#Insane guy here in #Sarajevo makes the rounds of the tourist restaurants, bashing his head twice with flat palm then extending it for contributions: for his condition, no doubt. He’s got a pretty good rhythm going, klunk klunk ka-ching, klunk klunk ka-ching. I’m not sure he’s so crazy, after all. He’s bringing in more money than the guy singing songs or the lady with the baby. Hmm, I bet I could do that. Klink klink ka-chung, klink klink ka-chung, gonna take some practice…
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Not so many cities have a lake sitting smack dab in the center of them, literally, so to find one, in my one-time sometime adopted ‘home’ is something special. The odd thing is that I knew none of that when I landed in Roi Et, itself somewhere smack in the center of Thailand’s vast little-traveled northeast ‘Isaan’ region. I’m here simply because it’s here, and I’m on a quest to see everything. I’ve seen the name on the map many times, but never stopped, maybe never even been through it, not sure. As for the surprise lake, well… you don’t expect me to read guide-books now, do you? Yeah, right…
The place is a revelation. Not only is this a pleasant, attractive mid-sized Thai city in the heart of Thailand’s poorest most desolate region, but there are other surprises in store, too, like vegetarian restaurants—Thai food, of course—but more than I usually see, all without even trying. There’s even one in the produce market, which also doubles as a ‘night bazaar’, common in Thailand by now, thanks to Chiang Mai, but this is a new twist. Okay, so there’s always some joker wants to be Johnny Friggin’ English to come along and spoil my fantasy, but that comes with the turf. Welcome to Thailand…
Can it be true? That sleepy somnabulant boozy bamboozulant Thailand has gotten hip to high-test, coffee, that is? It’s hard to believe, I know. This is the country that has almost single-handedly kept Nescafe solvent over the years, first with the ‘classic’ blend, then the more recent 3-in-1 (blecch) offerings. I mean, the good stuff was always there, but you’d have to look hard or know certain people. Back in the old days, mid-90’s Chiang Mai, there was JJ’s at the Montri Hotel, and that was about it. And it wasn’t cheap at a buck or so (more than a street meal), but they’d top you up for no extra.
Nescafe at the time wasn’t much more than a quarter US. When JJ’s folded, you could find some Shell gas stations with some half-way decent push-button espresso for twenty-five baht, less then a dollar. Anything hand-pulled would be at least twice that. When Starbucks finally entered the market, rack rates were something like $3-4-5 for the 12-16-20 ounce standard brews, half again American prices, and about the same as Europe. A modern standard espresso was three bucks anywhere, if you could find it.
For the last month, after abruptly cutting a tour of Laos short, I’ve been “looking for Thailand,” so to speak, just as others before me have gone “looking for America,” making my (probably) last tour (maybe, that is), seeing if there’s anything I forgot, seeing if there’s anything I missed, seeing if there’s anything I should come back for, and eventually writing it all up—my ‘swan song’ so to speak, for a country I spent about a decade of my life in, depending on how you count.
This is after more than six months of continuous travel, mostly elsewhere, no more than a week in any one place—a sort of ‘personal best’ for me in forty years of travel—and including seven countries (five of them new to me), but more time in India than any other one, and including such popular destinations as Afghanistan and Pakistan.
If the past month started slowly with a (literal) whistle-stop tour on the train down to south Thailand, then it has certainly picked up steam in the last 12 days, with 12 cities, 12 hotels (none over $20/nt, all with WiFi, none with reservations), all five regions of Thailand, and some 3000km/1800mi (all by land, most by 3rd class train).
And in case you’re wondering, none of those places was Phuket, or Koh Samui, or Krabi, or any other tourist destination, just the opposite, in fact, places like Nakorn Sri Thammarat, Aranyaprathet, Roi Et, Khon Kaen, Phitsanulok, Phichit, and Lopburi. I look for places where I can be a person, not a Farang (Western foreigner). In fact (drum roll here, please): I saw only maybe a dozen other tourists the whole time, not bad, and no beaches, bitches, or booze, the things most people come to Thailand for, UNTIL…
The last two stops, Bangkok and Kanchanaburi were the undoing of my little purist fantasy, full of tourists and ex-pats, too, back with a vengeance on their part and no small measure of repressed revenge on my own, the spreading colonization of the Kingdom beyond all reason, writing on the wall for years now, but I forgot to wear my glasses, so I know now that my time here is drawing short…
In Bangkok it’s to be expected, of course, major world city with people from all over, but… Kanchanaburi? Sleepy little Kanchanaburi? Sure, there’s the River Kwai (sp), of course, but does that necessarily imply a cliched ‘entertainment’ strip with all that entails? It looks to be about half-and-half old fart expats and young backpackers, so plenty of blame to go around IMHO…
I mean: I’m glad the local economy is good enough to support a Carabao concert at one of the local clubs, but there won’t be any Farangs there, just locals. And there’s a historic district in town, with appropriate documentation for antique houses, and a floating local entertainment district on pontoon ferries, but most foreigners will never see it from the bar stools in their own private little enclave.
