The fauna of Thailand are large and bad tempered. Giant ants will hitch a ride on your sandals and sting you even when they are not in any danger of being crushed; the spiders are covered in devil symbols and can grow to the size of your face; and bees build their giant drop-like nests right by the passionfruit you had otherwise wanted to pick.
Life in the Karen village you are living in is self-sufficient by necessity; the only income available to them is through seasonal work on the garlic and strawberry farms in Samoeng, and most of the money goes to buy petrol and replacement tools. Rice is an integral part of the Thai diet (the Karen greeting is Oh-mu-lah: ‘have you eaten rice?’) and a condition of your stay is that you help with the harvest. All of the rice will feed the village for a year, and you found yourself working in fields owned by people you hadn’t met before.
“Do you want to do something out of this world?” Gordana asks. The four of you- Gordana, her fiance Luke and Taylor- are searching for a geocache in one of Chiang Mai’s well-tended parks. “It’s not drugs. It’s similar, but you don’t take anything and you still feel the effects.”
You’re interested, but suspicious, and respond with a wary, “How does that work?”
After almost a month of eating grubs and greens you were beginning to feel a monumental craving for the wheat starches, saturated fats and simple sugars of your home cuisine. You didn’t feel an ounce of homesickness, but thoughts of bread, tea and cake dominated every waking thought.
A sudden brainwave inspires you to check Couchsurfing and you stumble across the profile of Carol Frodey, a retired American academic who settled in Thailand after 25 years teaching in Fiji. She emailed to let you know that there were three others also staying at her home, and that you were welcome to have Thanksgiving dinner with them too.
For the past three days you have been living and breathing in the clouds. Your washing has been dripping for as many days (and is now at risk of becoming mildewy), and work in the rice fields has been abandoned until the storm passes.
While shifting compost you feel a little nip on your stomach. A closer inspection reveals that an ant is the source of the nip, and actually you’re covered in hundreds more of these tiny bitey specks. They’re swarming into your boots and up your trousers all hell-bent on burying their pincers as deep into your flesh as possible- and although you are the higher species (with the intellectual capacity for building cities and sending dogs into space), you have no recourse against such a large army.
Today you chased two pigs back into their pen, swept up several kilos of animal manure and showered two dozen sheep- and aside from the mosquitoes, the fire ants and the pellets of digested grass squashed into your toes, you quite enjoyed it.
And the best part is that you got two cooked meals and a free place to stay for your efforts.