As I set foot in Bangkok’s modern airport I felt happy to return to Planet Earth.  Although our flight from India
was only four hours Erin and I felt like we just spent a month on another planet.  Planet India was an amazing and
enjoyable experience but we were really looking forward to the comforts of Thailand.   And for most of our time in
Thailand we did enjoy the comforts of good value accommodations, delicious food and great buses.  We especially
enjoyed the most relaxing night of our nine month journey in a Marriott hotel thanks to our great friends, the
Pintos!!  But, eventually we found ourselves in a little predicament.

     We enjoyed several days in the pleasant and relaxing city of Chiang Mai before venturing out to see the more
secluded regions of Northern Thailand.  The Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai provinces are nestled in Northern Thailand
near the Myanmar (Burma), Laos, and China border and are blessed with picturesque panoramas of lush green
mountains and rivers that snake through the countryside.   Over many years ethnic minorities have settled in the
remote regions of these beautiful provinces.  These ethnic minorities are often referred to as ‘hill tribes’ and each
hill tribe possesses its own language, customs, dress and spiritual beliefs and most are of semi-nomadic origin.  
They are ‘fourth world’ people in that they do not belong to developed or developing nations.  Rather, they have
crossed and continue to cross national borders, often fleeing from oppression by other cultures.  In an attempt to
see this beautiful region and hopefully a hill tribe we embarked on a “planned” two day adventure that would take
us to the Akha Hill Lodge in the mountains of northern Thailand.  Our two day adventure would include a bus, a
riverboat, and then an hour hike to our lodging.
     We tossed the bare essentials into
our small backpack and left the rest of
our luggage at our Chiang Mai hotel.
We then boarded a four hour bus to
the small town of Tha Ton.  In Tha Ton
we purchased two tickets for the mid
day river boat down to Chiang Rai.  
After a quick lunch, I placed a call to
Akha Hill Lodge, confirmed our
reservations and was reassured that
the lodge was easy to find.  The
receptionist said there were signs to
the lodge on the hiking trail, and if we
became lost we could ask the hill tribes
to point us in the right direction.  
Feeling very good about our excursion,
we boarded the river boat and began
our journey through the mountainous
region.  Seven of us sat, actually more
like lied, in this little river boat and
cruised down the river with our heads
only a few feet above the water.  The
river and surrounding mountains were
so tranquil I could have easily slept.  
But fear of missing a beautiful sight
around every bend kept me awake.  
Three hours into our journey, the boat
pulled up to rocky shores near a group
of hot springs.  We disembarked here
while all the other passengers
continued to Chiang Rai.  As we began
our hike to the Akha Hill Lodge we
were encouraged by a sign we saw
right off the bat. At that time we were
unaware that this would be the ONLY
sign pointing us to the Akha Hill lodge.  
We were completely isolated as we
hiked through the region.  At this time,
we enjoyed this isolation.  After thirty
minutes on the trail we noticed a small
village up ahead.  Filled with
excitement and nervous energy we
ventured into the village.  Nervous
energy, definitely, although I have
seen many odd and unique people
walking the streets of San Francisco I
Erin is safely aboard the river boat.
Our refuge while floating the Mae Nam Kok river.
have never strolled into a remote village where people live strictly of the land and speak their own unique language.
This village consisted of people from the Akha hill tribe which originated from Tibet and whose spiritual belief system
is animism.   These ethnic minorities live in basic wood cabins and the community we walked through had about ten
to fifteen cabins.  The cabins were on small stilts and under the homes they kept various types of animals but
predominantly pigs.  As we arrived in the village we were unsure of which direction to head next so we took the
lodge’s advice and asked for directions.  You’re probably thinking “how is Jarrod going to ask such a question when
the hill tribes language is only spoken by a select few in this world?”  Well, you will be proud to know that my
second language is Tibeto-Burman!!!  Okay, that is a lie but ask yourself this.  How often are foreigners walking
around this village asking about politics or the latest video game?  If a foreigner opens his or her mouth in this
village the villagers know this person is lost and is asking for directions to the one and only lodge in the region.  So,
once we opened our mouths a few villagers pointed up the hill and we were off.
The one and only sign to Akha Hill Guesthouse.
This was the largest hill tribe cabin we laid eyes on.
    This is where our good luck came to an end. Over the next thirty minutes we encountered three forks in the trail
with no signs whatsoever to indicate which direction we should go.  So much for that easy trail we were told about.
With all the forks in the trail we knew the odds were against us.  We placed a few markers at each decision point
to make sure we could return to the village and then to the hot springs and camp grounds near the river.   Several
back tracks and a few hours later we came to the realization that we would not locate the lodge before dark.  What
had started as a fun excursion had quickly become a pain in the ass.  We did not want to be in the woods at dark
so we retraced our steps through the hill village and back to the camp grounds.  With an hour or so of light left we
approached the camp grounds hoping they had a tent or small cable available to tent.  
     After numerous unsuccessful
conversations with visitors and a
security guard due to the language
barrier we realized this camp site did
not offer tents and the few cabins they
had were full.  At this moment I
remembered reading an “around-the-
world” planning book that gave
recommendations on where/how to
sleep outside if you were ever forced
to.  So, with their recommendations in
mind I scanned the area for sleeping
options.  Option 1: we could sleep in
the campsite’s restroom which would
protect us from the cold but be
disgusting. Option 2: we could sleep on
the cold ground near lighting for safety,
or Option 3: we could turn on the charm
and try to make friends with a few
locals camping near by, and turn a two
person tent into a four person for the
night.  But considering we only know a
few words in Thai that might be
Which way do we go!
difficult.  None of these options sounded appealing but they were all becoming very real with each passing minute!  
We eventually found a person who spoke a little bit of English that told us about another campsite down the road
that rented tents.  As daylight waned, we quickly hit the road in search of this option.  As we walked anxiously
down the road my mind raced between awful horror movies where hitchhikers and other road wanders are axed to
death and the more realistic outcome of Erin and I sleeping in the Men’s or Women’s restroom at the previous
campsite.  Twenty minutes later and in complete darkness we passed a lodge-like building and noticed two Thai
men excitedly waving at us as they ate dinner.  Before we even knocked on the door it was opened by them.  We
were lucky to find that one of the men, Johnny (obviously not his birth name), spoke some English.  He quickly
offered us a room in this quasi lodge which we later learned was a summer camp that Johnny and his pal were
watching and repairing during these winter months.  Johnny also offered to drive us into Chiang Rai the following
morning, which was the closest town where we could catch a bus back to Chiang Mai.  The room in the lodge had a
full size mattress on the floor with no sheets and a bathroom that obviously had not been used in quite some time.  
Things were looking much better but Johnny’s somewhat odd demeanor and over-eagerness to have us stay in an
empty home in the middle of nowhere worried us a tad so we also asked him if there were any other
accommodations near by.  He promptly walked us outside and across the street to a small camp site that rented
tents.  As the camp site attendant informed us that we could rent a tent for $10 USD, Johnny quickly said a room in
his abandoned lodge would also cost $10 USD.

