Jay Michael Muller

Student of Lyfe

Archive for the category “Travel”

A Burmese Tale – my experience of traveling in the Golden Land

My travel experience, undoubtedly, has been greatly enriched by the decision to go to Myanmar.

For the first month, I traveled as I thought best. Arriving in Bangkok, the bus took me to the north where I fiddled around for a few weeks. Then, crossing into Laos I peeked into a completely different world. However, this ‘trail’ was full of backpackers and the path has been blazed for one to easily make the journey. Picking up on these sentiments of reality, I was longing for something more. With perfect timing, as my last post described, I got the word that Burma was the land of authentic travel experience – so, packing my bags, I headed west.

What I experienced, more or less, was a major slap in the face…in an utterly positive manner. Two lessons arose from this experience:

(1)    What you give to the world, you get

(2)    Without your health, you have nothing

Yangon

Arriving at Yangon International Airport with merely $500, no map, no reservations, and no idea which way was even north or south, it all seemed okay. I had been in similar situations numerous times by now, and history has taught me that this spontaneity is the ideal way to travel.

As I turned 360 to seek a mate to share a taxi into town, I landed my eyes on the most interesting traveler I have seen to date – Michael Brown. This 6’6, long blonde dreads, 70 year old hippie appeared to me as a shining light of experience and wisdom. Accordingly, I struck up conversation and we headed out passed the rip-off tourist priced taxis for the local bus stop. Immediately, after the kilometer to the station, I saw what all the ‘hype’ concerning Myanmar was all about. The people – composed of a wide variety and mesh of ethnicities including Burmese, Chinese, Indian, Pakistani, and more – presented an expression of incredible intrigue as we walked up. This phenomena, certainly, was not unique to the bus stop.

The whole time in Myanmar the same-same occurred with each individual I made eye contact with. It went a little something like this: I peer around and make eye contact (this was quite easy since every single person is staring). There exists a moment of awkward blankness, until I crack a smile and greet with the common term “mingalaba.”  Then, the energy of the other is released into the brightest and most appreciative smile the world has to offer.

*A little context: Mass tourism in Myanmar began in 2011 when the government saw the dollar signs that would result from opening more area to foreigners. First year, there were 300,000 tourists. 2012, 1,000,000 people visited Myanmar. In 2013, there were over 3,000,000 travelers… Those numbers show the alarming rate at which tourism is exploding in the nation, which will surely change the people’s view of the western world. Still though, the ‘outside world’ is quite novel to the people. They have so much interest in our way of life, our perspectives, the notion of materialism, and so-on. I describe it as “utter intrigue.” So the interactions were exemplifications of the interest they have towards travelers like me. I later learned that not all visitors are as nice, so the local people are hesitant to smile and greet first because of fear of non-reciprocation – or put more simply – rejection. The streets of Yangon were quite interesting. I describe it as harmoniously chaotic. The streets are all lined with countless food stalls where people sit around what we use in the states as toy tables and chairs, as they sip endlessly on Burmese or Chinese tea and share conversation. Bus yappers roll by doing their repetitive call expressing the bus number and end destination, as they pull up for a split second of opportunity to hop on. And the buildings brilliantly alternate various colors and styles, jetting endlessly down the way. Shwegadon Pagoda Yangon Streets Yangon Bus

Pyay

Wanting to see the small towns in between the major attractions, the first stop was Pyay. And Pyay took me in with open arms.

I spent the first day trotting around town through unchanged villages, and ordinary city streets. People would commonly come running out flagging me down, followed by one of the only phrases the masses knew: “Hello! Where you come from?” “USA,” I responded, “Thank you for welcoming me to your country.” The afternoon was spent at the ‘tea shop’ – a ubiquitous aspect of Burmese culture where the local people congregate over endless tea. There, a group of men invited me over to their table wanting to practice English and learn more about America – in exchange, they taught me a thing or two about Myanmar

