In Thailand

– Suzan Badgely 1998-1999

Having five months of free-time on my hands, time between two working contracts in Fukagawa, Hokkaido, Japan, I decided to go to ThailandThe Land of Smiles. My approach for this holiday, unlike my adventures of the past, was to not have any structure or plans. I did, however, have an invite for Christmas, with a dear ol theatrical friend, at her sons house on Ko Chang island.

Thank you Mom for the guide book.

The people in Thailand are very nice when you give yourself the chance to slow down, sit, chat, and of course, smile with them. I enjoyed their simple humor and courtesy. Everyone smiles in the land of smiles. They have been exposed to falangs (foreigners) for so many years, I suppose they trust us and, lucky for me, their English is pretty good too.

I spent the majority of my time covering areas in the South, North, and the Eastern interior where I met the Director of Education for the province of Pakchong.

This fellow educator, invited me to her home, toured me through her town, which is famous for thai silk weavings, and offered me a job for 200bat per hour ($8.00CAN). I was, at the time, investigating (a non-existing job I found advertised on the NET) a teaching position in Kao Yai National Park where the tiger roams.

Touring With Crystal from Vancouver

Outside the national parks, only the dog and chicken can be seen. There are, however, many trees: rubber, banana, palm-oil palms, coconut palms, banyan, northern pine, and of course the famous poached teak. In the northern region around Chang Rai and Mae Hon Song, they grow the cash crop for Thailand – the opium.

Crystal, a Vancouver girlfriend who joined up with me for 7 weeks, and I visited the opium museum in the golden Triangle region, close to the border town of Mae Sai where the opium poppies are still seen growing along the road side. The museum described the process of manufacturing, displayed samples of the product, pipes, and weights. They even had a life-like hut set up with a father laying on his side, smoking, while his family carried out the daily chores — what a life!! Or shall I say – Get a life!


Actually, it became clear to me that this drug is not as bad as we think. I guess because it is the stem of the hard drug, heroin, we think it, the raw opium, is also bad. Not so. It apparently relaxes and numbs you, especially since they mix it nowadays with crushed sleeping pills. I passed on the chance to try it in an opium den in Laos.

High above the mountains, 8000ft above sea level, on a small Honda scooter, Crystal and I challenged the winding roads that twisted in and out of valleys and pinnacles. Our intention was to see the Long Neck Tribal village. We stopped, in the dust, 1KM from the village. Here we chatted with an Australian biker who said its very touristy, and the girls with copper bracelets wrapped around their necks were like monkeys in the zoo. We farangs dont support that kind of dehumanizing viewing.

In the southern regions, I, of course, devoured my days basking in the sun drenched areas of Puket, Krabbi, Ko Samet, and a tiny, secret, secluded Island next to Victoria Point, Myramar right where the Burmese and Thais fight for fish in the waters. I felt I was on the BC Coast!

In Krabbi, I made friends with the working elephants. I rode on the head of one while guiding it to the watering hole!! This definitely drew lots of attention from the passing tourists! I also went kayaking through the mango swampy river, through very low-ceiling stalactite tunnels to the caverns or holms – meaning room in Thai. These were breathtaking in their silence.

It was also here that Crystal and I were lucky to get positions on board two sailing vessels involved in a four day race around Phan Yang Bay. This was fantastic. Ah, I do love sailing. Crystals boat, owned by a fellow Vancouverite, unfortunately de-masted due to the strong winds on day 2; they were leading the race.

I tried to stay out of the large cities, due to the pollution. I dont like it. During the Chang Mai flower festival, a parade with floats, dancers, and bands, the polluted haze over the streets blotted out the true colours, and smells of the parade. I used a handkerchief over my nose when I walked down the streets, and used the open taxis called tuk-tuks. Thank God I dont have to live in such a polluted city – but….

Bankok

Bangkok itself was a polluted zoo. I didnt explore too much of it. I stayed relatively close to the Kings palace and surrounding Wats (Thai Buddhist temple) on Koasan Road. This area, located on the main river system, was the backpackers haven, where I saw, and met some very interesting human Creatures!!

