Tags Posts tagged with "Thailand"

Thailand

0 293

It turns out that kayaking for 12 dollars included a few other things in Vang Vieng. We started by going through a cave. Not just your ordinary cave, it’s kind of hard to explain. We got in mini tubes and entered the cave floating on water. We pulled ourselves through the cave using rope that is tied to the wall. The gap from the water to the roof of the cave is on average 4-7 feet so it was super claustrophobic. Really cool experience though, felt like I was some kind of cave explorer guy or something. Our group was a bunch of extremely European French guys wearing speedos and they reminded me of our group of friends, they even had a guy called Omár that they all made fun of like Danny. After that we trekked to the Elephant cave and ate lunch which consisted of kebabs and rice. Then we got into kayaks and went down the river, stopped at a few outdoor bars and played volleyball. We went back to Vang Vieng and went for dinner. Later that night we went to our usual spot, Gary’s Irish pub and met two nice Dutch girls from Holland, named Unicorn and Anook. I’m still not sure if that was their real names. We finally made it back to our hotel around 2:00 a.m. We planned to go tubing with the girls at 11:30 but we slept in. We spent the day mostly watching “How I Met Your Mother” in the Central Backpackers lobby for hours, eating, playing ping pong, Alex breaking the table, and more eating.

 

While in Laos I ate sticky rice with every meal, sometimes every day. It is incredibly good and I’m going to sorely miss it. The other thing incredibly good here are the street vendor pancakes with Nutella and banana! We’ve been eating a lot of those as well as stir fried chicken with cashew and vegetables a lot. My stomachs been okay until yesterday. Also the actual physical travelling ended up being very expensive and we had to buy 110+ dollar plane tickets to Phuket because it was just as much money to take two buses and a boat to get there, and took an hour instead of 2 days. Unfortunately at this point I need you guys to somehow figure out how to cash my cheque that dad hopefully picked up at the beginning of the month because I am not going to have enough money. Thailand has been much more expensive than Laos, especially for hotels, it’s difficult to even find 20 bed fan dorm rooms for less than 10 dollars a night. Thailand is also much more busy and overwhelming than Laos, no matter where you are, and the only laws that exist are drug laws and theft. Here you often see up to 4 people on a single motorbike, babies or adults or kids, no helmets and doing 110 km’s on the highway. The most surprising thing to me is that there are almost no accidents and I’ve only seen 4 ambulances in total since being here. I almost wish I lived here, it makes home seem like a pathetic joke with a bunch of stupid laws and everyone worrying too much about everything and spending ridiculous amounts of money on things that cost 10 cents to make in sweatshops.

 

However to end this email on a positive note, it is nothing like anyone made it out to be here. I have not once felt like I was in any kind of danger, (except for one cab driver who broke 200 km/hr on the highway and was swerving between cars). But other than that the only overwhelming thing is that EVERYONE and ANYONE wants to sell you something. Yesterday at a street vendor they were selling 6 inch knives, brass spiked knuckles, and legitimate ninja shurikens. It’s incredible to me how different the culture is, how they realize that violence isn’t necessary, respect exists here instead of just admiring all the rich old white guys at home living on the ridge in Edgemont. Even simple things like not breaking arcade machines, or trying to seem tough by wearing your hat sideways staring everyone down because you think you are a badass, and getting tribal tattoos.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

 

0 284

I gulped. I shook my head no. I refused to be reasonable. There was no way I was going back. I couldn’t breathe! I could die. I mean, that totally happens, right? And even if it doesn’t happen very often – well, who says it couldn’t happen to me? Nope. Not going back under the water.

Then I looked at my husband – his eyes had so much compassion and genuine concern. Sure, he also really wanted to dive deep down, to explore and discover creatures of the sea. I knew that. But that wasn’t what I saw – what I saw was someone who cared about me, who was concerned about my panic, and who was rooting for me. I just held on to his vest and stared at him for a bit. I don’t remember what he said. After a minute or two of just bobbing in the water I finally turned to our open water scuba diving instructor and nodded my head: yes. I will do it.

