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Inglorious Travels Posts

The one-week detour (Chiang Dao, Thaton, Mae Salong)

In my final weeks in Thailand I made mandatory stops in several large towns representative of the northern provinces. As I’ve written elsewhere, cities require a special energy to explore, so whenever I had the chance I shifted gears by stopping in small, unassuming places. It was this kind of settlements, which could be explored in 1-2 days’ time until I had the feeling that I could hold them in my hand, that had helped…

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Do you cave? (Pang Mapha)

I was late at the caving game: I was already 22 when I walked into my first cave. Several others followed soon and, since this first encounter, caves have been at the top of my list wherever I traveled. My fascination with them comes from what is most likely their mighty effect on any human visitor: I enter caves as matter-of-fact spaces, fully aware of the straightforward natural processes that have shaped them over eons,…

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Behind the mask (Mae Sariang)

Travel is not just about elevated emotional states, which you collect and then coat with an even more uplifting layer until given the occasion to tell these stories, excitedly and without pausing to breathe, to someone back home. Travel is also about a lot of in-betweenness and empty moments: time spent waiting in bus stops, train stations, and on the couches of guest houses; time spent finding your way; time spent yearning for something –…

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1219 (Umphang)

“Songthaew” is a word I couldn’t once say right during my two months in Thailand. The first syllable, ‘song’, was intuitive and at the same time suggestive of the second part, ‘thaew’, a tonal roller-coaster with far more vowels than one might think. It is a vital word to know in certain areas in Northern Thailand, where this repurposed pickup truck with two plain benches covered by a tarp is the only means of public…

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A border report (Mae Sot)

I can’t exactly point out the moment when I was taken with Mae Sot, a small boomtown on the border of Thailand and Burma. Maybe it was on the evening on my arrival, after traveling on an empty yet remarkably modern highway in the mountains and stumbling upon parking lots filled with music and joyful people. Or maybe the next morning, when I rode my bike the wrong way for kilometers on a busy street, and instead of hearing “You farang, learn to drive!” I was greeted…

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Bridging the worlds of Sangkhlaburi #2

On my final evening in Sangkhlaburi, I pay a visit to Jimmy, and American expat who has lived in Thailand for more than 30 years, quite renowned in the region for his humor and advice. “They all come to me on their last evening and then regret it,” he welcomes me. His restaurant stands out among the tourist traps on Sangkhlaburi’s main street because of the many book shelves and a CRT television playing pop-rock…

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Bridging the worlds of Sangkhlaburi #1

“If you want, I jump in water now,” a sixteen-year-old Mon boy in denim shorts says to me as we both look down at a river 40 meters below us. We are on the Mon Wooden Bridge, the longest wooden bridge in Thailand (400 meters) and an emblem of Sangkhlaburi, as it connects the Thai and Mon sides of the village. It is still quite dark, the stars visible in the sky, fog rising out…

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Riding with the locals

Once the Thai-Burmese border became the next target of my trip, I learned to look for platforms filled with locals in major bus terminals or for small bus stations near marketplaces. It was after the experience in the crammed, heavily air-conditioned and dangerously fast mini-buses of Southern Thailand that “VIP bus” became something to avoid rather than take comfort in. Nothing to see there other than the driver honking incessantly and the other passengers, all…

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