Did I miss it? A Short Story

For years I heard of legendary adventures about people traveling through Southeast Asia, specifically Thailand. Island hopping, epic full moon parties, outlaws living off the grid and I needed to know how to navigate it all. Even though I'd been traveling for a while, when I first arrived in Thailand I felt like I was new to the "backpacking" scene. I found myself asking other travelers, what's Thailand all about? Trying to get some tips on how to navigate the region like a pro, and here and there I managed to collect a few secrets. I remember asking the same question to a guy I ran into at my hostel, thinking this guy would know. He was probably in his early 40's, but looked 50. Skin leathery from the sun,  bleached hair - that kinda resembled dreadlocks, inked up with dated tattoos, and always, always looking for a cigarette. You could just tell that the guy had been through it. He looked like a vet traveler so I asked him, do you have any tips? What do I need to know? I was surprised by his answer. He said, "mate," "you missed it." "10 years ago Thailand use to be great." "Everything was a quarter of the price it is now, and there were no tourists, just a small cool backpacker scene." I thought, shit, I just arrived. Did I miss it? In fairness, I probably caught him at a bad time. After 15 years of traveling through the region, he just sold his bar in Koh Rong, Cambodia and was headed home. He said he needed some normalcy.

I had some of the best times in Thailand, but after he said, "you missed it," I can't help but wonder what it was like 10 years ago and I ask myself, what's next? Where's the next backpacker scene? Vietnam? Cambodia? Philippines? Papua New Guinea?

My Bangkok Neighborhood - Premrutai Village

Out of all the countries I've traveled to, I've spent the most time in Thailand, and most of that time was spent in Bangkok. Between two visas, one visa extension, and three return trips, I probably spent over 50 nights in the city.

The majority of my time in BKK was spent in the neighborhood of Premrutai Village. It's a small working / retirement class community on the east side of Bangkok's city center. Picture a retirement community in Florida with motorbikes instead of golf carts. It's far from the craziness of Khao San Road and offered some normalcy at a time I needed it. The neighborhood is pigeonholed between the BTS sky train (On Nutt) and the Phra Khanong tributary, roughly at Soi Sukhumvit 50. It's a pretty isolated community because there's only two ways to get to my neighborhood, and one of those ways closes at 9pm (picture below). 

The City @50 Hostel became my home and the people in the community became my neighbors. Here are some of their stories. 

Wanlapha: Works for the City @ 50 Hostel and takes care of all guess during the night shift 7pm-7am. She's originally from Phitsanulok (half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai), but now lives and works in the neighborhood for the last 4 years. She's a wonderful cook and a former restaurant owner where she learned english. After 4 years of living in the neighborhood she has to move because of a new condo complex being built. 

Wanlapha: Works for the City @ 50 Hostel and takes care of all guess during the night shift 7pm-7am. She's originally from Phitsanulok (half way between Bangkok and Chiang Mai), but now lives and works in the neighborhood for the last 4 years. She's a wonderful cook and a former restaurant owner where she learned english. After 4 years of living in the neighborhood she has to move because of a new condo complex being built. 

Mr. Sittisak Tub-Ngarm (aka Tui):  Works for the City @ 50 Hostel and takes care of all guess during the day shift 7am-7pm. He's originally from Surin Province but has been living in the area for the last 40 years. He's life long music lover, singer, guitar player, and performer. In his 20's, Tui and his group use to play for vacationing GI's during the Vietnam war. They would entertain by imitating the brit-rock bands like the Beatles. 

Mr. Sittisak Tub-Ngarm (aka Tui): Works for the City @ 50 Hostel and takes care of all guess during the day shift 7am-7pm. He's originally from Surin Province but has been living in the area for the last 40 years. He's life long music lover, singer, guitar player, and performer. In his 20's, Tui and his group use to play for vacationing GI's during the Vietnam war. They would entertain by imitating the brit-rock bands like the Beatles. 

Sway (Beautiful in Thai): Sway was accidentally hit by the owner of the hostel but cared for, loved, and mended back to health. She's now the house dog. Nobody knows how old she is. 

Sway (Beautiful in Thai): Sway was accidentally hit by the owner of the hostel but cared for, loved, and mended back to health. She's now the house dog. Nobody knows how old she is. 

Tao and Pool: Married and have been living in the area for 20 years. They have 1 son and 1 daughter. Tao's machine shop and house is right across from the hostel (you can see the hostel in the background). Tao and his employees are extremely hard workers. They work 6 days a week and 12-14 hr/day. Pool is the life of any party, and what she says goes. She radiates a positive energy that is addicting. After a few Johnny Walkers she's been known to speak english and even dance! 

Tao and Pool: Married and have been living in the area for 20 years. They have 1 son and 1 daughter. Tao's machine shop and house is right across from the hostel (you can see the hostel in the background). Tao and his employees are extremely hard workers. They work 6 days a week and 12-14 hr/day. Pool is the life of any party, and what she says goes. She radiates a positive energy that is addicting. After a few Johnny Walkers she's been known to speak english and even dance! 

Poom: His mother's family owns the hostel so he's been living here for the last 2 years. He was kind enough to help translate my questions for the soup lady (picture below). At only 11 years old, he may be shy, but he's intelligent and courageous. He loves soccer and plans to spend a lot of time at the Pattaya water park during his 3 month summer vacation.  

