This old chronicler is no travel writer. And it was as an old fogey that happenstance found me in Thailand on perhaps the Swan Song and final adventure.
This all came about after nearly three years of writing to a Thai lady met on the web, we'll call her April. her real Thai name lovely but a tongue-twister for Anglo's.
Loneliness is a formidable motivator It's OK for months and years and then the urge comes to perhaps find that last partner to share a few years before the dust claims us again.
So in February 2020 we made plans to meet and then Covid reared its malignant head. All the world had its plans altered or scrapped and it would be nearly three long years before April and Rob would meet.
But time passes, as it must and October 2022 suddenly appeared. It took me a lot of will power to get to Heathrow Airport. A place God allowed to exist in harmony with no traveller.
The trip began less than happily. Booked to fly from T2, the lonely hopeful was transported unwillingly to T5 due to the 2 terminal tunnel being blocked and no taxis or buses allowed! Anyone who has not experienced a crisis like this at one of the world's largest and nastiest hubs, cannot imagine the confusion, nay, mayhem that occurs
Thousands of diverted travelers formed a confluence somewhere like moles under the complex; T5 arrivals striving to get to T2 and T3 arrivals striving to get...anywhere!
A slice of God sent luck arrived. Waiting in some backwater in T5, staff took pity on this limping graybeard, encumbered with one very large suitcase as well as a heavy cabin bag. Don't do it, folks! Take yourself and a toothbrush and buy cheap Chinese clothes wherever you go. But many presents for April necessitated voluminous luggage.
These angels slung me into a wheel chair and, now sitting on the cases, we charged into the heaving throng moving between terminals. They were two Indian ladies from Goa. Heathrow employs many of the immigrants from this state.
Shouting "excuse me, excuse me," they shouldered aside bewildered families from the Antipodes's, sporting gents from Holland here for soccer and panicking families. The charioteer, armed with a precious folding walking stick, they were aided or amused by attempts to help with a judicious poke, or three.
The rest was a blur until the Eva Airline Wide-body allowed me to shoehorn myself into one of the economy torture presses passing as a seat. Pity the really obese! They would feel like the last sardine in the can. This ample 220 lb scribe passed a rather uncomfortable 11 hours jammed in with my 5'11" knees pushed against the seat in front. Advised rather tartly by one flying waitress that "Big people should not fly tourist these days," a picture of the world's largest travelers with the world's smallest bank balances replaced the view of the bald head in front.
Finally, Bangkok's modern and soulless main international hub allowed about 350 exhausted passengers into its marbled corridors.
I was now, obviously, on the way bill as needing assistance and by now this was the case as another trundling wheelchair with a Thai pusher met me.
There was my correspondent of all this time with a huge smile and a hug which took away the ideas of just a formal "Wei" as quickly forgotten. Take everything you read in Lonely Planet with a grain of salt!
This grizzled raconteur is 80's going on 100's whereas my lady-friend is 50's going on 30's!
But was age a problem between us! You can say that again - problem that is. She had been told, over and over, that her new pal was too old for her. But seeing this in print compared with seeing it in a double bed - you find words!
But our bonding of three years online and a meeting of two quite crazy minds helped to a large degree of her expecting a Brad Pitt look alike of about 60, and the age issue has faded somewhat.
Of course the fates would not just allow this scribbler's age to be the only fly in the woodpile, (nooo, can't use the old analogy!).
The old legs have been letting down lately, especially climbing steep steps and a slippage caused a really nasty scrape and deep bruising of a left shin. Sorry, as an ex. diabetic 2, don't do well with grazes. They take a lot of care and time to get well again. As I write all fun activity except eating has been curtailed as a diet of antibiotics; peroxide and bandages reign.
My friend can and often is a furious, fiery virago, frightening to behold and impossible to endure. But the other side of her character is the sweetest, softest and most efficient carer a patient could wish for. Dual personality she may have, or bi-polar she may be, the positive definitely outweighs the negative and , pity me readers for starting to fall in...stars-truck!