     The great news was that I was no longer worried about sleeping in a public restroom.  The bad news was we
had to decide between a warm room with a bed but may contain two serial killers or the safety of a campsite albeit
with no sleeping bag or blankets to keep us warm and comfortable.  So that we would not make a rash decision we
walked over to the make shift campsite restaurant to eat and discuss our enthralling sleeping options.  Over a
plate of fried rice we would decide our fate.
   During dinner we came up with the
idea to ask Johnny to drive us to Chiang
Rai now instead of in the morning.   This
would eliminate both of our undesirable
sleeping options. With this in mind, I
ventured back to the “lodge”.  Johnny
seemed a little bewildered by my
request and quickly said no.  I assumed
it was about money so I offered to pay
him $10 USD (the same as one night
stay in his haunted house) to drive us
into the city.  Johnny and his buddy
badgered back and forth in Thai.  
Johnny continued to say no.  I think
Johnny saw a confused look in my eyes
and therefore finally told me that it was
not safe for us to drive tonight because
he had been drinking. Okay, I said and
then I thanked him for his honesty, but
of course I walked back to the
restaurant believing this really may be
our last night alive.  Erin and I sat at
the food stall table contemplating our
next move.  I wish I could tell you different but in the end we decided that a warm house with a bed was more
important than the small risk of being assaulted by two drunken Thais.  Johnny found some sheets, a blanket, a
couple pillows, and even a fan.  He was extremely kind that evening but we were still suspicious and after saying
good night to Johnny we promptly boarded up our door with a small desk that was in the room. Yes, we actually
boarded up the door.  Luckily we were completely exhausted from our long search for the hill lodge in the
mountains so even under these uncomfortable circumstances we fell asleep quickly.

     I am happy to report that we both woke up the next morning without incident.  After ten minutes of removing
items from the door we ventured into the common area to find Johnny.  He had already eaten breakfast and offered
us some food.  After some noodle soup we strolled around the campsite while Johnny prepared to drive us into
town.  Erin and I started to joke at the thought of drunken Johnny trying to harm us.  We would laugh even harder
as our journey to town progressed and included several sightseeing detours.  Johnny drove us to another hill tribe
village and stopped so that we could walk around the area.  Later, we stopped near an elephant park to take
pictures including the shot of Johnny and me below.  We did not think Johnny could be any nicer until he drove us to
his best friend’s home/business.   His friend owned a non-profit organization that assisted hill tribe children.  We
met a few of the children and the family of Johnny’s friend.  The night before, I spent considerable time worrying
that Johnny and his live-in buddy might assault us and now this morning I’m hanging with Johnny at his friend’s
Christian based charity organization.
Johnny showed us this elephant park en route to Chiang Rai.
How could we have feared the kind and gentle Johnny!
  Our final hour with Johnny was spent listening to country music, his choice, as we drove through town in his pick-
up.  We will probably never forget our time with Johnny and if we would have known what a kind person he was
we probably would have had even more fun talking to him the night before.  I wish we all wore signs that stated if
you were a “good” or “bad” person.  This would eliminate a lot of missed opportunities and also prevent a lot of
unfortunate situations. Although I’m not sure what my sign would say, Johnny’s sign would read a GREAT PERSON!!!
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Big decisions were made at this eatery. This picture was taken the following
Johnny Be Good
Wat Phra Kaew in Bangkok