After coming back from Ecuador, I struggled to recapture the spirit of adventure that I had experienced there. My search guided me down several strange paths, from an assault on the world of reality TV, which was a disaster, to an attempt to start a career on the ocean waves. Which was a disaster. I still maintain that joining the army was not a disaster – though my parents, most of my friends, and the rest of the army tend to disagree. Mostly, I think it was going AWOL to Thailand that was disastrous, at least for my army career – but I had so much fun there, it was hard to care about what was going on back home. Thailand had it all for me; animals to volunteer with, paradise beaches to enjoy, good friends to make and a party scene so intense it swept me up and carried me away for the better part of a year. I also did a spot of diving, training up to be a dive-master in the hope of making a living beneath the waves. But… yeah. That was a disaster…
The Treorchy Project
This was the renovation project which took up the first half of the book. Filmed by Talkback for the TV show Property Ladder, it was fraught with problems from the start. Which of course, makes for excellent TV! It’s less good news for the poor sods who have to sort it out, however… If you’re interested in watching the show, it can be found
BEFORE: The lounge, complete with its hideous tiled 70’s fireplace.
The upstairs was no better. Small rooms, mostly empty, they still needed most of their walls replacing – because they were 100-year-old lath-and-plaster!
The steep stairs we had to descend into that black hole of a basement.
And this is what awaited at the bottom of those stairs! A tiny, mouldy room where the previous owner had lived – and more than likely, died.
This was the main part of the basement, starved of light thanks to the ridiculous solid block-work extension on the back.
The kitchen – such as it was – was at the back of the basement, so it benefitted from absolutely zero natural light.
The garden was worse than it looked – not only unkempt, but hiding a vast amount of junk, including about 25 car windscreens!
The only bathroom and toilet in the house was on the lowest level, two flights of stairs away from the bedrooms. It was also pretty much derelict.
I may have mentioned that sanding is amongst my least favourite occupations…
…and this is only part of the reason why! Clothes, skin, hair, nails – all impregnated with plaster dust, beyond any ability to remove it. Especially without running water on site!
When mum and Dad came up to help at the weekends, they inevitably brought Megan, our beloved border collie. And Megan inevitably created even more mess than we did!
Turfing the garden – note the enormous man-hole cover, the only remaining evidence of our week-long trench-digging ordeal!
AFTER: Freshly plastered walls, a neutral colour scheme and a new fireplace in the lounge.
The lounge. Sadly most of the ‘after’ photos came out blurred – and this was the era before digital photography, so we didn’t know until we had them developed 🙁
Another shot of the lounge, showing the arched alcoves we created after demolishing the decrepit built-in cupboards.
The bedrooms saw mostly cosmetic upgrades… well, if you count rebuilding internal walls as cosmetic!
Unrecognisable! This is the dingy coal-hole room, where the owner had been living – now a 5-star bathroom!
The breakfast room gained glorious light once the outhouse was demolished. It was re-floored as well.
The kitchen was the most dramatic transformation – even the crew were stunned by what we’d achieved in here.
Gill and I had a budget for the garden of £50 – otherwise, it would have to be left as it was. We made that cash go a long way, by labouring for weeks to clean up, dig-over and level the ground.
Another blurred photo I’m afraid, but it shows what became of the original derelict bathroom.
As filming wrapped on the last day, Sarah Beeny was good enough to pose with us – for yet another horrendously blurred photo!
Escaping to Thailand was one of my better decisions. I had a fantastic year, made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, learned new skills, and rid myself of a few million braincells. I probably wasn’t using them, anyway.
Bangkok seemed fairly benign by day. Pretty much like any other Asian city.
The train from Bangkok passed through miles of shanty towns on the outskirts.
My first view of my new home; Koh Phangan, seen from the Gulf of Thailand, is a magical place. A rocky shoreline and jungle interior belie the paradise beaches and party atmosphere I was to discover.
Coming in to the pier on Koh Phangan was exciting and scary… but I could already tell I was going to love the place.
This was my home for over ten months on Koh Phangan – my sweet little wooden bungalow at Liberty, on Baan Thai beach.
Inside my bungalow. Not much to it – just a nice big double bed, an open wardrobe, and a plant. For air quality. The bathroom was down some steps to the left, and outside was my balcony with its hammock. Ahhh!
This was the view I woke up to every morning on Koh Phangan. Liberty Bungalows, right on the Baan Tai beach. Paradise!
The beach I lived on for the better part of a year. This stretch of golden sand was a handful of metres from my balcony, and was the site of many a midnight swim, several epic bonfires, and an inordinate amount of partying – the infamous Black Moon Party was held right next door.
The seating area at Liberty was the site of much drinking and the watching of hundreds of movies. Or rather, the watching of the same ten movies hundreds of times! But it was so comfy up there, while the relentless rain drummed the roof in the wet season, that I didn’t mind one bit.