This bi-polarization of a city—and country—into locals and foreigners is not at all what I look for and no longer what I need from this Kingdom or any other. I need inclusion, not separation; information, not ignorance. What worked for me twenty years ago no longer works for me now. I’ve changed, and Thailand hasn’t, or only for the worse, I’m afraid. It’s time to move on, boo hoo. I’ll miss the coconut ice cream.
I didn’t plan this final tour to coincide with my 60th birthday, but that’s the way it worked out, a time for new beginnings and end games. I think I’ve just graduated Thai school; that is: my graduate studies in Thai school. The new gap year is 60. I’ll expound on these themes later, my little swan song. This trip is almost over, just a quick stop over in Istanbul and a little side trip to Sarajevo. Huh? What? This is hypertravel, baby.
…and on the seventh day God said, “Wait a minute–one more thing.” And thus were created mangos, and they were good. And God said, “Jesus, those are good.” And Jesus said, “Dad, can I have another one?” God frowned, “Go eat your rice, son.” “Can I have sticky rice with mango?” God shakes his head. “You know those plug you up, son.” Jesus wept.
And so mangos went forth and multiplied, and divided, and wandered far from their origins, all around the world, somehow ending up in Thailand, on the beach, not aware that they were somehow all related. Some were tiny with thin skins and seed almost as big as the fruit. Others were small yellow and hairy inside. Others were big red and juicy. Still others were sweet enough to eat green and raw.
And there they were bred for their distinctions, not their similarities, in order to produce the most perfect, thin-skinned, fiber-less beauty. I’m talking fruit here, not women. And then I woke up. That’s what usually happens when I realize I’m dreaming…
Somebody dropped the ball on this one, even if they are “factory prices”…
even if it is only the DVD section (remember them?) of Big C supermarket…
All potential uses of the English language in Thailand should pass my censors first;
I thought I made that clear…
One of the little quirks of the Thai language that I’ve always enjoyed was the fact that the word(s) for ‘shower head’ was the same as the word(s) for ‘lotus pod’.
I wonder why.
That word, BTW, and the word for any bean pod in the Thai language, is pronounced ‘f*ck’…
Three-wheeled ‘tuk-tuks’ are more than a mode of transportation in SE Asia. They’re part of the culture. Most often found in Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia, not only do they provide cheap and reliable transportation–usually–but they also tend to liven up the urban landscape a bit. They are more flexible than auto taxis yet more stable than the motorcycle ones (NEVER!). More than that, sometimes they can even approach the level of an indigenous folk art, not unlike motorcycle choppers in the US and elsewhere. Now if only we could get them to charge uniformly reasonable fares. Maybe it’s time to install meters? They have them on tuk-tuks in India BTW… (Then there are tuk-tuks that are total pimp-mobiles, taking any and all ad money from the highest bidders, like those in Phitsanulok, Thailand)
Our trip’s taken a bit of an ugly turn, what with increasing hassles with transport, taxis and tuk-tuks (see previous post). Call me a whiny backpacker if you want, but it’s bad enough that we’ve already dropped Savannakhet from the itinerary—just to mitigate those extra hassles—and I’m double-checking future hotel bookings to see if the locations are walkable from the bus stations. It’s more than can be explained away by the $5/gallon petrol cost, too, so taints the entire perception of the country.
Let’s put it this way: taxis here like to charge by the passenger—even on a private run. That’s BS. That’s not communism (Laos is a Communist country); that’s retail, dahling. Being a backpacker (wearing a backpack, that is) was always as much about avoiding high-price city taxis as seeking countryside trails, after all. Just for the record, I do not wear my backpack fully square on both shoulders, but rather slung off one side with a flair for fashion. But the current problems run deeper.
Refugee numbers climb into six figures, and the border at Aranyaprathet is flooded with them.
But all is calm along Thailand’s northern border with Cambodia, where the population is mostly Cambodian.
Imagine if THEY all decided to go home.
They say it’s all a misunderstanding, anyway, just a rumor gone viral.
Immigration in US is probably interested, shouting “La Migra” in crowded Mexican cines…