a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts have been floating around in my head but it has been intense trying to catch up with my real life… goal is to post something daily… we shall see…

Last week there was an article in the Georgia Straight about Bruce Poon Tip.  Richard Branson was also here talking about himself 🙂

Bruce is not as famous as Richard but does seem to also have a large personality.  I met him once, way back in 1992, when he was at a travel show to promote his fledgling venture – the Great Adventure People.

I knew who he was because I had been to Thailand the year before on my very first foray into the developing world – an Intrepid Travel tour of Thailand.  I had been raised in the school of safe travel – stay at Best Westerns, only travel where they speak English, don’t walk the streets at night…  And then I started dating some guy who had grown up urban in Toronto, taking the subway to school on his own at a young age.  And we went to Montreal for the weekend.  And Mike made me stay in some simple bed and breakfast that he just picked at random.  Why weren’t we at a Best Western where we would be safe!?!  Because we had arrived by train, not car, and were students with almost no cash and no credit cards…

And it was great!  The lady didn’t speak English so it wasn’t a warm and fuzzy experience but it was totally fine and cost $10!  Mike changed my life is so many ways and that lodging choice was only one of them.

I became the kind of girl whose first trip to Europe went something like this… my needy Australian boyfriend who had gone off alone on his eight month tour of Europe because we had just met and I couldn’t afford to travel for eight months called and enticed me into coming to London for a week.  I did the math and the Wardair flight would cost next to nothing, we could stay with his friends in Earl’s Court sleeping on the sofa and we could eat in pubs for a few pounds… so I got my very first passport and arrived at Gatwick with a daypack… practicing packing light for the three month backpacking journey I would join him on a few months later.

Scott got me to backpack through Europe… when it came time to travel back to Canada from Oz, I turned the tables on him and said I wanted to do this “adventure tour” through Thailand.  Having scrambled through Europe on $50 a day carrying my own pack for several kilometres on a regular basis had turned me into the kind of girl who doesn’t do “group tours” 😉  But I knew Thailand was not Europe and a little caution might be in order… so the Intrepid tour sounded like the perfect compromise.  We would travel like a local and it would cost almost nothing but we would have someone who knew his way around in charge of the official details…


Scott was a weenie so he was totally freaked at my choice but I told him he had two choices – come with me or meet me in Vancouver once I got there two or three months later…  I’d begun to realize that I had dealt with all the hard stuff when we were travelling in Europe and he was an appendage rather than this boy protecting me from the world so I could conquer Asia without him 🙂

He came along – but by then I realized I was the protector and he was just tagging along…  I also learned that maybe you SHOULD pay for the airport transfer… although you will never get a story that way… The tour cost about $10-15 per day so an airport transfer at $30+ dollars seemed outrageous to me.  Having never been to the developing world, I surmised that we were arriving mid-day so I had tons of time with daylight to find the obscure guesthouse in Chinatown in Bangkok where the tour began.

I am obsessive about details so I had a map for the guesthouse, the name in both English and Thai script… what could go wrong?  Maybe the fact that the taxi driver was likely illiterate… and most tourists crazy enough to just rock up to the airport in Bangkok and organize their own taxi just wanted somewhere to sleep…

So we spent the next two hours driving around Bangkok with the taxi driver trying to drop us off at random guesthouses… me asking for someone who spoke English, trying to figure out how to get out of this infinite loop… and telling Scott to stay in the taxi!  Cause we had paid a flat fee at the airport so I could have the taxi drive us around for hours…

I kept showing the driver the map and the name of the guest house but it became obviously that this strategy was going nowhere and we somehow needed to find OUR guesthouse or we wouldn’t make it onto the tour.  All my preparation started to pay off.  I decided our guest house seemed pretty close to a railway station.  And I might be able to get the taxi driver to understand THAT destination.  And at least then we would know where we were!

It worked.  And luckily I had read copious amounts about Thailand before we arrived so spied in one of the shops a map of Bangkok that had been written in English by Americans and came recommended by my guidebook.  I checked it out… our guest house was on the map!  So I bought it.  And told Scott we were going to walk toward the Chao Phraya River with our backpacks cause it appeared our guest house was on the river so it should be easy to find.

Well… that was when I learned that if you wander the poorer parts of a developing city, the signs are not going to be in English!  And some languages are easier to translate if you are an English speaker… Thai, Arabic… not so much… I just went for counting the number of streets between the railway station and the river!  I was pretty sure we were on the right street but the numbers didn’t add up… we walked past the spot where the guest house should be using the street address.

What to do?  Channel my instincts growing up in the bush… There were a bunch of vehicles in a parking space at the location where the street address would suggest our guest house should be.  It looked like there might be a river if you squinted through the morass of vehicles blocking the view.  So I boldly told Scott, “I think we need to walk through the maze of trucks toward what I think is the river and I bet we will find the guest house where our tour starts.”  And Sherlock would have been proud 😉

If I hadn’t managed to find the starting point for the tour, I would have never known about Bruce.  His name came up when we got to the Golden Triangle and we were so close to Burma (Myanmar by then) you could walk across the bridge on foot and add another country to your list.  Diane (our tour leader) appreciated how enticing it looked so she told us the cautionary tale of Bruce…

Apparently on a past trip she had a traveller named Bruce who because of his mixed ethnicity looked Thai.  Thais could cross into Burma without a problem but not the same for the rest of us.  Bruce was a bit of a brat so he snuck off when Diane wasn’t looking.  What Bruce hadn’t appreciated is that anyone will be welcomed into Burma with open arms.  He thought he was really clever.

But then he tried to leave!  That was another matter entirely, involving cash, camera equipment, bribes, etc.  Diane rescued him.  But she told us that was the extent of her largess.  We knew the score.  So if WE decided to sneak into Burma, we would have to orchestrate our own escape.  The cautionary tale of Bruce worked.  We just took pictures of the border sign.

But that is why when I read the re-branded G Adventures marketing stuff about Bruce I roll my eyes a little bit.  It does seem like Bruce is a pretty cool guy and I will likely take one of his tours at some point – but the idea that HE invented this form of travel… seriously, dude, Diane rescued your ass from rotting in prison in Burma and the concept of low key, hang out with the locals travel was pioneered by Intrepid, not by you, honey.  But you seem to be the more alpha male, beating your chest about how cool you are while the Intrepid guys are just doing their thing.  Me, I am a fan of the beta male… there is a lot to be said for self-deprecation 🙂  Richard – I really think you should turn in your passport.  You must be an American with all that self-promotion 😉

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