We all have a version of this story. We travel-worn expats who’ve stopped wandering and now only wear down the soles of our flipflops on the streets of Bangkok—the city of angels—our adopted home. The story is how we each ended up here. Some are longer and more harrowing than others, but they all end the same: happily. Happily because we found our way to the greatest city in the greatest country in the world.
So here’s mine:
I was already in my mid-30s when I discovered travel. After leaving Los Angeles where I’d spent 99% of my life, I relocated to Essex in the UK for a year, where I was able to take advantage of Ryanair and hop all around Europe. They were doing a promotion where, in order to fill seats, if you weren’t fussy about your destination, you could book last-minute flights to random places for next to nothing. I saw Milan, Sardinia, Barcelona, Geneva, Cork, and Berlin that way. Every weekend that I didn’t fly it was either the train to London, the Chunnel to Paris, or the ferry to Amsterdam. That year was a wonderful odyssey, but also a cold and expensive one, barring the flights. And I realized I was traveling in an effort to give my life meaning. It sort of worked—as long as I didn’t stay in one spot for too long. Then I took a job teaching English in Korea, and had my first real culture shock. It was like moving to Mars. I hated it. Everything about the place seemed wrong, especially the women. Korean women are beautiful but aloof. It’s frowned-upon in their culture to date a foreigner, so I had a lot of female friends who were polite and a huge source of frustration. Korea is also freezing in the winter, even colder than Essex.
But Korea pays well, and when my contract ended, I’d saved enough to take a whole year off. I ran down to Costa Rica for a surfing tour, popping up to Nicaragua to climb the Ometepe volcano and eat $10 grilled lobster, and then down to Panama, to an island in Bocas del Toro called Bastimentos. There, at Red Frog Beach, I sank down into the sand and stopped moving. Or rather, slowed so much that it seemed I wasn’t moving, just like the sloth in the tree above my head. Every so often someone would bring me a beer, or I’d go for a swim or eat some fried bananas. And I was content to stay there until my money ran out or I died from too much relaxation. The only thing missing was female company. I must’ve said that out loud, because guy to my right—another American who was swaying in a hammock, poking at a crab with one toe—said “Well hell, if you like white sand and palm trees, just go to Thailand. Their beaches are even prettier, and the place is crawling with gorgeous women!” He was an old dude, had served in Vietnam, and said he discovered first-hand that the girls were as stunning as they were friendly. I said, like a typical American idiot, “But it’s so far away….” (thank God most Americans are either too ignorant or too lazy to make the long flight) to which he replied “Don’t be a fool. Get your ass to Thailand. You can thank me later.” So a week later, I was landing in Krabi, sure that I’d probably stay for a few months, a year at the most, and then go back to Korea to work and sock away more cash. But after a couple of weeks, I knew I was home, and my traveling days were over. I had found paradise on Earth.
Waking up every morning and walking past limestone karst to Nopparat Thara beach, I would break into fits of giggles. Occasionally I pinched myself, convinced it was all just a fantastic dream, so blissful and beautiful were my surroundings. And the first time a lovely Thai lady said “Sawadee ka” in that cute, demure way they do, my heart just about melted. In the first month, I’d seen so many drop-dead stunners that I thought I’d died and gone to—well, the popular adage in Thailand is “Good boys go to heaven, bad boys go to Pattaya.” But I knew that was wrong. Every boy who goes to Thailand—good or bad—has already arrived in heaven.
Later, I moved to Phuket, and after tiring of so much beach beauty, settled in Bangkok and it’s been a blur of beer and babes ever since. I miss the beach sometimes, but it’s not far away, and the vibe of the city is more like where I grew up. I like the crowds, the myriad restaurants, the endless alleyways and places to explore. And of course, I love the constant parade of comely women. I could sit next to the window in any bar in town and watch the world go by, never bored by the view.
In 8 years, not a single one of my friends from the US has visited me. It’s a testament to the profound stubborn stupidity of people who think they know a place because they heard something about it in a movie or on TV. None of my married friends’ wives will let them come because they’re convinced their husbands will cheat on them. There might be something to that. But others won’t come because they think ladyboys will rape them the minute the plane hits the tarmac. Or they think they’ll be swindled or mugged. They don’t realize there’s a much better chance of that happening in their own hometown. Or they simply don’t believe it could be as good here as I tell them it is. They think I’m exaggerating. So they refuse to come. Confidentially, I’m glad. I’m a bad tour guide and an even worse babysitter, and to be honest, Thailand is better-off without more Americans in it. But this says something about us—the expats—the ones who did come. We who took the longest flight of our lives to come to a place that seemed to only exist in dreams, a place that seemed too good to be true. And we discovered a secret: it really is that good. And although we might not acknowledge each other on the street or exchange a knowing glance (God knows I avoid other foreigners like the plague), the truth is we all share this amazing knowledge. There’s a place on this planet where a man really can live the dream. And one way or another, fellow expat, we found it. My only regret in life was that I didn’t come here 20 years ago. Although truth be told, if I had I’d probably be dead by now. And on that note, you’ll have to excuse me. My Spidey-sense is telling me there’s vodka in Patpong that no one is ingesting, and that simply will not stand.
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