Eating was mentioned. Thai food is a gustatory revolution. Although, having written that accolade, eating Thai every day would not appeal to me. It's too complex and full of unidentifiable fibrous plants. The yearning would be for a meal centred around one large protein item. A steak, with baked spud running with butter, a fish fillet, or mash-ringed sausages. Most of all, an English breakfast.
They do do seafood well. Lovely fresh sweet prawns; pieces of tender fish that makes Tescos salmon and bass fillets seem ordinary. And served in sauces the like of which have never previously tickled this appreciative old palate.
But the best meal so far was Japanese served exquisitely in a Bangkok shopping center. Counterbalanced by the most flavourless, rubbery and expensive lobster dinner endured in the touristy Sky Tower ground-floor eatery, also in Bangkok: 4000 baht (about £100) flinty eyed, uncaring waiters, delayed service and disgusting end product! Win some...etc.
Word of advice. Unless you are a cross between Lewis Hamilton and Buck Rogers best not drive here, especially in the capitol. Thais think the the vehicle won't move until the accelerator is pressed flat to the floorboards and they always have the right of way, even hurtling towards you up a one way street. Many also practice the economy found all over India and drive at night with no lights - saves on bulbs!!
Thais are a new world definitely and also have many new, very fast cars. No place for a pensioner from Putney!
And after many years of living with the sweet Mexican character, Thai people seem more judgemental and abrasive, especially in teeming Bangkok. April was bothered by critical stares from men and women, so she said. No doubt Thais are fed up with older men from the West coming for sex with young bar-girls, many even marrying them. God knows what the future holds for unlikely unions like these.
And here comes grandpa hoping for a similar relationship - but only social intercourse, and my date, a self-assured, government civil-service supervisor, was no red -light district sex worker..
The mighty Mekong River loops around North Eastern Thailand. This is no trout stream, folks! It makes London's Thames look like the tidal creek it is.
It's calm surface deceives. The Mekong has vicious currents and whirlpools which have claimed many lives. But the beauty and sheer size, (nearly 1 km across in parts) are mesmerizing. The giant is number 12 in largest world rivers and over 3000 miles long. It has the second largest bio-diversity after - you guessed it - the Amazon.
China is doing what China does in robbing other downstream nations by building a baker's dozen of hydroelectric dams with more planned. Neighbour, Laos, is planning to do the same and Thailand may end up with a trickle rather than a flood.
Primitive restaurants line the Mekong's banks (see pics). Lots of river fish are featured on the menu and thousands make a precarious living from the teeming waters. Boats ply the surface, but the Mekong has dangerous rapids in parts and is barely navigable when monsoon rains swell the river's capacity.
Thailand is very much a country of contrasts. Bangkok can be scary with its thousand miles of new roads choked with speeding traffic, and the mobile-phone obsessed modern young people. Aren't these gadgets tiresome!?
But the North-East along the Mekong's "coast" reminded me of pictures of early California and must be classified as a plum target for developers of holiday homes and hotels. There is a rustic infrastructure of sorts, perhaps also much like Mexico's southern Pacific coast and the coast of northern Baja California in the late 1900's.
Guides warn of several species of venomous serpents. This writer has seen two nasty incidents between desperately twining reptiles and the "all creature loving" Buddhists.
One callously dispatched as it crossed a center city street in Nong Khai, the other squished by a speeding pick-up truck whose driver may have accelerated to catch the unfortunate creature before it could make the other side of the road.
Ah me! I have seen the same in snake-fearing Mexico so many times where harmless denizens are injured of killed on purpose by drivers. Most there firmly believe all snakes are venomous (far from the truth) and killing one is a duty by all brave men!
Thailand does indeed have a wealth of snakes. Of the about 230 species found here - some very rarely - perhaps 60 have enough venom to bother man and 10 can be classified to have a life-threatening bite. Wearily I add. Snakes are more frightened of us than the reverse. Observe from a safe distance and LEAVE THEM ALONE. They will nearly always replay the favour.
My favourite snake reigns supreme here, The King Cobra, rightly respected by man and other snakes alike. But enough of these fascinating chaps.
The heat here can be oppressive for natives and tourists. People live in air-conditioned homes and cars. Away from the beaches you see few outside enjoying the sunshine and it varies little all year. ..
Photos to be added soon.
To be continued in Part 2...