Pizza and spaghetti bowl? How Susie Lau’s recent trip to Thailand went horribly wrong

(ES Magazine)

When my partner proposed to me a trip with his family to celebrate his brother’s 50th birthday in Thailand at Christmas, the idea made my mouth water. Literally. Real spicy Thai food rather than mild for broad church European tastes delivered in depressing Deliveroo boxes! Indulge in the durian (also known as the stinkiest fruit there is, so much so that it’s illegal to take on public transport in parts of Asia)! Body massages that are not gentle but delivered with tricky smiles and gut-wrenching intensity! Sure, we were going to have to carry the three-month-old with us, but the opportunity to go to Asia for the first time since before the pandemic was the main attraction. Of course, what I didn’t count on was my other half’s epic bout of gastroenteritis, the emergency visit to the hospital, and the lost luggage that would plague the outward journey. But the comically disastrous start to the holidays is merely an aside here.

How to say this delicately? It was perhaps the ‘whitest’ Asian experience I’ve ever had, and I say that ironically because just to make a full disclaimer, lest I get excommunicated by my partner’s family, I have nothing but love and respect for they. . We found ourselves ensconced in a quaint villa on Koh Phangan, which was clearly in the midst of a post-Covid tourism surge that he hadn’t accounted for when he dreamed of a localized trip back to Asia.

There was Zen Beach, where several very blonde women donned dreadlocks without an ounce of cultural care. There were the bands of yoga practitioners, who also plied a trade of tantric sex therapy on the side. When we’d go to a night market, instead of the legit street food trucks and local Thai barter jokes I’d been craving, there were feather necklaces and grainy bars of soap made by middle-aged women from Los Angeles who had clearly come to this island to ‘find themselves’ and never left. Yeah the white lotus pulls the hair out of very privileged, very white tourists at a luxury resort, so this was the alternative hippie version, where trustees enjoying Mai Tai in a macrame hammock actually describe themselves as ‘digital nomads’ without a bit of irony To be fair, Koh Phangan was also gearing up for its infamous Full Moon Party, hence why every place we went to felt like a global village rife with hippie clichés and fire poi throwing.

If ‘El Loto Blanco’ pulls the hair out of very privileged, very white tourists at a luxury resort, this was the alt-hippy version.

Then there was the food situation. Regular readers will have realized the importance of food in my life. In Asia, making every meal count is even more urgent. On a food itinerary out of our control, I sadly didn’t get many doses of true Thai spiciness. When we ended up at a pasta place, I realized I had flown 12 hours to eat spag bol. As I was writing this to my group of WhatsApp friends who, by the way, were enjoying FOR-REAL excursions to Bangkok and Tokyo, I was duly chastised. ‘Girl! Are you eating fucking pasta? Go wash your mouth and do better!

When it came to eating limp pizza at a boujie beach bar on New Year’s Eve and seeing a £48 toro sashimi listed at a ‘Peruvian-Japanese’ hotel ‘concept’ restaurant, I really cringed. Chalk it up to a lifetime hanging around Asia with frugal parents whose Reason to be he goes to South East Asia to see how many meals under £1 per head they can find. I wanted to atone and go find a shack with harsh lights, no English menu and sit and suck on juicy prawn heads. Unfortunately the trip ended abruptly on the first day of 2023. Rest assured, I will be back and there will be no fire poi and no pasta.

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