I recall being invited home to Suchart's family - and after a delicious home cooked meal, lying on the floor with Suchart's brothers for the night sleep over. The tropical air was heavy. The next day Suchart had to drop by a nearby army base and I was accepted, even as a tourist or Suchart's mate, to enter the inner sanctum where military outfits dotted amongst young faces and tough bodies. Best of all, I can still smell the wonderful aroma of freshly brewed tom yum soup made by Mrs Suchart - in a clear soup with fresh and simple produce from the land and sea.
Boat trips on water figure importantly in my Thai sojourn, for the lovely isles in both the Andaman Sea and Gulf of Thailand played an alluring role to me in romanticisation and attraction of the region. I was hinted of pirates plying these waters but luckily never met any. On most of these sea journeys, I sat on small boats with friends, fellow backpackers or independently. The guys steering and running the boats came from economically challenged families but what struck me was their ability to carry an inner sense of personal happiness, no matter what their circumstances. These blokes had sun burnt faces but good hearts. What I hear from others of varying kinds of tricksters in several countries visited did not eventuate for me - no confronting encounters of being asked for more money, claims for fictitious damages and no sudden, momentary distractions on the street so that some accomplice could snatch my bag. I have not even seen for myself the throwing an infant act to momentarily divert the attention of tourists in Europe.
Two significant boat journeys remain etched in my memory of Thailand. One was going with three of my home island mates to Koh Phangan, just both of Samui. We were on the way to climb, hike and chill out at the Marine National Park. Thousands of back packers like us, mainly from Europe, USA, Latin America, Australia and New Zealand, have made the same path for the monthly full moon parties of hallucination, letting loose and alcohol laden abandon. When young foreigners with social security support and richer lifestyles meet with villagers who are in tune with Nature and a harsher economic reality, the outcomes can be interesting. Although the middle class has emerged more strongly in Thailand in the past 20 years, the rich in this nation have got richer and the income divide has grown even wider - something that has happened in many other nations like Australia and to a greater extent in Russia, Brazil, the UK, Malaysia, Singapore and China. The isle of placid looking coconut tree plantations in Samui has given way to the demands of commercial tourism, but have the majority of locals gained more than lost?
The other water journey is getting back to the Gypsy Village in Phuket Island's south-west from the nearby outlying limestone outcrops and lagoon isles. Along the way I felt a hallmark moment, the sea was churning up rougher than expected waters but the horizon showed an inter play of clouds, rain and sun. I do relish such fleeting moments when experienced and they somehow remain treasured in my heart. Walking down a path in a tribal village in the so-called Golden Triangle may seem trivial, but I am still fond of the scene with piglets, children and vendors minding their business of the day but hanging around me. Trying the seafood at Songkhla beach stalls can be relived when I see the Darwin sunset market. Surviving the coach trip on the highway from Bangkok to Chiangmai was important, as well as the bus trip south with soldiers boarding on at various points throughout the night. Viewing the silks at Jim Thompson House , walking into a sleazy bar with expectations and sitting for the first time in a tuk tuk - they all stick somewhere with us, even if nothing truly lasting or exciting resulted from those encounters.
What does transform my attitude, mindset and lifestyle after seeing Thailand is the sense of sanuk in the Thai people. I cannot find an English literal translation word for this Thai phrase. I reckon it is more of a way to react to life, its opportunities and challenges. It relates to always having a sense of fun, relaxation and letting go. Sanuk occurs when there is a party atmosphere to look forward at the end of a day. Sanuk implies it is all right, don't worry and just be happy. Of course, when things get overdone, safety is ignored and there is negative financial impact, it is no longer sanuk. Sanuk to me was riding on a motor bike on Thai tropical islands, whether pillion or at the front. It also greeted me in the form of friendly vendors, feeling no structure of time on a lovely sunny day and sensing the calm serenity inside Thai Buddhist temple complexes. Sanuk is going through the various sensations of Thai cuisine - sweet, sour, chill hot, mango cool and herb refreshing. Sanuk is coming down from a bus to a huge lively food and produce market - at 3am. Sanuk is doing nothing but lying on the sand at a remote place - far from anything we ever knew - and having your new found backpacker mate offering you yarns and a drink. Sanuk is chatting with a grocery shop owner who speaks your same mother tongue - because she migrated as well. Sanuk is having the right company and going out all night, with someone in my group keeping an eye out for us. Sanuk can be Thailand.