No prize for guessing who this is! Linda became my best friend during our time on Koh Phangan, and stayed on after I left to run the animal clinic.
Crazy, mysterious and erratic, party animal/photographer Ridvan was one of the coolest, and most peculiar individuals I have ever met. We were the best of friends, and even went into business together, making t-shirts.
Pedo, one of two dogs that ‘lived’ at Liberty, was loved by all. He was famous for protecting drunk residents on their way home, and was even known to accompany them to Haad Rin on occasion!
PAC, or Phangan Animal Care, operated out of two identical houses behind the local high school. These cramped buildings were where Linda and I spent our days, cleaning and caring for our patients.
Inside our dive shop. It doesn’t look like much, but Chaloklum Diving was never about being flashy. We were fun, we were safe, and we were the best divers on the island. Well, apart from me.
Chaloklum Diving also had the best boat on the island – clean, working, full of friends – and Nick’s wife’s amazing curry!
Underwater in all my glory! And in all my gear, which I inadvertently defrauded Lloyds Bank out of.
Fabio, my fellow divemaster trainee and partner in crime. Predictably he was a much better diver than me – as well as much fitter and better looking!
My buddies from Chaloklum Diving! Elliott, on the right, took amazing underwater photos, a couple of which I’ve included here. He also got badly bitten by a triggerfish.
And here it is! The Triggerfish is a gorgeous creature, but fiercely territorial. This one was about 70cm long. Elliott took this picture – I think he regretted it…
This is the damage inflicted on Elliott by that Triggerfish… well, I tried to warn him!
Doing my work out in the back of the dive shop! Don’t blame me – turning the place into our home gym was Fabio’s idea!
Mae Hat Beach, where I did my first ever SCUBA dive. We brought all our new students here, because there was a stunning coral reef just below the surface. And it was a damn nice beach, too.
Every (diving) morning we had to count out enough tanks for our customers, plus ourselves, to make two dives apiece – plus a few spare just in case. Then we just had to get them into the truck, and from there into the boat…
Full air tanks are very, very heavy. Carrying a couple hundred of them back and forth every day was a great way to stay in shape.
Me, sitting on my beloved (and much-repaired) scooter, taking a call on my frequently-stolen phone. With bare feet, of course.
Filling up my bike was easy – there were dozens of roadside stalls selling fuel, even in the remotest parts of the island. There was one ‘proper’ petrol station, in the capital Thong Sala, and the rest consisted of a bloke with a barrel of petrol and a garden hose attached to it. This was one of the more high-tech operations – his tap had a built-in measuring jug!
The rugged cost of ‘Phangan made for some spectacular vistas. If I’d been photographically inclined, I’d have shot a few more of them… instead I have to rely on this one, taken by Gill.
The interior of Koh Phangan was entirely jungle. I loved it, trekking through to various waterfalls, and blasting through it on my way to work every morning. It was the calming Yin to the Yang of the beaches with their crazy parties.
A row of typical tourist bungalows, Thai style – raised on stilts, one room inside with a concrete bathroom on the side, at a lower level. All you need, really.
A typical roadside food stall, built entirely around the owner’s scooter. They had gas burners and cooked on woks, creating entire meals in minutes from the ingredients on the bike. They were also the cheapest eats around, and several of them got together each evening to form a mobile food market. I ate there all the time!
My love of climbing things was well-fed in Thailand, though I never managed to climb a palm tree with the same effortless skill the local boys had.
This is the first view you get of Haad Rin, the party capital, as you come over the ridiculously steep hills from Thong Sala and Baan Tai (where I was living).
Street of Dreams: this narrow alleyway is the main access route to the Haad Rin beach, site of the original Full Moon Parties!
At the far end of Haad Rin beach was Magic or ‘Mushroom’ Mountain. No prize for guessing why… but what an enticing place, with the bar poking out of the trees above the beach.
The ubiquitous Thai buckets were on sale from bars and makeshift stalls – I don’t think there was any real regulation on who was allowed to sell them! Each one contained a hip flask-sized bottle of spirits, a can of Coke or Sprite, and one of the tiny bottles of lethal Thai Red Bull. Two of these bad boys and you’re being carried home!
Linda and me, sharing a bucket. Together we attended every full moon party on the island, and quite a few of the others. She also loved to party… hardly surprising, as she was (and still is!) Irish.
This is how a bucket is meant to be shared! With as many close friends – and hot strangers – as can get around it!
This is the state you generally want to avoid! Every night the beach was liberally sprinkled with unconscious bodies, the victims of partying too hard, too early. The odds are this chick will wake up semi-naked, having been robbed of everything she has on her and quite possibly molested into the bargain. Word of advice – don’t go there!
