I’m history… I’m outta here. I’ve got the ruby slippers on… there’s no place like home… there’s no place like home. I’m going back to the land of round door knobs… the land of the big BX… For a year I’ve been singing “We gotta get outta this place… if it’s the last thing we ever do”, (by the Animals). It’s been a long grueling ordeal. I’m gettin’ on the Freedom Bird and I’m finally going home.
No… wait… that was V1.0. Just the same, I feel the same way this time. Last night I got into Bangkok early. I could have gone out on the town one more time, but I didn’t want to take even the slightest chance that I would miss the plane home. So, I just stayed in a “hotel” near the airport and waited for Freedom Bird V2.0. Even though I cut this trip short, I’m ready to go.
The first time I left Thailand I swore I would never be back. That time I was leaving nothing behind but blood, sweat, and tears. I had no reason to go back. Well… it took 40-odd years for me to change my mind so I’ve learned to never say never. And this time I’m still leaving nothing behind… except my wallet lying on the side of the road somewhere near Phitsanulok. So… I won’t say never this time. I’ll just say, maybe in another 40-odd years.
I am sorry I missed Laos. But not really as much as you might think. By the time I visited Nakhon Phanom I realized that what I had come to see didn’t exist any more. Somehow when the DeLorean got up to 88 MPH, the zillion GigaWat Flux Capacitor didn’t kick in just right. I wasn’t transported back to 1969. Instead, I was transported to the future… and the future is now. The place I knew… and hated… is long gone. So, I suspect that what I planned to see in Laos is long gone too.
I’ve had time to think about it. Maybe “long gone” is the way it should be. When we (the US) go into a place, we should do what we go there to do… then “get out of Dodge” and leave no trace that we were ever there. Still, in some ways I feel like there’s some hallowed ground that should somehow not be forgotten. Not only the Harley-Smith-Wolfe Amphitheater… but also the spot on the end of the runway where an A-26 aircraft crashed… killing the two pilots on board. I vaguely knew them both. And there should be something in remembrance of the Americans that gave their lives serving there. A monument… a memorial… a plaque or something. But I guess that’s not to be.
That’s the reason I have written my two books about the place, “Memories of Naked Fanny”, and “More Memories of Naked Fanny”. It has nothing to do with making any money or anything like that. (It’s a good thing.) I wrote them because I don’t want the time we spent there at that spot hogged out of the jungle to be forgotten and lost to history. In some small way I hope that my books will help someone in the future to know about us and what we tried to do there.
The other reason I don’t regret not going to Laos is that was going to be another 16 days on a ‘dirt-bike”. I’m still have a serious case of “monkey butt” and it’s been a couple of days since I was last riding. I don’t know what it would be like with that much more time in the saddle. I also wasn’t looking forward to the food I might end up eating. And as much as anything else, I had already kinda had enough… especially enough of the “rock-hard as the floor” beds. So even before I lost my wallet I was trying to figure out a way to drastically shorten my time in Laos. From what I’ve discovered, I’m not sure I missed anything that would still be there anyway. We’ll see how I feel some time down the road.
I know this… if I do ever decide to go to Laos, I will do it earlier in the year. Probably only a month or six weeks into the dry season. There would be less smoke, and it would be greener. I also wouldn’t ride a dirt bike to get to the main area where I was going. I could have it delivered to Thakhek saving me from getting some “monkey butt” on the ride to get there.
… I took a break from writing this to board the airplane. This picks it up from there…
It’s just after the Freedom Bird V2.0 lifted off and I’m reflecting back on this trip. The first time I was to Thailand it was clearly a “third world country”. Hummmm… I don’t know what that really means. And I don’t know what a “second world country” would be. So now, I don’t have a clue of what to make of Thailand. In a lot of ways it’s still a “third world” country. But then there’s cell-phone towers and WIFI all over the country. Everyone has a “smart” cell phone… or an iPad, tablet, or laptop of some kind. Sometimes they have all the above.
And the cars!… going down any road anywhere I went in there were new cars of all kinds… Hundais to Mercedes Benz. The cars and trucks driving around are all newer models. I rarely saw an older or rusty car. I was amazed by the number of full sized pick-ups and SUVs of all sizes. No matter how small the village, there always seemed to be new cars parked there.
And the roads were all in good repair. I never saw a pot-hole the whole anywhere in Chiang Mai nor in the whole time I was in Thailand. While riding across the country the highways were nearly all four lane roads. Except in the “preserve” type areas, any place where the roads were two lane there was construction to widen the road. The roads were all in better repair than I would expect in California. Does that make California a third-world country?
Yet… there were always smells of sewers that would float through every place I went. One of the lingering impressions I had the first time I was there is how bad it smelled sometimes. I’m going to have that same lasting impression again.
In a lot of ways it’s the old habits of the people that die hard. While streets and everything were clean in the cities, the roadsides out across the country were littered with lots of trash. I saw one place in Chiang Mai where they appeared to be draining the dirty water from the laundry into the alley out back. (It was clearly soapy water.) The rivers and streams all appear to be polluted. The “moat” around the inner city of Chiang Mai is one good example… it’s poluted too.
So I just don’t know what to make of Thailand. There are a lot of ex-pats that live there today. But I don’t think it’s because it’s some kind of paradise. Indeed, to me it lacks most of the qualities of paradise. I was never really comfortable anywhere I went. The air was filled with smoke out in the country and in the big cities (Bangkok, Chiang Mai, or Udon Thani) have air pollution from all the vehicles.
It would be cheap to live in Thailand. It looks like you can rent an apartment for a couple hundred bucks a month. Labor is cheap… you could have a housekeeper if you wanted. Food is cheap… I never paid more than about $4.00 for a full “American” breakfast… two eggs, sausage, bacon, potatoes and coffee. A big plate of Cow Pot with a bottle of Coke was about $2.00. So I suspect that you could retire in Thailand on a lot less than it would take in the US. Just the same, the standard of living wouldn’t be like it is in the US. Not for me, but you could live comfortably.
I’m really glad I went. Not so much because of anything I saw or did. Actually, there’s not much to see in the places I went. Sure… Bangkok and Chiang Mai are tourist attractions but to me they would only be worth a day or two each. That would never be worth all the flying time or expense. So I guess the biggest reason I’m glad is that I’ve put to rest 40+ years of growing curiosity about what has happened to the place. And as much as anything else I can just say to myself… I did it.
But I’m ready to be back home. And OMG… I’ve already missed episodes of “NCIS”!!!… not to mention “Bones” and “Castle”. And now as I’m winging my way home, I’ve already started dreamin’-n-schemin’ about the next great adventures. For now, I’ll just say they involve Las Vegas, Florida’s Emerald Coast, and certainly a Caribbean cruise or two…. Or three or four or five. And stay tuned for “The Naked Pirate”… “Naked in The Keys”… and Travels With a Naked Parrot.