Cockroaches, skinny-dipping and smiling

Our very first Tuesday Tales contributor, Michael Bihl, has some funny stories to tell involving skinny dipping and cockroaches (but not together, thank goodness):


1.  How do we know each other?

You came to Hat Yai to work as a teacher, and I was introduced to you once, briefly, at the Swan. A few days later I ran into you in Big C Extra. We shopped together, and then sat down for a chocolate milkshake, and it was one of my happiest days in Hat Yai.

2.  Describe yourself using adjectives that start with the letters in your first name? (E.g. Bob – bubbly, organised, bashful)

Mindful, Intelligent, Commitment-phobic, Helpful, Amusing, Easy going, Laid-back

3.  If you could be any age for the rest of your life, what age would you choose? Why?

My initial inclination was to say 28, because it’s a good balance between healthy youth and mature adult, but I think I’d prefer to be much younger. I think I’d like to be eight forever. Or there abouts. My imagination was so much more alive back then. I appreciated people as people and not in terms of where they fit into the social hierarchy. I didn’t see the world through a filter of sex that came with puberty. I felt more deeply and was more naturally curious about the world. Now I have to make a conscious effort to be that curious.

4.  What country do you live in?

Thailand at the moment.

5.  How many countries have you lived in?

Four: South Africa, Botswana, England and Thailand.

6.  How many countries have you visited (not including airport stop-overs)?

11 (I’m not including South Africa).

7.  What’s your favourite method of travelling?  Plane, boat, train or car? (Or anything else)

Plane, I think. When I travel by plane it usually means that my destination is going to be radically different from my origin.

8.  What are your 5 favourite foods?

I’m not much of a foodie, but I guess chicken, lamb, biltong, Salticrax and French fries.

9.  What is the craziest food you’ve ever eaten? Would you recommend it?

When I was in Bangkok recently I ate a rather large scorpion. You can eat the entire thing – stinger and all – and it hardly tastes like anything. It’s like eating part of a cereal box that’s been fried in oil. I’d recommend it only because it’ll make you a badass in the eyes of your friends back home.

10.  What is your most memorable experience from your travelling?

That’s a difficult question to find a specific answer to. Travelling is almost always amazing, and even when it goes terribly wrong, it still makes for a great story. One such event happened when I went to Koh Phi Phi (one of Thailand’s islands) in April last year. I was with my friend Lisa, and her mom, Clare. It had rained a little bit while we were there, but on one sunny day we took a boat tour around to some of the surrounding islands. Our long tail boat putt-putted us out to a few islands and rocks, and eventually dropped us off at Maya Bay, better known as the beach on which the movie The Beach was filmed. We could rest and play around there for a little bit, and while we were doing that the weather started to get cloudy. The driver of our boat wanted to get going again, because we still had one more island to see on hour tour, and he wanted to get there before it started raining. Once every member of our tour group was back on the long tail boat, we headed out into the sea once again. The sea had gotten very choppy by now and we were being rocked about in an alarming manner. I started taking not of where the nearest land was, and whether or not I’d be able to swim to it. We were being thrown about heavily, and Lisa started getting very worried for her mom.

“Mom, seriously, put on a life jacket. Please!” She demanded, suppressing panic. It had started raining and, even though the boat had a tarpaulin roof, we were being pelted with water from all sides.

Lisa grabbed for one of the never-used life jackets was clipped to the side of the boat. She hastily unclipped it and handed it to Clare, and then helped her to fumble the clasps shut. Clare was tightly bound inside her orange life jacket, and remained to for about fifteen seconds before she realized that the entire thing was infested with cockroaches. They started skittering all over her chest, neck and shoulders and Clare, horrified, try to tear the jacket off. Unfortunately it had been carefully attached to her, so the whole process had to be reverse-engineered before Clare could hurl it away to the other end of the boat.

It was a hideous moment, but it left Clare laughing and it helped to break the tension that we all felt about the weather. But now the sea and calmed. It was still raining, but we didn’t mind so much because things had recently been so much worse.

11.  Name a beautiful sound that you heard on your travels.

When I was in Chang Mai I went to a temple that had a large gong suspended from an iron bracket. If you rubbed the central node in just the right way it would emit a melodious ringing sound. Neither I nor any of my friends could get this right, but a happy Thai man came along and showed us how it was done.

12. Excluding your passport and purse, what are 2 things you NEVER travel without?

My lip balm and my handkerchief.

13.  How many languages can you speak?

English and Afrikaans fluently. A smattering of Thai, and just enough French to sound obnoxious.

14.  Which languages can you say, ‘How are you?’ in?


15.  What are your 3 best packing tips?

You can re-wear a lot of clothes, so only pack about two of each item.

Roll your clothes rather than fold them.

Bring a small satchel along in which to keep your vitals (phone, wallet, book, passport, water, mp3 player) in case you get separated from your main luggage (for example, if it gets loaded into the back of a van).

16.  What are some of the wildest animals you’ve ever touched?

Elephant, giraffe.

17. Which oceans have you paddled or swum in?

Indian, Atlantic.

18.  If someone had told you 5 years ago that you would be where you are now, would you have believed them?



19.  What techno-gadgets do you own?

A BlackBerry phone, a Kindle, and a laptop.

20.  Who would you like to sit next to on a long-distance journey and why?

My best friend, or a beautiful woman.

21.  Your craziest experience and if relevant, would you recommend it?

One night in Trang, after dancing in a club until about 02.00 in the morning, the friends I was with decided to drive to the beach to carry on the party. A harrowing car ride later, and we were on swimming out in the warm sea in the dead of night with our various drinks in our hands. We played drinking games, and it wasn’t long before we were all naked, and we only drove back at 07.00 in the morning. Swimming naked in the sea while watching the sun rise is definitely something I’d recommend.

22. Something that you’d like to try… (food or experience – keep it clean please!)

I’d still like to get a tattoo.

23.  When you fly, do you prefer to arrive at the airport extra early or get there just in the nick of time? Why?

When I fly internationally I prefer to get there early to browse the shops and eat at the restaurants and watch the people from all over the world. When I fly locally I’m happy to just get there and go.

24.  2 important things you have learnt from your travels.

No matter how much you have learned through travelling, talk to other travellers (and other people in general) as if you know nothing. Their knowledge can only add to yours. If you try to prove that you know more than them, they won’t tell you anything.

Smiling, even in the worst situations, will make things easier.

25.  What 3 points of advice would you give to would-be travellers?

Throw yourself blindly into the world.

Allow yourself to be changed.

The best stories come about when you are proactive. Don’t sit about drinking and waiting for things to happen to you. Take a yoga class. Book a tour. Talk to strangers. Walk to the furthest, most unreachable bar and drink there.



If you’d like to follow Michael and his adventures in Thailand, he has a blog here. Do stop by and say hi to him.



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