The moment I got back under water I was absolutely certain that I couldn’t breathe through my mouthpiece. Panic rose. Water entered my mouth. I wobbled and grasped at our instructor. But then I remembered to be brave. Don’t panic, I told myself. And, remember all the skills that you mastered perfectly well in the shallow swimming pool. I pressed the button and cleared my mouthpiece. I breathed. I pinched my nose and equalized my ears. I began to descend, down in the open sea with no bottom in sight.

Finally I let go. I conquered my fear, if only for those few initial moments.

And then I saw it. It was so beautiful – the water was perfect turquoise, the sun was filtering through in spots, and so many beautiful creatures were swimming all around. Brilliant colors – yellow, coral, periwinkle – amazing patterns, fantastical shapes. This world was so completely wondrous.

We swam on to find an underground cave. For a moment I thought – no way. But then my husband flashed the ‘ok’ sign in question, and signaled forward. So there I was, just gliding gently careful not to disrupt the fragile habitat of underground corals. Hands on my chest, gently moving my feet to propel myself forward. Breathing! I had to remind myself to trust and to be brave – but I did it, I didn’t panic.

Thai Islands in the Andaman Sea are known to inspire a lot of positive emotions, but bravery doesn’t really come to mind as a top contender. But for me, my first association with Koh Lanta is bravery. I learned that day – gulping for air and bobbing up and down in the vast and mighty open sea – that I can conquer my fear, that I can let go, and trust myself not to panic. I am brave!

 

But really, it’s more than just Koh Lanta, or the Andaman Sea. It’s my husband. You know that song by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes – I am home wherever I am with you? It’s like that but I am brave, wherever I am with him. Koh Lanta is just the first place that comes to mind.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

1 948

Sydney wasn’t at the top of my most desired places to go on my trip around the world. Africa was first, since that was the reason why I had planned the trip in the first place, but I definitely thought I would love Thailand more than Sydney.

When I arrived in Sydney, it was freezing cold, and raining – not the typical warm, sunny weather that everyone boasts about. However I wasn’t the least bit concerned about the weather. I was just happy to have made it there on Malaysia Airlines and with absolutely no money at all.

My debit card and credit card had gotten stolen in Thailand, and I had used my last bit of cash for the cab to the airport. Luckily, I had gotten a hold of my mother who was able to wire my money to me when I landed in Sydney. I was grateful to have cash, but it still made me worry, especially since I was traveling completely solo…for the first time.

At first I thought it was going to be a complete bust. I thought I’d end up sitting by myself at a café with nothing to do, and no one to talk to. But boy, was I wrong! I stayed in Bondi Beach, a local area, and immediately fell in love. The shop, café, and restaurant-lined street made me feel like I was meant to be there, and I even texted my mom to tell her I wanted to move.

Since I was solo, I was really able to take in my surroundings, and discover how it feels to live in this other world. I figured out how to budget my money, and although I ate pizza for every meal, I felt so proud and excited to be figuring out how to be completely on my own. It wasn’t long before I felt comfortable walking from place to place in Sydney, and taking the City Sightseeing tour bus – which doubled as transportation – to and from my “apartment” in Bondi.

I became so confident with myself that other tourists would stop me to ask if I knew how to get to certain streets! It also made me not only comfortable, but also eager to meet people.

Just by smiling, saying hello, or even taking a photo for someone led to a new friendship, which six months later, still exists. These new friends made me love Sydney and Bondi even more than I already did.

I told my new friends about my volunteer trip in South Africa, my misfortune in Thailand, and how I had be winging it with my limited amount of cash in Sydney, and their responses were the greatest compliment I’ve ever received.

They told me I inspired them. They said they were so inspired that I had made it around the world despite many hurdles, and was still so confident and happy, that it made them want to travel more and help others.

