuggled in. Dinner is more of the same detox food I have become accustomed to, spiced with more how-big-is-your-business conversation. With dinner finished I again go down to the beach to sneak a cigarette. This time however, curiosity and boredom prompts me to wander a little further toward the noise. One hour later I find myself in the thick of an international beer sculling competition with a group of Irish backpackers inside a wobbly, bamboo walled bar. I lose track of time playing pool and bar hopping with my new, very lively friends. Some time around 2am sensibility catches me and I farewell the guys to find a scooter taxi home. The driver and I agree on what seems a reasonable price and we take off in a plume of black exhaust.

On the first corner my driver hits a bump and dislodges a significant portion of his rear tyre along with his passenger. I land hard on the ground bruising my hip and legs and sustain significant gravel rash down my right cheek. Crawling back onto the scooter I am dropped off outside the health retreat where I wander to my room.

Standing next to my bag which is sitting on the lobby floor I come to the conclusion that health retreats are very dangerous places; boredom will drive a man to smoke, get drunk, eat crisps and fall off scooters. In the future I will stick to my proven and much cheaper relaxation method of filling big red with dried fruit and wandering around mountains in the fresh air.

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This business partnership has expired.” Ben has no idea what adventures are in store when he sets out to discover what lies over that next mountain.

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