The Golden Triangle - Thailand, Myanmar and Laos
It's just after 7am in the Departures hall of Heathrow Terminal 4. After a brief night's sleep and a long (& expensive) taxi ride into London I'm checked in for a flight to Kuala Lumpur and from there on to Bangkok where I'll be joining a group of strangers for a four-week tour of Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia. This is very out of character for me - I'm not a great solo traveller, the area isn't one I've felt drawn to in the past and conjures up memories of war & atrocity from my teenage years, with a new(-ish) mortgage I'm not flush with disposable income and getting four weeks paid holiday time from work wasn't really on the cards. And yet here I am. How did this happen?
Cause & effect is a useful analytical tool in a lot of cases but for my own decision making processes I find it's often a bit over-simplistic. Instead I tend to find that multiple influences will, taken together, set up a context that encourages me in a certain direction. It's all a bit quantum theory-like (in a very, very approximate sense), a collection of circumstances can make a previously infeasible choice drift into the real of possibility, sometimes to the point where it seems like the obvious thing to do. Of course there's always the chance that the Imp of the Perverse will send me off to one of the outliers but hey - if my mind was simple enough to be understood then it would be too simple to understand itself.
So what stars had lined up to send me this way? After spending most of 2015 either under- or unemployed I'd found a new job and had been working there for just under a year, giving me some stability and a regular, if considerably reduced from my previous role, income. One of the perks of the new job was their very relaxed approach to annual leave, basically if the work got done then time away was not a problem. After moving into a new house at the end of 2014 I'd got it pretty well fitted out and still had a tidy sum left in the 'house fund'. And, the final touch, some dear friends had written glowingly about a tour they'd made down the length of Vietnam which had piqued my interest in that area.
Setting up for the gig, Bradford on Avon
With the idea taking root I did some investigating. It seemed pointless to go so far for less than three weeks so I looked at trips taking three or four. I wrote to the company who'd arranged my friends' trip but it turned out that they organised tours for preexisting groups, in a hilarious misunderstanding they quoted a huge price for a one-person group - me. Back to the internet and I found several places offering 'small group' tours, around six to twenty people with a local guide, accommodation and travel arrangements all included. There was a huge range of options but in the end I found a four-week tour that included Thailand, Laos, Vietnam & Cambodia, had a nice mix of organised activities and free time, and which promised 'responsible tourism' and a chance to do more than just traipse around the usual sights. They had a trip running from mid-November to mid-December which seemed to avoid the hottest weather and would fit around my previous engagements so after a quick check with my boss that he was really, really OK with me being away that long I paid my deposit and was booked for Indochina.
Although the trip fitted into my calendar it was a bit tight - I was due at Heathrow airport by 7:00am on Sunday morning, the day after my band were playing a gig. There was no way of getting there on time by public transport so I splashed out on a taxi ride, figuring that so long as I was conscious when it arrived (at 5:15am!!) I could catch up with sleep on the plane.
On the day itself it all went smoothly - I awoke after about four hours sleep, added my toothbrush to the case and staggered out onto the pavement and into the waiting cab. We drove though the almost deserted streets to the airport where, despite all the warnings to be there In Good Time, I was swiftly through checking in and faced with a three hour wait before the flight was due. Which did at least give me time for a leisurely breakfast. The flight to Kuala Lumpur was smooth & uneventful, smooth enough for me to sleep through about a third of it, but the connecting flight had 'technical issues' so having boarded and sat there for a while we were shepherded off and onto another plane. But, albeit an hour later than scheduled, we finally arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok. The adventure had begun!