This blog post contains an excerpt of a book I have written about the legendary, brave and informative 6,002-mile Thailand tasting trek I went on in 2007-2008. The full-length book will be published in early 2016.
Roll Out the Welcome Wagon!
We felt very favorably received wherever we went. It was not as if the town would cancel school, arrange for a marching band and banners to welcome us, and give us a key to the city, or as might more likely occur, a basket of fruit and a shot of Thai moonshine. However, my gentle questions about how the food was made and good natured attempts at jokes in Thai were most often met with a positive response. Then Kitty would repeat what I said but with better intonation and use of the correct Thai tones for the words and my message would be received as intended, but in Thai the audience could understand. I wondered if my accent sounded like an outrageous Thai hybrid of Inspector Clouseau and Pepe Le Pew.
When ordering khao niaw or sticky rice, I liked to josh “Khao niaw dee, khii niaw, mai dee” or “sticky rice is good, being a “sticky shit” (overly stingy person) is not good.” This quip was met with nods of ascent and giggles because of the play on words (since I only had about a thousand words in the Thai language, I used what I could to get a laugh).
After much coaching by Kitty, I was able to deliver a line if I was asked if I wanted thirds or fourths of a dish. I could say, “I am on a diet―I only eat six times a day.” The reactions varied between the literal (“Well, no wonder you are so fat”) to simple chuckles.
Friends asked “Did you ever feel like giving up? Was it hot, rainy, and difficult because you speak Thai like a child?” The answer is a brave, resolute and emphatic…yes. There was that one day when we arrived in Samut Songkhram near Bangkok in the hottest season. Noon. Fierce sun. No guidebook suggestions to eliminate thinking about where to hide from the heat. I felt faint from the 95 degree Fahrenheit swelter. Kitty was overheated as well, bundled from the sun in her jean jacket, long pants and a sun hood (looking like a polyester/cotton version of the medieval knight’s chain link cowl, but not as comfortable). Could the motorcycle speak, a hoarse plea to stop would have been heard. As it was, the engine temperature gauge showed the motor was about to ignite.
We stopped next to a hotel that looked like it had been constructed decades before and then not cleaned thereafter. As we debated whether to enter the fleabag or press on, a Thai woman exited her beauty salon carrying two glasses of ice water on a tray for us. We swooned with thanks at her kindness. In the face of this random act of thoughtfulness, we resolved to not give up. We became rugged veterans of Thailand travel, never daunted by rain or heat.
Welcome To the Hotel By the Hour
We stayed in fifty-four different hotels during the trip, some for a day, others for a week or a month. With hotels, you got what you paid for, but had to consider what you needed. If the hotel in a guidebook or one recommended by someone on the street had a uniformed doorman or two, a jewelry shop in the foyer or a business center, we would move on, as we required none of these services. In addition, the price of these superfluous services would double or triple the cost of a room compared to the price of a guesthouse or small hotel. We preferred to spend our money on food.
On the other hand, hotels offering rooms by the hour to guests urgently in need of romantic privacy provided mattresses like a mortuary slab with a sheet on top. We aimed for something in between unnecessary opulence and uncomfortable erotic economy. When we found a place that was reasonably priced, we tended to linger and explore the area, comforted that we could retreat from rain or intense sun to the hotel. We sometimes ate at the hotel’s restaurant. The smaller guest houses might not have a full-time chef, so we would bring back cooked items from the market for our meal. Of course we would bring back extra tidbits or desserts for the receptionist and maids. Mostly, if we had had a long day in the saddle, we wanted to take a shower with water pressure that would strip paint and then lie flat on something firm yet gentle. I reckon I’ll be receiving my first old age retirement check before the sensation returns to my backside from 6,000 miles on a motorcycle seat with padding like that of an ironing board.
For all my moaning about the minor discomfort, traveling by motorcycle was a thrill. Each day was an invigorating investigation of intoxicating flavors and the easy immediacy of pulling over to buy a snack from a vendor for the excuse to talk about the local food. The friendliness and passion for food among the people we met entranced me, a glimpse into the fanatical foodie heart of the Thai people. I felt right at home. Thailand travel – for me it will always mean a motorcyle and the wind in my face.