Every year over 800,000 Brits travel to Thailand. Whether it is gap year students, business men or holiday goers, South East Asia is a popular tourist haven, attracting over 30 million visitors from around the world. It would seem that all of these visitors are English kids on their gap year, trying to find themselves on the beaches of Koh Phi Phi or bar crawling through Bangkok, and why not? There is so much that attracts people to Thailand and the other spectacular countries around it, from fantastic food and amazing architecture to wild nights and an eye opening cultural experiences – and all at prices that don’t destroy the budget. So, really, its no surprise that most people with nothing better to do before starting the next chapter of their life end up in the crowded cities or picturesque beaches of this part of Asia. And obviously, I headed their too.
Now, most people my age venture into this unknown world with a trusted friend, or even solo, in hunt of crazy tales as they bus around the continent. I ended up there with my mum. Not because I thought we would have a great time drinking beers on Koh San Road or would get matching tattoos but because she wanted to cycle from Bangkok to Siem Reap which appealed to my inherited madness- and she offered to pay for flights, so I was instantly sold. I don’t know what possessed her to have the idea but she’s rather wacky in this regard and before I could look up the distance between to the two capitals it was all booked. I love my mum, and this strange urge she had to cycle, but when I was planning my year it never crossed my mind that I’d be taking her with me, so when our plane took off from Heathrow, it was all rather surreal.
The plane journey itself wasn’t surreal, I enjoy a long-haul flight, mainly because it allows me to partake in two of my preferred hobbies of napping and watching films. I love the novelty of being able to watch new films whilst cruising at 30,000ft, so being able to watch four of them back to back is ideal, especially when British Airways managed to serve up some half decent grub to help me power through. The napping on the plane proved to be a mistake when the jet lagged kicked in, rendering me sleeping for most of the morning after we checked into our hotel, despite my mother’s desire to get out and revisit the sites she hadn’t seen for 25 years. It felt like some strange role reversal from my holidays as a kid, when I was energetic and wanted to go out and play on the beach as my parents tried to control me and my brother, but now it was my mum who was eager to go and explore, nagging me to get up so we could go out whilst I just wanted to lie in bed and recover from the long journey.
Inevitably the persistent nagging wore me down and I was dragged from the comforts of the hotel room out into the humid heart of the city. My mother, who was now my personal tour guide, complete with map and fanny pack, began plotting our route around the city’s famous landmarks as soon as we jumped on the water taxi. By an impressive combination of travelling recollections from 25 years ago and intrigue into the cartoons sprawled across the map, which she struggled to control in the wind on the boat, she had decided on where we were headed and asked me if it sounded like a good plan, and I agreed knowing that I really didn’t have a say and she had already decided this is what we were going to do. It wasn’t a question of choice but more an exclamation of intent, a talent any mother has. We toured the temples and Wats and marvelled at the millions of Buddhist statues with slowly degrading interest, as the first golden depiction of Buddha is something to behold, but when you discover one every minute after, intrigue seems to dwindle, but is replaced by a respect for their faith and dedication to covering a city in statues. The reclining buddha is one that remains firmly in my memory, and not just because it is the only one sitting down with its legs crossed uncomfortably, but because of the sheer scale of it. At 46 metres long it is one of the biggest Buddhist statues in Thailand and anything that big and golden would inescapably grasp the interest of my simple mind. My mum was proving to be quite the tour guide as she navigated our way through the temples and palaces, and it was all going to plan until we decided to take our first Tuk Tuk excursion.
Once you engage a Tuk Tuk driver there is no turning back. Possibly the only people more determined to get their own way than my mother in all of Thailand, once you’re locked in conversational bartering there is no escape. The lure of cheap transport was enough for me to be persuaded not to walk the considerable distance of what was at least several miles and I was straight in the back, unbeknownst of the terror that would ensue. A Tuk Tuk ride is like being in a Mario Kart race but without the high performance animated cars, my main regret was that I had no red shells to throw at the other Tuk Tuks the driver imagined we were racing against. I thought it was just exceptional customer service to deliver the passengers as quickly as possible, only a little more shaken and appreciative of the gift of life but it was just an incredibly deceptive ploy to ruin my mum’s sightseeing tour by dragging us to tailors and other suit outlets en route to Koh San Road. It would seem absurd if a black cab in London decided to swing by the stores for your shopping pleasure even if you didn’t want to, but in Thailand the driver/ salesmen thought it was normal to go out of his way (and our way) to advertise some surprisingly expensive blazers, and I doubt it even crossed his mind that the sweaty English teen in the back of his vehicle probably didn’t require a new coat to cool him down in the humidity. 253 stores, 9 hours and precisely 0 purchases later we arrived at Koh San Road battling starvation and dehydration and headed straight for the nearest/ safest street food stall.
Thai food is one of my favourite cuisines and my mum couldn’t wait to get me my first proper taste of it from an authentic street stall, and loaded me up with Pad Thai and seafood and some breed of deep fried animal. And it was delicious. The best Thai restaurant near my home (Siam Smile in Cheltenham in case you were wondering) couldn’t even come close to the sumptuous delicacies the women with a trolley of ingredients and a hot pan could conjure, to use a suitably magic word for this spice wielding wizard. Once my mum had regained her senses after the adrenaline pumping, curb jumping thrill ride of a journey she began to take in the changes of what she told me was her favourite place in the whole world. The whole day she had been telling me of her love for Koh San Road, the buzzing atmosphere and intoxicating food, the 100% genuine shops selling 100% real Nike wear at nearly 100% discounts and the bustle of fellow travellers filling the streets, she couldn’t wait to show me the place she had fell in love with. Then she saw a Boots store. Then she saw a McDonalds. Then she saw a whole range of western brands that had replaced the bundle of hostels that lined the street when she was last there. Over a quarter of a century it was a whole new place, barely recognisable to my slightly disappointed mum as we walked up and down the street. Buying me some rainbow trousers did make her feel better, embarrassing her son in public is one of her favourite hobbies after all and after another Koh San memory was shared over a beer we deemed it a suitable hour to call it a night as the jet lag returned. However, we did manage to stay awake for the Tuk Tuk return journey as we sped back to the hotel, dodging traffic, people and dogs and fortunately even tailors.