I drove the 687km from Rayong on Monday so we could visit my wife’s family here in Chat Trakan. It is the first time we’ve been back in almost three years. This is where my son was born, and it was also where I spent my last years as a drunk and the first couple of years of my new sober life. It’s wonderful to be back, but there are lots of reminders of how bad things once were for me – it’s renewed my feelings of gratitude for how far I’ve come over the last (almost) eight years.
The Village Drunk
Chat Trakan is in the middle of nowhere. The nearest city is Phitsanulok which is over a 100km away or Uttaradit which is slightly further in the opposite direction. It is doubtful that many people have ended up in this part of the world by accident – you can get here by two different routes, but there is nowhere else to go once you arrive. Chat Trakan is surrounded by mountains and jungle. It’s close to Laos, but the nearest crossing into that country is hundreds of kilometers away.
I met Oa (my wife) in Chiang Mai, and we’d been together about a year before we moved to Chat Trakan. Oa thought it was a good idea because she is a country lass at heart, and I agreed because there were no western bars and only two expats living within a 10km radius of her village. I went to Chat Trakan for the same reason I’d accepted a job in Saudi Arabia a few years before – I thought it would provide the ideal environment for someone who wanted to quit alcohol.
The lack of drinking buddies and drinking venues didn’t even put a dent into my enthusiasm for alcohol. I felt perfectly happy to sit in a local restaurant all day and pretend it was a bar. I also found a drinking establishment that was open 24-hours, played all my favorite music, and where the management were never going to kick me out – best of all, this bar had a door leading right into my bedroom.
Chat Trakan is stunningly beautiful with quaint villages, amazing waterfalls, and unbeatable nature walks. I’d email friends and family enthusiastically describing my new home and imagining how jealous it made them feel. The truth was that I had become the village drunk, and I resisted going anywhere outdoors unless there was going to be drink involved. I might as well have been living in a bus shelter in Birmingham for all the good the exotic scenery was doing me. It reminded me of the Pogues song ‘Thousands are Sailing’:
Postcards we’re mailing, of sky-blue skies and oceans, from rooms the daylight never sees, and lights don’t glow on Christmas trees
Being a westerner in this part of the world means you stand out. I never made much of an effort to hide my drinking, so my drunken exploits gave me a certain notoriety. The fact that I always had plenty of beer in my fridge meant that I rapidly befriended most of the big drinkers in the village.
One of the strangest things about being back is that I’m sure lots of people still think of me as that person, but for me it is like he is a complete stranger. I wasn’t so much a bad person back then, but I suspect even other village drunks looked at me with pity because I was obviously so messed up.
Last Day in Chat Trakan
We are travelling back to Rayong tomorrow. Oa always gets a bit teary when we leave, but I’m usually glad to get going. I do love it here, we only left because it didn’t feel like the best place to raise our son, but it no longer feels like home to me – it never really did. I sort of prefer my new life in a place where the neighbors don’t have memories of me repeatedly falling off my motorbike, or crashing into rice fields, because I had too many bottles of Chang for breakfast.