During April and May the heat of Thailand is oppressive. It is not the gentle warming heat of the Mediterranean, nor the dry stone heat of the desert. It is a rolling, viscous omnipresent force. It sits heavily on the shoulders, creeps under the skin and makes vigorous movement hard.
Seed pods crack, plants wilt, even the mosquitos move in lazy circles – disinterested in both their next meal and the slow, listless swat that attempts to crush them.
The land bakes, heated air twists and shimmers, making concrete surreal, abstract, odd. Condensation forms on the outside of windows as sticky air hits electronically cooled glass.
Thai’s rarely beep their horns in anger on the roads, a rare cultural feature in South East Asia, but at this time of year the tempers shorten and there is more aggression on the roads, horns become more common.
Life is lived in air conditioning, time spent outside is kept to an absolute minimum, home-car-school-mall-home-repeat.
That is, unless you choose to run an after school rugby club.
“Alright mate,” said the tennis coach as I wondered over to the rugby pitches, “it’s 47 C on the heat index.”
“Kids can’t be out if it hits 50.”
“Oh, right…well those three degrees must make a difference.”
“Not really.” He nodded and turned to shout at a student who was pretending their tennis racket was a penis.
He was right. Running around in temperatures that feel like 47 C is horrific.
The humidity makes the air soup-like and trying to catch your breath is like breathing in hot, sour cream.
In these kinds of temperatures, standing still is enough to induce a sweat normally associated with high fever let alone trying to chase an egg shaped ball.
For me the heat index was a new concept. Whilst the absolute temperature in Bangkok rarely goes above 40 C, the combination of still air and humidity make it feel much hotter. Now I religiously check the temperature and the heat index. Head-shaking in disgusted, sweaty despair that I have to wear a tie.
There is, of course, an unexpected upside to this.
People watching in Bangkok is an endless joy. The city is a melting pot of so many different types of folks. The trustafarian and the sexpat. The lady boy and the high-so girl. The crowds of Chinese tourists in wolf-pack mode. Monks and nuns and soldiers returning home on leave.
During the hot season another breed are dropped into this mixing, crowding humanity. The middle-aged western tourists, lured by low fares and cheap hotel prices.
Before booking they’ll look at the temperature and say “oooh it’s 37 C…lovely,” and “it’ll be just like that time in Spain”.
Apart from that it just isn’t.
With the best of intentions they stride out purposefully, heading to the wide open spaces of the Grand Palace, the tight dark caverns of Chatuchak market and the steaming bustle of Chinatown to be met with a wall of sopping, sapping heat.
You can spot these people from a mile off; trekking trousers barely touching trekking sandals, safari shirt and wide brimmed trekking hat completing the standard couture of a certain type of middle-aged traveller in Bangkok.
Within a day of wilting exploration they are forced into the artificial chill of the mega-malls lining the Sukhumvit Road, their Chindit-like appearance incongruous next to the shop fronts of Gucci and Prada.
They always look visibly shocked by the heat as well as utterly unprepared for it. Gasping for air when they step onto the sky train, sighing wearily as they walk, encountering the unique discomfort of sweat on the the knees for the first time.
If they were to wait a month though…
Towards the end of May, dark clouds gather on the horizon, heavy with rain and wind.
The plains of Thailand erupt into a frenzy of thunderous storms, lighting cleaving the sky and everything cools off slightly.
Tempers lessen, tourists are less shocked and an Englishman can play rugby how it was meant to be played.
In wind and rain.