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“Sometimes the cure for restlessness is rest.”
Colleen Wainwright

It was a new thing everyday.  And I loved that feeling.  A new challenge, setback, adventure, sight.  Everything new.  It had been a long time since I could appreciate that feeling.  Today, it was the motorbike.

In Surin, the day of the of the actual Elephant Round-Up event, I had wanted to get up early, rent a bike and make a day trip over to the ruins. However, I was asleep before 8pm the night before and couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed until after noon. Probably a good thing, as most of the bikes in the city seemed to have already been taken by the abnormal influx of people in the town for the festival.  So I would have no other choice but to try again on Sunday.

The other obstacle that was literally stacking up was the more mundane issue of laundry. I hadn’t done it since my second day in Chiang Mai and was pretty much out of anything clean. However, there were no clearly obvious laundry places I could find in Surin.

So rather than rushing off into another destination or exploration, I had an entire day to just relax in the small town of Surin.  Not something I do too often.

Near the bus station are a large number of foreign-oriented eateries, including the Farang Connection, the most noticeably popular one.  My guidebook advertised it as also having a cyber-café upstairs.  It turned out to be 2 computers next to a printer in a spare bedroom, but it served my purpose to check email and get some information on the Angkor Ruins I wanted to check out.

Afterward, I got some lunch downstairs while looking out into the vast bus station parking lot.  An elephant trainer came with a relatively small elephant while I was sitting there.  Has trying to sell food for anyone who wanted to feed his partner (a very common occurrence, apparently).  Something spooked the elephant, though, and it quickly shrieked and he lost control of it.

One thing every one of these trainers carries with them is a tool that looks like a miniature scythe called a bullhook.  Usually they will use it to lightly graze the elephant’s skin to direct it attention in some way or another.  When he caught up to the elephant, he just went mad with the bullhook and began whacking away.  Whether or not it actually broke skin, I couldn’t tell, but it was not a pleasant sight to watch, and many people at Farang Connection did turn away.

The reason I had wanted to rent a motorbike in the early morning was so I could presumably make it back for the Elephant Round-Up Ceremony at Surin’s Elephant Stadium (yup) that night.  As an early November dusk began to cover the town, I headed in the direction of the stadium, the same as people from every direction in the town.

It turned out that the actual Elephant Round-Up had occurred that morning.  There were no major events scheduled in the elephant stadium for the evening.  Although, I wasn’t even able to find the stadium directly because tents for the fair surrounded it for blocks in all directions.  Needless to say, there was plenty to do and there were far more people here than at the Buffet the morning before.

I played a couple games and tried to figure out what some of the other activities were, but after an hour or so, the tents began to lose their novelty.  I even had an encounter with the Krating Daeng (original Red Bull) crew.  Finally, I began to search for the way back to the main road, but that proved a little more difficult done than said.

Amidst all of the things at the fair, I very surprised to find a t-shirt advertising the Exit 76 Truck Stop in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  Aside from the unexpected rarity of seeing another product of Grand Rapids in Surin, Thailand, it is also a place I have been a number a late nights for their 24-hour diner.  I already had enough t-shirts though, so a photo had to suffice.

Once back on the road (4 lane parkway down to a single lane because of all the parked cars), I passed a Thai rock band on playing American song covers.  They were next to a makeshift hangout whose bar consisted of a lemonade-stand like counter made out of spare wood.  I grabbed a drink and listened to them play for a while, before the lead singer came over and introduced herself to me.

Apparently, this was merely a rehearsal for their show that night at a club on the other side of town (again, not that big a town) nearer the bus station.  They invited me to check out the club and see the act.  I figured with the early night before, it might be worth checking out the Surin nightlife, though I wasn’t expecting it to be much.

Once the band got back to practicing, an older woman greeted me and we got into a conversation when I told her I was American.  She was married to an American man.  When she became pregnant with their child, she told me, she had begun the process of applying for U.S. residency.  That was over 8 years ago, and she is still going through the process.

Stories like that one get me thinking that we spend so much time focusing on border and immigration issues as solely being about the Mexican border or halting terrorism, that so many cases like this are completely overlooked.  I particularly amazed at how many similar stories I have heard from British and Australian citizens, quite likely two of the closest countries in the world to the U.S.

After a quick trip back to my room, I decided to go and check out this area’s nightlife.  The main cluster of bars, according to the band, was just a couple blocks northeast of the bus station.

And what I had thought about Surin not having much to offer for nightlife?  Boy was I wrong on that.

One phenomenon that I have yet to figure out is reggae bars in Thailand.  To say they are plentiful would be a bit of an understatement.  I don’t know enough about reggae or Rastafarian culture to comment on how authentic they actually are, but I have to figure that there is more to it than just Bob Marley, which is what the entire décor of every Thai reggae bar I have been in is based around.

The first bar I went into was no different: Thai men with dreadlocks and banners and images of Bob Marley in any form imaginable.  What was really nice about this one was that it had a fantastic rooftop (only 2-story building) area.  Up top, I met a large group of English speakers having a party.  A toga party of all things.

Four degrees of culture I never would have expected to meet:  English speakers → Roman toga partyJamaican reggae bar → in Thailand

Still, I got to speaking with a number of them.  Most were teachers from all over the area.  A mix of nationalities, though chiefly British.  They welcomed me to go with them to the club across the street about a half hour later, despite the fact that I wasn’t donning a toga as well.  This also happened to be the club where the band I met earlier was playing.

Though I’m not usually one for dance clubs, I was amazed when I walked into this place.  The crowd and energy here did not belong in a town this size, and put some of the places I had been to in cities like New York and Boston to shame.  People shoulder to shoulder on the floor, at the bar, and on the second level and more like this were all down the strip until 5am.

It certainly didn’t end up being a day in Surin I expected.

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 9 years, I’ve been living and travelling in Asia, documenting ancient sites and the peoples who built them, and then adapting them into practical archaeological travel information at PathsUnwritten.com.

What are your thoughts?

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