Image courtesy of Russ Bowlling on Flickr
I lived in Thailand for two years, one year in the north in Lampang, a small city best known for its elephant “sanctuary” and another year in Bangkok. I met some wonderful people, some not so wonderful people and some influential people while living in Thailand. The most influential person I met in Thailand wasn’t a pop star, a soap opera star or a high ranking politician, although I did meet each of those. It was a humble taxi driver, Phassakorn and his wife, Dao – the most influential people that I met while living in Thailand. To this day, I am still grateful for their kindness.
I also thought it was time to write about something good that has happened to me while traveling so that I don’t give the impression that I’ve only had misfortunes while traveling, see: Culture Shock in a German Hospital, My #1 Travel Safety Tip, 6 Things I Learned from Getting Deported, as nothing could be further from the truth.
Photo courtesy of St.A on Flickr
I was living in Lampang at the time and had a few weeks vacation, so stopped for a couple of days in Bangkok before heading south for the beaches that Thailand is famous for. I had just come from seeing a movie, a novelty since there was no English movie theatre, newspapers or books in Lampang. When I came out from the movie, there was a torrential downpour. It took me some time to find a taxi and my relief of doing so was short lived when I informed him that I wanted to go to Khao San Road where I would find a cheap hotel. He informed me in Thai (I spoke a bit of Thai at that point) that the roads were flooded and that it wasn’t possible. Months later while living in Bangkok, I would come to realize that the torrential downpours flooding the streets are actually a somewhat frequent occurrence in Bangkok during rainy season, that really do shut down parts of the city, but I hadn’t realized it at the time. I figured he was then going to recommend an uncle or friends hotel instead that “just happened” to be in the area, and one where he would receive a commission for bringing me there. But this wasn’t the case. Phassakorn, as I had come to learn was his name, informed me there were several hotels nearby, but they were all very expensive. I was working as an English teacher, being paid in Thai baht – in other words, not making much money. One night in one of those hotels would eat through most of the money I had budgeted for three weeks of budget travel and I would be forced to return back to Lampang and spend the rest of my vacation bored in this sleepy town.
I explained my dilemma to Phassakorn and he thought for a minute or two, then suggested that I sleep at his house. Of course I immediately assumed the worse, but he quickly reassured me that his wife, Dao was at home and that as soon as he dropped me off, he would be returning to his taxi to finish his night shift. It sounded rather fishy to me, but there was a kindness in his eyes. Besides, my only other option at that point was to get out of the cab and walk in water that would have been up to my knees in the middle of a city that I didn’t know, and filled with who knows what kinds of parasites.
Photo courtesy of Wat Suandok on Flickr
So I agreed that we would drive to his house and that he would check with his wife to see if she was OK with having an unexpected visitor at midnight. He ran in and checked with her and said she was surprised but OK with this rather odd arrangement. I agreed to go and investigate. I wasn’t sure there was even a wife at this point, but I was desperate and if there was no wife, I wouldn’t be sticking around. As he opened the door I saw Dao peering inquisitively at me from behind the door. The entire apartment consisted of one room with a sleeping mat laid out. Directly across from that was a hot plate and a shelf lined with a few sparse dishes. Off to the kitchen/living room/bed room was a very small bathroom. That was it. There was no fridge, no stove, no TV. I’ve seen bathrooms larger than their entire living space.
They scrambled to find me another bed mat and rolled it out beside their mat. I climbed onto my mat clutching my money belt tightly as I did so, convinced they were only being so kind trying to build good karma so that they wouldn’t have bad karma when they robbed me later while I was sleeping (karma is very important to Thai Buddhists, even to robbers). I really couldn’t blame them for their plan considering their circumstances, but at the same time really didn’t want to get robbed. Dao went back to sleep and as promised Phassakorn went back out and finished his shift, returning home at about 5:00 am. The night passed by uneventfully.
When I woke up the next morning, I was equally relieved and surprised that my money belt was still safely on me, with all its contents. The rain was gone just as quickly as it had came and the streets were free and Phassakorn was able to drop me off in a central part of Bangkok.
I asked Phassakorn how much he paid to rent the taxi every night and he told me (it was the equivalent to ~$25. U.S) and so I gave him the equivalent to this plus a little more. His eyes widened in disbelief as he told me that was far too much and tried to give me most of my money back. I felt it was the least I could do considering his and Dao’s, considerable kindness that saved me from wandering aimlessly around through the flooded streets in Bangkok where who knows what or who I would have encountered. Reluctantly and with tears in his eyes he gratefully accepted the payment. I also got his name and address, and when back in Lampang, had one of my Thai friends translate a thank you letter which I mailed to Phassakorn and Dao thanking them for their kindness and telling me how much it meant to me.
Over ten years later, I am still in disbelief at this random act of kindness I received from Phassakorn and Dao. Phassakorn and Dao have made my world a brighter place and left a bigger impression on me than any other person I met while living in Thailand for two years. To this day, they have inspired me to try and be a kinder person, especially to strangers – if that’s not influential, I don’t know what is.