I’ve had my nose in the same book for weeks, and it’s not that it’s not good enough to speed through. It’s because it’s so good that I dare NOT speed through. I read lines over and over, highlight and scribble notes on pages beside points that I find myself connected to, and anyone that approaches me in a hostel common area or restaurant whilst I’m reading gets a solid earful (or a quote from the author) that I feel so compelled to share. I recognize that to some I may come across as a little ‘out there’, but truth be told I’m just passionate about the message this book coveys and how (magically!) it applies to all aspects of my life in the exact moment I need it. The more I read, the more my soul is set on fire . . . and there’s nothing that can dim this light.
Chapter 1: Life Is Not A Product of Chance
After some time living comfortably in Chiang Mai, I was beginning to feel like it might be my path to move along. I had initially planned to continue north in Thailand and then cross over into Laos via the friendship bridge, but had been told of some daunting experiences from other female travellers and felt uneasy tackling it solo. I went back and forth all day, spending the majority of my afternoon sitting in coffee shops using their wifi to research alternative routes into Laos and every border crossing option known to man.
Still undecided about my future endeavours (and feeling slightly defeated), I joined a group of friends from my Chiang Mai hostel for an evening out.
It could have been the bright strobing lights in the bar, but it felt a lot like magic to me as the universe guided someone special into my life. And just like that, the future didn’t seem to matter anymore. Life went back to being incredibly carefree, my plans to travel Laos (and all the fears associated with it) disintegrated, and I couldn’t wipe the stupid smile off my lips. MY plan and MY journey immediately took the backseat. I told myself I was just living in the moment, but the truth is I was letting fear win. And before I even realized I was doing it, I began coat-tailing on someone else’s adventure simply because I didn’t want to leave their side.
A very wise (and well-travelled friend) had once cautioned me about deviating from my ‘plan’ for others, and something in my gut told me that I’d regret it later if I abandon my own travel dreams now. In a moment of realization I packed my bags, said my difficult goodbyes, and took the local bus to Chiang Rai to clear my head.
Call it what you will, but I don’t believe it was coincidence that I ended up at Mercy Hostel (without question my favourite hostel to date, both because of the people I met and the comfort of the beds). The vibe in this place was awesome; there was a huge communal kitchen, comfortable sitting area with movies always playing, an amazingly stocked ladies bathroom and a beautiful outdoor space with a pool for my morning yoga practice. I had originally booked in a female dorm room for one night and, the next morning, when I asked to extend my stay the staff told me my bed was already taken. If I wanted to sleep here I’d have to move to a mixed dorm; and so I did. . . a decision that changed my life and initiated the happiest experiences of my trip so far.
Chapter 2: No One Comes Into Your Life by Accident
I have read a great deal about collective consciousness; the premise that like-minded people are attracted to each other and harmoniously move in the same direction based on mutual choices and desires. They say that the people in your ‘group’ are drawn to YOU by YOU, and you drawn to THEM by THEM.
I don’t know what kind of positive frequency I was putting out there that day in Chiang Rai, but somehow I managed to walk into that mixed dorm room and attract into my world some of the most special souls I’ve ever known. We spent our last days in Thailand getting lost on mopeds; always ending up discovering some magical waterfall or stellar viewpoint without even trying.
We found a tea plantation, cooked quail eggs in a natural hot spring, and climbed hundreds of steps to a temple in the middle of the forest.
I found myself laughing so often and much that my cheeks hurt. I smile now as I recall getting stuck in muddy potholes with our bikes, snapping selfies at 60km/hr from the back of the scooter while locals photobombed (5 to a bike) behind us, and then returning to town to admire the friendly feline lovers that spend their days at the crazy Cat Cafe (eating pastries with dozens of kittens walking around). No jokes.