Suddenly, I had found my purpose in traveling. I travel to inspire others.

As luck would have it, my new friends took me in, and took me around Sydney and Bondi as if I had lived there forever. I knew I couldn’t afford to eat at the places they would take me, but when they noticed I was only ordering one house wine and a glass of water, they insisted on treating me so I could really experience local life.

These strangers who I had only just met helped me so much, and it made me realize something. If you’re kind, grateful, genuine, and confident, your energy will be noticed and appreciated by other people. I realized that I really was all of those things, and even more importantly, I was happy.

 

I thought I was so lost when I first got to Sydney, both literally and figuratively. But by the end of my journey…I realized I had found myself.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 1177

It has been two weeks since I came back home.

I was nineteen when I decided to leave for Shanghai to pursue my undergraduate education. I was ecstatic of the idea of being alone in a foreign country, or rather, to be able to leave the grey monochrome metropolis I was supposed to regard as home.

Streets of Shanghai were ghostly during the frozen months and thick crowd filled them even till the late of summer nights; I was infatuated with this novelty. So hopelessly spellbound with the city’s dynamism that I approach every ways and means to avoid returning home before the allotted time of my graduation. Lost in the endless of schemes, I opted the one deemed most possible: travel. I packed not only the necessities into my brand-new backpack, but also the vain hopes and wild plans of a young soul, and flew off to my first destination – Cambodia.

The fervent desire for an adventure was burning. I put it out by climbing the historical ruins in Siem Reap, and had the fortune of catching a heart-stopping sunrise. The rest of my humanly adrenaline rush was mostly cured through a skydiving experience in Thailand. But nonetheless the need to take a breather arose. As soon as I can, I packed my belongings, ready for a flight to New Delhi.

I paced myself to the flow of the placid waters of Ganges River and the still air around it. At that moment, I was more than just escaping; I was traveling. Older by a few weeks of contemplation, I then set foot on the Nepali land that homes Mount Everest. A lust for a new place was looming within, albeit the wonders of Nepal. Nearly two weeks of brisk weather incite the urge to swim in the sea under the sun. And soon enough, I picked up the frayed straps of the backpack, hauled it onto my back and hit the road to Taiwan.

What I received was warmer than the great golden orb hanging relentlessly above the skies of Taiwan; the people’s genuine hospitality. I was starting to truly enjoy traveling. But even so, it was but an evasion from settling. I bid my goodbyes in silence as I stood astounded before HongKong’s skyline. I told myself that it was my last stop before returning to Shanghai.

I sat looking out the window of the plane when bits and pieces of the trip were painted on the amorphous clouds. I bought a ticket to Shanghai and reckoned to stay put. Almost a month passed and something unexplained robbed me of my senses. I took the liberty in spite of myself and came back home. 

I have no regrets making this decision. Months of unplanned travels and it is home that bestowed me the courage to embark on every new journey; it is this home that would be waiting for me wherever I will be. As my mother said “Even the most adventurous person needs a place to call it their own.” However a platitude, it represents the truth. 

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 1095

Imposing cliffs stand like faithful sentinels all around us, their far-reaching shadows a testament to the many lifetimes they have watched these waters before our arrival today. Turquoise water spreads around our boat, waves stretching for kilometres before ever meeting shore. The sun hangs high above us, its rays drying the sea water on our captain’s browned shoulders, leaving faint traces of salt in its stead. Dressed in nothing but a faded singlet and well-worn denim shorts, I watch as he moves sure-footedly around the boat, anchoring us to the sea floor before announcing that this is where we’ll first disembark.

I peer over the edge of the boat. Only a foot of air separates me from the waves, and whatever lies below. Fear and paranoia quietly occupy my mind. The hair on my arms stand on end, imagining what the many moving shapes under the surface may be; my heart beat quickens in the knowledge that were I to sink, there would be kilometres of ocean between me and life-sustaining oxygen. Still, I am not so distracted by my fear that I can’t appreciate the way the water glitters in the light. 

