by Hank Leukart
March 16, 2006

I’m never leaving Thailand. Ever.

Some people go on vacation and never come back.

Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road

Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road

U

M PHANG, Thailand — I’m never leaving Thailand. Ever.

Just testing. I wanted to see what how I would feel if I decided never to leave. I just finished reading Spiritland by Nava Renek, a novel about a young backpacker and her rollercoaster vacation in Thailand. The book is filled with characters that arrive in Thailand, plan to stay a few weeks, and end up staying for months, years, and in some cases, decades. They all end up staying for different reasons: one is an illegal heroin trader, another is locked in a Thai jail, a third never wants to return to her parents, and the protagonist’s boyfriend disappears and she falls in love someone else in Thailand.

Spiritland is far from excellent — I only chose to read it because it’s about backpacking in Thailand — but it is surprisingly accurate and a perfect read to get you in the mood for (or maybe scare you off from) a backpacking trip to Thailand. Its descriptions of backpacking destinations (e.g. Bangkok’s famous Khao San Road) and backpackers themselves are dead-on. Almost every backpacker I’ve met here is a little outside the norm.

“Of course, my plan has its problems. Thailand is not exactly politically stable (I count about seven government coups in the last 25 years), there aren’t enough (any?) Lindsay Lohan look-alikes here, and I’m not sure I could deal with having to sit on a tree stump any time I wanted to use a computer for the rest of my life.”

I met a massage therapist from Boston who traveled to Thailand to better learn Oriental massage techniques and decided to extend his stay for six weeks. I met a guy from Burgundy, France who makes artistic and sport kites for a living — seriously, he travels all over the world going to kite festivals and selling. I met two supermodel-looking blond girls who host a Romanian television variety show. Admittedly, they weren’t really backpacking and were horrified by anything outside their fancy Bangkok hotel. I also met a Canadian who has spent the last six months traveling all over Malaysia; even when I pushed him, I didn’t discover any secret plans of his to leave. Ever.

There are so many reasons I never want to leave Thailand. For example, in the States, I’ve probably saved enough money to live for a year without a job — maybe I could eek out a year and a half if I sold my condo and lived in a tiny cardboard box eating chili for months on end. On the other hand, if I quit working today, I could probably live fairly comfortably in Thailand for about 20 years. Or, at the end of five more years saving money in the States, I could probably retire permanently in Thailand. Not only that, but I would live out my days eating some of the best food in the world (who knew that Thailand’s food puts most other country’s to shame?). I’d become a tour guide and get to go hiking and kayaking every day. I’d delight Thai children with my disappointing waterfall cliff-jumping techniques (those kids are fearless!). Thai girls everywhere would be stunned by more movie-star blue eyes. And did I mention all the food I’d eat?

Of course, my plan has its problems. Thailand is not exactly politically stable (I count about seven government coups in the last 25 years), there aren’t enough (any?) Lindsay Lohan look-alikes here, and I’m not sure I could deal with having to sit on a tree stump any time I wanted to use a computer for the rest of my life.

But owning a pet elephant would be killer.

P.S. I hope this essay makes it onto the Internet; apparently, the satellite Internet connection in this bamboo hut doesn’t work when the sky’s cloudy. No joke. WB

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