My Random Thai Experience
Everybody has different ways to spend their vacations in Thailand – some will spend every night in bars, some will backpack from hostel to hostel, and others will spend their time at a beach resort with precious few Thais in sight. I returned to
Thailand last year for a second time for the incredible random experiences that you will never experience while going about your daily routine in America (or insert your own country here). On returning home, my friends always ask me about the
bars / nightlife and I have virtually no stories to tell. It’s just not my thing. On this trip, I studied Thai for a few months before the trip so that I could be dangerous in another language.
I spent a few weeks going through Thailand and Laos and tried to mix in the major destinations like Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Vientiane with at least one untouristed destination in each country. After spending a week in Laos, I desperately needed to stay at a nice hotel in Thailand. I crossed back into Thailand at Mukdahan and picked out Khon Kaen as my next destination by bus. Why go to Khon Kaen? There is no reason to go to Khon Kaen as a tourist as it is another concrete Isaan city with far too much traffic, but I chose it because there was a very nice Sofitel at a reasonable price (compared to Bangkok). I didn’t know anybody in the city, but I was about to spend 48 hours in lovely Khon Kaen.
After taking a shower to remove the dust from Laos, I headed to the fitness center in the Sofitel. As I am working out, I started talking to a 40 something Thai woman from Udon Thani who was there with her nanny and 2 year old daughter. Her English was decent and it turns out that she had hit the jackpot and married an American petroleum engineer a few years before. He had an expatriate salary, spent half of his time out in the field, his company paid the hotel bill…..and she was in love with the new lifestyle. She was a genuinely nice person, though. I told her my story – American businessman on a random vacation on my own and somehow ended up in Khon Kaen. She said that I shouldn’t be alone and wanted to talk to me outside of the fitness center. As an avid Stickman reader, alarm bells were ringing that something was wrong.
I met her out by the pool and she told me that she had a friend who wanted to meet a nice foreigner. I asked her age and she wouldn’t tell me (more alarm bells ringing). Her friend lived in another city and would drive in the morning to see me. I agreed to join them for breakfast as I couldn’t find much else to do in Khon Kaen. She was worried that her friend’s English wasn’t that good, but I told her not to worry….I know a little Thai!!! I checked my map in the hotel room and realized that this mysterious woman would be driving 150 km to visit me. Very strange. This does NOT happen in America unless you are a rock star or a professional athlete.
In the morning, it’s off to breakfast and I met up with the Thai lady married to the American and she told me that her friend had brought another friend because the drive was not safe. I joined the group at the breakfast table. The group consisted of the Thai lady, her nanny, her 2 year old daughter, her 16 year old daughter from her first marriage, and two new women. One was around 50 years old (too old for me) with far too much makeup and heavily weighed down with gold jewelry. The other was her 19 year old daughter (too young for me) and looked like somebody just out of high school. Which one was supposed to meet me? Neither was a good fit for me, but I was told that it was the 19 year old. She didn’t speak at breakfast and even tried to help carry my food back from the buffet. She was painfully nervous meeting her first farang.
After breakfast, we went into the lobby where I was able to spend time alone with her while the rest of the group waited on a separate couch. I learned that she did not speak any English. None. I had to carry the entire conversation in Thai. I ran through my standard Thai questions in about 5 minutes and I could not understand half of her answers. This was not going well. The other women returned and asked what we wanted to do. Khon Kaen has a nice temple so we piled into a minivan – me and the 6 Thai women / girls. What a strange sight. We listened to Thai country music on the way there. Luk thung is not my favorite music and they laughed when I told them in Thai that I don’t like Luk thung. The temple was beautiful, but it was very awkward being the odd white guy amongst a large group of Thai women with only one who spoke English. We went through one of the ceremonies where you end up with a piece of paper which tells of your luck – my paper told a horrendous story of bad luck and we had to bury it outside.
I really just wanted to go back to the hotel and forget about this day, but they dropped me and the 19 year old off at the mall. I dislike malls in the USA, but I’m not sure if there is anything else to do in Khon Kaen. The mall in Khon Kaen is 100 times more boring than the malls in Bangkok. I really don’t like shopping. I especially don’t like shopping when you are with somebody who can not communicate with you. She never spoke a single word of English to help me with my badly struggling Thai and she kept trying to hold my hand which is a big faux pas in Thai culture. After an endless hour in the Khon Kaen mall, we walked outside and the tuktuk driver wanted a ridiculous farang price to go back to the hotel and I was tired of negotiating with the Khon Kaen tuktuk mafia so we started walking to the hotel….in the wrong direction, of course. This was now officially a nightmare. After about 20 minutes of unproductive walking in the wrong direction with more language difficulties, she called her mother who picked us up and dropped us off at the hotel. I never found the English speaking Thai lady and did not run into the group again over my last 24 hours in Khon Kaen. They were all genuinely very nice. Yes, they were hoping that the 19 year old would hit the jackpot with the foreign business guy, but they really meant well and they were not at all manipulative.
I would encourage you to learn a little Thai, go off the beaten path (but not late at night after drinking too much), and meet some random Thai people. I am a firm believer in Stickman’s theory that if you are clean cut, dress well, and smile, then Thai people will be more willing to open up to you. As for me, I hope to head back to Thailand for another week of random experiences this year, although I may just stick with Bangkok. Hopefully I will meet one of those cute 20-something Thai women this time – this experience was a little too strange!!!
I really enjoyed this story and you’re so right when you say that it is random things like this that would never happen at home, yet can still actually be fun – especially in retrospect.
You know, they might have wanted you to impregnate the girl. I am not being funny here. Having children out of wed-lock is not seen as such a big deal here and there is a chance that they simply wanted you to “give” the 19 year old a luk kreung – a half Thai / half farang child. Many rural families see luk kreungs as a way out of the poverty cycle.