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

Comments

  • May 21, 2014, 6:48 AM

    cynicalcy

    Meh. I thought the same for the first couple months here. Til I realized I will always be an outsider in a Thai persons eyes. Til I saw what isolation from being part of a society that: views you as one of their own, that shares a simliar mindset as you, that is set up so its possible for you to get ahead...separtion from this can drive you a little crazy for awhile. Once the novelty wears off from the new exciting differences, from the exciting attention you get, when your money runs out and you have to live a life here...not a pseudo-prolonged vacation life. Youll start missing having deep conversations with people, you'll miss knowing a girl likes you for who you are..instead of just being an interchangable farang. Youll miss feeling like you belong to a group. Youll miss having money for security and your future. Love Thailand but not a place to be in the long run for a foreinger.

  • June 5, 2014, 11:58 AM

    Hank Leukart

    Thanks for the comment, Cynicalcy! I wrote this essay many years ago, and I think you've pinpointed one of the things that I've learned since. One of the trickiest parts of travel is trying to break out of the separation you have from the "real life" going on around you, which is exciting at first -- but alienating in the long run.