Once upon a time... by John Spies

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I took this rare self portrait in about 1980 when I was living by the Ping river in Chiang Mai at a guest house run by a sleazy bunch of Chinese Kuomintang heroin dealers…it’s a long story. I had survived typhoid, hepatitis, dysentery, armed bandits and corrupt cops but I was soon to plunge into a more dangerous realm of life-threatening extreme adventures. I wanted to build a guest house in the heart of the Golden Triangle on the Thai-Burma border, but I was broke. I think it was Janis Joplin ( those of us who lived through those hazy times, and outlived Janis, might understand my uncertainty…maybe it was Dylan?) who sang that inspirational and succinct line “when you aint got nothin, you’ve got nothin to lose…” and helped me get over my John Lennon-like “life is what happens to you while you are busy making other plans” existence. Anyway, I squatted on the nicest block of paradise in the north of Thailand, built my illegal Lodge and, amazingly, lived through an unbelievable sequence of events and disasters. I am still there.
The images in my portfolio offer a glimpse of some of the things that I have been up to over the past few decades but pictures only tell a small part of the story. So…if there are any publishers out there who want to publish ‘Wild Times: 30 years on the Thai border’, please contact me so everyone can read the story. It would make great movie!

I am an Australian expat living in the hills of Mae Hong Son province Thailand (please visit cavelodge.com). I photograph almost everything, above and below ground.

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  • Erika Gouws
    Erika Gouwsover 5 years ago

    What a wonderful story! I’ve longed dreamed of starting a publishing company and if I had the money to do so, your book would have been high on my list! Speaking of books, while reading your text I immediately thought of Tom Robbins’ book “Villa Incognito” (although that was set in Vietnam and is a very different story, I get a similar kind of feel).
    I hope you get your book published so that those of us who “live beyond our means on other people’s dreams” (Janis Ian) can be kickstarted into creating new dreams.
    And, by the way, your “when you aint got nothing” quote is Dylan – “Like a rolling stone”.

  • Thanks Erika for your inspirational comment and quotes, tip for a book I have not yet read but will do, and of course, setting me straight on the Dylan quote from a great song that I first heard at an anti-Vietnam war demo at a Sydney uni when I was a very young radical of about 13…which is probably when my life’s not-so-ordinary journey kicked off.

    – John Spies

  • Trish Meyer
    Trish Meyerover 5 years ago

    You haven’t changed much! Must be relaxed living! If I knew a publisher I would be on to them like a shot. Good luck .. it will be a riveting read I’m sure.

  • Thanks Bay, there have been a few subtle changes (if you take it down to a daily level) but as another famous person who i can’t remember once said you are only as old as you feel….as for the relaxed living – better reserve judgment on that until you have read my memoirs…

    – John Spies

  • John Hooton
    John Hootonover 5 years ago

    Have you thought of self publishing? No need to print 10,000. There are sites that print to order and of course ebook publishers for ereaders like the Sony one. Just type ‘Self Publishing’ into Google for plenty of sites and advice.
    There are also a couple of great sites for photo books – blurb.com and http://www.aandibooks.com/ You have tons of material for a great design in one of these. Their design software is free.
    Booksurge offers you self publishing tools and works with Amazon for promotion.

  • Thanks for all of this info and advice John. I have thought of it but haven’t really seriously checked the options but will do so. Like many people with a book, I thought it would be nice to be ‘published’ or have an agent take care of that side of it, but in reality I would probably be better off financially if i did it myself. I was considering printing some up in Chiang Mai. I have been selling photocopied versions of various drafts while I have been writing/editing it out of my Lodge, more than 1200 so far, and I have had lots of positive feedback, so I am confident enough to go the self-publishing route. The distribution/marketing side of it doesn’t really appeal though.

    – John Spies

  • jeffrae
    jeffraeover 5 years ago

    I would read the book, sounds like an incredible journey so far. You obviously have the will…you will find the way.

  • Thanks Jeff for your inspiring words.

    – John Spies

  • Lass With a Camera
    Lass With a Ca...over 5 years ago

    How did I miss this shot?!! It’s really funny because this shot has a real innocent and james dean like… but without the edge quality to it. It’s lovely and no wonder those Thai lasses loved ya! :O)

  • Edgeless innocence? thanks khosie

    – John Spies

  • Jeannie Peters
    Jeannie Petersover 5 years ago

    I have to agree it would make a great movie, your photos are amazing
    so is your story, you are one of those ppl that I would love to sit down with.. I probably wouldn’t talk much but would listen intently.
    you just made my “people I would like to meet” list :)

  • Cool comment, and i am quite ‘meetable’…just have to drag yourself to northwest thailand and find Cave Lodge

    – John Spies

  • susi lawson
    susi lawsonover 5 years ago

    “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” written by Kris Kristofferson and song by Janis and of course Kris (not sure if he spells with a C) But yes, the 60’s inspired us all to take chances and live on the edge. With the Nam war and pop stars dying and assassinations, it seemed that life was always on the edge anyway. We grew up in an amazing time! Amazing that you have this documentation of your experiences! Quite an accomplishment!

  • It was a great time to live through and survive (sad that Janis and many others pushed it too far)…and i am very happy that i recorded what i did (certainly helps to remember it all)

    – John Spies

  • susi lawson
    susi lawsonover 5 years ago

    You need to put together a Utube with voice narration of some of these pix and u just might find a publisher! BW, the name of the song above was ’Me & Bobby Mcgee"

  • Thanks Susi, great idea

    – John Spies

  • catherine walker
    catherine walkerover 5 years ago

    wow ..what an incredible life you’ve lived/live..so brave and so adventurous..well done!

  • thanks Catherine, it was a bit unplanned, and the adventures just seemed to pile up. As for the brave bit??? …I just did what I had to to stay alive

    – John Spies

  • veerapat
    veerapatover 5 years ago

    Hey dad this pic u look handsome hahaha

    nice to be young again

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