I turn to face the boat’s occupants, and already our American counterparts have pulled on their wetsuits. Toned and tanned from many adventures into the blue, only the creases bordering their eyes and mouth reveal the couple are in fact, my age twice over. Confidently, they jump as if to greet the waves; the woman alone turns to call to me.

‘Coming, Australia?’

I nod nervously in reply, watching them disappear below the surface, their snorkels now the only indication of their whereabouts. They expertly breaststroke away from the boat, darting every which way the captivating fish below them lead, until they are barely visible from where I stand. Then there is only Eddy and I, the captain having closed his eyes once we’d been anchored, his bare feet crossed on the dashboard, hands behind tilted head.

‘I want to wear a life jacket’, I admit to my husband. He promptly sources one from under his seat, and gently but firmly fastens it over my six-month old pregnancy bump. Eddy steps towards the edge of the boat, holding his hand out so that he may help me ease into the water. I shake my head, and urge him forward. I can do this by myself.

I needn’t have worried. Enamoured with the way schools of exotic fish change direction all at once, I would follow them far from the boat, forgetting I ever feared the open sea. I would find the water cool and comforting, a relief from the heat in which the boat baked. As the sun dipped below the Phi Phi horizon, the scent of coconuts staining our fingers, I would know I’d treasure forever after, the day my baby and I conquered the ocean.

None of that could happen however, if I didn’t get off the boat.

I still my breath and slip into the water.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 884

Finding my ‘Om’ in Thailand

Leaving my comfortable, secure job in Seattle to travel for a year was SCARY, to say the least. I would be roaming SE Asia with my boyfriend of nearly six years though, so that made me (and my parents) feel better about this unorthodox life decision. We would start in Thailand and make our way through 9 countries in 9 months. It would be wonderful, fulfilling, adventurous, and we’d return home ready to take that next step in our relationship.

Fast forward three months and two countries later, I’m now one of those “solo female travelers” that people like to call brave… or crazy. Setting off on my own path was the toughest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most empowering. I’m certain I wouldn’t have been able to hear that little voice inside my head telling me to move on, if it weren’t for a meditation retreat I attended about a month after leaving home.

Located in Surat Thani, Southern Thailand, Wat Suan Mokkh offers a 10-day silent meditation retreat for anyone who is interested in learning more about Buddhism and is willing to “live like a monk”. Participants hand over a required donation of 2,000 Baht (around $65) along with our phones, cameras, books, journals, and even watches. There would be no reading, writing, dancing, playing, talking, eating after noon or before dawn, and no lying down anywhere besides your room.

Now if being stripped from a voice, personal electronics, and even our journal wasn’t harsh enough, our cement slab they called a bed and wooden pillow really emphasized the theme of the retreat: SUFFERING. The discomfort will help us with discipline and determination through meditation and breathing techniques.

It would be an understatement to say that I was a bit apprehensive about committing to 10 full days of meditation. Like most people seeking solitude and enlightenment, I’ve dabbled in different meditation techniques, but am easily discouraged after restlessness and boredom set in. Also, pledging to remain silent in the middle of the jungle where we were warned of spiders, snakes, scorpions and other creepy crawlies, was not the trip-of-a-lifetime I had imagined.

Pushing through my nervousness, I found myself sitting in the sand on top of a mat and pillow with 133 other men and women, ready and eager to find that inner peace that comes along with meditation. The first few days were TOUGH. My joints ached from sitting cross-legged and I was tired of seeing jungle spiders the size of small housecats. I gave myself permission to leave, but by Day 6 something had shifted. I was feeling extremely grateful for the opportunity to have this time for myself and was feeling more and more “present” each passing day.

Before long it was Day 10 and I had made it through the entire retreat! I felt refreshed and inspired and ready to take my newly found mindfulness with me on the rest of my travels. While on the bus leaving my new friends at Wat Suan Mokkh, I promised myself that I would find time for solitude and reflection every day. I’ve learned that I’m the best friend, daughter, sister, and lover that I can be when I’m taking care of me first.

