Leaving the Land of Smiles

So many times I have left a new paradise, new friends and a place that taught me great lessons with a tear in my eye, leaving Thailand was the hardest departure yet. As Thailand sank into the horizon all the memories, great lessons and amazing experiences swirled about in my head forming a quiver in my eye and a deep, deep warmth in my heart.

After trying for two weeks to get a water maker shipped, my emergency, don’t ask again, no more excuses visa extension was running out. We left Boat Lagoon and so many of our cruising friends behind, many we will see again and some not. This was another time of divisions of path for our fleet. Many joined the thirty boats that left last week on the freighter shipping to the Mediterranean. Some have found the end to their search in Thailand and some are doing the “Great SE Asia Circle” to see what the future brings in the Mid East as is the plan of Furthur.

So what is it about this land the grabs the heart of so many westerners? Why is this place such a haven for expats? Why is this one place I vow to return to? The weather is nearly perfect most of the year but so it is in so many other places. The cost of living is very low again nice but not unique. The government is basically expat friendly but not entirely; only Thai people can own property or businesses and those foreigners that invest often lose it all with no recourse. The tax on imports if very high making goods expensive but labor is very cheap.

Thailand has natural beauty that takes it to the top of the list and it is a boaters and divers paradise with protected inland waters and expansive boating. Visiting the many hidden hongs and lagoons has been a wonderful treat not found anywhere else we have been. Caves full of bats that lead you to tropical lagoons hidden from the outside world, kayaker utopia. Diving with Manta Rays, turtles, sharks and massive schools of colorful fish then baking in the sun or enjoying a warm equatorial evening full of stars, the things one usually only dreams of.

All these things give Thailand an alluring call but they are not the real thing that holds your heart, it is the people. The Thai people are unlike any I have met. Their psyche is a blend; third world tropical ease with the peaceful, “live each day to its fullest” teachings of Buddhism and the industrialism that has made much of Asia tops in the economic world.

The family is all important here. I have experienced this in Mexico and most of the Pacific Islands and it always impresses me. Here young people take care of their parents, it is a duty seen as a privilege and not disputed. Interestingly it is the motive that fuels the large sex trade industry here. Failure to support the parents is not an option, it would be the worst thing a Thai girl could face so the method is not important just the results. We might look at this with horror but you will never find an aging Thai abandoned in a nursing home.

The bond that holds all, and I mean all, the Thai people together is their absolute, unshakable love of the King. I talked to people in every walk of life, every economic status about this. I asked Muslim Thai’s, dirt poor Thai’s, vastly rich Thai’s, working girl Thai’s, laborers and business owners, all held the same belief. The King of Thailand is the most loved national figure on the planet. I found a peace in adapting this belief, a picture of the King is proudly displayed on Furthur.

The universal love of the King binds all Thais together; it is the glue that holds them. Every Thai I know wakes up knowing they love the King and that all else is secondary. This gives the country a kind of grounding few else experience, a certainty that makes it easy to take life easy.

Most of us do not know it but we were raised loving the King too. I have seen Yule Brenner and the King and I dozens of times, always with a deep connection to the King. The play is loosely based on the true story of a British woman who was hired as a teacher by King Ramadan the 4th. The most loved King in Thai history is his son, the 5th, the eldest son tutored by Anna. King Ramadan V is famed for freeing the slaves of Thailand and is still held in the highest regard, his picture is everywhere. He is the Abe Lincoln of Thailand.

Thai boys are a hoot, they work hard, play hard always laugh and always smile. The workers I have had on the boat have been phenomenal, both in skill and attitude. The fire dancers we watched, the boat operators, the fishermen, the dive boat operators all have been happy hard working and full of fun. I so enjoyed playing music with my Thai friend Hootey, an amazing guitar player. The last time we jammed he took me to places I have never been with the electric guitar.

Yes the Thai boys are great but it is the Thai ladies that make Thailand heaven on earth. Before I got here my good Aussie cruising friends told me I was going to be blown away by Thai ladies. I read over and over how Thai women are the most sensual, alluring, and charming woman on the planet, a claim that I found to be totally justified.

Western men have been coming to Thailand to find their dream girls since the Viet Nam war when Phuket was a popular R and R base and it has not slowed down. There are towns almost entirely populated by western men and Thai wives. Many books have been written on the wonders and perils of seeking relationships with Thai women.

Like so many other times when western minds meet foreign customs, you have to abandon most of what you believe. Our beliefs about love and economic relationships are out of place here and will not serve you well. The western belief that a woman who serves their man and puts his happiness above all is a sign of weakness and oppression do not relate here. The western belief that romantic relationships do not have an economic base is also irrelevant here. The gates of heaven have a toll booth. Unlike the western world where economic settlements are done at the end of a relationship by evil lawyers and with pain and anger, here it is all arranged in advance.

Thai women are incredibly strong and centered; they run most of the businesses and control a significant portion of the economy. Yet when you connect with a Thai lady you will be engulfed in a cocoon of their dedication to you your happiness that will take your heart away. They believe it is a sign of strength and pride to take care of their man. They also seek and enjoy older men. The Thai woman I asked about this told me older men are more kind and generous and less likely to be rude or drunk than the young bucks who come to Thailand. They also appreciate how much older men appreciate them another thing that separates them from western women, they loved being cherished.

I spent most of a month with a wonderful Thai lady who took every opportunity to bring me joy. She ordered the meal; she arranged the cab rides, scooter rentals, and all other business with other Thais, always looking out for me. She took great pride in doing this and was insulted when I tried to take care of myself. We parted friends as she left to resume her trade, a situation that bit a little hard.

I had the great joy of taking Thai ladies to see the Big Buddha on two occasions’ and experiencing the Buddhist rituals with dedicated Buddhists. This may be the highlight of my stay here. This is when I first got a glimpse at the Thai dedication to King and religion. It is a far more peaceful and serene belief than western Christianity yet every bit as strong. It was under the watchful eye of Buddha that I saw the soul of Thailand.

I am writing this en route to Langkawi, the first stop back in Malaysia and Phuket has dropped off the horizon to the west. My two wonderful crew, Marina and Amy, are on board and fixing a great lunch and looking forward to their first over night passage. They have enjoyed and endured my exploits in Thailand. Although they cannot grasp what it has been like for me, the do clearly see the joy I have gotten and I thank them for their empathy. They have experienced the culture from a different view and share the warm regard for this mysterious place. We all look forward to the adventure ahead.

I will return here in November as I have promised my most special Thai friends. Sometimes you just know when you have been somewhere or met someone you will remember for the rest of your life, these memories are just that. I will miss the Big Buddha looking down from the hill; I will miss the food, the music and the good times. I will miss the sound of those lovely Thai ladies saying “welcome” as I walk by. But the image I will carry with me is the deep soul moving stare of those enchanting big brown eyes.