I planned my second RnR trip eight months after my first. Geoff Williams, one of our two Communications machine operators deputised for me for the whole month of July 1968.
Three weeks in Thailand and a week in Malaysia and Singapore.
A day or so after arriving in Bangkok, I went to the railway station and organised a train trip to Chiang Mai.
It was a 16 hour trip that departed in the early afternoon.
After months of being "imprisoned" in Saigon, it was exhilarating to stick my head out the train window and breath country fresh air. It was nice to feel the openness of the countryside and the people.
The Thais greeted you with a smile and there was nothing nasty about them.
What you saw is what you got.
Chiang Mai, at that time, was a village wherein the population density was just beginning to breach the moat and fortifications that centuries ago were built to protect the inhabitants.
Today's sprawling expansion must seem like an obscenity to "old timers".
I chose not to stay in a hotel - but rather a university guest house lodge.
It was a cool time of the year and you did not need air conditioning - another glorious feeling of freedom. I visited the markets without fear for my personal safety.
I hired a motor bike and drove into the hills for miles and miles again with the wind in my hair and a feeling of being alive.
I did fall off a couple of times - but no matter.
At the Zoo I met four Kiwis who were transiting Thailand en route from New Zealand to London.
They had landed in Bangkok several weeks earlier and were taking a short detour north.
They were the first farangs (foreigners) I had met since I arrived and was glad to speak some English.
They were not overly curious about Vietnam both rather engrossed in Thailand - which is a captivating place.
I joined them. We were now a gang of five.
We returned to Bangkok where they showed me how to get around cheaply.
The simple trick was to hop on a bus and not pay. We would sit in a group. The conductor or conductress would approach and rattle their tin can that carried coin. The first guy would point to the second guy, the second to the third until the final guy would point back to the first guy and then on again until the hapless official gave up with a bewildered smile.
Never before had a rich foreigner declined to pay.
We did this at entry to swimming baths and other events and got away with it.
It was ANZAC larrikinism.
They were staying at a YMCA hostel for about a dollar a night. I chose to stay in a hotel.
The next day when we caught up they reported that there was a very sick Australian at the hostel who said he was refused admission by a public hospital.
I went to see him. He said he had been traveling through Cambodia and got sick there. Indeed he was burning up and could not move out of his bed.
He said he was refused admission because he had no money.
I got very annoyed. I went out to organise a cab. Put him in and actually carried him to this hospital.
I demanded that they admit him and went guarantor. As they realised that I was in no mood to argue, they took details of my passport and admitted him.
I left for Malaysia the next day.
In Saigon, several weeks later, I received a letter from the boy's mother in Tasmania.
She informed me that her son had died of cerebral malaria just 24 hours after I had left him.
She acquired my details from the Australian Embassy who got them from the hospital. The mother thanked me but wanted to ask me questions about how long I had known her son; whether he realised if he was so sick; had he seen a priest and why did the hospital initially refuse to admit him as he had plenty of money.
I responded that I just did not know. I felt so sorry for this grieving mother.