Chiang Mai Elephants

Southeast Asia, Part II: Elephants, and the Road to Laos

In the last blog entry, I detailed the first part of our trip to Thailand, where we went up from Bangkok, passed through the city of monkeys, explored a little of Chiang Mai and then spent some time in the beautiful hippie village of Pai.

Chiang Rai Thailand rice fields

After our time in Pai, we hitched a ride back down to Chiang Mai. One of the things that we wanted to do in our time was Thailand was see elephants, but when it comes to elephants, it’s highly important to do your research first, and make sure that what one goes to is an elephant sanctuary: there are numerous abusive elephant camps throughout the country, where the elephants are tortured with bullhooks, chains, and more. In addition, what many people don’t realize is that “elephant riding” is terrible for the elephants themselves; the weight of a human being puts a tremendous strain on an elephant’s spine, which is only multiplied when a heavy saddle is also weighing them down. Basically, elephants should never have to carry humans.

This is why it’s important to not fund these elephant-riding places with tourist dollars, and to instead give that money to the elephant sanctuaries. These sanctuaries work to provide better care to the elephants, better lives, more freedom, no torture, and NO RIDING. In addition, sanctuaries use their revenue to buy elephants away from the riding camps, thus freeing these animals from their abusers.

In the sanctuary we went to, it was clear right away that the workers truly care for the elephants, and are devoted to the cause of better elephant treatment in Thailand. In the sanctuary, we had the opportunity to walk with the elephants, feed them, bathe them in the river, and generally just spend time with them. Elephants are one of the most intelligent creatures on the planet, and it shows; they are more majestic than I could ever have realized beforehand. Looking into their eyes, one sees the soul of a noble creature that deserves respect, compassion, and honor.

Pictures? Yes, of course!

After the elephant sanctuary, we went back to Chiang Mai and spent a few more days enjoying the sights, spending time with new friends, and finally getting ready for our trip to Laos.

On the way to Laos, we made a pit stop in Chiang Rai. Chiang Rai is arguably most famous for its bizarre and beautiful White Temple, but we didn’t get the chance to stop in and see it, since we had to hit the road to Laos the next morning. We did get the chance to go to the night market, and indulge in these crunchy grasshoppers. Quite an interesting snack:

Chiang Rai grasshoppers

The next morning, we caught the early morning bus to Chiang Khong, a Thai town on the border —and then, we crossed the Friendship Bridge into Laos, and entered the village of Huay Xai.

In the next blog, I’ll delve into the details of our slow boat ride down the Mekong River, Luang Prabang, and more. Stay tuned!

 

 

Lopburi Thailand

Southeast Asia, Part 1: Bangkok, Lopburi, Chiang Mai, and Pai

Hello, hello!

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.

Lopburi Thailand

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.

Thailand Phuket

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.

Nicholas Conley Bangkok Thailand

Onward:

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.

Ayutthaya Thailand

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.

Thailand Lopburi

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.

Lopburi Thailand

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.

Thailand 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!

 

thailand-physical-map

Meanwhile, in Thailand…

Hello back there! Just stopping in briefly to say hi; will do a full report after I get back, but in the meantime, we’re having an amazing time out here in Thailand.

The photo below was taken while hanging around in Lopburi, Thailand’s city of monkeys. And when I say city of monkeys, I truly mean a city where the monkeys have taken over — chilling out on the sidewalk, hopping onto people’s cars, crawling on the telephone wires, stealing people’s sunglasses, they’re everywhere. Needless to say, it’s a lot of fun.

tmonkeys

 

We’re now up in the mountains of Pai, and then headed further north!

thailand-physical-map

Off to Thailand!

The travel siren has called out once again. It’s been almost a year since going to Morocco, and it’s time to head across the world again.

After getting married last August, we decided to hold off on doing the honeymoon immediately; since we already love traveling to distant locations as often as possible, we decided to plan out something special, a longer trip, and we decided that the place to go was Thailand.

