#25 Happy New Year!

Sent: Thursday, February 21, 2002 5:50 AM

In the real world February is getting ready to clock off work and March is getting out of its' car in the car park, but on Planet sausage it is Between Christmas and New Year.......

The second of seven legs of our journey from Phnom Penh in Cambodia to Trat in Thailand passes off without incident, four hours by coach from the Cambodian capital down to the country's only port Sihanoukville. After being pitched off a moto twice already today Sausage is very wary of leg three, a short hop by moto across town from the bus depot to the quayside, but fortunately the two moto drivers we hire this time are patient and careful. We arrive at the landing stage in bright mid-morning sunshine and pass Through some sort of Immigration checkpoint on our way to the boat ticket office, despite being four hours away from the border

The boat is almost identical to the one we took from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, but this time the roof is reserved for luggage so we consign ourselves to the cabin grateful that our seats are close to the emergency exits

The ride passes slowly amidst the wailing and whirling of a seemingly Endless kung-fu video playing at the front of the cabin. The onward trip to the Thai border is supposed to involve getting off the big boat at its' penultimate stop and then riding in a small boat all the way to the border post. It all starts very well when virtually all the Westerners get off at the penultimate stop and we separate into groups of six, each group clambering into one of a fleet of small fiberglass boats whose outboard engines whine noisily as they push the boats out into the broad river estuary on our way to the border. The guidebook tells us that the boat ride will take 30 minutes and will cost $3 each, which is what we are charged. After only 10 minutes the boat pulls in at some steep rocks on which are stood a crowd of young local men. As the boat pulls near they all start shouting and grabbing bags out of the boat. In the confusion the first guy to try and climb out of our boat and onto the rocks, a middle aged Frenchman slips and falls into the waist deep water

The strain of her bad start to the day, twice pitched off the moto in Phnom Penh, is etched across Sausage's face as someone grabs her rucksack and makes off with it leaving her stood next to me in a rocking boat looking at the top half of the submerged Frenchman. We make it onto dry land and are hustled into a Taxi with the phrase 'Quick! Border close soon!' ringing in our ears

We are being scammed. The old route to the border (the one before the Boat trip outlined in our guidebook) included a leg by taxi. The 30 minute boat trip we were expecting has now become a 10 minute boat trip, though the price has remained at $3 and the local taxis have claimed back a slice of the business. We are hustled into the car with the driver shouting 'Same as boat, same as boat.' in reply to our question 'How Much?' We are at a bad disadvantage, we don't know how far the trip is, but we do know that they have us by the short and curlies because we have to get to the border before it shuts

We set off and as we go we try and clarify how far the journey is. Sausage had understood as we got into the car that the taxi was included in the $3 we had paid for the little boat and kicks off quietly but insistently when she realises that we are being charged another $3 each. The driver and his mate get the impression that we are thinking of not paying and the driver pulls over. Driver's mate turns round and starts shouting at Sausage who is getting steadily more upset but repeatedly says to Drivers Mate 'Please stop shouting.' A stand off follows. We have conferred and are quietly saying 'Ok, we'll pay let's go.' The driver and his mate are too incensed to listen to us and keep shouting. Sausage continually asks them to stop shouting and I can hear that she is getting steadily more upset. Something inside me snaps and I start screaming 'Look we've said we'll pay - now just shut the fuck up and drive!' After four or five of these polite requests either the words or the pulsing veins in my neck and forehead convey the message and we set off again

Everything catches up with us, an early start in Phnom Penh, Sausage Falling off the moto, the hours of travel, and we turn into Mr and Mrs Malevolent. Sausage sits there saying things like 'In my country - you'd get a slap! 'while my red mist is so thick that I don't remember after the event, but Sausage is adamant that I spend the rest of the journey just sat there muttering loudly 'You're a bunch of c**nts, you're all a bunch of c**nts, over and over again

The 20 minute taxi ride we are promised in return for our $6 turns out to be only 7 minutes and we pile out of the car within sight of the border. I give the guy $4 and start screaming at him that if he wants any more we'll go and see the Police about it. He refuses to take the money, demanding $6. I screw the $4 up and chuck it into the car through the window

As we walk toward the border the cleansing effect of the anger lasts all of 10 seconds before the comedown from the adrenalin kicks in together with the inevitable sullen post match analysis. Neither Sausage nor I get angry very often and in hindsight it all looks like some sort of comedy caper, but it was an unpleasant way to take our leave of Cambodia. But 'Bunch of C**nts', as Sausage has christened the episode won't live in the memory nearly as long as S21, the Killing Fields and the Temples at Angkor Wat

