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Marko Cunningham amid April's street rebellion in Bangkok

Confessions of a Farang Bangkok Bodysnatcher

Saturday, September 12, 2009
MARKO Cunningham is one of the most remarkable expats in Thailand. By day, he is a teacher. By night, he goes on wild rides in pursuit of the Grim Reaper of Death.

That may seem odd language but Marko's world is bizarre in the extreme. After the school closing bell rings, he rides an ambulance in parts of Thailand where bullets fly and innocents sometimes die.

He is the only non-Thai member of the Bodysnatchers of Bangkok, otherwise known as the Ruamkatanyu Foundation.

How he came to be there is a long story, one he tells in a soon-to-be published book, 'Sleeping with the Dead.'

I have never met the man, but in an interview this week, his words over the telephone proved to be just as compelling as the words he writes.

Marko the memorable has set himself a course for trouble and pain. There is nothing about his present life, or most likely his future one, that involves comfort or material gain.

In some senses, there is no way out. His path does not lead up, but down, as a visitor who has a role to play in a kind of modern Hell.

Somehow, without really trying, he has become addicted to Thailand, and to the surprises that the country delivers on a daily basis.

In the classic film 'Apocalyspse Now,' a mad American colonel addicted to war says: ''I love the smell of napalm in the morning.''

Marko's commitment to ride an ambulance late at night in Bangkok or Chonburi springs from the same dark human well.

This reporter shares some of Marko's attraction to the life-and-death irony that constantly surrounds the Land of Smiles . . . a bit like a couple of rotting gums.

He knows the smell as death, as we do. He likes to help, in his role as an ambulance officer, but he knows there can be no end to the suffering.

There is a constant debate these days about the level of danger in Thailand. Is it safe? What does Marko say?

''I think it's a dangerous place, for many different reasons,'' he said. ''Almost every second vehicle contains a gun or a weapon of some kind.

''Friends in my ambulance group carry weapons and sometimes there are shots exchanged with other groups.''

Ah, but that's Bangkok, we said.

''I think Phuket's even worse,'' said Marko, 38, who hails from New Zealand. ''Down there, you've got serious mafia.''

Dangerous or not, he holds the Thai devotion to community service and the volunteers especially in the highest regard.

Having seen how foundation groups from all over the country organised and teamed together in the aftermath of the tsunami, we agree that no other country could have done what Thailand did with such care and efficency.

''Thais are thoroughly decent people,'' Marko says. ''But rub them the wrong way, and you'd better be careful.''

He hates the corruption that pervades all levels of Thai society and he has little time for the politicians, who impose taxes even on pieces of equipment that are donated to the charitable foundations.

He does not have a kind word to say about motorcycles, the most dangerous piece of machinery in the country. Eighty percent of his after-hours work, he says, involves the consequences of motorcycle mishaps.

We think perhaps there are two Thailands: the daytime Thailand where children dress in pressed uniforms and smile sweetly, and the nighttime subterranean Thailand where danger roams, and Marko the Bodysnatcher follows.

For him, there is no turning back. To read the first chapter of his book is to begin to understand his paradoxical thinking.

''I appreciate the opportunity to show to the Thai people that farang aren't all just sex tourists and millionaires,'' he writes in the book, which was quickly snapped up by publishers Random House.

Look for the extract from 'Sleeping With the Dead' by Marko Cunningham on Phuketwan now, plus a review of the book coming shortly.

Published by Random House New Zealand, September 18, 2009. Available for purchase on line at:

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Comments have been disabled for this article.


What an extraordinary life, this Marco is living out, this is definitely a story worth telling, the story of the underpaid teacher with an Adeline rushing extra job. This bizarre story has movie potential.

Posted by mr J on September 13, 2009 21:50


Thank you I have ordered your book. Keep up the excellent work you do and keep heart, I know very well it is not easy, but they are after all, somebody's loved ones. Well done again.

Posted by Graham on September 14, 2009 11:31


I just stumbled across this interview online. I forgot I had it last week... Anyway, thanks for the movie comment and also to Graham for purchasing a book. You should know that 17.5% of that purchase will go towards my work. You can also follow my ongoing story online at
Kindest regards, Marko

Posted by Marko on September 16, 2009 12:00


I read the story of Marko last week and was blown away with his experiences - AND i read that Marko is still living the life - congratulations

Posted by timinphuket on May 10, 2011 16:30

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