Bright Thai clothes come with free travel advice

Bas Whitaker (59), of Balclutha, sells clothing  in Owaka.  The inveterate traveller  says people...
Bas Whitaker (59), of Balclutha, sells clothing in Owaka. The inveterate traveller says people visiting new countries should take more time to sit and watch the world around them. Photo by Hamish MacLean.
His display of shawls, dreamcatchers, hats and dresses could be one of the most colourful things drivers see as they tour the Southern Scenic route over the holiday break.

In 1992 he was supposed to turn left, but Bas Whitaker (59) turned right. He has been a traveller ever since.

Mr Whitaker, who grew up in Balclutha in the 1960s and '70s, said he stepped on a plane in New Zealand and was supposed to arrive in Singapore.

On a layover in Indonesia he was supposed to head to the transit lounge, but he decided to head towards customs instead.

This is the fourth time he has returned to New Zealand since he left. He typically stays for half a year. He said he does not know where he is ''from'' any more.

''I stopped there and every day the adventure started. I didn't know where I was or, where I was going,'' he said.

Later that day he made a decision that would form the basis for the advice he gives to the camper van crowd when asked these days.

He started to hitchhike into Jakarta but decided almost immediately he should get out of the car.

''This is the new movie and I was passing it by in a car,'' he said.

''Get out and look at it.

''I just sat down for two hours. I just wanted to see where I was.''

For the last four years Mr Whitaker has been teaching English and maths in a small town at the edge of Thailand's capital, Bangkok, but there was a period of 15 years when every year for half a year he would visit Nepal.

He has spent time in Europe and Africa, but the bulk of his time has been in Asia.

''A lot of me is in the East,'' he said.

Mr Whitaker has spent the past four months in Balclutha and over the next two he will be move around Otago. He is selling the items bought in Thailand to fund going back overseas.

Money goes further over there and several years ago he learned not to spend it on himself. He recalled helping a child called Moona in Nepal with $3 to see her doctor and to get antibiotics and drops for her ears and eyes.

Two weeks later, ''she was smiling,'' and that was profound for him to experience.

Travellers are too often too busy ''going places'' to see what a place has to offer, he said.

''Never be in a hurry to get anywhere. If you want to see a place, get out and look at it,'' he said.

''Get out of your car. Go for a walk up the paddock. Sit on the sand.

''Just sit down and look at where you are, don't sit in a car and pass it, because what do you see?''


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