Thai Immigration proves to be tortuous, not least due to their trying to make sense of a sodden French passport. By the time we finally arrive in Trat darkness has fallen, anger has receded and hunger has set in. Despite our various difficulties all the connections have been made and the day ends really well at Jean's Cafe in Trat where we have the best Thai food we have found so far

Ko Chang is Thailand's largest island and sits in the top Eastern corner of the Gulf of Thailand. The next morning a 45 minute ferry ride sees us deposited on the island. The songthaew ride to Hat Sai Khao is very reminiscent of our arrival on Ko Phang Ngan with vertiginous hills and Sausage and I exchange a glance which wordlessly suggests and agrees not to consider hiring a moped while we are here

This is the first place where we have arrived in peak season and the first place where the Rough Guide suggests booking ahead at such times. It is my turn to mind the luggage and Sausage rushes off in the midday heat forgetting her hat, sunglasses, water and purse. It is 90 minutes before she returns dehydrated, overheated and frazzled having visited every conceivable accommodation option. We're looking for 2 rooms because Jodie and Stuart are going to join us for New Year and the only place that can accommodate us is the friendly but careworn Tantawan Resort where the reasonably sized rooms seemed to have been specifically designed to allow no natural light at all through their windows and to act as some strange kind of sand collecting machine. That said the rooms are right next to the narrow sandy beach and our first nights sleep is disturbed by the waves breaking on the edge of our consciousness

Hat Sai Khao is a long thin ribbon of sand, parts of which disappear Completely at high tide, when the waves wash at the front of Tantawans' cafe terrace

The slender strip of flat ground to the rear of the beach is filled with bungalow operations of varying degrees of sophistication and the one road runs behind lined with tourist-tacky stalls

The amiably vague management at Tantawan don't have a room when Jodie and Stuart arrive, but Somchaem, the lovely chef gives up his bed for the night to save the day. It's great to see Jodie and Stuart again and to be able to have a conversation that doesn't have to start right at the very beginning

A big thing happens. I am 39 and I am an adult. Sausage is 32 and she is an adult. And we buy a LILO. I was 35 before I overcame my mother's warnings against slip-on shoes ('You'll play football in them, the elastic will go and they won't stay on your feet) but it has taken 4 years longer to conquer mother's voice in my head ('You'll stop paying attention and drift out to sea') when it comes to Lilos. Jodie and Stuart have got a Range Rover lilo, broad, comfortable, plush. The best we can buy in Hat Sai Khao is a Proton lilo, looks similar but is in fact a very pale imitation, being slimmer and flimsier

The lack of width makes it almost impossible to get onto, but once on we each feel the exhilaration that comes with finally overcoming a childhood rule that had effortlessly controlled our adult lives. Mind you, you have to be careful, because you can drift out to sea very quickly you know

'Let's talk about love Baby! Let's talk about you and me' It is touching to see so many couples walking around Ko Chang hand in hand, their body language betraying the newness of their relationships. At least it might be touching were it not for the fact that absolutely every couple consists of a scruffily dressed, over-weight, white European male and a lithe, much younger Thai woman. I'm sure that the nature of these relationships runs the range from straightforward cash for services rendered, through a free holiday and on to genuine relationships. But the sheer numbers of these guys, most of whom make John Candy look like Paul Newman enforces a degree of cynicism, especially when you get a chance to watch them at close quarters in restaurants and bars where the dynamics of the relationships are laid are with Master/Servant the most popular model

Sausage has much to say on the subject of my competitiveness. I like to think that whatever competitiveness I have comes swaddled in a thick wooly liberal coat. But I can tell from the look in Jodie and Stuart's eyes as I fling myself about trying to catch their frisbee in waist deep water that my antics are going beyond innocent fun. It's the same look I see on friend's faces when we play silly games at home. It seems I'm fooling only myself

Jodie and Stuart are DRINKERS. They love alcohol, and they are very good at drinking it. On 30th December the stars line up unpropritiously and Stuart and I find ourselves stood outside a roadside cafe at 10pm with live Premiership football on the large screen and a slight thirst in our throats. Jodie and Sausage acknowledge our need to be male by disappearing off to bed and so begins one of those slow descents into drunkenness. Stuart and I have a Great time getting to know each other better and our task is made easier by the big bottles of beer that are regularly renewed on the table in front of us

We get very pleasantly drunk. Another match starts on the tele and it is halfway through the second half before we figure out that it is a repeat showing of a match played 2 days before

