The driver pulled up outside a smart hotel – far removed from my guesthouse in town – and waited.
After waiting a while, he went to ask at reception and, a while after that, the Important people strolled out. They were plainly used to being waited on. I wondered why they had joined a public tour with a bunch of backpackers. Maybe they did too.
The Important man snapped at his wife, the Important woman snapped at their children; and all the Important people treated the driver as if he were their servant. They ignored the rest of us.
“Stop the car!” the man ordered five minutes up the road. The woman felt car sick. Then again five minutes later, and again five minutes after that. Then we were on a fast road at the edge of a cliff with nowhere to stop.
“Stop the car!”
“Can’t stop here”.
So the woman slid the door and tried to be sick as we drove. We stopped.
Later than planned, we transferred to a longtail boat and powered through mangrove swamps. Limestone karsts, hundreds of feet tall, slid past either side. The Important people put their umbrellas up against the spray and blocked everyone else’s view. We arrived at Panyee, a Muslim fishing village built on stilts in the shade of a karst, where they served us lunch. I liked the barbecued mackerel, the breaded shrimps and the saffron rice well enough; but the Important people shouted at the waiters and sent it back.
We stopped briefly at Ko Khao Phing Kan, Scaramanga’s base in The Man With the Golden Gun, then got into two-man canoes and the boatmen rowed us round and inside the karsts, squeezing through fissures and emerging in chimneys of rock with the squawks of the seabirds echoing between the walls and a circle of sky high above.
Some time after we were supposed to be back at the minibus, with the rest of us dutifully sitting inside, the Important woman strode over, grabbed the door mirror and turned it round to check her make up.
“I can’t believe she just did that,” I said. The driver shook his head, got out and pushed and pulled and twisted and tapped the mirror until it was roughly where it had been.
“Let me use your phone,” the Important man said, making a grab for the driver’s mobile. “I need to make a local call”.
The driver was nonplussed for a moment then thrust his phone without a word towards the man, who made a long chatty call about nothing. I dare say the driver had to pay for it himself, but Important people never trouble themselves with details like that.
We probably didn’t stop more than fifteen times on the way back to Phuket for the Important woman to try to be sick.
I gave the driver a hundred Baht tip because I thought he had earned it. I am not sure the Important people gave him anything.
(c) Richard Senior 2014