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The Mackinac Island skyline.


It’s odd how enigmatic random chance can be sometimes.  While the boat ride back from Koh Phangan was entirely uneventful and mostly just spent continuing the travelogue I hadn’t picked up since getting to the island, I was in for a surprise once on the bus back to Surat Thani.

This bus was much more packed than the one to Koh Phangan, and many were stuck standing.  Luckily I made it in before it came to that.  And, so did the girl who ended up sitting next to me.  One of the things you quickly learn travelling is to never assume anyone speaks English, but it’s always a pleasant surprise when they do.

Jolene, as she introduced herself to me, had me convinced she was American at first, as her accent was completely indistinguishable from a standard American accent.  She was actually from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, but had spent a good deal of time in the United States.

In the grand scheme of the States, and even more so in the world, Michigan is pretty insignificant.  Since being abroad, I find it easiest to use Chicago as a reference to where I’m from.  She asked me to specify and I told her Michigan.

“Oh.  I know Michigan really well.  I worked on an a small island there called Mackinac Island.”

That was unexpected.  “I lived there for three years.”

Friends and I on Mackinac Island in 2010.

Mackinac Island is a very small island (8 mile circumference) located in the Straits of Mackinac, where Lakes Michigan and Huron (actually the same lake) meet.  The island has a year round population of about 500.  In the warmer months, it becomes a ‘summer colony’ with tourists, partial year residents, and hundreds or thousands of employees.

Despite the fact that United States work visas are increasingly hard to come across, there is a large number of foreign workers on Mack Isle.  A great majority are Jamaicans, a mystery in its own rite, even though I shared an apartment with about 6 during my first and second years there.  Also, many people, like Trang, who I was meeting in Singapore, came through pre-arranged job placements from companies like  Jolene was also one of those people.

And so the conversation was sparked about Mackinac Island.  Places we both knew.  People we knew.  People we didn’t know.  And, pardon the language, but, all the fucked up things that happen on Mackinac Island.

She had a flight back to Kuala Lumpur in the morning, and despite the fact I had spent all of an hour in Surat Thani, I still seemed to be more familiar with it than she was.  A couple blocks from the same tour company where I had arrived from Khao Sok and where I would leave for Hat Yai tomorrow we found a guesthouse to stay in for a good price.

Surat Thani from where I stayed.

Surat Thani is nothing special.  It’s not developed for tourist infrastructure, but it has cheap lodging available.  The best places to eat and explore are located nearer the river, rather than the main road that runs through. For the most part, it’s just a practical and residential Thai city.

Jolene and I went looking for the night market said to be in the city, where there would assuredly be heapings of street food available cheaply.  What we found instead were empty malls and random stands closing down.  Both of us were able to get meals, but we also both picked up fillers at 7-Eleven too.

Waiting for the bus.

The next day, my main aim was to get a camera.  There was a Big C in Surat Thani and a Camera World inside of it.  They had a version of the same camera I had lost on Koh Phangan, but would not take cards for some reason.  So, in a whole complicated fiasco, and despite the fact that I didn’t want to use the disposable cash I had on me, I got my new camera.

After that, it was an immensely long and inconvenient tuk-tuk ride back to the tour company where I got to wait for three hours confined in heat for the bus to Hat Yai, a place every person I knew in Thailand warned me not to go.

Sweating waiting for the bus to Hat Yai.

Benjamin Williams

Hi all, my name is Ben. I’m a native Michigander with a passion for human culture and new places, and more than that, new experiences. I have degrees in archaeology and writing, pursuing a career in the latter. However, I never quite lost that fascination for archaeological theory. For the past 11 years, I’ve been living and travelling between Asia, Europe, and North America, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at

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