10 May 2008
Bangkok, Thailand
13°47'38.33"N 100°24'30.52"E


I know it's been a while since the last entry, but I've been a bit crook. I haven't wasted my downtime though - I've come up with a business plan so ingenious I don't know why anyone hasn't thought of it before. We all know you can get eco-tourism, agro-tourism, medical-tourism and cosmetic surgery-tourism. I've come up with the idea of weight loss-tourism. It's so simple, would cost very little to set up and I'm sure there would be plenty of takers mesmerized by the slogan How To Lose 15kg in 10 Weeks. That would be almost two and a half stone in old money, or 33 pounds if you're in the USA. The founder can show the before and after pictures to prove it really does work. Just 8 simple steps.

  1. Go to the Mekong Delta.

  2. Eat anything they put in front of you. Could be the local delicacy - rat. "No, no, not dirty rat from city. City rat eat rubbish. Rat here live in field and eat rice and corn". Actually, a couple of expats independently told me that once you get your head around the idea of it being rat, it's very tasty. Didn't get to try it as I was ill.

  3. For the next 48 hours, contemplate the strange feeling in your stomach. Your head tells you it's not sensible to not eat, but you're in a very undeveloped part of the world and who knows where the next lavatory might be - let alone lucking out and finding a clean one. Go with your gut feeling and avoid food, but make sure you take your daily multi-vitamin tablet, drink plenty of water, with or without sachets of re-hydration salts

  4. Return to Saigon. Once ensconced in your hotel with a nice clean bathroom - make sure of this, as you're going to be spending a lot of time there - eat something bland. A banana or a takeaway bag of plain steamed white rice. Doesn't matter which, because you'll be running for the bathroom in no time. After a week or so, you will have begun to lose weight. Eat daily - in my case, a nagging husband, or in the business plan, encouragement from your tour leader. Even though you don't feel like eating and know you'll be running to the bathroom straight away, don't avoid at least one attempt at eating each day. At times, as you sit counting the number of tiles in the bathroom you'll start thinking things like "For goodness sake, I didn't eat THAT much. Where is it all coming from".

  5. Make sure to take your daily multi-vitamin tablet (at least a couple of hours before you intend to eat your daily banana or steamed rice) and accidophilus tablets if you have them, try and get some Yakult if not. This way you're keeping the tour company covered because you're actually doing something to fight whatever parasite has taken up residence in your gut. And 4 sachets of re-hydration salts per day.

  6. After 3 weeks or so, go and see a doctor. It will keep the tour company covered by ensuring you have sought medical attention. You'll get antibiotics. You take them 4 times a day after food. Is that in the minutes before running to the toilet or afterwards when your stomach is emptier than it was before you ate? No understand. Next please.

  7. Wait another 3 weeks or so and go and see another doctor. You'll get different antibiotics - I had red ones, purple ones and yellow ones. Still no explanation as to how you take them after eating, but it doesn't matter. The tour company has to keep itself covered.

  8. When you've lost sufficient weight, go and see another doctor. Get the antibiotics injected rather than in capsule form. That should just about fix you up, even though you still have no appetite and will probably continue to lose weight because of this.

It will be, without doubt, the longest 10 weeks of your life. Every now and then, your body will plays tricks on you. You keep your banana and steamed rice in your stomach for a day or two and think you're better. Then you eat something other than banana or steamed rice and bang. Back to square one. Just stick at it, and you're guaranteed to lose 15kg in 10 weeks.

Peter managed to arrange a bike tour - not a group tour where you have to go at the pace of the slowest and most inexperienced rider, but a one on one with Ammo, a fisherman from Alaska who had lived in Cambodia for 12 years and spoke the language fluently. More expensive than most, but Ammo provided the safety gear and hotel for 2 nights. Peter had a ball of a time, although he was so stiff he could hardly walk when he got back. I spent the 3 days in the guesthouse we'd fallen into on arrival, very close to the toilet most of the time, venturing out only when I hadn't eaten that day and my stomach was feeling close to normal. One such morning I walked towards the central market to stock up on banana's. After a while I started to feel a bit dizzy. Couldn't remember if I'd taken the re-hydration salts, so I went into a pharmacy. Oh, I'm not sure about this. The sachet is almost 3 times bigger than the ones I got from the doctor who gave me the red antibiotics. No, no. It's good. Orange flavoured. Yeah, right. Don't know why they pretend. They should be honest and say salt flavoured, but the pharmacist assured me it was orange tasting. I poured the sachet into my bottle of water, gave it a good shake and guess what? It DID taste like orange.

