Alex James: The Great Escape

Cooking up a red-hot Thai storm
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The Independent Online

Whenever you go diving, you have to get up early and cruise for a few hours. It frames the experience. As the rock drew nearer we got kitted up. A wetsuit is more than a piece of clothing - it hugs you tight and makes you feel safe. By the time you've got everything else strapped on, you feel invincible.

It was my first dive so the descent was down a line. It's quite hard on the ears as you go deeper. Down below is another world altogether, peaceful and psychedelic, almost - mad colours and mental monster things float around. I was particularly fascinated by the jellyfish - they don't have brains so they're somewhere between animal and vegetable. There was one about as big as a football that glowed pink and purple. It was busy in the sea - wherever I looked there was something going about its business. We floated through a school of foot-long quicksilver fusiliers as they swayed. The abundance of nature was life affirming, and you can't put a price on having life affirmed like that.

I liked Kevin from the boat so I went down to the strip and bought him a beer in the evening. He didn't like sitting in chairs, saying they were the work of the devil. He'd travelled widely and lived all over the place. He wore his experiences well. It made me think about everywhere I haven't been and suddenly it seemed rather dull to be living in Oxfordshire when I could be riding a motorbike around West Africa. That's what happens on a good holiday. You don't want your life back at the end of it. Wanderlust is kept at bay in day-to-day existence. When you leave it all behind, the wandering spirit gets out of its box and tempts you. I've been completely won over and have decided to go everywhere and do everything. Soon.

Just up the road in Chaweng there was a cookery school, the Samui Institute for Thai Culinary Arts. I signed us up for the red-hot curry course. There was only one other taker, a stringy San Franciscan vegetarian. We studied the spicy ingredients and then bashed them to a paste with a pestle and mortar.

There was chopping and squashing to be done next. We used huge razor-sharp knives. That's the best trick in the cookery book; use an enormous knife. Brandishing a blade like that puts you on top of your ingredients. Preparations complete, we moved into the cooking phase, which was brief and exciting. Suddenly we'd made curry and ate our creations in the restaurant.

The knives were too big to bring home. But we bought a lot of spices. There was a lot of weird fruit available in the market, too. The star turn is the durian, which is banned from public transport as it's so smelly. It seemed to be more of a cheese than a fruit. There may well be a brain in there too.