Insert from Journal:

Bangkok

I arrived December 18th at 1:00am from Sapporo. Found a dirty room and shared it with two frightened Japanese students who also came on my flight. Traffic, pollution, interesting alleys with food stalls and cats, beautiful Wats that seem to block out the exterior noises. Riverboat rides are the best mode of transportation. Shopping, and shopping, eyeing the countries selections of souvenirs. I had a Thai massage upstairs, in a room, with 10 others. Ah, the walking on the back of my legs ouch! The bus rides and tourist van rides brought the city into its great proportion. Lots of skyscrapers amongst the shabby shacks of the poor living off the sewer-like, city streams of water. I was amazed at Bangkoks modernity. I think that its government, along with foreign moneys (billboards promoting Sanyo and Daewoo products) has spent much to make the city a Western city. As the host of the 98 Asian Games, tourists can feel at home in a clean, modern city with plenty of things to do.

Once a month, I would have to leave the country to renew my visa. I usually went West. For $5 US, I received an updated stamp and a free day pass to explore Myramar; the country previously know as Burma.

Myramar was a very poor communist country: it reminded me of India, especially in the northern golden triangle region. Here I was approached by the one-legged-beggars, and dirty, snotty-nosed children with spots on their faces.

Once over the friendship bridge, and past the hustling market, Crystal and I, hired a tour guide to take us to a Buddhist temple on the hill. Here, I lit three candles and three sticks of incense and placed them under the God of Sunday, the day that I was born.

I was always glad to get back to Holidayland, a nickname I called Thailand, where the constant smiling faces greeted me, and the little children blew me kisses.

On to Laos…

After spending a wonderful romantic week on the tiny secluded island (in Thailand) with a young Japanese fellow named Tadashi, we ventured into Laos on Thailands Northern border. Laos is just now becoming a tourist destination; its, therefore, a prime time to visit this enchanting country.

In the small valley town known as Vang Vieng, Tadashi and I stayed in a brand new French- colonial-influenced guest house for $2 US a night. Wondering the unpaved roads, we saw the daily lifestyles of the people who still wore their traditional woven skirts and headwear. Sitting on the riverbanks, we watched the locals gather kindling and work the fields. I was taken by surprise one day, when an older farmer shouted greetings to me in French! I used what lingo I knew and had a short conversation with him. Neat!

In the old capital city of Louang Phrabang, we ate fresh baguettes and chocolate filled croissants, and stayed in an upper-class hotel alongside the riverbanks of the Mekong. Here, young eager monks reached out to practice their English. I enjoyed touring their golden homes while learning about the lifestyles of these orange-robed-males whom, I saw wondering the streets, early in the morning receiving their daily cooked rice offering from the shopkeepers.

Laos is an adventure tourism destination. Tadashi and I cave-explored with our tiny flashlights and a guide we paid only pennies. Well, my Japanese friend actually was very petrified in the caves. Midway through one cave, he froze. He told me later, he was afraid of the dark, heights, and enclosed places. What a great way to conquer your fears all at once!

After a three hour dangerous speed boat trip down the shallows of the Mekong river, avoiding the tiny whirlpools and rock outcrops, complete with crash helmets and ear plugs; we decided to take the slow boat out of Laos to the Thai border. This would be a better way to see the elephant and timber workers loading teak logs graciously into the flat cargo live-aboard wooden boats.

Now, according to our fellow travelers (12 all together), the trip was to take only one day. For some unknown reason, we were on the river for two days. This was fine with me, but the three Israeli fellows were very appalled at becoming kidnap victims. Having no choice on the matter, we paid outrageous prices for a noodle dinner, at the only restaurant, in the one road village; and, furthermore, sleep altogether in a make shift hotel. Perhaps it was a village scam!!

Its interesting traveling in a third world country with the sanitation department – a little pun on the Japanese cleanliness culture! Really nice guy – we are thinking of marriage!! Maybe we will go to Bali and tie the knot. Im ready for this, and well why not!! I’ve got some free time on my hands might as well get married!!!! Ill be spending the next month in honeymoon bliss. Post-April fools! Im not getting married today! (This was my joke to all my e-mail users – did I get you too?) …Breath…

I decided to join Tadashi on an overnight train ride to Penang, Malaysia, his final destination before going home to Nagoya, Japan.