Of course, they wouldn’t let me eat alone, so we all went out for a nice dinner on the river where more friends were called together – a joyous experience. As I promised Natagoe, one of the main guys I connected with, I was ready at 9am outside the tea shop. Late the night before, we were sitting outside his home playing music and enjoying traditional singsongs. He offered to show me his town the next day. On his moto, we trekked from attraction to attraction, viewpoint to viewpoint, and – best of all – friends to friends. Per Natago’s connection, I met with an antique jewelry dealer, moto mechanic, blacksmith, English teacher, and a university student eager to study in the states. Each individual had a unique story, and overall the personal tour gave me a clear view into life in Pyay. I also got close with a man named Chris Topher, one of the nicest people I’ve met on the travel thus far. Then, I boarded the overnight bus to Bagan. On the way to Pyay Michael Brown Pyay 1 Pyay 2Pyay 4Pyay 5

Bagan

Bagan is an ancient location filled with numerous temples of various ages, styles, and significance. Spread out over (approximately?) 20 square miles, they sit in idle as countless tourists stride through on bicycle to get a look and absorb the breathtaking views.

I spent the day with Seb Hale, who I met at my hotel, peacefully experiencing the fascinating place. We took our time as we visited those we felt drawn to. The pictures below really sum it up I guess. It was a major tourist town, so I decided one day would be enough and I would move on the next day. The relationship I developed with Sebastian, however, positively affected the course of my trip – more details to come in the next blog about the Thaislands.

However, Bagan is when the tide began to turn. Myanmar is one of the most challenging places to travel in the world for two reasons that I identified: nutrition and transportation. The roads are lackluster at best, 1.5 lanes, packed to the brim, turtle speed slow, and bumpy as the ride to hell. Furthermore, most long-distance buses travel overnight which sets arrival time around 2 or 3 in the morning. So not only do you not sleep on the bus (impossible!), but also you arrive when all guesthouses are closed and thus need to yell for the doors to be open for a spot on the reception floor until morning. Then, after a few minutes, maybe hours, of sleep, you try your best to make the most of the day. The following day, your body is still recovering from the lack of rest – throwing off the mood and physical energy. Oh but wait! It’s time for another overnight bus to transport, thus starting the cycle over again.

This, along with general travel fatigue, began to wear me down.

And the nutrition … My naïve perspective coming into SE Asia was of beautiful lush lands of relatively organic crops flooding the street markets and providing for a healthy population. I was straight up wrong. The widespread poverty has ushered in the heavy use of synthetic goods (such as chemical coffee mix provided as the only option for caffeine), an abundant amount of spray such as pesticides and inorganic chemical fertilizer, as well as deep fried vegetables as the only option for ‘healthy’ food. Travelers often get sick in Myanmar from the terrible sanitation standards, but at this point I was feeling the lack of quality nutrition catching up to me and I was becoming weak. Still, though, I trekked on.

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Pakkaku

When I arrived in Pakkaku, 1 hour north of Bagan, our pick-up truck (of which I was the only foreigner) dropped us off in the dead center of the town market. It was morning, and the citizens were doing as they normally do: greeting their friends and acquaintances, collecting vegetables for the day, and making their way to do the day’s work. I walked with my backpack, and was again greeted by the countless bright faces glimmering at the sight of a traveler in their small town.

The reason I ventured to Pakkaku was a recommendation about the ‘most incredible guesthouse in Myanmar’: Mya Inn. Here, there lived the sweetest grandmother running the guesthouse with her daughter and four grandchildren. With 8 rooms upstairs, and the family sleeping down below, it really felt as though they were welcoming us straight into their home. Each morning, we ate breakfast together and we had the opportunity to consume endless stories and informative content about the country, history, the family, and much more. I highly recommend a stay here if anyone is headed to Myanmar in the near future!

The first day, I trotted around the town looking to simply explore. In the few hours out and about, I had tremendous conversations with the director of the board for the town monastery, a local NDP party leader who spent 3 years in jail (1997) under the oppressive military government, schoolchildren delighted to gather in a group for a photo, a university student eager to practice English, and many more interesting characters. The day was pretty much what I was looking for in my Burmese travel.

