Aim to Travel, not to Tour

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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.

Whiskey, White girls and Waterfalls

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This weekend was one for the books! It began with a ridiculous series of events that is too funny not to share. If you are following my blog and you don’t know me, you’ll realize quickly I LOVE TO TALK. I try to be concise.. but there is just SO much to SAY! (LOL bringing you back to Miami/all of college friends?). The group of American teachers at our school (five of us) planned a weekend trip to the neighboring town Kanchanburi to visit the famous Erawan National Park to go hiking and swimming in the 7-tier waterfall. Three of the girls knew each other from home and also had other American friends who went through our same program. When it was all said and done we rounded up TEN American girls to go on this trip. Ten young attractive American girls are gawked at in the US…just imagine how ridiculous we look parading around Thailand together.

We planned to leave Friday after school and take the bus to Kanchanburi. We were told those buses run every hour or half hour and our research foolishly stopped there. Everything is so relaxed and “fly by the seat of your pants” here, it is often more stressful to try to make stringent plans then it is to just go with the flow. We met in the lobby of our apartment building and headed out for the bus station. One Tuk-tuk was outside so we spilt up and told the girls we would meet them at the bus station. Little did we know, a student from the English Program would come to our rescue! She saw us floundering trying to remember the words for “bus station” and communicate in broken Thai to the tuk-tuk driver. She offered the remaining girls a ride from her grandmother. This is where the confusion set in… We got a call from the other girls on the tuk-tuk telling us they just chased down the FINAL bus to Kanchanburi that already departed from the bus stop. Apparently chasing down buses is acceptable here… Only in Thailand…. They tried to make the bus wait but couldn’t communicate with the driver. We gave up and decided to go back to our apartment and figure it out… But our friendly Thai student would not give up that easily. She did everything in her power and found us a personal shuttle that her family member drove us to Kanchanburi in (about an 1:30 minutes away). She even came along with us for the ride and gave us Thai lessons on the way. As my friend said, “I’m just overcome by the beer and the kindness”. Thai culture is the closest thing to altruism I have ever seen. They are so kind, not because they have to be, because that is simply how they are. We arrived safely in Kanchanburi and headed to our hotel, which actually was a floating raft house on the river. SO COOL! Then we saw the cockroach party in the bathroom…and decided we would book the regular hotel rooms from now on…

We explored the town, ate, drank, smoked some Hookah, then realized that all the bars were closed and went home. The head Monk in Thailand died last week and the country will be in a “state of mourning” for the next 15 days. We were asked to wear black and white to school and bars close their doors extremely early out of respect. It is refreshing to see how much loyalty and honor their society has for the people in power. The next morning we got an early start and headed to Erawan National Park. After a long and bumpy bus ride, we began hiking up the huge mountain. The Erawan Waterfall is impossible to describe in words. It is seven separate specular, unique waterfalls. There is a trial that leads up the mountain and you can stop and swim in whichever falls you would like. It was like jumping face first into “The Jungle Book”. We were determined to make it to the top and make it back down in time for the last bus. This was a difficult task with 10 American girls, stopping for photo ops or snacks, swimming and watching the fierce monkeys swing in the trees. I honestly can say it was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been to. Well worth the trip.

Once we made it back to the center city we went out for a night of eating, celebrating, chatting, TEQULIA, whisky and hookah. I ordered one of the best meals I have had in Thailand and savored every bite since it was 230 Baht (typical meal is around 100 BAHT). I feel so lucky to have stumbled upon a mini American white girl army to make me feel at home and accompany me on my adventures. My friend Christine and I stayed at the local bar chatting, arm wrestling, smoking hookah until the sky started turning light again. The owner of the bar, a young Thai woman cooked the late night crew a huge pot of spicy noodles and we fought over them like the street dogs. We met friends from Thailand, England, Spain, and the West coast of the US. We all had music in common, a love for traveling and SANOOK (fun). Once you start traveling, you realize the cliché saying being “bit by the travel bug” is extremely factual. Adventure is contagious. Kindness is contagious. The world is so big and there is so much to see.  The journey home to Suphanburi the next day was long and hot but the memories were well worth it. The fact that Suphanburi already feels like “home” after a weekend trip reminds me how quickly human beings can adjust and grow. The adventure continues…. XOXO