Motorcycles mean a lot of things to a lot of people, as you probably don’t need me to tell you. For a Thai man known as Uncle Samsen, though, his sidecar motorcycle rig—and his 11 pet cats that he keeps with him on the bike—are home.
Uncle Samsen—real name Choowong Thepkoh—is a 65-year-old man who attracts social media attention wherever he goes. Although he’s been based in Bangkok for over two decades, in early 2023, he decided that he wanted to return to his hometown of Nakhon Ratchasima (also known as Korat) in Isaan province. More importantly, since he loves his 11 cats more than anything, he wanted to take them with him. The journey would require around 300 kilometers (slightly over 186 miles) of travel.
In the Western world, sidecar rigs don’t frequently look like vendor carts—but setups like the one you see Uncle Samsen riding with are pretty commonly used by street vendors in various Asian countries. The big difference, in this case, is that Uncle Samsen uses his sidecar to transport his cats—and although he’s been asked before, he says that he’d never consider selling them. Instead, he sells trinkets and other items at various markets, and he also collects recycling and redeems it for cash.
Gallery: Uncle Samsen, His Cats, And His Sidecar Rig
Popular Thai cat Facebook page Kingdom of Tigers has posted multiple stories about Uncle Samsen, garnering thousands of likes and comments. He even has his own tag on TikTok, filled with videos taken by Thai people who have met him and love how much he cares for his cats.
While cat videos are one of the things that the Internet seems to run on, unfortunately, Uncle Samsen’s story isn’t all sidecars and snuggly felines. According to Kingdom of Tigers, Uncle Samsen fell on hard times during the Thai real estate crisis in 1997. Until then, he’d had a construction business, and it was one of the many that went under completely in the aftermath of that collapse. Ultimately, people who he’d thought were friends were extremely cruel to him, so he left home and went to Bangkok. Until this trip, he hadn’t wanted to go back.
Once in Bangkok, he began making friends with stray cats, who loved him unconditionally. He started taking care of them, taking each of his 11 companions into his care, one by one. The Kingdom of Tigers community banded together to help raise funds to buy his sidecar rig, so he and the cats could stay together and get around to the markets where he sells his items. (He can’t go very fast on it, of course—but why would you want to?)
Part of the reason that Uncle Samsen chose to travel back home now is because of a massive annual market to be held in 2023, and which hadn’t been held since 2019 thanks to the global pandemic. Since it’s now 26 years since he’d last been home, Uncle Samsen decided that it was time—and that he, of course, wanted to take his cats with him.
His cats are his constant companions, and he’s vowed to always make sure they’re fed and well cared for, even when times are tough. There have been times in the past when he hasn’t had food for himself, but he’s taken care of the cats—a sentiment that I think most animal people can find relatable.
Thanks to social media updates on his travels, cat lovers often show up to give him cat toys, food, and try to take care of Uncle Samsen and his feline family along the way. He’s recently appeared on local news programs because of this journey, and has expressed much gratitude to everyone who’s been so helpful and kind.