Thailand will always be the place that inspired me to be brave, but wherever there is a mat, hammock, sunrise, beach, pillow, or even a plain ol’ wooden chair, is where I can be fearless each and every day.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

When I found out that it was possible (albeit near-impossibility at that time) to visit this sacred temple on a day trip from Siem Reap in 2012, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to see it while it was then — once again — enjoying a short “time of peace”. For a very long time in the past, as a disputed territory, the promontory of the Temple of Preah Vihear and its environs have had some serious history of crossfires between the Cambodian and Thai military forces. In fact, a few months prior to my visit, several soldiers from both camps were killed in an unexpected clash.

DSC_0218
The iconic first gopura, which contains some of the most impressive carvings in the temple complex.

Three years after that brave trip, as I look back, it is still perhaps the single most unique experience I have had in visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back then, it took me nearly four hours on a private vehicle to reach the temple from Siem Reap. Given the road constructions recently, the travel time is now reduced to nearly half of what it took when I went there.

The Temple of Preah Vihear never failed my towering expectations, to say the least. After all, it was confidently inscribed on only one criterium: “(i) as a masterpiece of human creative genius”. So far, only this temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House are inscribed solely on this basis.

DSC_0335
The second gopura: the carving style of the pediment is different from the first one.

In my opinion, the temple rightly deserves to be on the same ranks as Angkor Wat and Bayon, if not even better. The incomparable beauty of this site stems from the following:

1. its history – older than those in Angkor, dedicated to Shiva and, according to some sources, is also one of a few that has a history of critical lingam worshiping;

2. its architecture – the extensive 800m-long layout of the temple is unique, the galleries surrounding the central sanctuary served as inspiration for the arrangement of Angkor Wat 300 years later, and the carvings offer a different style from those in Angkor (notice the style of its nagas, and the impressive quality of its carvings can only be compared to those of the much younger Banteay Srei) .

The third gopura as seen from the elevated fourth gopura that encases the main sanctuary of the Preah Vihear Temple.
The third gopura: the walkway leading to the fourth gopura prior to the main central sanctuary is dotted with lingams. One lingam near the portal can be seen in this photo.

3. its relevance – a major pilgrimage site for Khmer kings, as well as a rare key temple off-route the Angkorian Royal Road;

4. its location – situated right beside a cliff, on top of the Dangrek Mountains to a height of nearly 600 metres. From the temple, one can already gaze at the Golden Triangle, an area shared by Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos; and, lastly,

The Infamous Golden Triangle: transnational boundaries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos.
The Golden Triangle

5. the geopolitical struggles and controversies associated with its WHS-inscription in 2008, and the earlier landmark International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 1962. More recently, in 2013, another ICJ ruling finally awarded the contested peripheral forest zone of the temple to Cambodia, putting an end to the long-standing dispute between the two Southeast Asian kingdoms.

DSC_0172
As a military zone, several soldiers are stationed in and around the temple complex. A political statement such as that in the photo clearly asserts Cambodian ownership over the promontory and its immediate vicinity.

As the Temple of Preah Vihear lies in an active military zone, it comes, then, as no surprise that not many travelers take the effort in seeing this site when I made my visit. In the five pleasurable hours that I spent there, I only managed to see about three other civilians — who might just be even locals — in the temple complex.

Aside from the breathtaking view from the top, I truly enjoyed receiving blessings by chanting monks guarding the central sanctuary; as well as exploring the interior of the largely ignored vegetated Tower of the Long-haired Lady that is reminiscent of Ta Prohm in Angkor.

The central sanctuary guarded by a military personnel
The central sanctuary that is guarded by chanting monks. Outside, a soldier is also on guard.

 

DSC_0389
The tower of the long-haired lady, an isolated structure that has been overgrown by plants and a tree.

