I first went to Thailand as an 18 year old GI in February 1968. It was then that I developed a heart for the Thai people. They are friendly, extremely tolerant and forgiving as I began learning some of the customs and courtesies of these wonderful people.
I’ve had the opportunity to return to Thailand several times over the years, once by myself and that could have been a disaster, but wasn’t. Mostly it’s with my Thai wife of 48 years, and now that my kids and all my grandkids have been back, we are usually accompanied by friends who often haven’t gotten back home for quite a while. Each visit is an adventure. I make new friends, lookup old acquaintances (many of whom have passed on).
Let me tell you about Mr. Taipoosa (as I called him) was the tailor who came out to our small army camp at Khon Kaen. He would take orders for shirts, walking suits, or other clothing. He did his measurements, and then come back with the finished product. Normally they were made of Thai silk. His business took a direct hit when our unit left in 1970.
Over the years I managed to locate his shop, still in the same spot in downtown Khon Kaen. It is no longer a tailor shop, but a Kodak Camera shop. He had to reinvent his business and turned to developing film and printing photographs.
Normally when I’m in Khon Kaen I’d head downtown during the mid-morning hours and stop in to visit. Sometimes he was out of the country on business, other times he would be sitting behind his desk reading the newspaper. On one trip his wife (who still runs the shop) informed me that he had died. It was a shock and a wakeup call, knowing that we will all die one day. Today we are in the digital age and the shop can download photos from phones, cameras and flash drives; print and reproduce documents; and for a time was a center piece for foreign tourists (his English was good) who would frequently stop in asking for directions.
I enjoy walking around the downtown area, into the small shops and into the marketplace (talot) where you can find virtually anything and bargain for a good price, as bartering is the custom of Thai vendors.
Very rarely do I venture into the touristy areas, but some of the new indoor and outdoor malls are a place to meet some friendly people and come across some unusual (in American society) items for sale.
I call this exploring Thailand – My Way!
I have travelled north to the city of Chiang Mai, wandered thru a Hmong village looking for souvenirs, some of which can be pretty frightening, like a human skull (real or not, I didn’t ask). We went to a snake farm but nobody would venture out of the van. We stopped downtown at a factory that makes bamboo and silk umbrellas and fans. Interesting to see the process first hand and made by hand.
I’ve been to the city of Kanchanaburi where we walked across the River Kwai, on an old but still active railroad bridge, and sailed up the river on a boat, visited caves, museums and two foreign cemeteries where Japanese Prisoners of War (World War II) were buried.
One of the things I’ve done is rent a car and drive from Khon Kaen north to Nong Khai. After walking thru the sidewalk market and having fresh fish for lunch, we headed eastward along the Mekong River thru Nakon Phanom (NKP) and all the way to the town of Mukdahan, then returning via Sakon Nakhon and Kalasin, arriving back in Khon Kaen around 12 hours later.
I’ve driven on roads that turned into mere footpaths; other roads that ended in a cow pasture with a creek running thru it. I’ve driven thru Roi Et and Surin to the Sisaket Zoo near the Cambodian border (where the temple dispute continues today), then up to Ubon to visit friends who moved to Thailand back in 2002 or 2003.
I’ve been literally across Thailand, except to the very south around the Phuket area.
Until recently I’ve always returned to Khon Kaen where the people are always friendly. The last couple of years I’ve taken to the town of Cha Am, south of Bangkok and a bit north of Hua Hin. It’s a touristy town, lots of hotels on the beach. I haven’t come across any other American’s yet, mostly European Expats living the good life.
The Thai people are ingenious about what they do. They can spend hours on very tedious and time consuming labor projects that yield small profit (if any). They will build fireworks that dazzle the eye. The food is always fresh and extremely spicy. I like to begin with a cup of coffee and fried bread (Potango) and the perfect ending of a hot day is with a cup of Thai Ice Coffee (Oleang).
Thailand is a country full of contrasts. Workers in the rice field; fishermen in the water with nets; vendors with “street food” are the best. I see the westernization of Thailand with 7-11 stores literally on every corner. In Cha Am along a 1 mile stretch of the beach I counted more than 12 such stores.
Almost gone are the “Samlars” man powered bicycle taxi’s in many cities, they have been replaced by “Tuk Tuk” Diesel powered 3 wheel taxi’s, and there is talk about going to electric taxi’s to replace the modern version of the Thai “rickshaw”.
Motor scooters are abundant and often the only mode of transportation a family can afford. They are used to transport entire families of (4 or 5, or more) on a single trip. Scooters have been adapted to serve as delivery vehicles for all types of food, adaptable with a variety of specialty carts and you have the means for mobile service vehicles.
Traveling long distances, you have the choice of flying for mere pennies on the dollar (Baht). Maybe a tour van is your style? They are air-conditioned and even have refrigerators and televisions onboard. One can take an express bus that stops at designated rest areas, but the air conditioned environment inside the bus can be relaxing. I simply like to drive, whether it’s a rented vehicle or a family car. You have the freedom to make detours along the way and spend a bit longer exploring Thailand.
Sense my first time in Thailand I’ve noticed changes in the roads. Back then most were two lane roads with traffic going each way. Now they have become freeways of 2 – 4 lanes each way on a divided highway.
It’s been said that the difference between sightseeing as a tourist and connecting with the people of Thailand has to do with getting out and exploring your surroundings. Meet someone, have a meal with them. Get to know them and let them get to know you. It will warm your heart and bless your soul.
Thailand the Land of Smiles – I am the Real Truckmaster.