Readers' Submissions

Strange Days



Black Pagoda Patpong Bangkok


I have enjoyed many hours reading the tales from fellow Thailand visitors, mongers, and expats on the Stickman site, and I wanted to humbly offer a first submission. I have traveled to Thailand annually for the last few years and also enjoyed visits to the neighboring countries of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. At one point I even tried living for a few months in Chiang Mai. I’m your average middle-aged American reaching for that slippery dream of a good life enjoying simple pleasures within my small budget. Most would say it is your typical mid-life crisis, and I suppose there is a bit of truth to that. A few years ago I left what many would consider a dream job with a great salary and solid prospects. It may or may not have been a mistake. Thanks to the daily stress of life and work in the States I was 40 lbs overweight, borderline alcoholic, and a stress case. I of course blame myself for getting into that kind of shape.

I went on my first extended trip to SE Asia after I left my job from hell in 2004. Needless to say the experience was wonderful. I lived the backpacker lifestyle and rarely spent more than a few days in any one place. I met some great friends from all over the world, and I noticed that my attitude had changed from guarded and careful to open and friendly. In fact, my fellow travelers seemed to have changed as well. Most of the people I met were wonderful, but I expect that if you saw them on the street in their home country few would bother to smile, stop, and chat for a bit. I know that I was basically an unfriendly person when it came to strangers in my home city, but how the times had changed. I also met quite a few locals, but the language barrier was usually a bit too difficult to enjoy much of a connection, and I was typically the person they were trying to sell whatever product or service I needed (or they thought I needed). I ate like the locals and dropped all my excess weight. I typically walked 5 – 10 miles a day or more as I would rather spend it on my feet all day than give in to the taxi and motorbike scams. I was able to deal fairly well with touts and aggressive sellers, but for some reason, the local people selling transportation rubbed me the wrong way. No one likes to feel ripped off.

I had one experience that I wanted to share because it sticks in my mind as really unusual, even for Thailand. I was traveling up in Kanchanaburi province way up towards the Myanmar border and I was staying at a guesthouse overlooking Songkhla reservoir. The guesthouse itself was a simple affair with a shared bath, but it was fairly clean and the lights from the fishing boats were beautiful in the evening. On the morning of my first day exploring the area I was crossing an incredibly long wooden bridge over the reservoir. As you cross from one side you overlook a village of raft boats, and while I was looking over this curious collection of homes, a skinny farang in shorts and no shirt emerges from one of the raft houses. Seeing me he yells up a greeting and invites me down for a visit. Being naturally curious and the first westerner I had seen all day, I scrambled over makeshift planks moving from houseboat to houseboat until I reached his home. He had built his house from bamboo and thatch on bamboo floats, and it was a very basic one room home with just a bamboo mat for sleeping and literally nothing else. There was no toilet of course since he practiced the accepted method of crapping out his front door like everyone else who had a raft boat. This was a bit sickening as they used the same water for drinking and cooking, and you had quite a grouping of raft boats all together. He had his own long tail boat tied up to the bamboo floats and explained he was the only farang allowed to have his own place on the water. He was living rough to say the least and seemed a bit worse for wear. What I learned from this interesting fellow is that he was originally from New Zealand but had left years ago to seek his fortune in Thailand. He was either vague or I don’t recall specifics but somehow he had ended up in this beautiful area trying to get along and live with the locals. It was a while back but the impression I had was that he had family back in New Zealand but for some reason had ended up here with no way of returning home. He was afraid to travel because he had lost his passport and was in Thailand illegally. Apparently he lost his passport coming home late one night where he had lost his footing and fell in the water. He also lost eyeglasses so he was half blind as well. Somehow he had blended in with this Thai community, and he even operated a boat. I of course agreed to hire him for a tour of the reservoir the next morning.

The next morning he pulled up in his boat at my guesthouse dock and we were off to tour the area and watch the fishing eagles through the morning mist. I had met another traveler from Hong Kong who decided to join us, and it was truly a magical moment on the water. Across the lake we approached an island that appeared to have the remains of a house including rough plumbing down to the water. This was apparently the remains of my new friend’s first house. He had hand built it with materials one piece at a time, and this was going to be his Swiss Family Robinson retreat from the world. Unfortunately, when he left for a few weeks someone came and tore down the house in order to steal the building materials. This turned into a rant against jealous Thais that hated him and made his life miserable. The only thing left was a western toilet on a concrete slab. After this happened he decided to take some time off and live off the land. I got the impression he was in the jungle alone for quite some time. It was obvious he had had some real mental and physical challenges. I learned all about his bouts with malaria, dengue fever, and a nasty bacterial infection, but what an interesting story. I wish I could remember his name.

I spent six months on that first big trip, and I’ve returned several times to the LOS. I still have a great time, but of course the blush is off the rose. Thailand is not the bargain it was even a few years ago. Prices are up and the American dollar is down. It is also clear that the tourist is no longer welcomed or appreciated in Thailand. On one of my last trips I took my mother through Bangkok and Northern Thailand. I had always shrugged off some of the times I was scammed or treated poorly when I traveled alone, but when I observed my elderly mother being treated shabbily day after day by hotel clerks, drivers, tour operators, and clerks, I realized westerners are mostly despised by the Thais that deal with us every day. I imagine this is partly because of how many of us act out as if we are still back in our home country, but I’ve had enough. I still love the food, the scenery, and of course the girls, but I’m staying closer to home for the time being. I recently went on a big road trip through Washington, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, and Utah. I had never visited our wonderful National Parks such as Glacier in Montana or Yellowstone in Wyoming. Frankly, the natural beauty of America’s great parks is a treat that should not be missed. With a rental car and a tent, you can explore America very reasonably. With the low dollar I hope some of the Stick readers might come for a visit. Believe me, you would be treated much better as a tourist in the States than in Thailand.

Stickman's thoughts:

I wonder where the NZer is now?