“A good traveller has no fixed plan and no intent on arriving”. I read it over and over, but the truth is, I don’t connect with the words in any way. After months of structure and direction, I’m wandering throughout Southeast Asia feeling slightly lost.
This isn’t my first trip to this area of the world; in fact, it was only 18 months ago that I had my feet on Thai soil and I was loving every moment of the experience. I rack my brain thinking, ‘”what the eff has changed?!”. And when the realization happens I feel both relieved and deeply saddened; EVERYTHING has changed. Someone very special to me once said that change is the only real constant in this world. I’m learning very quickly that it’s unrealistic to assume that returning to an area past travelled will be filled with the same people, experiences and feelings it once had.
Landing in Bangkok after two months of yoga, mountains and serenity was overwhelming and slightly terrifying. Until this point, I had held this city upon a pedestal; disagreeing with anyone who felt it was merely a ‘hub’ to fly into and get out of as quick as possible. I reflect back on my nights spent meeting new friends on Koh San road, drinking Thai whiskey from a plastic pale, and impromptu dance parties that lasted until the sun was coming up to illuminate the urban jungle. The bottom line is that my idea of fun looks completely different than it did a year and a half ago and this is going to take some time to adjust.
It took three mornings of waking up in my Bangkok hostel tiered, slightly hungover, and feeling extremely guilty for deviating so much from the perfectly content person I was when I left Nepal, before I really started to reflect. I had spent months during yoga training and trekking simply working on myself (getting my sparkle back), and now that I was in the world of body paint and Chang beer I didn’t know how to be the best version of me. I remembered that the happiest, and most beautiful moments of my life had been spent laying in hammocks during the day and stargazing at night, and that I felt the most myself when I had my yoga mat and my music by the lake. So what was I doing? And more importantly, what are all the qualities I had been so proud to develop that I wanted to carry with me throughout the remainder of this journey? I needed to shift my perception. I grabbed my yoga mat and headed for the nearest green rectangle on the Bangkok city map.
What a pleasant surprise it was to arrive early morning (via a 10 min walk from my hostel) at Lumphini park. The moment I walked past the fruit vendors into the front gates, I felt a sense of calm wash over me. The noises of a heavily populated city dissolved into the back of my mind, the smells of fragrant flowers crept into my nostrils and lush greenery filled my vision from every direction.
I wandered the 2.5km loop around a man-made lake past swan shaped paddle boats and the biggest lizards I’ve ever laid eyes on (closer in size to alligators than iguanas).
I sat to watch groups of locals practicing Thai chi under large shade trees, elderly couples singing songs together on park benches, intense chess matches and families enjoying picnic lunches. Exercise equipment is placed randomly throughout the park for anyone to use, fresh fruit vendors cut up juicy papaya and pineapple pieces on request and large palm trees shade endless amounts of perfectly manicured grass.
I practiced yoga and walked around for the entire day, receiving smile after smiley gift from every stranger that past. I decided I needed a new path, somewhere outside Bangkok in a town where I could create some new memories.
I packed my backpack, said goodbye to my new friends at Lub D hostel and took the first bus out of the city; no idea for what destination I was headed and what adventures it may hold.
Auytthaya turned out to be a hidden gem so rich in history (and photo opportunities) that I was blown away. I spent four relaxing days exploring that sleepy town (probably three days longer than most people would take to see the sites) but it was just perfect for me.
I filled my afternoons with bike rides around parks, long walks through fields of ancient ruins and improving my photography skills by experimenting with the aperture settings on my camera. I would allow myself to feel the occasional nostalgic memory of Okanagan living as I peddled along the river bank with my music blasting from the handlebar basket infront of me.
My evenings were a drastic contrast from Bangkok craziness. Once the last of the customers had cleared out of the lobby bar, I’d sit with the incredibly sarcastic (and hilarious) manager of the guesthouse I was living while he played songs on his guitar. In those few short days I could feel my calmness returning as I began living more local than tourist. I found a fruit vendor that sold the freshest papaya and visited her every morning, I learned to navigate my way through the town (even tackling the awkwardness of bringing my bike aboard the ferry to cross the river when I needed). I became the best of friends with the bike rental guy who gave me a new (spectacular) landmark to visit each and every day and met the coolest Canadian English teachers (from Elmira!) at the night market for dinner. We reminisced of all things small-town Ontario while eating spicy papaya salad and taking in the action of the bustling street (the smells of freshly caught fish, the sound of of the stray dogs ‘singing’ for their dinner, and all the crazy characters that come out to play at night).
As slow-paced as Ayutthaya was, I surprised myself a number of times as I was pushed inch by inch out of my comfort zone (mainly because the area hosted less tourists than other places I’d visited, and the locals spoke much fewer English words to help if I got lost or had a dietary request for vegetarian meals). Regardless, I felt proud of myself for surviving my first real solo ‘Thai’ experience (although I’ve learned very quickly that I’m never actually alone while traveling unless I chose to be).
