Couchfish: 121 days

Couchfish: 121 days

A look back at our time in Thailand

As it is about time to say goodbye to Thailand, I thought today I’d take a look at where we’ve been. Given this is a summary piece, I’m making this one free-to-read, as I have with any of the Couchfish posts I’ve linked to below. Enjoy!

On paid-for Couchfish, if I counted them right, I’ve had 85 days in the country. On the free-to-read Couchfish, I touched on Thailand in another 36 entries. Now the 85-day itinerary was in three sections. First, up through the north (Couchfish started in Bangkok), then a quick swing in from Laos. Later I re-entered from Cambodia, hit the Northeast, then headed all the way south to Malaysia.

Feet up and slow down. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

This in itself isn’t an unusual treatment of Thailand. Longer-stay travellers often roll in and out, visiting neighbouring countries in between. When you look at the map though, you’ll see there are vast swathes I barely touched upon. The eastern coast, including Ko Chang, Chanthaburi and Ko Kut. Much of the north and centre, and then most of the southwest of the country. Some of these gaps I covered a bit on free-to-read Couchfish, but there are still plenty of holes.

So, 121 days.

I admit the pace of the itinerary, on the move almost constantly, is bonkers. My idea though was for every day I wrote, you could allow at least another two days. Wow, that 121 days just became a year of travel. Where did that go?

Thailand is a big place, with plenty to offer the inquisitive traveller. Some of the destinations I skipped, like Chiang Mai, Ko Samet and Kanchanaburi, I could easily have spent a week or so in. But, well, part of the goal of Couchfish was to highlight places you may not have heard of. I hope on this count I have succeeded, and you’ve filed a few entries away for when you return.

Everywhere is worth a night. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

On the topic of lesser-known spots, I still have a few up my sleeve. So should the pandemic roll on long enough, I may well find myself back in Thailand. Who knows.

It also highlights the ridiculous state of affairs when it comes to tourist visas. Of course, only a fraction of travellers have the funds and time to take a year off to kick around in Thailand, but some do. Longer tourist visas yesterday, please.

Another thing I hope I’ve surfaced, and for regular visitors, this wouldn’t be news, is the Thai people. There’s a bunch of posts on Couchfish where I write about interactions with local people, and for almost every post I didn’t, I could have. The country is fascinating and beautiful, but in my experience, it is the people that make it.

Later, we had tea and I got to meet everyone in the village. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Obviously, regardless of where you are in Thailand, you’ll be dealing with Thai people—you’re in Thailand duh! In my experience though, it is almost always in the off-the-radar spots, that the magic happens.

Quite a few of the pieces I’ve written about happened years ago, sometimes two decades ago. Yet, writing these stories have brought the memories back big time. The laughter and smiles. The sup sip over food and too many beers. The polite incredulity over my idiocy. More than anything though, the hospitality I’ve been lucky enough to encounter, over and over. I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

Like anywhere, the country is not without its flaws. Like many nations in the region, the people deserve far better governance than they’ve ended up with. The environment continues to be flogged mercilessly. Overtourism, while not an issue at the moment, was at crisis levels in late 2019. Yet, on each of these counts, Thais young and old are working hard for change. Often against nearly insurmountable odds. Be they political, environmental, or academic activists, it is heartening stuff.

Big Brother is watching you. Ratchaburi. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

Writing the Thai section of Couchfish has also been educational for me. I’ve been writing, from a tourism and travel perspective, about the country since the mid-1990s. On more than a few occasions, going through my old writing and diaries, I’ve cringed at my earlier takes, or when I was simply doing it wrong. Sometimes I was right on the money, other times, my words mortified me. It has been a great lesson for me in how travel writing needs to do better. Do better not only for the reader, but also for the destination and the people who live there.

Overall though, it has been a great wander down memory lane. Thailand was the first country I lived in, in Southeast Asia, and so there is an extra soft spot in my heart for it. I still, all these years later, remember walking out into the cloying evening air at Don Muang ex Kathmandu. It seemed like every person had a scooter. It was mad and it was love at first sight.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the ride and tomorrow, I cross the border into Malaysia.

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The Couchfish podcast. Following a day by day itinerary through Southeast Asia—for all those people stranded on their couch.