Of all the fire games on the Haad Rin beach, jumping through the flaming hoop was my favourite.
This time I pulled off an awesome flying kick, and Ridvan pulled off an awesome picture of it. What a team!
My second attempt was even more ass-kickingly awesome! Unfortunately my third attempt I fell into the ring and set my hair on fire… the moral being that drinking only makes you look cool temporarily.
The real fire dancers were absolutely amazing, and captivated us night after night with their stick-spinning shows. The girls were particularly impressed by their compact, muscular physiques – and well they knew! Their rep was as bad as it came – different drunken chick every night, and no qualms about pressing their affections on any girl too drunk to fend them off. Talented scumbags, to the last man!
I practised relentlessly with my fire-stick. I was still rubbish though – perhaps because I was usually too scared to light the damn thing…
Me, busting out my fire-stick moves on the beach at Liberty.
Another one – for this bit I’m kneeling down, bending over backwards – a trick I learnt from watching the pros 😉
Avril and Por, the manager and the full-time nurse with Phangan Animal Care. They LOVED to party, and nights out together made the PAC crew into a tight-knit group.
Emotional blackmail was essential to keep the clinic running. Here I’m fundraising on the main street in Haad Rin, with a tiny kitten at the ready. If I’d known how rough I looked at the time, I’d probably have shaved. Might have taken a few more donations then…
It worked though!
‘Silly Lolly’, the dog that died from some incurable, craze-inducing condition. Then the boss breathed the word ‘Rabies,’ sending a shiver down my spine… And necessitating a ferry trip with Silly Lolly’s head on ice in my luggage.
Taping the lid tight on this polystyrene box… can you guess what’s inside it? Yup – it is the severed head of a mad dog.
A tiny visitor to the clinic, this little gecko crawled all over me while Ridvan took photos. In which my skin look bloody awful, due to late nights and too much alcohol.
This is one of the t-shirts Ridvan and I had made up. We never created the t-shirt empire we intended, but we did end up wearing quite a few of them… our brand-name was ‘LidStone’ – because the Thai pronounced ‘Ridvan’ as ‘Lidvan’, and my nickname was Stoney…
Ridvan’s puppy, Foxy, was a rescue dog from the clinic. She was adorable, and loved our company. When left alone, she was equally happy destroying anything in the vicinity, from toilet paper to laptops.
Taken at the airport in Bangkok. Apparently they have strict rules about this sort of thing.
When Gill came to visit, she couldn’t believe the sheer volume of scooters on the streets of Bangkok – both in terms of noise, and of quantity! Here’s a bunch of them waiting to cross the road at the traffic lights.
This sign, directing passengers to the other end of the Metro line from Bangkok, made me chuckle. I couldn’t help myself – I even asked the guard how much it cost to Bang Sue! Yes, I am a child.
Terrible picture, but this is the toilet on the train down from Bangkok – right opposite my seat. With no door. You’d think that might stop people using it… and you’d be wrong.
Gill’s Bungalow was almost identical to mine, just a bit closer to the beach and with rustic wooden steps up to her balcony. She loved the place.
Gill was delighted when I suggested she rent a bike of her own. She fell off it of course – who didn’t? But it was a rite of passage she was happy to endure, in return for the freedom of the roads.
Gill’s favourite sign, and possibly the
least-appealing tourist attraction on the island.
We discovered this rickety walkway running high above the sea around a rocky headland on a trip to the north of Phangan. We hardly dared walk on it…
… until we were overtaken by a scooter! Those Thai guys would take their bikes anywhere, but this really took the biscuit.
A staff night out often began with a meal at Hotpan Hotpan, a Korean-style buffet restaurant where you cook the food yourself on a griddle built into the table! All you can eat for about £2 ($3)!
Cooking at Hotpan Hotpan was achieved by placing this hubcap-looking thingumy over the firepot in the centre of the table, and frying the meat and seafood on it. Noodles went into a trough around the rim, to cook in some kind of tea. Yummy!
The rather rickety bridge to Mae Hat beach – over which all our students had to carry their dive gear! Unless they were nervous, in which case we had to carry it. As well as our own.
Gill, showing off her scooter outside the clinic. It was a lovely setting for an animal refuge.
A little-known beach on the east of Koh Phangan, which was usually devoid of tourists because it could only be reached by boat.
Baan Tai Beach was the perfect place to practice a bit o’ kung fu! Note the single sock – not a fashion accessory, but an attempt to keep sand out of the festering, open wound on my foot!
And, if you’ve made it this far… well, you might just be interested in this. It’s the TV programme featured in the book – Property Ladder, with Sarah Beeny, does The Slaters! Does us royally, in fact. My apologies in advance for my hair 🙂
The Slater Family on Property Ladder!