You never really meet your fellow guests when you’re on holiday. You may nod and smile at them on your way to breakfast, or observe them from across the pool, (what is it with women of a certain age and awful tattoos?), but they are only ever on your periphery, relegated into easily identifiable brackets: the old hairy sun-burnt guy; the hottest girl in the hotel; the Isis undercover agent quickly being seduced by Western decadence and cocktails.
That is until you find yourself trapped together on an organised tour.
We had decided, (okay the wife had decided), to go on a tour of some local markets. The over-zealous and over-talkative hotel ‘director of fun’ (DoF), had assured us that it would run from 5.30pm until 9.30pm. I thought that this was an inordinate amount of time to look at what I expected to be a bunch of crappy markets but I unwisely kept my mouth shut.
The minivan was comfortable and with four couples, (that’s eight people if you’re having trouble working it out), things looked vaguely okay. There was a smart European-style older couple standing at the van when we got there. The DoF told us to get in whereby the woman started to lose her shit, shrieking inanely about claustrophobia. I made soothing noises and comforting gestures while I clambered into the tight rear seat and immediately wondered what the fuck I had done. My wife gave me a similar look as she wedged in beside me.
Then the ‘best looking couple at the hotel’ arrived and things were looking up; there were two other seats next to us in the back and I figured that they had to sit next to us and my wife was on the window. They grabbed the seats at the front. Then a smart Indian couple got in and were forced back next to us. We smiled strained smiles at each other. The older couple got in and there was still one spare seat; I figured we could utilise that and spread around the back seat squash a bit. No such luck as another Thai dude jumped in. He was wearing a uniform and proudly announced to everyone that he was an apprentice and ‘learning the job’. I did my best to ignore him while wondering how hard could it fucking be.
We drove south, the setting sun on our right. Traffic was intense and within 20 minutes we had slowed to a crawl. It stayed like this for ages. The DoF informed us in his crazy always-happy-isn’t-life-a-blast! voice that there was a military checkpoint up ahead which was why we were proceeding so slowly.
I turned to the Indian dude. “Did you bring your passport?”
“Nope,” he said. “Why would I take my passport at night to a dodgy Thai market?”
“My feelings exactly.” We both quietly discussed how useless the tour guide would be if it turned out that we needed our passports and he hadn’t bothered to tell us. “He’ll feign surprise that we didn’t know,” I said.
The Indian nodded at the good looking couple. “Do you think they have their passports?”
“They don’t need them,” I said. “They’re the best looking couple in the hotel.”
Finally we approached the checkpoint. Our van briefly slowed down and then we were through. A military policeman was standing at attention and giving us all a smart salute. I gave him a few quick glances.
“Is it just me,” I said to those within earshot, “or was he made out of ceramic?”
“Probably cement,” my new Indian buddy opined. “No passports required.”
It was almost 7pm and dusk had settled in and yet still we drove. The four of us swayed in the rear as the driver tortured us with his indecision. He was incapable of resting his foot on the accelerator. Every couple of seconds we would slow and then jerk forward. This went on for the best part of two hours. With great fanfare on the part of the DoF and his worshipful trainee, we pulled up on the side of the road.
“Here we are! We now at the most famous Phuket night-market! Here you find so much funs! We meet here, back here in one hours! Let us all synchronize our watches!”
I dragged my wife away and we headed into the throng. I was hungry and determined not to have a good time. She knew the signs.