I have only a handful of memories of my father, and unfortunately, most of them involve experiences I’d rather not delve into right now. So when I became a father in 2013, I always told myself I was going to make as many positive memories with my daughters as possible. That said, when I was on my way to Villa Market last month to pick up some Australian grass-fed steaks and aged cheese, I noticed a 12-seater passenger van in a used car dealership on Lasalle Avenue. I thought the van would make for the perfect “memory maker.” We could buy it, convert it into a camper-slash-mobile office, and then travel Thailand together as a family, seeing parts of the country we’ve yet to experience and documenting it on my YouTube channel, Thailand Made Easy.
On the way home, I pulled into the parking lot to get a closer look at the 2007 Nissan Urvan. There were plenty of vans for sale up and down Lasalle Avenue, but this one stood out because of its color. It was nothing like I’d seen in any car or truck in Bangkok before. Most of the automobiles on the lot were white or black or gray, stripped of any character. This was blue. Not just any blue, but royal blue. In the parking lot, it was a sapphire sitting in the sun. On top of that, it had a high roof — perfect for a camper van.
After some bargaining with the salesman, he knocked off ten thousand baht. I asked him if there was anything wrong with it, and he reassured me it was in good condition. I usually have a good judgment of character, but when half of someone’s face is covered with a mask, it’s hard to tell their motives. I wanted it, but I’d have to get the family mechanic to look at it first.
The next week, the mechanic inspected the van and found nothing seriously wrong with it. It needed some work — but nothing major. I told the salesman I’d think it over, hoping that by walking away, he’d come down on the price a little bit more.
A few days later I returned to the dealership, and we bargained some more until we agreed on a price. But I couldn’t buy the van just yet. In three weeks, I’d have to go apply for my new one-year visa and needed a certain amount of money in my account to qualify. I told the mechanic I’d be back on 2 August to make it official.
The salesman called the next day and said someone was coming in to look at the van. But he told me he’d hold it if I put a 10,000-baht deposit down. My wife started panicking because she’d thought we’d lose the van, but I knew he was being the typical salesman. Again, I told him I couldn’t do anything until my visa was done, and that if it was meant for me to have the van, it would be there when I came back at the start of August.
During the next three weeks, every time I passed the used car dealership I’d look to make sure the van was still there. Sure enough, it’d be sitting on the lot, sparkling in the sun, calling me. I even called it back. In fact, me and the kids named it. It wasn’t a Nissan, or a van. We began referring to it as The Blue Beast. And we’d talk about all the adventures we were going to have in it after we ripped the seats out, built it into a camper van, and began driving around Thailand in it. The kids were excited, which made me even more excited. The ultimate memory maker.
Over those three weeks, I also started watching hours of YouTube videos on van conversions and Thais who travel around Thailand in camper vans. One night, I stumbled upon a channel called Omsa Camper Van. Omsa travels Thailand, documenting all the places he explores, and interviews other van lifers. I began daydreaming about the future, the van, and perhaps becoming the first Westerner to be featured on his channel.
Fast forward to 2 August, and the big day arrived — visa day. Despite COVID-19, the process went smoother than any other time in the last seven years of applying for visas in Thailand. That said, from the morning of that day, my kids kept asking me if we were going to get The Blue Beast after we were done. As much as I wanted to, I started having reservations about the whole ordeal. First, it was a large amount of money to part ways with in one shot, and nowadays I tend to be more frugal than my younger self, who wouldn’t have thought twice about buying a stick shift van in a foreign country despite never driving a manual car. We had a 15 minute drive home, and I had some serious thinking to do.
We took a left out of the parking lot of the Samutprakan Immigration Office, hung a right at the next light, and then rolled in traffic toward the next intersection. My head was heavy with thoughts. Do I buy The Blue Beast? Do I not but it? The kids would be disappointed, for sure. But they’d understand if I explained it to them that I had to think more about the purchase.
That’s when I noticed it, a van not too far ahead of me in sitting at the traffic light. It had a mechanism attached the passenger side roof that appeared to be one of those roll-out camping awnings I’d seen on YouTube. Is that a camper van?
I pressed the gas pedal to catch up. I peered into the window of the side sliding door and could just make out a wooden cabinet and a spice rack. Then, I looked at the rear window and spotted a giant sticker of a YouTube logo. Underneath read the words Omsa Camper Van.
I couldn’t believe it. In a country with 69 million people, what are the chances that I’d pull out of the immigration parking lot in Paknam, Samutprakan, on Monday, 2 August, at 1:45 in the afternoon and cross paths with the man who I’d been watching on YouTube for the last three weeks? I began shouting at my wife and kids. They poked their heads out of the window to catch a better look at his van.
At that moment, I knew there was only one thing to do. We hung a left at the next light and headed for Lasalle Avenue. That night, I went home the owner of a 12-seat passenger van called The Blue Beast. The adventures, so I thought, were about to begin — but there was just one problem.