“I am not going to like Thailand”
I thought to myself. In many ways, my idea of the over-developed country and the fact that you couldn’t go five minutes without seeing a foreigner did materialize and made Thailand as ‘on the beaten track’ as expected. When a place is too saturated with tourism, the ugly demon of commerce and greed consume the population as they find ways to make money off of unsuspecting tourist. The culture changes and the sense of human kindness is lost, or so , this is what I always thought. Thailand changed my mind, and the Thai people came through like I never would have imagined.
After Sidney joined me late July of this year to continue what began as a solo SE Asia trip, we decided to go straight to the beach. Koh Chang was highly recommended and the elephant island did not disappoint. Then came a string of bad luck.
The Trouble with Scooters
Around the second day, while we were towards the middle of the island, we got a flat late at night. This is not unusual for scooters, but being 20 km from our hotel and with not much but hook up bars open, we were kind of screwed (and not that way). Taxis at this time of the day and year are rare and charge a bunch, so I figured we had to do some serious thinking.
While we stood there, feeling bad for ourselves, the workers of a local chicken place came out to see if they could help. They immediately saw that it was just a flat tire, and although only one of them spoke very little English and I only knew about 10 phrases by then, I realized that they were genuinely concerned about us.
First, they tried to call a few mechanic friends with no luck. One guy goes to the back and says to wait as he asks around if anyone is willing to rent us a scooter for the night. He returns after about 15 minutes and says he has something for us. They take me to a foreigner who owns a bar and rents scooters on the side. He knows we are desperate so agrees for what can only be described as a bullshit rate. The Thai guy helping us doesn’t seem to like it, but we really have no choice and I reluctantly agree.
The entire chicken place staff helps us carry the scooter inside their shop to make sure it doesn’t get stolen, and tells us they will call a mechanic early in the morning. We thank them and are on our way.
We return the next morning and sure enough, the mechanic is almost there. The total cost is just a few bucks, but it is the smile of the team in that chicken place that was most comforting. We ended up eating there and made sure to give everyone a nice tip. We also waved, a bit shyly, every time we passed by.
Since we woke up early, I had an idea (oh God). There is what looks like a tiny beach on the other side of the island. Many people suggest that it is not worth the long trip, but looking for the road less traveled has its appeals. This should have been the first sign that it wasn’t safe.
However, we pressed on and within a kilometer of our destination, took a sharp turn downhill on what I thought were just dead leaves. It was mud, and suffice it to say, a scooter does not do well trying to turn downhill on mud. We went down and thankfully, having experience driving motorcycles (until then, 7 years without an accident), I knew how to fall. Sidney was not so lucky. I think it was more the shock than the cuts and bruises, but she was hurting pretty bad.
Koh Chang has only 5000 locals, this is the low season, and we are on the undeveloped side of the island, so it is not looking good. I set her in a safe place and run to find help. A lady who kind of understands my broken Thai (thank god for smart phones) points and says there is a pharmacy back the way we came. I load Sidney on the bike which still (thankfully) works and we head over there. Unfortunately, it is just a convenience store that has a few bandages and alcohol. It will prevent infection, but she really wanted to see a doctor.
The nearest hospital is on the northern tip, which is a good hour and a half away, but the worker has an idea. He runs outside and gets his motorbike and daughter. He leaves the shop (unattended I think) and asks me to follow him. He leads us to a ‘Thai only’ clinic nearby where he explains the situation and an old dude who was possibly a doctor (look, I didn’t have time to ask) helped her out.
I think it was the mixture of kind people just going out of the way to help us out that calmed Sid down, and I’m sure the giggling kids in this ‘clinic’ helped too. No one spoke a word of English, but it didn’t matter as their intentions were obvious. As he was finishing up, I started thinking of “what is this going to cost!” Typical American, I know!
I tried to ask, but he was pretty firm, “no money.” I tried to give something to the doctor and to the guy who guided us there, but they refused. It reminded me of the story: Today you, Tomorrow Me.
So, why am I telling you all this. I don’t often share stories like these because, while I can describe a place in detail and offer tips, this type of writing I have no skill for. However, I recently stumbled upon this video that got me thinking:
Yes, it is not a real story and yes, they are all paid actors. However the core idea of the story is true, I know, because I experienced it. When faced with a tough situation, the Thai people ARE incredibly kind and not just ‘out to get your money’ as has been said in the past. The only person who tried to take advantage this whole time was that one foreigner guy who owned the bar and didn’t give two shits that we were coming to him because we were in need.
Thailand is not going to wow you as an unspoiled part of the earth. It most definitely isn’t wish millions of tourists visiting every year. What will impress you is the genuine smiles, random acts of kindness, and overall goodness that is core, with being Thai. I guess that is part of the reason those millions, keep coming back.