Tomorrow morning, we’ll be jetting off to Bangkok, and then heading to northern Thailand, where we’ll spend the rest of the month exploring as much of the country as we possibly can. Will post pictures as soon as I get a chance, but in the meantime, we have bags to pack, lists to check off, and a flight to catch. Hope all of you are doing well; let me know if anything exciting happens, and we’ll talk again soon!

plane-at-sunset

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy

Clay Tongue Reviews

Happy New Year! Hope you all had an amazing switchover from 2016 to 2017. To ring in the New Year on this end, I’d like to get started by showing my excitement at some of the reviews for my new release, Clay Tongue: A Novelette. Getting the opportunity to read a review of one’s work is truly one of the most thrilling parts of being a writer, and here’s a bit of what Clay Tongue‘s reviewers have to say so far.

Clay Tongue Nicholas Conley fantasy

First off, we have Steve Johnson of Book to the Future:

“The feeling of childish and adult fears mixed together in a child’s mind is a very delicate theme to navigate, as well as ideas of existence, the cost of it and of how we value life.  It is a powerful cross-section of themes, a mix which is always done well by Conley.”

Over on Goodreads, C. S. Wilde had this to say:

“This story is as gentle as a snowflake and yet, so very powerful. Nicholas Conley has the ability to touch even the darkest hearts with his stories.”

Clay Tongue fantasy novelette Nicholas Conley

Marian Thorpe took the time to add her thoughts:

“A lovely story of hope and the power of love and belief in what is right, rather than easy. It would be a good story to read out loud to the assembled family over the holiday season.

Then we have J.L. Gribble:

The gorgeous cover to this novelette is a perfect match for the beautiful language and sweet story contained within. This short tale is well worth checking out for a quick escape.

And finally, we have Misti Pyles of My Trending Stories, who says:

“Clay Tongue isn’t very long, but has plenty of room to draw the reader into Katie’s tale. Katie’s just a kid, but her view of the world is bigger—and far more clear—than the adults in her life. Her love for her grandfather is fierce, as is his for her. There is magic in the pages of this story; magic both large and small, as well as love, hope, and vision.”

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy

Off to a great start, I’d say! Clay Tongue is available on Amazon, as both a paperback and an ebook. Hope you all continue having a terrific New Year.

xmas-tree-2016

Happy Holidays, 2016!

Hope everyone is having a fantastic holiday season. Merry Christmas, happy Hanukkah, happy Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and any other holidays that all of you may be celebrating. Though we had some sun today, there’s still plenty of leftover snow around, so it definitely looks like we’ll be enjoying a winter wonderland for at least the next few days.

As you can see below, the upcycled “Phoenix” holiday tree that I shared a few weeks ago is still standing up strong, and as sparkly as ever!

Dead Upcycled Phoenix Christmas Holiday Tree

Happy holidays, everyone. Whether you’re spending time with family, volunteering, working to help others, or even just sharing drinks with a friend, I hope that you’re all enjoying the season as much as possible. See you again soon!

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy

Release Day – Clay Tongue: A Novelette

Language is the foundation that society is built on, and yet, out of all of our inventions, it’s also our greatest enigma. The combination of sounds and/or symbols that frame ideas, illustrate concepts, and bring people together has advanced human civilization more than anything else, without parallel. But for those who suffer from cognitive disorders, like aphasia — and those afflicted by shyness and social anxiety — language can also be the tallest wall separating them from others.

Language is the key to everything. Like any writer, my love of language frames all of my actions, goals, and ideas. But I also know the pains of language, both from my experiences working in a dementia unit with patients with cognitive disorders, as well as my early life experiences as a shy little kid who didn’t know how to express myself. This is what led me to write my short little novelette, Clay Tongue — the magical realism story that, as of today, is now out in the world, and ready for all of you to read.

I’m thrilled to share the news that Clay Tongue: A Novelette is now available both as an ebook and a paperback, just in time for the holidays!

Clay Tongue novelette Nicholas Conley fantasy

From the author of the award-winning Pale Highway and the radio play Something in the Nothing comes a short fantasy of love, shyness, and the secrets of human communication.

Katie Mirowitz is a small little girl with an even smaller little voice. She possesses a deep love for her grandfather, who suffers from aphasia after a bad stroke cuts loose the part of his brain that processes verbal language. When Katie uncovers a miraculous secret inside the pages of her grandfather’s old journal, as well as an ancient key, she goes out into the woods in search of answers — hoping to uncover a mythical being that, if it exists, may just have the ability to grant wishes.

Get your copy here!