Questing in Thailand

April 1, 2015

When our family was young we would go on road trips. On long road trips a fun way to make the time go faster (and not to continually answer the question “Are we there yet?”) was to come up with a “quest”. Let’s find the biggest ball of string in the world. Let’s cross the Golden Gate Bridge. Let’s splash in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Let’s find the next Taco Bell and get one of those 1lb burritos.

Quests are things to look forward to. Whether it is just to keep the little ones minds occupied on a long journey or a way for us to continue to be excited about life and to strive for goals once we have reached an age when we have done much of what we set out to do.

Quests should be personal. They should be places to see and things to experience that come from your own heart; part of your own “bucket list”. I have lived long enough and been lucky enough to have checked off a lot places and things on my list.

I grew up in New York City so a lot the things on many people’s bucket lists were checked off just by growing up (Broadway, the museums, the Metropolitan Opera, the Bronx Zoo, and more and more). Since I have done a lot of travel, starting with the Peace Corps and later working overseas, I was able to visit the Taj Mahal, Angkor Wat, Stonehenge, the Pyramids at Giza, the Pyramids in Mexico, the Acropolis, Hagia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. I still haven’t been to the Great Wall yet but I have been to Hadrian’s Wall. The Great Wall is still to come.

I’ve climbed Mona Kea and Mona Loa in Hawaii, and many of the peaks in the Cascade Mountains. I’ve walk on deserts, glaciers, and volcanoes. I’ve played on sports teams, run marathons, and studied karate and Zen Buddhism. I’ve snorkeled in the Red, Caribbean, and Andaman Seas, hiked in Yellowstone and Yosemite National Parks. But what has surprised me the most, I have been married for more than 40 years to the same woman, and have two grown children and 3 little grandchildren who are just developing dreams of their own.

Most who have lived as long as we and who have made it all the way to retirement in Thailand have a similar list of their own. But just because we have made it this far and checked off a lot on our lists doesn’t mean it is time to stop dreaming, or stop questing.

As the late John Denver prophetically said in his song Poems, Prayers and Promises:

The changes somehow frightens me, still I have to smile

It turns me on to think of growing old.

And tho’ my life’s been good to me there’s still so much to do

So many things my mind has never known.

Retiring here in Thailand has given us the opportunity to go on a whole new series of quests. Here are some of my Thailand quests. I have already checked some off the list, and some are still to come. I am sure you’ll have some of the same ones on your list, and some that I never even thought of.

Let’s not go gently into that good night. As long as we are on a quest, as long as that bucket list isn’t all filled in, we have lots of interesting times ahead.

Nature quests

Having grown up in New York City and not seeing my first cow until I was a teenager, Nature questing has always had a big hold on me. You can’t be in Thailand long without Nature whacking you upside the head, again and again; the palm-sized spider in your bathroom, the crazy spotted tokay gecko on your bedroom wall, the scorpion in your shoe, the cobras in your garden.

Here are a few of the Thai nature quests I have already been on:

Snorkeling in the Similan Islands and searching for a spiny, poisonous lion fish. Going to Lopburi and playing with the Monkeys who inhabit the Khmer ruin and much of the rest of the middle of downtown. Bird watching on Doi Intanon. Bird watching at Bung Boraphet in Nakhon Sawan during the winter migration, but especially to find one of those last surviving wild crocodiles (Although most people think they are recent escapees from a crocodile farm.)

And here are a few to come:

Tracking wild elephants in Khao Yai National Park. Finding the wild red cattle (red bull) and gaur in Kuiburi National Park.  Checking out the dugongs (relatives to the American manatees) in Trang.  And bats – in one of the many bat caves in Thailand like Tham Khang Khow (the Bat Cave) in Ratchaburi, or Wat Khao Wong Hot in Lopburi, where every evening it takes more than 2 hours for the cave to empty out of all the resident bats.


Places quests

Leon Russell’s “A Song For You”, sung by Ray Charles and also the wonderful Carpenters, speaks for me.

I’ve been so many places in my life and time

But there are still lots more to see. One of the things we would like to do is keep trying to find another Thai national park we haven’t been to. That shouldn’t be hard as there are 127 national parks in Thailand.

And then there are all the pristine beaches, and temples, and floating markets?  Of course there are just too many places in Thailand to visit but the following are just a few of the place quests we have been on.

Ancient Ruins: Ayuthaya, Pimai in Buriram, Sukhothai Historical Park, Sri Sachanalai (a version of what Sukhothai looked like before it was spruced up), the ruins at Kamphaeng Phet (a ruin of the same time as Sukhothai but situated right in the center of a modern town).

Temples: There are thousands of them. These are my favorites. Bangkok – The Emerald Buddha (and get the Grand Palace thrown in), The temple in Pitsanulok  which contains the beautiful Buddha image “Phra Putachinarat”, and Dr Chalermchai’s  White Temple in Chiang Rai (and see, and if you want buy, his very unique artwork).

Rivers: I love rivers. The Mekong  (and check out the Friendship Bridge to Laos), The Bridge on the River Kwai (really the Kwae River but whose to contradict Hollywood), and the confluence of 4 rivers at Nakorn Sawaan which later make up the Chao Phraya.

Some place quests to come: Kho Tarutao (formally a penal colony but now an unspoiled island), Phu Kradung (a high plateau in far away Loei province, only accessible by a long climb where porters will carry your food and drink and maybe even you up to the top).


Food: The never-ending quests

In Thailand food is the most ubiquitous topic of conversation. Ask a group of Thai friends to name all the different kinds of mangoes they know and which ones they like best and the conversation will go on for hours – at least until 50 for more mango varieties are named and just about every province in Thailand will be mentioned.

I have my own food quests. I am currently looking for the best tasting durian, fried bananas, mangoes and sticky rice, roast pork, khao soy, rothi, iced Thai coffee, and the biggest quest of all, crispy skin pork. Lucky for me I will probably never come to the end of these quests.

That’s my abbreviated questing list. I suggest you make your own. Here is one: On your next road trip in Thailand, sample every roadside chicken barbeque and rate them with a star system. Yes, you’ll gain a bit of weight, maybe even more than a bit, but what a great way to pass the time. And you’ll never have to deal with the question of “Are we there yet?” If all goes well you’ll always be “there” and at the same time never be “there yet”.

Happy hunting.



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