The second of Travelhappy’s Thailand Writer series. This week, Phil Thornton, author of Restless Souls, about the Karen of Burma and the uneasy border between Burma and Thailand
Australian Irish, born Ireland moved to England at 10 and to Australia at 21.
Time in Thailand:
What brought you here?
Stories brought me to Thailand.
What do you most love about Thailand:
I love Thailand for its stories. I like the morning heat, smelling incense, sugar burning in a hot wok and mixing with fish sauce and then the sudden smell of a drain — it’s real, it’s poetry.
Where do you live in Thailand?
Why did you choose to live there? I live in Mae Sot on the Thai Burma border – a mix of Thai Burmese, rural and town.
What irks you?
I don’t like the wet season or at least three out of the four months of it, too long. Everything is damp, clothes, bedlinen, paper.
Thailand is the land of smiles. Discuss.
True but it’s working out what the smile means and who’s smiling. I feel at home in Thailand as I do in most places — everywhere feels like home except home.
Cultural recommendations (ie getting over culture shock):
Good piece of advice I was given many years ago was: “Allah will protect you but don’t forget to lock up your camel.” Act decent with people and behave with grace (doesn’t mean timid or false) and I feel this will overcome most obstacles. Don’t be scared and if you are live with it. Most people are not out out to rip you off and if do come across one who is (see camel quote) they’re usually obvious about it, making promises they can’t keep.
Explain the passion and idea behind your latest book in 100 words:
I love the process of writing: finding a story to tell, being confused, researching, going beneath the surface, getting beyond black and white and into the cracks in the big picture. Writing can be painful; you have to put the effort into it and be truthful to the story and yourself. My last book, Restless Souls was about the Karen of Burma. It documents their struggle against the Burmese military dictatorship. It looks at the dreams and hopes of the ordinary heros; villagers, mothers, children, teachers, freedom fighters, medics, sons and daughters. It also looked at the other players; aid workers, govts, migrants, mercenaries. [Read Travelhappy's review of Restless Souls].
Always depends on the company, only works if you share — but I love Issan food and Mae Sot have two very good places one know as the Lao and the other as ‘near the airport’.
In Mae Sot Bar Kung is a favourite. I love BKK’s Chinatown, especially the small alleyways. In BKK I like the feel of Love Scene restaurant, a little edgy and good food with little fuss. Bar Barbican is good as is the FCCT bar and restaurant, the best staff in all of Thailand — Khun Roong is great as is Khun Santana, her husband Anirut and Khun Rienchai.
Favourite Thai getaway:
I like the ocean, but without people, sand, sun surf and a good seafood cafe… there is a place but I’m keeping it to myself.
Favourite Thai meal:
Thai food, it’s all good: gang som, nam tuck, hoi tod, larb, pla talay tod, boat noodle soup, mangos, limes and papaya.
I’ve written I Protest! It’s Only A Job! and Restless Souls. Contributed to a quite few more.