I’m happy to announce that after a fantastic month out in southeast Asia, my wife Veronica and I have made it back home to the United States. Apologies for the long pause in blogging — perhaps the longest pause since I first started this blog in 2012! — but don’t worry, now that I’m back, the blog schedule will return to normal.
So yes, traveling: perhaps the most beautiful thing about traveling, really, isn’t what you see while you’re away, but what you bring back with you when you come home.
When one dives into other cultures headfirst, takes the time to understand them, to open oneself to the ways that other lands, peoples, and societies work, you find that there is no perfect society, no “best country on Earth,” no excuse for exceptionalism. Every place has its positives and negatives. Every culture has evolved into what it is for a reason, and the enhanced possibilities for cultural exchange is one of the best features of today’s world.
Traveling, experiencing other cultures, understanding other cultures, is the cure for such toxins as bigotry, prejudice, and ignorance. Because when you see why people are the way they are, it pulls back the ridiculousness of being judgmental, the inanity of putting up walls and pretending that one’s way is the best way, or the only way. In today’s times, an understanding of other cultures is exactly what we need if we want to move forward, instead of stepping back.
It’s good to be home. Flying back into New York City, even for just a stopover, and seeing the skyscrapers is always a delight. But it was just as amazing to spend an entire month immersed in southeast Asia, from Thailand to Laos to Cambodia, and back to Thailand again. There were so many experiences that I’ll never forget, so many new lessons that will stick with me, so much inspiration.
Though I love writing, and I love traveling, writing travel posts is a bit of a struggle for me, primarily because it’s a form of writing that’s so different from what I usually do. Normally, when I write a piece, I try to take on a big issue and zoom in on one aspect of it, as intensely as I can: when I review a film, for instance, I focus on my interpretation of the story’s deeper meaning, instead of analyzing every single piece of the production itself. With writing about travel, however, I feel a desire to go through the entire trip, piece by piece, because the overall picture is so important, but this leaves less time to delve into the smaller details, which are often the ones with the most impact.
But it’s good to challenge oneself, and since traveling and writing are both such huge parts of who I am, I’m going to do my best. So, in this post, I’ll try to strike a compromise, break it into a few posts, and we’ll see how I do.
Naturally, like most trips to Thailand, our journey began in Bangkok after a long 20+ hour transit via Air China, with a brief stopover in China itself. Bangkok is an enormous city, but a mesmerizing one. On later reflection, I realized that what makes Bangkok special is how unique it is, in that while wandering its streets, you really know where you are. Though many capital cities are now so internationalized that they could be anywhere in the world, Bangkok is always distinctively Bangkok.
And what does one do in Bangkok? Well, besides eating scorpions, as pictured above, there’s also countless food stalls serving utterly delicious pad Thai — which would go on to become a near-daily meal throughout the month. I also consumed quite a number of bottles of Chang, as well as fruit shakes made with no artificial syrup, no milk, nothing but the fruits themselves. Walking the streets of Bangkok really is an experience in and of itself, no doubt, and the culture truly is wonderful to interact with: Buddhism is enormous throughout all of Thailand, and the many positive, peaceful, worldly philosophies inherent to Buddhism have really permeated the land, and are a huge part of what makes it such an enjoyable country to visit.
A few days later we hitched the train to the ancient city of Ayutthaya, once the capital of Siam, the ruins of which are now an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Lots of amazing sights to see, all of which makes a person realize what a tiny piece of history we live in today.
After Ayutthaya, we then hopped back on the train and went down to Lopburi, which you readers will recognize from my last post.
Honestly, the time we spent in Lopburi is something I’ll treasure for the rest of my life. The main reason, of course, is the monkeys. Lopburi is a town completely overrun with crab-eating macaques, and after spending time with these guys, it’s impossible not to fall in love with them.
Not remotely shy, the monkeys can be seen climbing the telephone wires, hopping on cars, scurrying across rooftops, crowding up sidewalks, and if you happen to be carrying food, they have no problem jumping on top of you and snatching it right out of your hands. Though the monkeys wander all over the old town, they actually “live” in Prang Sam Yot, a former Khmer temple. Lopburi itself would be a fun town to spend time in, even without the monkeys, but the little guys are so impossible not to love, that Veronica and I really spent hours and hours just enjoying their company.
Something I really appreciated about the monkeys in Lopburi is their freedom; the city is theirs, just as much as it belongs to the people. The monkeys are free to roam as much as they wish, enjoying their lives, while interacting with people if and when they choose to, instead of being caged up or forced into being pets. Lopburi is a really unique city, and we enjoyed every minute of our time there.
After wrapping up our time in Lopburi, we took an overnight train to Chiang Mai, met up with an old friend who just happened to be in Thailand at the time, and then finished the night at a reggae bar. This ended up being an excellent preview for our next location: Pai, a legendary little hippie village in the mountains, that just so happens to have plenty of Thai rastas, reggae bars, arts, crafts, yoga, music shows, and all sorts of creative events.
They often say that people go to Pai and never come back, and it’s easy to see why. Nestled deep in the mountains, overlooked by the giant white Buddha, Pai is not just a beautiful place because of its overwhelming sights: it’s a beautiful place because of the people, art, and creative culture there.
We spent almost week in Pai. The first night was in a bungalow, and then we spent the rest of the time staying with new friends, renting mopeds and exploring the mountains, hot springs, and Pai Canyon, a breathtaking vista with perilous cliff drops, narrow ledges, and no guardrails.
All in all, what I can say is this: if we were to live in Thailand, I suspect that we’d probably make our home up in Pai.
And for now, we’ll take a break in the narrative; this seems like a good pause before we enter the next chapter. Coming up in my next blog post: an elephant sanctuary, the road to Laos, and Laos itself!