#Kanchanaburi #Thailand: Reflections, Wrap-ups, End Games and Swan Songs

Author Hardie Karges reflected in mirrors

Author Hardie Karges reflected in mirrors

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).

Bridge over the River 'Kwai'

Bridge over the River ‘Kwai’

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…

Mixed messages at a Farang Bar

Mixed messages at a Farang Bar

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.

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