However, when I got home tired from walking all day in the 90 degree dry heat, I began to question how long I’d stay in the country due to my growing fatigue, malnutrition, and lack of quality sleep each night. As I laid in bed and decided I would leave Pakkaku the next morning, I heard laughter and cheer downstairs. When I stepped down the creaky steps, I saw the rest of the travelers in a circle with Mya Mya (the grandmother) as she answered questions and told stories of the near and distant past. There, we spent the next 3 hours laughing, joking, and receiving quality insight. When another traveler invited me to join her tomorrow on an adventure, I retreated on my mental decision to leave, and gladly accepted!

The adventure, I found out in the morning, was a local wedding in a small village about a mile or two from town. We were invited and guided by the groom’s sister who lived down the street from the guesthouse. The wedding ended up being one of my fondest memories of Myanmar, and oh yes was I glad to have stayed another day. This isolated village, more than anywhere I went in Myanmar, was shocked at the sight of foreigners. Far more than any street I walked down, eyes glued to us like sap of a leaf. Honestly, it was one of the most overwhelming feelings ever experienced, especially because nobody spoke enough English to have a conversation and break the curiosity besides our guide – who herself was just getting by with diction. Nonetheless, smiles were all around as the party kicked off to celebrate the union of the bride and groom. Loud, over distorted music, shouted across the property as kids ran around, elders sat for a chat, cigars lit up, endless food passed around, and countless pounds of ‘beetle’ were chewed. This was truly a gathering of a large family and all members of the community to celebrate this joyous time. We received gifts of the old outdated Myanmar 1 Kyat (now useless, as the lowest denomination bill is a 50 Kyat), and exchanged it with our own offering of 5000 Kyat for congratulations.

The ceremony was extremely different than Western weddings. The party, for one, was before hand and no speeches were given. Then, we all lined up single file and journeyed a mile to the groom’s personal home, where the male elders and a Buddhist advisor discussed the meaning and importance of a marriage as well as the responsibilities and commitment it entailed. The two bowed a few times in honor of their parents and ancestors, showing respect as they begin to depart on their own path, and were declared husband and wife after being showered by flowers and allowed a modest kiss on the cheek. Simple as that, it was over.

As we sat preparing to venture back to town, two AMAZING people came out of nowhere and sat at the table. With the brightest smile I’ve seen on my travels, they extended greetings with very good English and showed high interest in having a prolonged discussion. Yemanoo and Air-Air are their names, and being that it was at peak heat for the day, I asked if they would like to spend the evening together however they pleased. At 6pm, the young couple picked us up from the guesthouse and drove us a few blocks to their modest home – a single room with a bed, refrigerator, and beautiful photos. We took a seat on the ground as we launched into deep discussion about their lives, recent wedding, education, work, culture, and endless other topics. I returned with information about American lifestyles, customs, perspectives, and so-on. We then were chauffeured to the local Pagoda (temple) where they paid respects to Buddha and discussed the personal importance of their religion in their lives. Following, we were brought to their favorite restaurant where we all enjoyed fried rice with chicken, and a few pints of Dagon draught beer. As we departed, after a long day of joyous conversation and quality time spent together, contact information was exchanged and best wishes extended. Then, things turned for the worst.

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Mandalay

The stupid freaking bus stops. Never eat at them, as the hygiene standards are completely inexistent and bugs are incredibly common. My ignorance led me to indulge in the buffet provided, and 5 hours later it all caught up to me.

After checking in and going to the highest point in Mandalay – Mandalay Hill – the group we formed in the lobby enjoyed sunset over the distant mountains as we played around with a little photography. My stomach started to growl. As we headed back, my head began to spin and fever shot up. As I ran to my room (luckily I had my own bathroom), the sickness began. I was doing a combination of throwing up and other things until 4 am, while incredibly annoying, oddly distorted, and screeching loud rock music played outside until the wee hours. Apparently there was a local festival, though it certainly was no joy to me.

I proceeded to lie in bed all next day, missing my bus to Hispaw – a small village in the north where one could proceed further into nature and remoteness for a multiple day trekking. It was here in bed that I declared my exit from the country, and the following day I set south for Inle Lake.