As time went on, without even realizing it, I began to live in the moment again and seriously get out of my head. I stopped allowing myself to worry about the future and gave myself permission to aimlessly wander if it felt right. After all, how many opportunities would I receive in this lifetime to live so carefree?
When the time came that I felt like I was ready to move on, I organized my bed on a night train out of town. I arrived early morning to the familiar sights and sounds of beautiful Chiang Mai. There’s something magical about this city for me; a special draw that had felt last year and immediately felt again as I explored the old centre by foot. I was energized, alive and very open-minded about what was to come. . . my energy must have been contagious because over the course of my time in town, I made so many deep connections with people.
The Chiang Mai Gate Capsule Guesthouse came recommended by a lovely girl I had met whilst biking around Ayutthaya, and it didn’t disappoint. It was clean, central, and the staff unbelievably helpful; situated directly across from a night market that boasted the most delicious food I’ve ate to date in Asia. I stayed in a mixed dorm room and everyday it seemed there was someone new moving in to share stories with. On Saturday evening I walked out the front doors of the hostel and was smack dab in the thick of the famous Saturday night walking street. The food, the drink, the handmade clothing; it entertained for hours.
I met the sweetest Thai girl one evening in the common area of the guesthouse and she offered to take me exploring the next morning on her scooter. I had no idea in this moment that the next day would prove to be one of the most special days of my trip. We cruised to the top of a mountain just after sunrise (and then hiked 300+ stairs) to reach a jaw-dropping golden Buddhist temple called Doi Suthep.
Because she practiced Buddhism herself, I got such a culturally rich experience. We chanted mantras, prayed, made wishes for peace and rang harmonizing bells. She brought me to a mountain village named Doi Pui where woman wore traditional hand-made costumes and young (happy) children lined the dirt pathways. We practiced our accuracy with an air gun by attempting to shoot a papaya on a string, wandered through fragrant flower gardens, and took in a waterfall while the clouds settled in below us. Looking down on the view of the city below us, I truly felt on top of the world. Next stop of the day was Bos Ang; a handicraft market filled with colorful hand-painted umbrellas and fans.
One of the artists created a beautiful (and very glittery) image on the back of my iphone case; I still smile every time I get told by a stranger that I have ‘sparkles’ on my cheeks, knowing that my case has rubbed off on me again!
We stopped for a delicious ‘build-your-own’ vegetarian lunch at a restaurant called Salad Concept in Nimman district of town. This area is a whole new world in comparison to the old city; a modern university neighbourhood filled with hip coffee shops and tapas bars.
I made a point of continuing to incorporate my yoga practice into my everyday routine throughout my time in Chiang Mai. Rosie at Namo Yoga was an inspiration. She teaches beautiful 90 minute flow classes in the evenning, and every single night I walked out of the yoga shala I felt relaxed and at peace. When I wasn’t feeling like group practice, I’d carry my mat the 20 minute walk to Nong Buak Hard public park inside the old city. The park was filled with such interesting people; slack lines had been set up from trees and groups of Thai locals got rowdy playing a game that resembled hackisack basketball.
One of my most unforgettable days in the city was spent with some friends from the hostel at Mama Noii Thai Cookery School.
I was truly blown away by the gorgeous organic vegetable gardens and mushroom farm.
There were happy little egg-laying chickens and a fully-stocked fish pond on site.
I picked, prepped and cooked authentic Thai cuisine, sampled mouthwatering veggies fresh off the vine, and played with the cutest baby pigs on that sunshine-filled afternoon.
The absolute best part was when we sat down together at the table to enjoy our dishes; I will never forget the taste, the smells, all the colours in the bowl (and of course, in true DJ fashion, my favourite music playlist in the background)!
It’s somewhat of a blessing I suppose that I didn’t discover Zoe in the Yellow until the last few days in town. It didn’t matter what day of the week, every backpacker in town seemed to flock to this place after 9pm. It was social. It was loud. It was so much fun! A open-air cobblestone square lined with bar after bar, each one hosting a different genre of live music (reggae, rock, hip hop, house, ska ….) there was something for everyone. Be sure to arrive early, because most everything in Chiang Mai closes at midnight, and pop into every place for a dance. Ahhh! I still smile just thinking about being spun around under the stars to Bruno Mars cover songs at the ska bar while (what I’m sure were high school band mates) gave their all on trumpets and trombones.
Looking back, I needed that time to ‘aimlessly wander’ to experience every last feeling in the order it appeared. The bad before the good, the uncertainty before the clarity, the vulnerability before the courage. I remind myself daily that my journey is unfolding exactly as it should be and sometimes it takes some getting lost for one to truly begin to find themself. After all, aren’t we all lost stars just trying to light up the dark.