Malaysia

Penang, a modern island located just off the south tip of Thailand, is full of ethnicity. We enjoyed eating all varieties of foods and visiting the religious sites of the Muslim, Chinese, and Hindu faiths. We were lucky to catch a Hindu festival thats only performed in Malaysia. The holy men, dressed in bright-yellow-robes, walked on hot coals!! The intensity of the heat brought the crowd of decorated ladies, in their colourful saris and gold jewelry, into a frenzy. This, and two large white water buffalo looking crazed, was enough for us to decide it was time to leave. We, and two others, were the only foreigners in the squished crowd.

After buying some pirated CDs, which have now mucked up my laptop computer, I said goodbye to my friend, Tadashi, with a tear in my eye. Perhaps well meet again.

These last 5 months have been fantastic and probably one of my best trips yet (India still ranks top of the list). Because I had time, I allowed myself to stay in places long enough to immerse in the local culture and attach myself, somewhat, to the people. I found this to be a very rewarding learning experience.

I managed to get a feel of the present national political situation in 5 different countries (Thailand, Laos, Myramar, Malaysia, and Indonesia). I was able to see the influence of tourism – to the land and to the people. Im not all that pleased with what I saw, but Im not going to get into that now. I will say, though, that many of the comments that came to me last year during the “Globalization” discussion I put forth to my e-mail friends (you all should really get linked so I can chat more often OK??!!), became a solid reality – we must realize the impact of our actions and anticipate, if we can, future reactions!!

Sumatra, Indonesia

Wow…Id like to now bring you back with me to my last stomping ground – Sumantra, Indonesia. It was by far my best time. Probably because, tourism is still young there!

This is a letter I wrote to Mom and Dad.

Im back from the jungles of Sumantra. Boy was it a great experience! I went to two very different places.

The first stop was Bukit Luwang where I did a three-day jungle trek with a Swedish fellow (overkiloed and sweaty, but well-informed about plant life) and four guides. Two went ahead to set camp, a plastic tarp for a tent where all six of us slept, under the stars, next to a waterfall; and cooked dinner, a curry meal with wild vegetables, and leaves.

I really enjoyed watching the orangutans hanging in the trees by all fours, staring at us eating lunch. I cautiously fed a friendly female a banana. They’re really amazing animals with long fingers coming from long hairy arms. We were lucky to see the giant male named Toya. He kept his distance and peered with one eye, while the other was hidden behind a banana palm.

The last day consisted of a river rafting trip back to the small village. Well, it turned out to be four inner tubes tied together; the Swedish guy was very upset with this as he informed me that he couldn’t swim!! After being plunked into the middle of the large tube, he realized that he couldn’t fall out and bang his head — we laughed and screamed the whole way!

Pulawei

The next place was Indonesia’s most northern island called Pulau Wei; Ah… so beautiful and peaceful. The water, and most of the Island, is a protected park. I spent 17 days (I just couldn’t leave this gem) in a tiny bungalow, for 1$US, on the waters edge. I swam in the early morning, viewing the abundance of colourful fish, eels, sting rays, turtles and barracudas feeding on the early morning plankton and nibbling on the varieties of corals.

Insert from Journal:

Pulau Wei, Sumantra, May 1999

Basic bungalow: Mattress on the floor surrounded by a green mosquito net; a front porch overlooking the grounds, where the wild boar snort through the fallen palm fronds to the underlying scraps of edible matter; where the turquoise waters lapping over the shallows of blue, orange and brown affected corals. Rubiah Island, with its undersea garden in the distance; accessible, if current in favor, by front crawl or breast stroke, but dont go alone! Whale shark swimming and riding the dorsal

Bungalow #6, my neighbor from Spain, had a cow, escaping the thunderstorm, under her floorboards morning shits all over. It was a hell of a storm. I on my porch, watched the palms sway, with my hands protecting my head falling coconuts!

