I’m down to the last day now. Tomorrow my flight leaves at 15.30 when I embark on my epic 2 day journey to Thailand with a 24 hour stopover in Dubai.
I have spent my in between time in Madrid very much in denial of my imminent departure. My house is a little paradise which I was able to escape to, lazing my days away by the pool, my time punctuated with unforgettable trips to Tetuán. I was able to pretend quite easily that my trip to the unknown was not really happening. So here I am the day before, I still haven’t packed, but I suppose most of the important things are done…
Vaccinations – Check? I’m not trying to blame my parents… but they didn’t keep any of my vaccination records. Living in three different countries with different vaccination requirements may have played a part in this serious lack of parental care, somehow we just slipped through the net. However, going to the doctor to ask for vaccines and then saying you have no idea what you have previously had is surprisingly embarrassing. Let me make something clear – there are no obligatory vaccinations to visit Thailand, but it’s always best to err on the side of caution, and once I’m there, who knows where i’ll travel to! Ok – i’m secretly a bit of a hypochondriac – I even had a dream that I had TB when the nurse said that they don’t innoculate against it any more. For a while I was horrified at the prospect, and then I realised that if I died of TB, I would be following in the steps of all the best writers. Catullus, the Bronte Sisters, Chekhov, Keats, D.H. Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, Somerset Maugham, Maupassant, Moliere, Orwell, Platonov, Rousseau, Ruskin, Sir Walter Scott, R.L. Stevenson and Dylan Thomas. What could you call it, the Consumption Club? Rather like Club 27… a little less cool perhaps, I’d be no Amy Winehouse, but I think I could live (die?) with that. Anyway, after a serious inquisition at my local Spanish doctor, we managed to obtain a list of vaccines I had supposedly been given. The NHS nurse subsequently did an antibody blood test to see whether I really was immune (why she could not have done this from the start beats me) and it turned out I had no immunity to any of the diseases on the list. However at that point it was too late for Hep B (must avoid tattoos and medical/dental care), Rabies and Japanese Encephalitis B were just too expensive, Dengue Fever has no vaccine yet and she refused to give me Tetanus, Polio and Diptheria as I was given Tetanus following a nasty fall from a horse. Apparently if you get more than one Tet shot in a 10yr period you are likely to go into anaphylactic shock. Personally I think the English are just a tad too careful. Damned Health and Safety. In conclusion I was given only Hep A and Typhoid. At least I wont be Typhoid Sarah… that’s for you Ariadne.
Travel Arrangements – Flights are booked (obviously); hotel/hostel was booked for me by LSE and I have a 60 day tourist visa (only just covers my 56 day trip). I suppose those three are the most important arrangements – I can get to the country, i’ll be allowed in, and I have somewhere to rest my head! Ah but let’s not forget my little dalliance with Dubai in between… As most of my close friends know, I consider Dubai to be one of the most tasteless cities in the world – no culture, no history, disgustingly ostentatious displays of wealth and a disturbing duality between the strict Islamic locals and the uninhibited foreigners. Oh and it has no nature – it’s basically a desert, a desert filled with people on noisy quad bikes. Great. Having said that, i’m not going to sit in the airport for 24 hours and refuse to set foot on enemy soil. I have a hotel booked and i’ll take a tour of the city. But I remain skeptical, and I intend to walk around with a slight scowl on my face.
Academic Arrangements – I have been assigned two mentors (professors) at the Chulalongkorn University to help me with my research while i’m there – Dr. Supakwadee Amatayakul from the Department of Philosophy and Assistant Professor Rittirong Jiwakanon from the IR department. Being a well traveled, citizen of the world and all that, I feel ashamed to say that writing introductory emails to them was painful. Mainly because I could not tell their gender from their names! I ended up having to write emails referring to them as ‘they’ rather than ‘he’ or ‘she’… I suppose I could say that I was just using the polite ‘usted’ pronoun. Turns out that my father has to deal with these sorts of problems on a daily basis and he showed me a nifty trick – type into Google images the first name of the person and see whether the images that come up are of men and women. Yeah I know it seems pretty obvious, but I never would have thought of it! The plan is that my mentors will help me out with any academic research, and i’m hoping point me in the direction of some traditional Muay Thai camps – the one aspect of my trip that isn’t really sorted out. Other than that I bought 3 philosophy books from Amazon to help me with my work – Aitken’s ‘The Mind of Clover – Essays in Zen Buddhist Ethics’, Keown’s ‘Buddhist Ethics: A Very Short Introduction’, as well as his ‘The Nature of Buddhist Ethics’. So lots to read on the plane! What a lie, anyone who knows me knows i’ll be sleeping.
Survival Arrangements – So like the intrepid traveler that I am, I have the emergency number of the British Embassy written in marker pen in conspicuous places. And now i’m off to the local ‘adventure’ store to buy mosquito repellent, water purification pills and a secret money holder. I rather think I have thought myself into a little tizz, I didn’t do any preparation when I went to Beijing for a month, although I did have a rather clever way of keeping all my cash. I found a tiny drawstring bag, filled it with the wads, then tied it to the front strap of my bra, letting the bag rest between my cleavage (hidden of course under my T-shirt). Pity I lost that bag. I have enough malaria pills for 2 weeks – just in case I decide to travel near to the borders. I considered carrying around some white netting headgear but then I realised I’d look too much like Miss Havisham and abandoned that idea hurriedly. I’ll be in Thailand during the heaviest monsoon time so i’m going to be alternately hot and sweaty or hot and soaked. I guess the two aren’t that different after all. My optimistic friend suggested it will be like a permanent spa…
My only other survival arrangements, aided by my sister, were to look up the backpacker hot spots (all on Khao San Road) in order to try and make some foreign friends or find some traveling partners. I don’t mind going to palaces, museums and temples in Bangkok alone, but I want to see the country – the islands and beaches down south, the mountains up north or even the neighbouring countries and the idea of going there alone is daunting. Anyone want to come visit me? It’ll be a trip to remember!