BORDERLINES: A Journey in Thailand and Burma by Charles Nicholl
Kirkus Star

BORDERLINES: A Journey in Thailand and Burma

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From the English author of The Fruit Palace (1986), a Southeast Asian travelogue that's as vivid and exotic as a fever dream. As in that earlier book--a bold account of a trip down the cocaine roads of Colombia--here Nicholl flirts with the dark romance of drugs; this time, opium, which he smokes during a dangerous, hallucinatory foray into Burma's slice of the infamous Golden Triangle. But his aim in going to Asia is virtue, not vice: it's to visit a Thai Buddhist forest temple he'd heard about on TV, to take a ""Spiritual rest-cure."" Eventually, he does make it to that temple, but not before careening drunkenly and sadly through Bangkok's red-light district with a heavyset German with a yen for young girls, and then traveling for several wild weeks with a willowy Thai beauty, Katai, and her shady boyfriend, Harry, a grizzled French gem-and-arms trader who guides him into wartorn Burma. Even when not at the forest temple, though, Nicholl bumps into Buddhism at nearly every turn, chatting with cigarette-smoking monks, navigating a perilous road to a mountain monastery, witnessing a ceremony to restore Katai's khwan (spirit), lost when he and she almost drowned swimming across a raging river dividing Thailand from Laos. And so it's Buddhism's promise of eternal bliss that proves the ultimate and, for now, impossible goal (""I came to see what a long way there was to go"") of Nicholl's journey, a journey littered with other unfulfilled goals--his love for Katai; Katai's yearning for domesticity; Harry's search for ""the big one,"" the gem that would make him finally wealthy--but one still rich in impressions, well-worth taking. Nicholl is a grand guide, good-humored, inquisitive, and caring, illuminating but never overshadowing the marvelous land he so supplely describes. An informative and unusually involving treat, then, for the sophisticated armchair adventurer.

Pub Date: Aug. 15th, 1989
Publisher: Viking