I was a bit suspicious though. It was almost 3 times more and half the price and tasted OK, so I decided to keep the empty sachet and compare it to the ones back in our room. As I suspected, it wasn't quite the same. It contained the same amount of sugar and extra glucose, but only half the amount of salt and neither of the other two salts on the salt flavoured sachets. Not much more than powdered sports drink really. I think you could get blackcurrant flavoured too. Be warned - if it tastes good - that is if it doesn't leave you dry retching and grabbing a second glass of water to get rid of the taste, it isn't going to do you much good. You may as well have bought a Gatorade. When Peter got back, we made arrangements to get a bus to Battambang. The train only runs once weekly and takes about 12 hours. The bus took 3 or 4 hours. Too long ago, my memory bank has some blanks from the last few weeks. I had picked up the idea from somewhere that Battenbang was a romantic colonial town. There are a few beautiful French mansions still standing, but apart from that it was just a smaller version of Phnom Penh. Not quite as dirty, but not too far off. And there were animal drawn carts driving down the main streets. The hotel we stayed at was pleasant enough and I was completely without energy or appetite, so we stayed for almost a week.

We got a bus directly to Bangkok rather than some other interesting place en route. We were both getting a bit worried at my continuing runs to the toilet and decided that big city would be better to find a good doctor or hospital. Peter got the bus tickets as I wasn't up to making arrangements and he didn't ask where we would be dropped off. The 8 hour daytime bus dropped us off at 9pm in our worst case scenario - Khao San Road.

Khao San is the spiritual home of backpackers. The prices in book exchange shops tourist restaurants and food stalls range from well overpriced to absolutely ridiculous. I've just finished reading Michael Moore's Stupid White Men (highly recommended if you haven't read it). I passed up on it when I saw it in a book exchange shop in Khao San Road for TB350. Found the same book, in the same condition at a book exchange off Sukumvit for TB150. You don't need to know what a Thai Baht is worth. Just think percentage difference between 150 and 350. Apart from the overcharging, it's the people.

Old men with long hair (always a sad sight) who think they're 20 or even 30 years younger than they are and act accordingly. Naive youngsters, for whom Khao San is the first stop on their first overseas trip, overwhelmed by cheap (by western if not Thai standards) beer and finally my favorite people - hardcore scruffy, smelly, dreadlocked holier-than-thou "I'm not a tourist, I'm a traveller" backpackers.

Apart from that, there are the stalls selling tacky nick knacks, cheap clothes and cheap jewellery for more than you'd pay elsewhere in Bangkok. And a never ending onslaught from touts and tuk tuk drivers who don't seem to understand the words NO THANK YOU or NOT INTERESTED. The more persistent ones who stalk you for a couple of hundred meters don't understand WOULD YOU JUST PISS OFF AND LEAVE US ALONE either.

But, there we were. Late at night. We didn't have much choice but to try and find somewhere. The guesthouse we did find wasn't so bad. Room not big enough to swing a cat, but it was clean and cheap and had free WiFi so I could get some research on where we were going to stay. Because it was so late, and we knew we'd be pushing it if we checked out the next morning we decided to stay for two nights so we would have the time to find somewhere nice for a few weeks.

We found a great apartment to stay for a couple of weeks, then another great apartment just around the corner from the first. I did absolutely nothing. Not eating means no energy or enthusiasm for anything. I would eat when Peter nagged me into it, but only steamed rice he picked up at the food stall when going out for his own meal or a banana. Fortunately, we had internet access at both apartments and we were within walking distance of two of Peter's favorite spectator sports - big screen TV's for the football and Luphini Kickboxing Stadium. At least he didn't get bored. And a doctor gave me some purple antibiotics.

We intended to catch up with some friends Peter had made in Trang and Satun, easily bunny hopping our way down to Hat Yai, where we could get a bus into Malaysia just in time for our visa running out. We didn't realise it was Thai New Year. Went to the bus station - 2 overnight VIP's for Trang please. Full, everything booked months in advance. Tomorrow? Full. The day after? Full. The day after that. One seat only. The day after that? Please say yes, because that's the day our visa runs out and we'll stay on the bus all the way to Hat Yai and get a taxi to the border if we have to. We got the last 2 seats on that bus.