Clearly, I got the strong impression that the Khmer people are indeed proud of the Temple of Preah Vihear as suggested by the displaying of the flags of UNESCO, Cambodia, and the World Heritage Committee not far from the first gopura. Such subtle declarations never fail to get noticed.

The temple of Preah Vihear together with its brother temple atop Phnom Chisor in the province of Takeo, which I also got the chance of visiting back in 2010, will always have special places in my heart for the wonderful experiences they have left me. In sum, the Temple of Preah Vihear clearly and easily justified itself as being one of the best single sites I have seen so far.

Just behind the temple: one simple mistake and I am history. The cliff drops to a height of 600 metres.
A view of the plains of the Preah Vihear province. This was taken at the edge of the Dangrek Mountain cliff.

There is no entrance fee to the temple. But, at the base camp, visitors have to pay for the motorbike that will transport them to the top for a fairly reasonable price. On this trip, I also went to the nearby town of Anlong Veng, visiting some ‘Khmer Rouge’ related sites such as the house of Ta Mok and the final resting place of Pol Pot.

0 305

 

              One of the reasons for selecting Thailand as a vacation destination was my desire to interact with elephants. I was told that Thailand was the place to experience them, and I even joked that I was looking forward to spending time with an animal I wasn’t too fat to ride. But when an opportunity presented itself for me and my wife to visit an elephant sanctuary, I didn’t know if I was brave enough to see elephants crippled and abused by members of my own species.

              I finally jettisoned my hesitation and we made the visit. At an elephant nature park 60 km north of Chiang Mai, I saw my first Thai elephant, and began my fascinating yet painful education of these magnificent creatures. At the dawn of the twentieth century there were approximately 100,000 elephants in Thailand. There are now fewer than five thousand. Elephants were used to supply the world’s unquenchable desire for teak. Then in the 1980s the timber industry was outlawed in Thailand to preserve remaining forests. Elephants no longer had jobs and most were sold to vendors for the tourist industry. These elephants were expensive to maintain and not always treated well.

              In the 1990s, an elephant nature park was created as a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Here, the animals were allowed to live much as they would in the wild. Sticks were no longer used to punish elephants that didn’t obey human commands. Instead of corporal punishment, only positive reinforcements in the form of  food treats were used. For an abused elephant, this must have seemed like heaven.

              Before coming to the park, one of the elephants had been sold to someone who beat her terribly. When she became pregnant and gave birth, her owner wouldn’t let her tend to her baby and it died. Depressed, she refused to follow commands. The frustrated owner took a sharp stick and blinded her. The nature park came to the rescue, purchasing her for three thousand dollars and bringing her to the sanctuary. Another female elephant, a longtime park resident, stepped away from the herd to greet the new arrival. Exploring the stranger with her trunk, she soon discovered the damaged eyes, bellowed, and entwined her trunk around the blind elephant as if to say, “I’ll be your eyes.” The two have been inseparable for ten years.

              We were afforded an opportunity to watch several elephants being treated for injuries, as well as experiencing them doing what they enjoy most, bathing in the river. Buckets were passed out allowing us to toss water at them, but elephants are bigger than I’d imagined and throwing a bucket of water high enough to reach their backs was challenging. My wife must have had trouble distinguishing me from an elephant because she doused me with more than one bucket of water. Experiencing these gentle giants playing in the water like children was exhilarating.

              There were approximately thirty-five elephants at this park, mostly female. It didn’t seem like that many elephants until we started feeding them—those guys could pack it away. The boys like to fight with the females—and often lose. They’re kept separate, but not always. Babies are born at the park. At the conclusion of our stay we traveled to a section of river where two females guarded the park’s newest resident, only three months old. One of the adults was injured in Myanmar when a buried land mine blew off her rear foot. In spite of her ability to hobble about, she wasn’t doing well. Then the other elephant gave birth and recruited the crippled elephant as a nanny. Now the injured elephant has a job and the two adults are happily raising the baby together.

