On October 5th, 1992, 30 years ago today, I left England. I had a one-way ticket to Australia via Bangkok, and, save a few months dossing at me mam’s on the dole, I’ve never returned there to live and work.
When I left, I was 25, a pint of beer cost £1.49 and the average weekly wage was £74.10. These now stand at £4.12 and £601 respectively.
I bought a rucksack and a mosquito net at Outdoor World, a small outdoor and hiking equipment shop round the corner from the family home. I had a prescription for malaria pills and made sure my jabs were up-to-date. As I did so, my GP warned me about STDs in brothels in Bangkok.
The thought of taking malaria pills and vaccinations to visit Thailand now is quite laughable. With the equipment and the medication, and some rehearsals with the mosquito net in my bedroom, I felt more like Mungo Park departing into the unknown than another European backpacker treading a well-worn path.
I flew with the now-defunct Lauda Air via Vienna to Bangkok and arrived in Asia for the first time.
It’s sobering to think I’ve lived more of my life abroad than at ‘home’. In all that time I’ve been through periods of visits back to Whitley Bay where I would write ‘fly home’ for the Japan to UK leg, and ‘fly back to Japan’ on the return leg. Later I’d write ‘fly home’ in both directions. Now I just note the airport.
I was an enthusiastic diarist in the early weeks of my trip. Some selected, edited entries are below.
Given all this time ‘away’, reflections are too numerous for one article. Pre-COVID this blog became light-hearted as I reflected on my travels; this seemed frivolous for such serious times. With the re-opening of borders, the frivolity restarts.
In place of deeper reflection, a list of numbers:
Air ticket: approx. £400
Rucksack capacity: 65L
Weeks of Malaria pills: 10
Weeks taken: 6
Number of jabs: 3
Number of brothel visits: 0
Number of mosquito net uses: <20
Number of air transport passengers: 1992 – 1.15 billion; 2019 – 4.56 billion
Beers per weekly wage index, UK: 1992 – 50; 2022 – 146
Diary of a Whitley Lad
October 5th, 1992
Gatwick to Vienna, Vienna to Bangkok – an awfully long time without sleep or much food. Sunrise over the Bay of Bengal.
Tuesday 6th, 6:30 am arrive Bangkok, disoriented. One hour taxi ride through rush-hour, millions of cars, bikes and tuktuks with accompanying pollution.
Found a guest house and slept for a few hours. Pottered around Kao San Road in the evening, trying not to spend money. Ate and had a few beers while watching Wild at Heart in a KSR bar-restaurant. Strangely disoriented, then off to bed.
Up early and phoned embassy to check visas. Attempted to get tuktuk to tourist authority, but were taken via jewellery, leather and crocodile skin tourist souvenir shops. Finally got to TAT and got the maps.
Noise, traffic and pollution incredible; air is very dirty and yet everywhere people are sweeping.
National museum and many giggling schoolgirls following us around. Outside, one wanted a photo, compared skin colour with (my female companion) and called her beautiful.
Night saw much chilli, Thai whiskey and Alien 3.
A rabid bowel movement saw the morning in, a taste of things to come…