One can hardly imagine Clint Eastwood’s ‘Man with No Name,’ leaning against a fence in his dusty poncho, with one hand in pocket, the other cupping a hollowed coconut filled with piping hot Tom Yum Goong.
And yet, this might not be such a far-fetched sight these days—at least in Thailand. Earlier this year, a Wild West festival was held in the north-western district of Pakchong, which is steadily gaining notoriety as the Southeast Asian nation’s ‘cowboy’ country.
The AP’s coverage of the event, ‘Thai cowboys saddle up to celebrate Wild West,’ describes an unexpected but often smile-inducing scene—one complete with an on-stage banjo performance featuring theme songs from classic Western TV shows like Bonanza, lasso classes for the kids and scattered small fires circled by gatherings of ranch hands. Fashion includes anything from purple cowboy shirts ‘decorated with cattle skulls’ to leather holsters with multiple arms to sheepskin coats adorned with fur pelts.
The roots of cowboy culture in Thailand allegedly stem from Western influences that entered the country with the Vietnam War. However, this phenomenon has clearly evolved in the 40-odd years since. Khao Yai can now even be found advertised on-line, such as at one eco-tourism source that claims:
Khao Yai is known as the cowboy county of Thailand and indeed Pakchong is known as the Cowboy City of Thailand. The local people are very proud of their heritage working with horses and cows. The area is full of Wild-West flavour…
And then there are also things like the Cowboy City Resort in Nakhon Ratchasima—where the January festival was held, with a Thai owner who grew up idolizing John Wayne—that offers ‘65 well appointed and spacious accommodation units’ and an on-site dining venue that is, what else, a steakhouse—where guests can still opt to enjoy good old-fashioned Thai menu selections.
Personally, I’m not sure whether I’ll be looking to strap on some chaps the next time I visit wonderful Thailand—but I’m nonetheless charmed by this unique sub-culture.