Go east, young man
After very little deliberation...
I had settled on a Qatar Airways flight from Lastminute.com. I was later to find out that Qatar's slogan, as printed delicately on their serviettes, was "Taking You More Personally".
I used to work at Lastminute.com myself, and took them very personally and with great pleasure for all they were worth ~ which at the time ~ was a lot. These days, Lastminute are 'worth' less. I am no longer on their payroll, and notably, they've begun to write nice round black figures in yearly financial accounts.
It was as a similar cost-cutting measure ~ one of those that seem to be so en vogue these days ~ that I somewhat blindly chose Qatar's reasonable very reasonable £400 London to Bangkok return flight from the list, spurned on secondarily by the knowledge that:
- a) My money was not going to Microsoft (unlike some travel sites - I mean tell me what has travel got to do with flakey software and wordprocessing) - and;
- b) My stopover flight being in Doha, Qatar, I might get a chance to peer out the airport window at various bits of hither-to unexplored, exotic middle-eastern stuff... or even, dare I say it, plunge the big toe right into the murky depths by roaming around Qatar on a day-tour... and lastly that;
- c) In this age of Islamic militant vs. Anglo-American Fatcat, I fancied my chances better in a carrier based on the Arabian peninsula than one sporting the Star and Stripes on its tail like a bulls-eye.
A feeling that my mother's highly developed keenness for safety might have rubbed on me for even considering the last reason as important or valid was quashed on news that Heathrow was besieged by armed forces, tanks and helicopters in an apparent attempt to second-guess the invisible bogeyman. What good this brawn would do against a chap with a can full of ricin, I had no idea. Later, of course, it turned out that someone had tried to board a flight in Gatwick with a hand grenade. Very pleasant.
Was there ever a better time to leave Mother England on a trip to somewhere nice and sunny? Even that most staunch of British strongholds, the football team, was having its hiney kicked by no less than the Socceroos.
Fortunately, the airline which wanted to "take me more personally" turned out to be a fairly good option for people who like comfortable seats. I was fairly far back in the plane and the curvature of the aircraft as the seats tapered inwards towards the tail offered me even more space than elsewhere in economy.
We plunged south-east towards Austria and the snow glistened off the alps bathed in sunshine. Our flight-path set us to cruise over Hungary, Turkey, Lebanon, Syria & Saudi Arabia towards our transit point in Doha, Qatar.
When you travel eastwards, the arrival of nightfall is accelerated and hits you much faster than you expect. In no time we were crossing the coast near Beirut, surrounded by a deep blanket of darkness except for the myriad of lights scattered along the coast, eerily hinting at the cities beneath us.
Until now, I hadn't really given too much thought to destinations, itineraries and plans. A vague idea of arriving in Bangkok and letting lady luck throw the dice appealed to me. I would just ask what continuing flights, trains etc were available and throw a coin. My only pre-planned factor was to meet up with Bernardo, Jules, K-Man, Marcus (aka Ludwig), Andy (aka Ray Handsome), and possibly Steve on the island of Koh Phangan in the Gulf of Thailand in roughly a week's time. I had been to Thailand before, and whenever in doubt, I tended to let my stomach do the thinking. If you go, I suggest you do the same unless you're a cheese-sandwich-person, as the food rocks, especially in places frequented by the thais, and will inevitably take you to good places. I had a particularly strong yearning fro a fiery catfish curry (gaeng plaa duk) I had tasted last time I was in the Pee pee islands. Besides, I told myself, last time I was in Thailand I had visited so many Wats (temples) and giant carved Buddhas to last even the most demanding guilt-gold fanatic a lifetime. Culture is best experienced with a spoon.
So the plan became quite clear: mingling with thais, eating thai, speaking thai (poorly), a bit of nightlife and a bit of diving to relieve any potential imbalances and terrestrial tedium.
The screens built into the back of each seat showed our trail, a red line scrawled across Europe and the middle-east. There was a swerve as we approached the Iraqi no-flying zone, and we traced the Iraqi border southwards. Shame it's night, but maybe I'll get to see something of Qatar and surrounds on the way back.