Stuart is great company, a 23 year old advertising copywriter whose intelligence lends him a maturity well beyond his years. As we stumble home at 2.15am I reassure him that I won't be getting in trouble just before I enter our room to a drowsily angry hail of invective from Sausage who had been foolish enough to believe the 'I'll only be an hour' line I'd spun at 10pm

Though I can't blame her because at the time I believed it too

I don't like alcohol because it makes some people lairy and I don't like the huge harm it causes in people's lives while enjoying the sanction of being a legalised drug. But I don't drink lots of it because it makes me feel so bloody awful the next day

We have plans for today. We are going on a snorkeling trip, the four of us

It will be the first time Sausage has tried snorkeling. It is a big day

And I am in the doghouse

The day has a false dawn. I get up, out and onto the boat using fuel Tanks marked 'Nervous Energy - for use when feeling GUILTY.' Hardened drinker Stuart makes an early appearance and then retreats back to his bed. Wise man

Sausage and I make it onto the boat and set off on our 2 1/2 journey to Ko Rang before the nervous energy runs out and I collapse in a heap and spend the rest of the journey green-gilled and snoring, apart from rare moments of consciousness when I insist that I am seasick, not hung over, despite our steady progress across a sea so smooth it looks like a mirror

The snorkeling is a triumph. Sausage keeps taking every opportunity to push her boundaries and manages to knock down 2 separate water fears, swimming out of her depth and putting her head under the water in one brave leap off the boat at our first stop. What makes the leap of faith worthwhile is that she has thrown herself into a tropical fish tank and the sights she sees disable her fear reflexes really well. She is beaming and bubbling over with excitement

I'm trying to put a brave face on it, but the hangover is making me sea-sick whilst swimming. We both make it back to the boat against a strong current but one older lady does not and starts to float off into open sea. Of the motley bunch of snorkellers assembled on the boat I am the closest they have to someone young and confident in the water. So I stick a lifejacket on and jump back in carrying a further life jacket for the stranded woman who is just about standing still against the current. When we look up from putting her lifejacket on we realise that the maneuver has cost us a lot of distance and we have no hope of getting back to the boat. Fortunately Sausage eventually persuades the completely uninterested crew to ship anchor and come and pick us up so we just sit and bob up and down, Elaine and I and wait for the boat to come to us

After a stop at another small coral-ringed island where the pull of the Current is not quite so strong we climb back on board for the long journey home, Sausage reveling in the taboos she has broken and the sights she has seen, me horizontal and green

There are other, much quieter beaches on Ko Chang but we wanted to be Somewhere that might have a bit of a buzz about it come New Years Eve. My already depleted stock market price plummets further as I crawl into bed muttering something about joining the other 3 sometime around 11pm. Fortunately my hangover eases by 10pm and I feel at least half human as I head out on to the beach to join the others

The tide is out and every bar and restaurant has gone to some sort of effort to tempt you in. There are lots of Thais as well as Westerners. Ko Chang is a popular destination for people from Bangkok because it can be reached overland in a day. It seems like every single Thai has been out and bought lots of fireworks. People take it in turns to walk down the beach in front of the bar where they are hanging out and letting off their fireworks so as we look up and down the beach the sky is continually filled with bursts of colour and noise

The main centre of activity is Sonara Bar where a loud PA is belting out dodgy music to an already sozzled crowd. How dodgy is the music? Well midnight approaches to the strains of 'The Final Countdown' is marked by 'All you need is love' and recedes to 'Macarena' and it's all downhill from there, believe me

The Thais around us get prodigiously drunk in that way that enables them to stay vertical long after it appears that their skeletons have gone home to bed

The Westerners attempt to keep pace but with less style and more volume

The highlight of the night is Dancing Woman who finds herself in a clear expanse of sand looking like one of Lakeside's finest out on the razz and proceeds to interpret the appalling music with a series of dance moves that defy the existence of rhythm and coordination and gravity. Her pelvic thrusts seem to start on the mainland and threaten to knock unconscious anyone stupid enough to go near her. She repeatedly nearly knocks herself out with her own ample chest which she sends upwards with the speed of two pilots in twin ejector seats. Just as she seems to be running short of ideas and energy, from nowhere comes the piece de resistance as she sets off across her sandy dancefloor and performs a perfect forward roll, back to her feet and Collapses in a cross-legged heap on the floor in the exact spot from whence she had come 5 minutes before

But a night drinking isn't on the cards for us, particularly not for me, and so at 2am we make our way back to the room

At 2.10am Sausage starts to feel queasy.

Lots of Love
The Travelling Sausages