              Visiting an elephant sanctuary was thrilling yet humbling; I couldn’t help feeling guilty for the abuse heaped on these magnificent creatures. I never got my elephant ride, but I did receive strength to step outside travel brochures, to avoid cliché photo opportunities and discover a more honest reality. This experience made me feel as brave as a superhero, ready to spread the word that we all need to be better caretakers of our planet and all its inhabitants, even if it means denying chubby tourists like me from getting that ride. 

 Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Inspiration Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

1 327

Welcome to Tiger Kingdom

High-pitched horns wailed in the chaotic traffic on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The exhaust from rickety jalopies and revving dirtbikes was captive in the congestion. I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt, which was damp with perspiration from the prominent humidity, because I sat in a windowless tuktuk, a three-wheeled motorcycle/automobile crossbreed taxi. The driver, a tan, scrawny man wearing faded jeans, a tank-top, and worn leather sandals, turned around and said, “Sorry for traffic, my friend. Very close to Tiger Kingdom.”

After escaping the traffic, the driver opened up the throttle down a dusty road, which paralleled a murky-brown river. He slowed the tuktuk to round a corner and then I saw the wooden “Welcome to Tiger Kingdom” sign up ahead. My legs jittered and I could not sit still.

Upon arriving inside Tiger Kingdom, I paid the driver and exited the tuktuk. I walked up the stairs to find tiger themed pencils, mugs, hats, shirts, and stuffed animals on racks and in display cases surrounding the front desk. A sweet Thai woman behind the desk asked what tigers I desired to pet. My options included baby tigers, young adolescents, or full grown, eight-hundred-pound behemoths. I chose the latter and paid the equivalent of fifteen US dollars to lounge with the tigers for fifteen minutes. The woman pointed to a hallway in the stained, wooden building and told me I would discover many tigers.

Just as I made it down the hallway, I came upon a gargantuan enclosure with a pool, several trees, boulders, and two tigers inside. An employee trained a tiger with a thin bamboo pole. He pointed to various places and this menacing, regal creature stopped at the end of the pole, whereby it received a juicy piece of meat as a reward. The other tiger, lounging atop one of the boulders, yawned and revealed its intimidating fangs. It shook its head, chuffed, and resumed sunbathing. These tigers looked healthy, full of life, and the staff obviously cared about them. When researching this outing in Chiang Mai, people raved about the beauty of the facility and the fact that the tigers weren’t drugged or harmed in any way. After seeing these majestic creatures, I could not fathom drugging them for financial gain, which certain places near Bangkok do.

I continued along the dirt footpath and wandered around enclosures with various sized tigers inside. The large tigers lounged and people lay on them, scratching the furry bellies. The little cubs played around like kittens, clawing at balls of string and other toys in the enclosure. The adolescent tigers were the most active, horsing around and playfully biting. One man, who was inside the adolescent tiger cage, got frightened when two tigers got more rowdy than he was prepared to handle. But the staff member remained calm, gently approaching the beasts and separated them. I was inspired by the connection these people shared with the animals. They understood the harm those tigers could cause, and seemed grateful to be in their presence.

“You are petting tigers, my friend?” A male staff member asked me. My face was pressed against the cage. My fingers clutched the cage and I felt like a child at the zoo for the first time. I turned to the employee and nodded. “Come this way.” He opened a door, closed it, and then opened the second door leading into the enclosure. My heart raced. I was fresh flesh amid five eight-hundred-pound beasts. The employee, who wore tattered jeans and a Tiger Kingdom shirt, smiled at me as he pointed to one of the tigers. “This is Big Joe. Please, lie down,” he said, gesturing me to lie on the tiger.

