“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” ― Lao Tzu
The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see.” ― G.K. Chesterton
“Real travel is not about the highlights with which you dazzle your friends once you’re home.It’s about the loneliness, the solitude, the evenings spent by yourself, pining to be somewhere else. Those are the moments of true value. You feel half proud of them and half ashamed and you hold them to your heart.”― Tahir Shah,
“Please be a traveler, not a tourist. Try new things, meet new people, and look beyond what’s right in front of you. Those are the keys to understanding this amazing world we live in.” ― Andrew Zimmern
I couldn’t write because I was traveling all weekend. What do you expect from a traveler’s blog! I have to live the moments before I can share them! A few drinks at Chaba turned into two bottles of whiskey on Friday night. Two bottles of whiskey definitely makes you feel happy, sad, funny, and weird. I woke up to a LOUD pounding on my door! I slept through my alarm and it was 3:40 am. Jackie was banging on my door. I threw random shit in my suitcase and went downstairs to the lobby. We were invited on a trip with a local Thai teacher, K from our school by our Australian couple friends, the kind of friends who have taken us under their wing since day one. ( I will use initials for privacy purposes) Unfortunately, A’s grandfather died and they had to go back to Australia and we were still signed up to go on this trip. I had never even met this woman before but Jackie and I decided we should still go! Mai Pen Rai!
Needless to say, we were extremely hung over and slept the entire five hour car ride to the town of Surin, known as the city of elephants. We got to experience this first hand because our first stop was an elephant show at the annual Elephant Festival. Not only did it not feel like real life because of the hangover/ side effects from the whiskey extravaganza, it also was like something out of a movie. There were hundreds of elephants all around of all shapes and sizes. We were late for the show but as soon as we got into our seats I knew it was going to be a treat. The elephants performed tricks and acted out scenes from ancient Thai history such as battles and ritual ceremonies. There were traditional Thai dancers and crazy men who jumped from elephant to elephant while a huge herd was moving. The announcer asked for volunteers and Jackie and I instinctively sprinted onto the field. We got to play tug of war with the elephants. It was hilarious and comical as we sprinted across the large stadiums field. In my drunken stupor, I forgot to pack one essential thing that a woman should bring everywhere… a bra. I am sure the Thai people were watching more than just the elephant show as we ran onto the field. I was so impressed by the amount of Thai people in attendance and it seemed like something that both foreigners and locals could enjoy. After about four hours of the elephant show we were hungry, sweaty, and tired.
We knew that we would be staying at our Thai teacher’s sisters house. When we arrived we were amazed by the size and beauty of the home! It was so authentic looking and there was a huge table outside with a feast prepared! We sat down with the whole family and began to eat. I felt extremely guilty. I could only say hello, my name, thank you, delicious, and I’m full. These people so graciously welcomed us into their home and it is embarrassing to not be able to communicate with them. They understand that we just got here, and the language is difficult to pick up but still, it is hard to accept that you can’t communicate with people who are being so kind and generous. Luckily, K’s daughter and friend came along for the trip and they both spoke good English and helped translate for us all weekend! We would have been lost without them. After a much needed slumber, we awoke and got ready for round two of the Elephant festival. We went on our second elephant ride in Thailand but this time it wasn’t on a camp, it was on the actual streets of the town with cars, motorbikes and bicycles whizzing by. It is comical to see how normal it is to everyone around us.
Then we were in for a surprise… K told us that we were going to a dinner party with about 40 of her friends. Wow! That’s a lot of friends! About five minutes after arriving at the restaurant we realize this wasn’t just a dinner, but it was a 20th high school reunion with K and all her classmates. Not only were we out of place because we were Americans but also we were the youngest people there by about 30 years. We awkwardly feasted and drank as they went around the room and introduced themselves. And then began the karaoke…. Thai people LOVE karaoke…. And they sang for hours. They got us up and dancing a few times but we were absolutely exhausted from the night before, the trip and the food coma. We were so happy to be welcomed into their culture and their celebration but we could not fight our heavy eyelids.
The next morning we awoke to about 10 people staying at the house. We couldn’t tell who lived there, who was visiting or how anyone was related. Seriously, every day is a lesson in going with the flow. K asked us if we wanted to go to Cambodia for the day… We explained to her that we didn’t have a reentry permit on this visa and that idea quickly fizzled. Her sister prepared another FEAST for breakfast. This food coma trend continued all weekend. We packed up and said our goodbyes.
On the road again…to Phanom Rung Historical Park in the nearby Chaloem Phra Kiat district. In this park we visited Prasat Phanom Rung, the Hindu religious sanctuary constructed on an extinct volcano between 11th-12th century AD. The steps were so steep, but each view was more spectacular than the next. The castle like structure was all made out of stone and the carvings were so intricate and interesting you could spend hours just staring at it. We were grateful because this seemed like a place that we would never go if a local didn’t take us. We patted ourselves on the back for truly being “travelers” instead of tourists.
We wanted to making home in time to celebrate the famous Thai festival, Loi Krathong! This festival is designed for the people to say sorry to the spirit of the river for polluting it and using it for everything from washing to cooking. The Thai people send off flower arrangements with candles and often bread on the river to pay their respects. Not only do they release these offerings but also it is traditional to release wish lanterns into the night sky. We arrived back in Suphanburi around 7 pm and rushed to make it to the river to join in the festivities. In some areas of Thailand it is much more organized, but here people begin celebrating as soon as the night falls and continue all night. Despite how beautiful it looks… our experience with Loi Krathong wasn’t exactly the magic we expected. We had trouble finding the river and couldn’t seem to find anyone who knew the English word… When we finally got there we bought our lanterns but we didn’t have a lighter… We patiently waited watching the locals send their lanterns off. Jackie and I each bought a lantern so we could light them one at a time and snap some shots of us sending them. Unfortunately, we both got assistance from locals at the same time and didn’t know how to explain we wanted to wait. Next thing I know I look over and Jackie’s lantern is completely engulfed in flames and she is panicking. I screamed to her, “THROW IT IN THE RIVER!” She nearly burned a small child and we were both stunned. I still was trying to light mine and with lots of help I thought that we could have one success story. When we finally let it go, the lantern started careening downward towards to river and landed right in the water. It tipped over quickly so it had no chance of rising again. These are supposed to represent your wishes for love and life and luck… clearly we are amateurs. I am glad I am not superstitious or I would have been very disappointed. Mai Pen Rai.
So, when all else fails… get in a tuk-tuk and go to Chaba (our local café that both has amazing food, live music, and a fun atmosphere). Nothing some quality time with your friend, som tom (spicy papaya salad) and some Singha (beer) can’t fix. Being a traveler is not always easy and glamorous. Being a traveler is definitely not for those with OCD. Being a traveler is about the experience, living in the moment and taking everything with a grain of salt. Mai Pen Rai. In the end, I will look back and know that the juice was worth the squeeze.