Thailand, Laos and Cambodia – Arrival

Growing up in the South can be taxing on the human body when it comes to the heat and humidity. Southern Georgia was bad, but nowhere near as sweltering as the hot, sticky hell of Mississippi in summer, where I had the punishment of spending my high school and short-lived university years. Breaking into a sweat as soon as you step out of a nice, cool shower is disconcerting, along with the feel of your clothing as it turns into cling-film, the atrocious wet stains under your dripping armpits and the sensation of your nether regions, packed oh-so snug into your pants and trousers, now taking on the role of a steam room. Though I do constantly whinge about this discomfort, I consider myself familiar with the feeling of having sweat glazed flesh (and not the sultry type one associates with the glistening bodies of models posing seductively on a beach or in porn magazines … not that I would know about that), but nothing could have prepared me for the sauna-like jungle climate of Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. Maybe this was because I had distanced myself from the warmer climes for a few years prior to this excursion, and the three years I had lived in Scotland must have definitely lowered my tolerance.

As I stepped out of the airport in Bangkok (a place which fools the unsuspecting visitor with an air-conditioned terminal), I was hit with a blast of hot air so intense that I almost broke down in tears with the realisation of what I had got myself into, though I’m quite sure the tears would have evaporated immediately if I had cried. This was hot … stuffy … uncomfortable … and just plain annoying. I quickly shed as many clothes as possible (and legally permissible) and nearly threw away my rucksack as I could not stand it in such close proximity to my back, covering any place on my being where fresh air could get at and cool me off. And then I got on the bus going into the city. At that point, surrounded by individuals radiating body heat and sucking up the available air that didn’t seem to move around but just hung there, I sunk into a melting lump of flesh on a seat and panted like the dogs on porches I had seen so often in the South; dogs that looked up at passing cars and kids on bicycles and seemed to say, “Screw that. I ain’t gonna give chase. It’s too damn hot, boy!”

Now, as much as I hate the heat, I despise air-conditioning to a similar degree. It’s just so unnatural. Feels fake, if you know what I mean. Fans, ceiling or otherwise, are the way to go in my book. And Bangkok was filled with them! Every shop, hostel, bar, restaurant had them … but they just didn’t seem to work unless you found that magical sweet-spot just in front or right below the fan … and those points of paradise were always already taken by a punter who got there and perched before you could. It made you hate your fellow traveller, really.

The locals were immune, and plenty of times, I saw Thai girls all dressed up in denim jackets hopping on their scooters to head off for an afternoon or night out. Jackets, I tell you! They had two or three layers of clothing on, and I was contemplating how uncouth it would seem of me to strip naked and start shoving copious amounts of ice into or onto every part of my body. In the end, I just sat there amazed, wiping my dripping brow, telling myself to just get used to it and drinking cold beverages that seemed to just come right back out of me through the pores of my skin. I longed for their tolerance; I envied their dry skin; and I gawked at the police wearing their skin-tight long sleeves and trousers.

Now, it is said that many men come travelling to Bangkok for the beautiful Asian women and the legendary ‘ping-pong’ shows (a truly amazing, and humorous, sight!). Some of these men come without any evil intentions and just a head full of curiosity, some come for conquest and the chance to add another notch to the proverbial bedpost … and some come because they are just sick bastards. But whatever thoughts there were in my mind of a sexual nature were always quashed by the thought of: “Even if I wasn’t so uncomfortably hot that the idea of another person’s skin against my own didn’t repulsed me, what Thai beauty in her right mind would look at a panting and perspiring pasty white Caucasian boy looking like the recurring bedraggled stranded-on-a-desert-island character at the beginning of Monty Python’s Flying Circus that steps out of the ocean in shredded garments to say ‘It’s …’ just before the theme song starts up?” The malaria pills that you are advised to take also killed any remaining desires (even the desire to live) that I had, too, but more about that vile medication later.

Anyway, I had arrived, and despite my discomfort, I was thrilled to be out of either North America or Europe for the first time in my life. I so wanted to see this culture and experience the tastes, sights and smells. Ever since my youth, I had been a fan of spicy foods, and here I was … in the land of the flaming tongue and burning gut! I was already sweating beyond measure, so why not just dive in, right? The history, religion, colours and terrain were all so tempting, but, to be completely honest, this was not the sole reason I was here. I was here for a much more idiotic reason … I was here because my ex-girlfriend invited me. The plan was to be in Southeast Asia for a month, and this decision based partly on emotion (with a strong dose of crotch thrown in for good measure) would grant me one extraordinary week of highs followed by a week of feeling as though I had spiralled into depths of hell.