Thailand was a tough trip, but it would have been a lot harder if it weren’t for the Germans.
Well, let me back up. It was December 1998, and I had been living in Japan, teaching English in a town near Tokyo, for about six months. Winter vacation came around, and I decided to take a solo journey to Thailand, mostly because it was cheap, and it had been highly recommended by friends.
The whole adventure got off to a shaky start, though, when I got on the wrong train on the way to Narita Airport and lost about 30 minutes getting back on track (it’s a pun!). That was the first of many problems on this alleged “vacation.”
Now, the night before I left, one of the other teachers, and English bloke named Karl who had been in country for two years, gave me some advise. “Check out the shows, mate, but don’t touch the girls,” he said. “That whole place is infected.”
Well, at least I didn’t catch The Virus, but I really should have stuck with the first part and gone to one of Bangkok’s mythical sex shows. However, as soon as I passed customs I was lured in by some guy who was pushing “lady guides.”
“Hey, she might be clean, and hot, and very, very horny!” I thought … with the wrong head.
So, I booked the lady guide to show me around the temples of Bangkok the next day and caught the free shuttle for my hotel. Of course, the free shuttle was driven by a native who spoke not a word of English, and who dropped me off a block or two from my destination with a vague wave in the general direction of my hotel.
This left me wandering through some very weird, scary streets, dragging a suitcase behind me, just begging to get knifed. I finally broke down and grabbed motorcycle taxi, who wound up driving back the way I had walked for about a block and then one street over, street to the door of my hotel. Problem solved.
The next day, the lady guide, who claimed her name was Mary or Susie or some other obvious lie, came and proved to be very pleasant company. In a sisterly kind of way, that is. She did give me a ride to Tony's Fashion House, which Karl had recommended as a good place to get a cheap, decent suit. The tailor took my measurements, I picked the material, and they promised to have the suit done by the time I got back to Bangkok from a planned side trip to Ko Samui island. They also gave me their card, with a map showing their location, before I left.
All this will be critical later.
As you may have guessed by now, the lady guide was essentially a waste of money and time. We saw some nice temples, and then she convinced me to spend more money that night at some crappy cabaret show before dumping me back at my hotel with nothing more than navy-blue balls and a handshake. The doorman at the hotel offered to send a girl to my room, but I wasn't horny enough to forget Karl's warning, so I declined. Plenty of time to get lucky on Ko Samui, I thought.
After I jerked off, I watched the story about President Clinton's impeachment on CNN. I definitely should have gone to see a show.
As a result of all this foolishness and piss-poor planning, I arrived in Ko Samui with almost no money, a hotel room for one of the four nights I planned to stay there, and a dubious credit card. Its dubiousness came from the fact that I shared it with my brother, who had maxed it out some time before. However, I had asked him to pay it down by a couple of hundred dollars, just in case, and, since he was my older brother, I foolishly assumed he would do that.
He did not.
I discovered that when I went to a little bank near my hotel to get some cash, and the surly little Thai bitch behind the counter mumbled "No. It no good." This led to panic, naturally.
It also caused me to spend some of my fast-dwindling cash reserves on a long distance call to Alabama, where it was 3 a.m. two nights before Christmas and not a creature was stirring in my brother's house. That is, until I called and started shouting at him from the sun-drenched hotel beach bar.
After explaining to dipshit that he was seriously imperiling my vacation, if not my life, through his failure to pay his bills, he promised to work something out by the next morning, Christmas Eve. He either borrowed money from our father or robbed and murdered a couple of crack dealers, whatever sounds more interesting to you, and by the next morning I was able to withdraw enough cash to reserve my room for the rest of my stay on the island with plenty left over.
Unfortunately, I decided that I would spend some of that surplus money to rent a motorbike.
Now, the problem with this is that I suck on motorcycles. However, I had been riding a shitty little scooter during the previous six months in Japan, so I figured I was ready. And the bike I got was barely more than a scooter itself. However, you have to understand something about the roads on Ko Samui.
They fucking suck.
