Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Land of Smiles

Sunday, I returned from Thailand. It was an incredible trip, I'm already planning my return. I feel as though the purpose of this visit was simply to inform me of all that I have yet to see.

I would love to pack my new backpack and set off for a month or more. There's so much to see, so much to do, and so many amazing people to meet.

On a bus ride, I met a girl from Quebec who has been backpacking alone for 3 months, simply because she yearned for adventure before entering University. Camille and I talked for hours, got off the bus, shopped, ate dinner, and talked more. Her trip came to an end today. Knowing this, I spent much time quizzing her on her experience and lessons learned and favorite moments. She spoke of trekking through Vietnam and Laos and Thailand; river rafting, bus trips, and hill tribes; temples, water fights and friendly faces; and most of all the confidence a journey like this brings. Before she finished speaking, I knew I would return to this region.

After a night in Bangkok, I was ready to leave the smoggy congestion of Urban Metropolis, and found myself on a bus trip to a small island called Koh Samet. Yet to be flogged by foreign tourists, Koh Samet is not more than a National Park situated on a quiet island.

The bus ride down proved to be another great meeting place for fellow travelers. Sitting next to me were a brother and sister from South Korea - whom I later met up with when back in Bangkok. The rest of the mini-bus was filled by two young ladies from London, a German fellow - who has been traveling in Asia for months - and two South Africans now teaching in Bangkok. That group bonded quickly, and I stumbled upon their beach bash and spent my second evening away from the city with my new global comrads.

While out with a group of local Thai, I met a young girl, a street vendor named Lookrnam. She was incredibly cute. She sold packages of gum. Though I don't chew gum, I bought several. She sold roses. I bought a few of those, too, and distributed each to my new Thai friend Oum - it was her birthday - and her friends. Every night, Lookrnom hits the congested, touristy streets of Bangkok to sell her knick-knacks. Despite her situation, she wore a bright smile that lightened the dark midnight streets. Thailand is dubbed "The Land of Smiles" and no one embodied this to me more than Lookrnam. After 20 minutes of losing at Rock, Paper, Scissors, Lookrnam stretched my hand out and tied on a braided string bracelet. She told me she wanted me to remember her. Having nothing to give in return, I pulled out my journal, tore out a sheet, and wrote her a note. Though her spoken English is more than adequate, Oum translated the written text to Thai. Lookrnam hugged me and thanked me with her signature smile.

One last chance encounter, and the highlight of the trip: With a little planning and strategic schedule shuffling, I was able to see my dear Floridian friend, Cathy. Around the time I moved out of the State, and back to California, she moved to South Korea to teach English. Since my arrival to South East Asia, we've been tentatively scheming a plan to get together. But a few months ago, she up'd and moved to Thailand. This worked perfectly for our scheming and we enjoyed a great breakfast on two stools at a stand on a street corner. Cathy's perspective on Thai food is "The crappier the place looks, the better the food is." When we selected where we'd eat, the only comment I could muster was "I bet the food's fantastic."

Due to an early flight, our time together was brief. (And due to the fact that I forgot my watch was set an hour earlier to Taipei time, our visit was even briefer.) But it was a treat to see her, nonetheless.

The next few posts will be further expansion on my trip. But, as you know with me, people come first. This trip was too short. Thailand is a beautiful country, with too much to see and do. But by far, what I enjoy most about traveling is the people you meet along the way. They inspire and reaffirm you in your journey - just by watching them in theirs. Whether your time together is a bus ride covering a vast expanse of land or breakfast on the corner; whether you divulge in the adventures of life, or simply share a smile, their presense in your journey is invaluable.


floreta said...

your last paragraph sums it up beautifully. it is the connection with natives and fellow travelers that solidify the experience of travel for me. i tend to think that life doesn't mean a whole lot to me.. maybe that sounds like a downer, but it's the people and relationships in life that make it worth while. for me, that's what life is all about.

glad you had an excellent time and looking forward to hearing more stories! hopefully, i will get to see thailand soon as well :)

Andhari said...

Oh hometown, umm mom's hometown i mean..reading this makes me miss it.
Been too long.

Not too long, it's just last yesr but maybe I should go back and visit. For a Bangkok debauchery at least, if I have a limited time.

Untitled said...

Haha. Now we know who's been having the most fun. I doubt whether for the rest of your life if you will ever forget the time spent in this interesting country

Samantha said...

Wow, your trip sounds so amazing! I love that you can just go to a completely different place and make friends instantly..and on the busses, no less! That's a talent, Chase!

Of course, I cannot wait to hear more about (and see more pictures of!) the food! :)

SuzANNE said...

What a refreshing read! GREAT post, I love meeting new people but you're just taking it to another level. Part of me wishes I had the courage to 'up and move' and experience something foreign and fabulous like that. I'm going to the midwest this week... it's a start. Be safe in your travels and KIT.

Sebastian said...

Now I just want to travel some more... *shakes fist*

I WILL do the Far East damnit! I will! For MONTHS! Taiwan, Thailand, Korea, some of China...

Watch this space, Chase!

Lindsay Champion said...

Awww, Lookrnam is adorable.

lindsay || newyorkwords.net

Don said...

Some servings of friendship (even if the servings are single or small) are indeed... priceless.

I totally agree with you on the highlight of such a trip: the people.


Chase said...

@floreta, the people definitely make it worth it.

@Andhari, I didn't know your mom's from bangkok! cool!

@lamina, I doubt I'll ever forget this too. Thanks for stopping by!

@Sam, the food was great! I'll get there, though I don't have many pictures of it. I know i know, i'm bad.

@SuzANNE, as far as I'm concerned, the midwest is as foreign as the far east.

@Seb, do it, man. I know you will. I believe, in you. ;)

@Don, thanks for the visa commercial. They probably could have made a commercial out of the money that slipped through my fingers during that trip. Oh well, live and learn.

Jon and Steph said...

Chase you write so beautifully. I just love reading your blog. Your trip to Thailand sounds like it will be a trip you'll never forget. (Don't you just love those.)

Now I know what you meant in a comment you wrote about meeting new people, you've obviously met some amazing friends on your journey to Thailand.

I can't wait to hear more!

Young Traveler said...

Chase, loved hearing about the people you met along the way. Sometimes those brief encounters mean the most in the long run.

Glad you made it home friend.