Poom: His mother's family owns the hostel so he's been living here for the last 2 years. He was kind enough to help translate my questions for the soup lady (picture below). At only 11 years old, he may be shy, but he's intelligent and courageous. He loves soccer and plans to spend a lot of time at the Pattaya water park during his 3 month summer vacation.  

Kamporng: She's been living in the neighborhood for 20 years and been making Tom Yam soup for just as long. She's seen a lot of change in those 20 years, much more people, but it's good for business! 

Kamporng: She's been living in the neighborhood for 20 years and been making Tom Yam soup for just as long. She's seen a lot of change in those 20 years, much more people, but it's good for business! 

Thailand - My Taste Buds Thank You!

One of the reasons I enjoy traveling so much is to experience new food, and there's no better place to do that than in Thailand. There's a buffet of new flavors and strange food on every corner, of every street, in any town all over the region. It's cheap, delicious, and inspires you to go further than you're comfortable with, because you never know, you might just discover something you love.

The one dish that is a common theme all over Southeast Asia is spicy noodle soup. For me, it was love at first slurp, it was a pallet changer. I've never had a dish satisfy every taste sensation on my tongue, and all at one time. It's prepared a variety of different ways from techniques grandmothers have been passing down for generations. 

While I was in Bangkok I got really familiar with where to eat, cheapest place for a beer, where to pick up a motorbike, and specifically, where to find the best Tom Yam (spicy noodle soup). One food stall in particular had my heart, and luckily for me it was within a few hundred steps from the City @ 50 Hostel, my Bangkok home. I've told other travelers that if I could have communicated at all with the woman (Kamporng) preparing the soup I'd have proposed to her. 

I'm not proud of it, but I kinda stalked her preparation. From what I observed, she prepares the fresh ingredients 2 hours before she opens. Boiling the pork bone broth, cleaning the vegetables, and separating out the ingredients. Her food stall / house opens at 10am and she pours bowels of soup until she sells out, usually before 2pm.  

Here's are the "ingredients" she uses for her special "clear pork noodle soup", a version of Tom Yam (just guessing from my 30+ visits):

-Pork Bone Broth

-Morning Glory

-Sliced Garlic

-Scallions

-Sprouts

-Cilantro

-Crushed Peanuts

-Crushed Red Chillies 

-Fish Cake Slices

-Fish Balls

-Fish Sauce

-Pork Cracklings

-Wonton Cracker 

-Minced Pork

-Chicken Slices

-Salt 

-Sugar

-Soy Sauce

You can get the soup and a local coke for 43 thb ($1.21) 

The delicate clear broth in all its glory.  

The delicate clear broth in all its glory.  

After mixing and slurping, this is how the broth should look. A deep blood like color with all the good pork juices sticking to the sides of the bowl. Yum!

After mixing and slurping, this is how the broth should look. A deep blood like color with all the good pork juices sticking to the sides of the bowl. Yum!

Kamporng doing work! House rules, socks all day. 

Kamporng doing work! House rules, socks all day. 

Me and the soup lady. 

Me and the soup lady. 

The Kids! Forum for the Welfare of Himalayan Children

Soon after my Silence in Pokhara video was filmed I came across this sign... 

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So I had to visit, right? 

It just so happens that the founder of the Forum for the Welfare of Himalayan Children (FWHC), Alex, was back from Germany on his annual trip, and to celebrate the organization's 20th anniversary. He's a remarkable man who has devoted most of his life helping the orphaned children of Nepal. He showed me around the property, shared his story, and explained the mission of the foundation. 

As we were saying our goodbyes, I felt a need to help out and asked if I could come back. I didn't know what I'd do, I just thought I wanted to hang around the kids for a few hours, maybe teach them how to shoot a basketball. I didn't know... Luckily, and without hesitation, Alex invited me to join a student lead hike to Sarangkot (a mountain village and the best views of Pokhara). Below is short clip from the trek, lead by my pal Santa Raj. He's just one of over ninety kids at the village. 

The children that you see in the video come from the families of poor villagers who can't afford them, families that were displaced during the earthquakes, or parents who have just abandon them. They're basically street kids who've lived on their own until they were found by local governments and brought to FWHC. 

The village educates the children up to 16. They provide clothes, meals, housing, medical care, and love. FWHC instills a work ethic, discipline, and a set of rules that must be followed. It's the responsibility of each student to wash their clothes, make their bed, work in the garden, and help prepare meals. 

The village also has its own set of rules. It's agreed that the village must generate at least 25% of the expenses in order for the organization to keep its funding. They come up with some pretty creative ways to do this:

-Gardening, which supplies them with fresh fruits and vegetables that they don't have to buy.

-They sell arts and crafts to generate income. 

-They a Guesthouse that they rent out to tourists.

-Local farmers supply them with manure which is converted into methane gas and burned for their stoves.  

-Solar water heater to reduce energy costs. 

-Donations  

I can't say enough about the love and support the housemothers provide for the children. They've created such a warm and loving environment. You feel it as soon as you walk through the doors. You could see the smiles on the faces that the kids were genuinely happy. 

It's heart breaking to image what would happen to these kids without the village. The Forum for the Welfare of Himalayan Children gives them hope. Life hasn't been fair to these children but with the love of a village, these kids can grow and excel in life. They're proven to be resilient, so if you feel moved to donate, know that you could be saving the next Santa Raj. If you'd like to support the cause you can send donations here. Since their donations page is not live yet, I will send the money directly to Alex at FWHC