 

The tiger’s warm fur was smooth. Big Joe turned his head around to look at me. His onyx eyes were piercing. In that moment, I fully appreciated the severity of the situation and was grateful not to be a shredded piece of meat between his teeth. I understood my place and recognized Big Joe as a greater, powerful being. Thais revere tigers because they embody courage and strength and while I acknowledged those traits, there was an innate gentleness present. Perhaps the Thai trainers transmitted compassion to the tigers via their Buddhism. By respecting and loving the animals, they in turn respect humans. I consider myself privileged to have entered into that reciprocal relationship between man and beast. 

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

0 200

I don’t know how I ended up in Narita airport that night, curled up by the window using my Jansport as a pillow and trying to find rest while a night janitor vacuumed not far away. I  remember staring, fully awake, past the hum of jet engines to what I knew was the skyline of Tokyo, and a nightlife just getting started. I was leaving Japan that night. I would be in Bangkok by morning. The blue lights of the runway winked at me out of time. I had bought a ticket in an senseless state, and was still baffled that my spontaneous decision had real consequences. I had no destination or purpose in Thailand; no work to do, or sites to see. I didn’t even have a map. But that didn’t really matter—I can’t read them.

I was working in Tokyo at the time, but I wanted to get away. I needed a vacation from Japan, which had become stifling and rigid for me as I repeated the same routine everyday. So one evening after work, as I lounged in front of my laptop with a few Asahi beers, I found myself staring at yet another booking site. I imagined a beach where James Bond solved international crime, a place where curry was so spicy your ears sweat, a country where massages were practically free and drinks were sipped from coconuts. With one click of my mouse, I spent two paychecks on a red-eye flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.

Slowly, it began to sink in—now I would actually have to go to this strange place. I was exhausted from trying to live in Japan, to fit in and look like its customs came naturally to me. And now I was headed into yet another culture, vastly different from the Western one I grew up in.

But as I booked my way to Bangkok that night, I felt another sensation, one that had nothing to do with the empty beer cans by my computer. I felt wild and brave, calm and confident, energized and optimistic. It was a heady cocktail of hope, mixed with strength, splashed with curiosity. I had lost my wits, and been handed a set of new ones. Though fleeting, I wanted more of this feeling.

For many years I repeated the same impulsive pattern, booking flights spontaneously in search of that ephemeral feeling. Since then I have woken up in a lot of new cities, guided by nothing more than my anticipation for the new and undiscovered. I have wriggled my toes in sand from ten different countries. I have eaten all the local delicacies that don’t squirm as I swallow them. I’ve single-handedly kept the coffee industry alive by buying flat whites and long blacks at every cafe that dare have WiFi. I’ve held my camera up in front of the things they tell me I should, and I press the button that shows everyone “been there, done that.” But still, I haven’t had a good handle upon the feeling I chase for longer than a moment. It is elusive, jumping just ahead out of grasp. 

And so I search the corners of this world for where it might be waiting for me—permanently. I know what I’m looking for, and I am certain it is waiting in a new city I haven’t yet been. I imagine stepping into its central square and, like a plug finding a socket, I am filled with an energy that illuminates my full potential. I bend down and kiss the cobblestone and spend the rest of my life thanking this place for being here, for waiting for me, for being perfect for me.

Even though I booked a red-eye to Thailand, I never found much sleep that night. As I watched the sun rise over Bangkok beneath the wing of that 747, eating rice porridge that didn’t taste entirely awful, it was there—the feeling. It was the transient, electrifying awareness I longed to find for good. I didn’t know it then, but in that airplane hurtling for a southeast Asian paradise I had found my place. 

I am there when I peer out of windows that overlook a fresh set of streets I’ve never seen. I am aboard trains and planes, buses and ferry-boats, cars and trollies. I am pulling in, sailing away, touching down, screeching to a halt. I am without a map, or an umbrella, or the proper currency. I am wandering without a destination. I am energized, but I am serene; humbled and at peace.

I am strong. 

I am hopeful. 

I am moving. 

 

I am lost, but I am wending my way around—even if I can’t find it on a map.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.