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Travel and World Culture   
 Photo: Sander Kamp
 Photo: Phil Date

Thailand: What Backpackers Do
By Will Chan

I was in a dark alley at 3 AM in the middle of Bangkok, Thailand.  I looked at the Scottish guy who brought me here.  What the hell was I doing?  Why did I agree to come here?

I was doing what backpackers do. 

I had been sitting at a bar on Khaosan Road, appreciating the cheap import beers and the overpowering atmosphere.  It was like sitting in the bar from the Star Wars movies.  The bar’s patrons were a diverse crowd from all over the world—mostly other backpackers gathering to end their days and tell of their travels.  Not a single person could call Khaosan Road their home.

“Where ye from?” a heavy, rippling voice asked me.

I turned and looked at the man on the barstool next to me.  He was an imposing figure in his mid-twenties, tall and handsome, despite a couple of scars on his face.

“I’m from the states,” I replied.  Everyone, world over, knows which states are ‘the states’—for better or for worse.

“O arrre ye?  I’m frrromm Scootland!  Name’s John!” he asserted. 

And we talked for a couple hours.  He was amazed by the fact that I am Chinese-American and speak perfect American English.  I was amazed that he was probably the most ‘authentic’ Scottish person I’d ever met whose accent wasn’t largely unintelligible to me.  I couldn’t quite tell whether he’d had too many beers or it was the accent that caused him to slur his words together.

John explained to me that he had adopted one overriding philosophy for backpacking.  When he meets someone new, he tries to learn anything and everything he can about them in the few hours spent together.  So I decided to try it and learn everything I could about John. I learned that he had been in Thailand for a year, was semi-fluent in Thai, and supported himself through odd jobs - but largly by Muay-Thai kickboxing, and he had the scars to prove it. 

Muay-Thai boxing is amongst the most brutal forms of combat conjured up by mankind.  John bragged about how he’d only been knocked out three times and that he was getting better at fighting unconsciousness.  According to John, he was gaining notoriety among the locals who were starting to refer to him as the “the white boxer.”

“Eh!  I kno’ t’is Chinese mar’et noot too ‘ar frromm ‘ere,” announced John. 

A Chinese market?  He seemed to me trying to relate to me.  Why not?  Frankly his idea could be a lot crazier or more dangerous.  And just like that, we left the bar embarking on the type of late night adventure that could only happen when one is away from their home country, lacking common sense and anything better to do.

I had never been anywhere quite like Khaosan Road late at night.  From shopping to eating raw coconut and getting your hair braided in dreadlocks, the possibilities are nearly limitless. 

The Chinese market was supposedly a few blocks down from Khaosan Road.  As we were walking down the street, my Scottish companion pointed out one of the food stands.

“E’er try ‘em?” he asked. 

I looked at the stand’s display.  Cockroaches, scorpions, and beetles – cooked and glazed – were to be had en masse—sold by vendors like peanuts at a baseball game.  I watched, half amused—half stunned, as my Scottish companion ordered a beetle the size of a quarter and popped it into his mouth, crunching through the insect’s exoskeleton into its juicy innards.  I briefly wondered just how many times this guy had been knocked in the head during his year of kickboxing.


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