I first landed in Bangkok at around 9 in the morning on August 12, 1993. It was the Queen of Thailand’s birthday and a national holiday. The descent through the clouds above Bangkok and the woozy clouds of my sleepless journey showed a mattress of houses, tower blocks and factories below and it was raining, drizzle and grey and overcast. I hadn’t left London. I headed out towards immigration with Tom. He was a few years younger than me and was a traveller. I knew because he told me and told me again and again. He was heading for Khaosan Road, the backpackers main haunt. He was due to meet his girlfriend Sally at the Hello restaurant and recommended me Joe’s guest house. Well this interlude of personal contact was fine by me, someone to share a taxi with. Buses from the airport were for the skint and stupid. Immigration took forever or was it just my lack of sleep and desire for a shower, but on finally getting to the head of the queue a smiling uniformed official welcomed me to Thailand. I don’t remember much more of my first journey through Bangkok from Don Muang to Khaosan, in an outdated Mitsubishi Lancer with seats too small for anyone taller than average and an air conditioner that didn’t seem to work, other than passing the Center for Tropical Diseases which together with the heat finally awoke me to not actually being in London anymore. Tom dozed next to me in the back of the taxi. I appreciated taking the sights and sounds in alone.
For six years before leaving London I had been living in a squat that I had opened up myself with a little help from my then girlfriend Ching. We had identified two possibilities in the Deverill Point one of the Trowbridge Estate towers the later demolition of which can still be viewed on the internet. One flat was on the eleventh floor and the other on the sixteenth. From looking through the letter boxes the eleventh seemed better decorated and being lower down was an advantage considering the frequent lift breakdowns in the decaying blocks. Off to the eleventh floor it was, complete with a duplicate lock to replace the existing one a bag of basic tools and a main fuse to connect the electric. Well all seemed clear so it was time to open the place up. A run and nicely placed kick seemed to do the business as the door swung easily open, but things weren’t to be smooth the door continued to swing and then the door frame fell completely inside. Oh fuck. No way to secure a squat that has no door frame and the law then was pretty much if you had a lock in place the police couldn’t do anything even if they came, which in Hackney Wick was unlikely anyway. Still no way to secure this place it was straight down the stairs for both of us. Flee the scene. Well it had to be the sixteenth. Thirty minutes later, it was up the sixteenth to repeat the operation. This time there was no drama. The door flew open. There was minimal damage and the locks were swapped in a minute. The electric reconnected in less. Sixty two Deverill Point became my home for the next 6 years although not all of them were to be spent with Ching. When I left I handed the flat over to Sam who moved in after Ching although not in the same way relationship wise. Sixty two ended up being one of the last squats cleared before Deverill Point was destroyed in a controlled explosion enjoyed like all the other demolitions from a grass verge outside the Vic pub which had a special licence granted for the occasion meaning they could stay open 24 hours or something meaning most there were too drunk or out of it to actually remember much of the day or at least that is what I heard. I was still a long way away at that time.
The taxi arrived at Khaosan sometime between ten and eleven. Khaosan is relatively quiet at this time of the day. The restaurants that were scattered along the street with cheap guest houses and the odd shop were mostly sparsely populated. We pulled up outside one. There was a step down into the open fronted Hello restaurant and as I went in I noticed a board covered with small pieces of paper with hand written notes. This was where travellers left details of where they were going and staying so friends could later find them. This was a time before internet, e-mail and mobile phones, a time where the romance of travel still existed although its demise was to be not long in coming. I spent some time reading the messages allowing Tom to have a few minutes with his girlfriend. They had been apart for three months. After some pleasantries and local fruit it was time to say goodbye to Tom and Sally. I had never really got to know them and I never saw them again but that is so often the way when moving around.
I first met Ching when studying at the Polytechnic of North London. It was not one of Britain or even London’s best institutes but it did have the advantage of being relatively easy to get into, which was a bigger advantage than many may think when you had only two A-level passes and both at the lowest possible pass mark. This was the minimum requirement to get a government grant, which in those days still existed, and of course all fees paid for free. PNL as it was usually known also had a policy of encouraging mature applicants especially for its humanity and social science courses. I was roundly rejected by absolutely every other institution I had the audacity to apply to. So there I was armed with a grant from conservative Croydon council where I happened to be living when I made the application and absolutely no idea what the PNL course I was about to study was about. That was irrelevant for it meant I had escaped from being a civil servant, which had been a disastrous choice of potential work for me, and here was a chance to indulge myself in all that was open to one who made it to the seats of higher learning. It was not an opportunity I was about to pass up on.
Joe’s guest house strangely registers less in my memory than some other places I later stayed. It was however my first guest house on the Kaosarn strip. Joes could and still to this day can be found on the little alley that runs adjacent to Kaosarn. Joes at that time had a number of rooms in a kind of garden the rooms were like little bungalows and in the centre there were some tables to sit and share tales of travel. Well I got myself into one of those musty rooms complete with no internal water. It was a communal shower for me. I decided then that Joes was not for me and that the next day I would move on. At that time it was shower and rest. The shower was thankfully deserted except for me, and I enjoyed a chance to for the first time in hours to feel something except sticky. After showering it was back to the room. I needed rest, but oddly no sleep came. I passed a few hours reading until it had been dark for some time. Restless in a heat I was not used to I decided to head out. I was hungry, inquisitive and irritable.