I learned that (contrary to what my family may believe) I can, in fact, safely drive a scooter in Asia (although I chose an interesting weather day to put my skills to the test). Not even a sky full of ominous clouds could keep us from visiting the famous ‘white temple’ in Chiang Rai by bike. There were a few dry hours of taunting from the charcoal sky before the heavens decided to open up and release a furry of raindrops upon us. The wide brim palm trees on the side of the highway were not much help in sheltering us from this storm. The heavy rain pelted my face and soaked my clothing during that twenty minute (felt more like twenty hour) bike ride back to the hostel, but as I stood under the hot shower I decided I would have done it all over again. I felt such gratefulness for both having seen a construction so uniquely beautiful and surviving the return journey with all my limbs in tact.
Looking back, I think the grey skies might have even made for more beautiful photographs.
The evenings I spent together with the ‘group’ were so effortless and easy; chatting over delicious Thai food, Singha beer and coconut ice cream at the bustling Night market.
Everything was just more fun with these peeps, and even a basic trip to get passport photos turned into a hilarious dance party with a bunch of local BELIEBERS!!
An attempt for an exciting night out landed us at Sperm; an Asian nightclub that is like nothing I’ve ever experienced (a fusion of Thai karaoke meets an early 2000’s night club). We danced and clapped for the live performance for as long as we could handle the consistently high-pitched foreign music.
In an effort to keep the night alive, we ventured into town to a relatively sleepy street of ‘hole-in-the-wall’ pubs. It didn’t make one difference that the only Reggae bar in town had cleared out early on a Saturday night because the lot of us were too busy sitting on the garden swing out back with our Sangsom whiskey singing along to Bob Marley’s greatest hits to notice anyone else around. I’ll never forget the walk home that evening when Nick got a marriage proposal from a tall, broad ‘lady’ of the night (his first of what will be many, I’m sure)! Haha.
The days went by both fast and slow, and one night (in something I can only explain in words as ‘perfect timing’) we decided to leave together in the morning for Laos. . .
Chapter 3: Nothing Occurs at Random
As predicted, a border crossing experience that I had wasted so much time fearing was realistically one of the most fluid (minuscule) things imaginable. I can confidently say in hindsight that I no longer attach other peoples’ experiences to my own. Their experience is just that, THEIR’s and I now realize that I’m creating my own destiny. If I decide I’m going to have a seamless day traveling across a land border with my best friends, guess what? It happens! If I create the idea that this sweet little angel of a girl from NYC is going to sit beside Nick on the slow boat and then grace us with her company for the next three weeks in Laos, guess what? She does! And as our amazing family of three became a fabulous foursome, the days only got better.
The two-day slow boat journey along the beautiful Mekong river from Huay Xai to Luang Prabang was pure magic. We sat on car seats for 9+ hours a day inhaling boat fumes and eating warm sandwiches with the biggest smiles on our faces.
Occasionally the boat would slowly cruise by an island and hoards of local children would run up to the shore with the happiest of faces to frantically wave at the passengers on board.
We docked for the first night in a tiny village called Pakbeng just as the sun began to set. The town was incredibly quiet; the highlights of the evening included delicious Kofta from an Indian restaurant and practicing my DJ skills at the Happy Bar.
I celebrated my 29th birthday on the second day aboard the slow boat; surrounded by stunning views of limestone cliffs, sunshine warming my face, flowers in my hair and a bottle of local whiskey on my lips. We played cards, listened to music, and talked for the entire day without a single gap. It was just perfect and, once again, I was reminded that the only present I could ever ask for on my special day was the continuous gift of good company in my life.
Chapter 4: There Is No Such Thing As Coincidence
Looking back, it was the most exciting, refreshing days of my life and I remember going to bed every night so thankful to have experienced each and every moment with the people I did. They allowed me to simply be me; it was all so easy and the combination of being in their presence and exploring new cities made my heart feel a happiness like I’ve never known. I can only assume that the rest of the group felt the same way because we continued to travel together for the next month throughout the country of Laos. It was such a beautiful thing, four strangers coming and staying together only because we wanted to be . . . not because we had to be. The perfect little travel family 🙂
So call it ‘out there’, call it ‘hippie’, call it whatever you want … I’ve seen and felt the beauty of what likeminded people can achieve together and I’m a big fat believer.
Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and the thinkers. But most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you – even when you don’t see it yourself.