Still, I was able to putter along for most of the day, weaving through the jungle, past water buffaloes tied to trees and signs reading "Monkey work coconut," until I found myself on the other side of the island. That, of course, is where everything went to shit.
I had just stopped for a lovely lunch and was beginning to circle back the way I had come, albeit down a different road. Basically, I crested a dune and saw a jeep heading up from the opposite direction, so I was forced to ride along the very crumbled side of the road while going downhill. Suddenly, I hit a sandy spot, my front wheel dug in, and down I went at about 20 or 30 mph, tumbling ass over elbows for many hard, scraping yards.
My right side took most of the damage, but, at first, I was more concerned about the state of the motorbike. This was for two reasons: 1) because I had no other way to get back to my hotel, and 2) I couldn't remember signing any kind of insurance form saying I wouldn't have to pay for damages.
The bike did start, however, so I climbed back on and began puttering and sputtering my way home, dripping blood from my well-chewed arm and leg. And still I did not know how bad it was, because adrenaline is a wonderful thing for the first hour or two after a major crack up.
But then I stopped at a small, roadside clinic looking to get my injuries briefly cleaned up, where a native woman looked at me, shook her head, and pointed to my elbow.
Part of it appeared to be hanging off.
Well, I didn't have much choice in the matter, so I hopped back on my busted ride and carried on. I stopped at another, slightly better equipped jungle clinic, where a medic gave me a local and sewed me up while a group of local boys looked on and giggled. "No pain," the medic said by way of explanation.
I dropped a bill or two in the donation box, bowed to the smiling, yellow-robed monk who stood at the entrance of the clinic, and made my final run home. Back at the bike rental I learned that, indeed, I did not have insurance on the bike, but fortunately (ha!) I had just enough to cover the damages with a little left over to buy food and one beer a day until I had to catch my flight back to Bangkok and, subsequently, Tokyo.
On the bright side, I soon found that I had joined an exclusive club. It seemed that, every year, a fair number of tourists managed to wipe out on rental bikes, causing the old Eurotrash regular visitors to strike up conversations with me that made me feel lucky. The year before, they told me, a kid had lost his foot.
So, I limped around the beach, my right side partially mummified, dosed up on pain pills from yet another clinic, for about two more days. It wasn't completely horrible, but I had one last major challenge: returning to Tony's Fashion House to claim the suit that had cost me $150. Prepaid, of course.
You see, I had, once again, almost no money, and I was to fly into Bangkok that morning and back out again in the afternoon. So, I somehow had to find my way back into town, grab the suit, and back out again, without getting lost or robbed or ripped off by a cabbie, within a few short hours.
This is where the Germans come in.
I don't remember their real names, so I'll call them Hans and Franz (not very funny, but it's easy to remember, so deal with it). We met in the "departure lounge" of the Ko Samui airport, which was basically an open-air pavilion by the side of the runway.
Hans struck up a conversation about my horrible injuries, and Franz came back from doing something and joined in. We chatted for a while, and I learned that they lived in Amsterdam, had come to Thailand on vacation with their girlfriends and were presently on their way back to Bangkok for the day because, get ready, they wanted to have some suits tailored at a place they'd heard about.
Tony's mother fucking Fashion House!
And here I was with a card with a map on it, making me very useful to my new found Freunde.
Thus, the Germans paid for the cab into town and I provided the directions. I picked up my freshly minted threads, and we all went out for a nice, authentic Thai lunch that may, or may not, have included "Bangkok chicken."
"Hey, what sound does a Bangkok chicken make?" Franz asked me.
"Uh, 'cluck-cluck?'" I said.
"No, it says 'meow!' Ha, ha!" chortled Hans.
So, I was almost home. The final trial was simply an asshole cabbie who ignored my requests not to take every single goddamn toll road on the way back to the airport and then tried to charge way more money than I had. I basically told him to fuck off and take what I had, grabbed my bags and dashed into the terminal. And thus the story comes to an end with me watching the lights of Bangkok recede, thankfully, into the Asian night.
Thailand was a hard trip. Vietnam was much, much better.
Thailand was a tough trip, but it would have been a lot harder if it weren’t for the Germans.