I recently split from my friends, who I had been traveling with, in order to extend my stay in Thailand a few extra weeks. My Visa was expiring and I needed to do what’s called a “Visa Run” or else become illegal. A “Visa Run” entails leaving the country, even for a short period of time, and returning to get a new stamp in your passport. In order to do this, I set my course for the border town of Ranong, situated a short long tail boat ride from Burma. I arrived after the immigration office had closed for the day, so I figured I’d find a place to stay for the night, take it easy and head for Burma in the morning. Little did I know at the time, but waiting for me was what would become my favorite bungalow in all of Thailand.
Exiting the bus and clueless as to the whereabouts of any bed, I was approached by a young girl with a laminated advertisement for a hotel room, 400 baht ($13). Being on a budget I told her I wanted something cheaper and began to pull up a map of the area in order to orientate myself. But after a few more failed attempts at selling me on this hotel, she suddenly changed her sales pitch. “Bungalow, 100 baht.” Umm, that definitely fit my budget, so I jumped in the back of the songthaew (taxi truck) and we were off. A few kilometers later and nearing the outskirts of town, we pulled onto a bumpy dirt road and drove straight toward a small stream, on which stood a row of what one could only call wooden shacks. One of the buildings, if you could even call it that, my 100 baht ($3) bungalow.
A quick look inside and I soon realized that my next question on whether they had wi-fi was pretty useless. And a power outlet? Yea right. All I saw were some candles, a lighter, a mosquito net, and a small mattress on the floor with some blankets and pillows. With a small grin on my face and the thought of “what on earth did I just stumble upon” I exclaimed “Perfect! I’ll take it.” Within minutes I had met the whole family, who lived in the shack to my right and on whom English was not of much use, but my next surprise came when I asked, more like motioned, where a good place to eat was. Before I knew what had happened, I was riding a rickety old bicycle down Thai streets with a gleeful young girl sitting on the back, directing me toward the nearest market. When we arrived, she promptly jumped off and into the songthaew her dad had followed us in, but not before pointed to the number 8 on her watch and saying “hot springs.” “Cool,” I thought to myself, “They’re taking me to one of the typical tourist spots to check out.” But I couldn’t have been more wrong.
At eight o’clock that night, after I had returned from my meal, the father-daughter combo and myself piled into the songthaew, which, I had come to the conclusion, sounded like a half full metal tool box being shook around violently. We arrived at the hot springs and they began to demonstrate their daily routine. First we bathed, which consisted of scooping out the warm water from the spring and dumping it over your head, lathering up and repeating. I hadn’t thought about it before, but there was no running water at their home in which to bath, and even if there was, the temperature certainly wasn’t as agreeable as that of the hot springs. Other than the girl finding joy in dumping some of the more scalding water down my back, I approved. After we were thoroughly clean and had spent some time refreshing in the spa portion of the spring, we headed to the well and I soon realized what all the large empty buckets that had tagged along with us were used for, to stock up on clean water for the following day. How else could they “flush” the toilet and wash their dishes tomorrow? Our day ended with a tour of the animals found in and around the stream behind their home, which included fish, crabs, crayfish and a poor monkey they had collared to their tree.
And that wasn’t even the end of it, the next day I tagged along with Pon, the father, on his daily morning routine, breakfast and coffee, and his first hour of work transporting his fellow Thais around town. I felt like he was showing me off as the only thing I could comprehend besides his unabashed joy, was the word “Americano” he kept using in every conversation. The day also included a trip to the market three people deep on a scooter, numerous simple English lessons, another trip to bathe, and a late night run for pad thai and coconut sticky rice, in which my money was adamantly refused.
Passing out in my “bungalow” that second night, I couldn’t help but think, “This is why I travel.” Thailand, which at first glance can appear overrun with tourists following a well worn path, still had tiny untouched pockets like these, waiting for travelers like myself. Don’t get me wrong, the worn path is comfortable and a ton of fun, but pulling up to that bungalow for the first time, I sensed that not many had traversed these parts and I had no idea what to expect. There was no guidebook entry on this one to consult. I just decided to give it a go and was rewarded . It’s cliche, but it’s humbling to see a family with so little, be so extraordinarily happy. They absolutely loved sharing their lives with me and I loved the time I had with them. I’m already planning my return.