It was a Friday when I moved out of the apartment that’d been my home for the past year. I left the rock-hard-yet-somehow-still-comfortable bed I’d slept on, sat and read on, ate dinner on. I left the outdoor sink where I brushed my teeth while watching the moon pull up over the roofline. I left my tiny little safe haven, the place that was always there for me to laugh in, cry in, and simply be in. I left my place. It only took me a day to get what little belongings I have packed up into a suitcase, a duffle bag, and a backpack. It kept me busy all day, and when I was done I sat down in my chair and cried. I had left my school two weeks earlier, I had finished tutoring the day before, and leaving my apartment put me over the line where my mind could resist a meltdown. So I gave myself a few minutes to let my brain have its shower, loaded my stuff up into my friend Toni’s car, and left the light pink, two story building behind.
I was only at Toni’s for a couple days before I left Chiang Mai to start a month of traveling. My first stop was an island in the south of Thailand called Koh Yao Yai. My cousin Shirley invited me to join her at a resort she had booked, and I certainly wasn’t going to turn down a week on a tropical island. Unfortunately, the first couple days were completely waterlogged. The rain would only stop for minutes at a time, and I didn’t even step on the beach until a couple days after we arrived. But nothing could stop it from being lovely. Our room was on a hill with an uninterrupted, sweeping view of the Andaman Sea. We didn’t get to take in the full glory of it until around day 3 when the sun finally dominated the sky, turning the water into a sparkling turquoise and illuminating the surrounding islands in the distance. We spent most of our days taking yoga classes, tasting different dishes at the restaurants, relaxing in or beside the pools, and taking in the views on our balcony and the beach. It was mostly uneventful (the tour we booked to another nearby island was cancelled due to the rain) but incredibly relaxing. While I was sincerely grateful for the chance to stay at such a beautiful place, I can’t say I’d do it again. Everything was unnecessarily extravagant—as resorts tend to be—and it simply felt wrong to be throwing six to ten times more money into meals than I normally would while impoverished villages sat just beyond the entrance to the resort. I’ve gotten into the habit of booking small guesthouses or homestays during my travels to try to ensure my money goes to local families, and my experience at the resort reaffirmed that that’s the better choice for me. I don’t require much to be happy. Just last night I stayed at a small, local hostel in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. My room was tiny, there was no air conditioning, the bathrooms had no hot water, yet I felt more at home there than I ever did at the resort. I was able to connect with the owner there. I knew her name, I played with her daughter, I walked through the rooms as if it were my own home. I only knew the names of the workers at the resort because they wore name tags. Some people prefer luxury, and I’m not one to say that’s wrong. It’s just not how I want to live my life.
After a week at the resort, I flew to Bangkok to visit my friend Tong. Tong is one of my best friends in Thailand and recently moved from Chiang Mai to Bangkok to join Teach for Thailand (the Thai equivalent of Teach for America). I’ve missed him dearly, and seeing him was wonderful. I was able to stay with him in his dorm at Chulalongkorn University, the first university established in Thailand. I remember my college years very fondly, and I always enjoy returning to college campuses. There’s something about the atmosphere that’s strangely relaxing considering the huge amounts of stress and anxiety that most college students experience. Perhaps it’s simply the fact that it’s a place where people seek out knowledge that makes them so appealing to me. Whatever it is, I loved walking around the university where Tong was doing his training. He wasn’t free much, his time being consumed by teaching preparations, but we did a bit of sightseeing. We went to a huge shopping center that consisted of five malls all strung together by walkways (the main one is called Siam Paragon), an adorable, small, white library tucked along a main street that felt somehow remote, and Lumpini Park where we got to relax, walk around, and watch the huge lizards that call the lake home swim along the surface. One day when Tong was busy I walked to the Jim Thompson House, a large house built in the Thai style by an American businessman who helped rebuild the Thai silk industry. Bangkok is quite an interesting city, but not the place I’d choose to visit in other circumstances. I prefer smaller towns where you can really get a feel for the culture, and Bangkok is too large and modernized for the culture to be easily accessible. But my time in Bangkok was certainly enjoyable, and I appreciated the chance to experience it a bit more.
While in Bangkok, I was able to take a two day trip to Kanchanaburi, a small province about two hours from Bangkok near the border of Myanmar. The town is famous for the Bridge On the River Kwai, a bridge originally built by prisoners of war who were in Japanese prison camps during World War II. The bridge is part of the Death Railway, so named because of all the men who lost their lives building it. I rode the train to get back to Bangkok, but never saw the Bridge because the train headed in the opposite direction. While in Kanchanaburi I visited a the war cemetery where many of the POW’s are buried. The cemetery was in the middle of the city, but it was quiet, heavy like only a cemetery can be. I walked along the rows of simple headstones and paused, crying, when I came to the grave of a man who was my age when he died. It made me more aware of just how good the sun felt on my damp skin and how awake I felt with the blue sky over me. Kanchanaburi is also home to Erawan Waterfall, a magnificent, seven level waterfall tucked away in a forest. It was indeed amazing, but I happened to be there on a holiday, and the crowds were nearly unbearable. I made it to the fifth level before turning around and making my way back to the bus, which was so crowded that I had to stand for the entire hour and a half ride. But, like many adventures, while everything didn’t work out as planned, my trip to Bangkok and Kanchanaburi offered me memories that I won’t soon let go of.
I’m now staying in a small town in Indonesia on the island of Java and absolutely loving it. I will write a post after I finish my two weeks here, so stay tuned.