Pretty much the same thing when we got to Hat Yai early morning. Everything was booked, our only option was an overpriced uncomfortable minibus to Penang. We really didn't want to go back there, but we didn't have a choice. We stayed in town for a couple of nights, then moved on to a condo at the beach. Beach is a subjective term. You wouldn't actually go onto it or into the sea. Pretty to look at from a distance, but the water is so dirty with what looks like raw sewerage outlets running straight into it only the craziest of tourists were dipping their toes in the water. Fortunately there was a gym and swimming pool and satellite TV to keep Peter occupied, and we were straight opposite a 24 hour Indian canteen with one of the biggest outdoor screens I've ever seen, constantly tuned into the English Premier League. The weather had changed since we were there in November. It was horribly humid, and it rained as it can only rain in the tropics every day. Sometimes only an hour or two, but sometimes all day. We had to get out of there. And we had the biggest stroke of luck. As previously whined about, using Frequent Flyer points to get to England from Bangkok is impossible - that's why we were in Malaysia, heading for Singapore. I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw 2 seats from Bangkok to Manchester via Helsinki available for the 2nd June. We were in like Flynn. Best part is we were on Fin Airways - the taxes and fuel surcharges and such charges were less than half of what we would have paid had we got to Singapore and picked up a Qantas or BA flight.

We decided that as it was the last round of the football season, Trang Friday for catching up and drinking, Satun Saturday for catching up, drinking and football and back to Trang for drinking and football on Sunday. Didn't fancy that myself, so we decided that I would go straight to Bangkok, leaving Peter to a weekend of debauchery, so I could get some shopping done and find us somewhere to stay. We had decided another month in Bangkok as we'd done absolutely nothing the previous month we'd been there due to my being practically tied to the lavatory. So, it was goodbye Malaysia and after a doctor gave me some yellow antibiotics we were off to Hat Yai where we parted company. I got an overnight bus to Bangkok and Peter took the bulk of the luggage to Trang, which is only a 2 hour ride usually, but he opted for a cheap a local bus rather than a executive, which toured around town for over an hour touting for more passengers and took four and a half hours altogether. Still, he saved about a dollar. He left the bags at the hotel in Trang, took a change of shorts and singlet and a toothbrush to Satun and then back to Trang for a big night, big hangover the next morning and then an overnight bus to Bangkok.

I found myself a very nice and very cheap hotel, from where I arranged to have a look at a house available for rent just outside the city. The house is perfect - only 30 minutes by bus to Khao San Road (major bus interchange, the only reason I go there) but a world away from the noise and pollution of Bangkok. So here we are, out in the boonies in a tiny Thai village where nobody speaks a word of English and we're very much a novelty. Better still, it's close to the Southern Bus Terminal, where I had to go to meet Peter off the 5.30am bus from Trang last Monday morning, and from where we can get a bus straight to the airport for our flight in 3 and a bit weeks.

My hands and arms up to the elbow are currently black and blue from nurses trying to find veins to inject antibiotics for the last 7 days, but it does seem to be working. I'm finally starting to feel a bit better, although I still have no appetite at all I'm putting a bit of weight back on. I look pretty much like a scarecrow. Had to buy some new clothes when I arrived here to make myself look respectable, and they're hanging off me already. Hopefully I'll fill them out a bit over the next 3 weeks before we hit England, or my mum will be trying to fatten me up like the Christmas turkey. Appetite or not, we've been in Asia for months and have got used to eating the much smaller portions of food that they serve here than we ever have at home. I honestly think if we go to a Chinese for curry and rice, we'd struggle to eat one between us. I think if we go out we'll have to stick to sharing one plate between us or eating from the kids' menu. I fancied a burger a when I first arrived here, and got a Junior Whopper and chips (a kiddies meal) - couldn't finish off the chips I was so stuffed. Not sure how I'm going to convince mum that we just can't eat the 'normal' sized portions of food any more.

Peter got his dates mixed up - the last round of the football season wasn't last Sunday, it's tomorrow. The house we're renting is so cheap we're going to play hookie for the night. I have an appointment to see the doctor again on Monday morning, so we're going to go into town and find us a cheap hotel for the night on Sukumvit near a bar with a big screen TV so Peter can watch the football (somehow I doubt Middlesboro will be the televised match, given that the title is a cliff hanger between Chelsea and Manchester United) and we can get ourselves into the book exchange shops for some new reading material.

Maybe in the next couple of weeks we can play hookie again - go to Pattaya for a couple of days or the River Kwai or somewhere. Decisions decisions. Life is hard sometimes, isn't it?