It was 3:00 in the morning.
The bleats of the goats
Take care if the monkeys
Pat the cats, they’re friendly and clean

I would spend most of the day in the water, gliding with the tides. In the evening, Id venture beyond the dividing wall (an arch that separated the Moslem village from the tourist village). While listening to the 6:00 cries coming form the mosque, Id pig out on fresh BBQ fish, rice, and curried vegetables – for about 25 cents!

I went scuba diving twice, but decided that the snorkeling was just as good. I was lucky to be there on the day that whale sharks were spotted in the nearby harbour. 10 of us tourists grabbed our snorkels and boarded the dive boat to go swimming with them!! WOW WEE – I even grabbed the dorsal fin and went for a ride – dont worry they are filter feeders and only eat plankton! But they were very big – the largest was 6 meters!! This touching, was a no-no, but hey… we’re only ignorant tourists.

NOTE: The local people (most of them Moslem) who served us tourists in this tiny tourist designated area were wonderful. Perhaps this niceness came out to draw the dollars, but I saw some real genuine heart. As Im interested in religion, I have come to the conclusion, however, that once outside of these touristy areas, I dont feel comfortable in a Moslem country I am really turned off to chatting to the local men. They are constantly flirting, and the women are shy and ashamed to speak. Im comforted by the calming presence of the Buddhists, in Thailand and Laos, who dont ask for anything and dont seem to want anything from me.

Tonight, I arrived back in Penang, Malaysia. Ive been traveling for 30 hours – mini buss, boat, ferry, and an overnight bus – yuck. I think Ill fly to Bangkok from here on Thursday – Im sick of time consuming travel vehicles! Ill talk to you from there.

Love your daughter, Suzan


Its hard to think that this adventure of mine, freely charting my way through Asia, has come to an end. As I spent my last few days listening to the drops of rain bouncing off my tin roof, silencing the crickets and grasshoppers, the ever present twilight sounds on the jungles and beach areas, I brought my thoughts back through the last 5 months, through the lands of Indonesia, Malaysia, Laos, Myramar, and Thailand: each with their own distinct characteristics: governments, foods, peoples, landscapes, and religion.

Im going to leave you now, and bring you to where I started on a circular adventure of life:

Back to Thailand

Koh Samet, December 1998

A beautiful t-shaped island that I visited twice. This islands appeal to me was the many small bays and beaches that ran down the eastern side; I watched the colourful fish dart pass my goggles. Sunset was easily assessable via a 10-minute stroll, through the bushes, to the cliffs; I watched the heavily loaded, wooden, round ended, fishing boats and rain filled skies pass by.

After days with my toes in the sand, my face in the clear waters, some good curries with small crab, clams and chilies, I relaxed. Eskie, a witch-like women from Hokkaido, offered her abilities. She recognized in me a lack of balance between my female and male sides.

You need to have love to bring out your femininity and, proceeded to give me a LOVE POTION complete with colored oils and breathing exercises, in her bungalow, overlooking the seas of Au Naam.

This adventure has been full of unexpected opportunities. Loving came to me, and I to it, face to face. I lessened my resistance and dropped my barriers. I enjoyed time after time. There’s been several hearts, crying out for more, pouts and tears swelling in the presence of good-byes. I too, held onto Tadashi until the very last moment. I am growing, I am feeling, I am LOVE.

The influence, on the Thai people, from the sex trade business, has its good and bad. The good is that people are very open to relations, all types. Gay and lesbian are accepted as natural with a belief that a man can be born in a ladies body and visa versa. So why not correct the body? After talking with a few on a small southern beach, I became accustomed and unafraid of the boy-girls. Listening to their high pitched squeals of glee as their new parts were exposed to the waters and waves was, a bit much at times. The bad is the idea that all westerners have come to Thailand to get it and once they have it, it should come home with you. It, was once a farmers son, came to work in the Koh Samet tourist scene. It, and his family, pushed me to hard for a relationship, I ran away. This is not Love.

A South East Asian Adventure