The reality is that for a month and a half I had been going-going-going, not staying in a place for more than 3 days. The constant travel, with low-quality nutrition, and endless heat weighed heavily on me. Due to the poor (overnight) transportation I spoke of earlier, amongst other factors, it had all caught up to me and threw me into a daze of illness, fatigue, and negativity.

Inle Lake

The drive to Inle Lake from Myanmar, though, was one of the most beautiful of any part of the trip. When we arrived, I immediately realized that this was a tourist-only location, similar to Vang Vieng in Laos where the whole town caters to foreigners and no local culture really exists.

The next day, we hired a boat, as everyone does, to take us around the lake. We were, however, brought to shop after shop where a local guide explains to us the tradition – be it weaving, welding, jewelry making, etc. – where we were then presented with endless opportunities to purchase. The best part, though easily the saddest experience so far, was the far end of the lake where we rode through an undeveloped part of the lake. It was obvious our boat wasn’t the first to come through, as the local people fishing, farming, and performing other tasks on the lake barely showed us their face.

One of the themes of the whole travel, for me, has been an exposure of the dangers of mass tourism. As exemplified on Inle Lake, it destroys local culture and subsidizes life with materialism and a capitalistic culture. The joy of the Burmese I witnessed in Yangon, Pyay, and Pakkaku were inexistent here – and it is my fear the rest of the country will eventually suffer a similar fate as Inle Lake has.

Inle Lake 1Inle Lake 2Inle Lake 3

Yangon

After making the loop from South-West-North-East-South, I was back in Yangon – perhaps my favorite major city of the world. I recouped, met up with Sebastian (the friend I spent the day with in Bagan) for dinner, and glimmered at the final chance to soak up the Burmese spirit with constant smiles and hellos left and right. I turned before entering my hotel for the night and gleamed down the major street – Myanmar, ahh, what an incredible land. The next day Seb and I set out for Koh Phagnan on a 15 hour travel journey, eventually landing us in paradise (to be continued in the next post!).

In Conclusion

My mindset was shaky for a period just before, during, and after the physical downfall on the way to Mandalay. I had come to Myanmar seeking a raw, remote experience – one that Hispaw would have provided had I the strength to continue on. For a bit, I felt disappointed or that I had come up short. This lingered over me, in agony at times. As I sat in my Yangon hotel the night before I left Myammar, however, it all clicked. As always, things happen in mysterious ways to result in incredible life or travel lessons – invaluable for years to come.

The lessons of Myanmar clicked right then:

(1) What you give to the world, you get

(2) Without your health, you have nothing

The first one is in reference to the communication phenomena I experienced with the local people. At times the constant stares and encroaching curiosity got to me, as I chose in those moments to refuse eye contact and get to my destination. For the majority of the time, however, I extended my energy to those I came in contact with and shared a smile, greeting, and – commonly – conversation. This dichromatic option represented the phenomenon I then realized. Give good energy to the world, and you will receive the same.

Secondly, as I noted I had extreme desires to venture to the remote ends of Burma, though the fatigue, illness, and lack of energy made that literally impossible. Without your health, you have nothing. This is a concept I had been previously introduced to as I experienced the tremendous effects of Pristine Hydro and the nutritional protocol the lifestyle entails – providing an abundance of energy, flexibility, clarity, quality sleep, and a relief from physical pain…amongst many other benefits. (I will try to post my Pristine Hydro testimonial when I get back to the states). This notion rang incredible clear to me though in Myanmar, and I have reinforced my commitment to healthy living both for the rest of the trip but more importantly when I return and begin teaching. There is no way I can be effective teaching in the classroom if I don’t feel my best.

And perhaps I shall include another: Follow your heart and instincts. As much as I longed for tremendous adventure in the outback of Burma, my body and mind was telling me to head for the southern islands of Thailand. After almost two weeks here (Koh Phagnan and Koh Tao) I have never been happier, rejuvenated, and at peace with life – worry free. So in the end, yes, I think Myanmar was an incredible opportunity from beginning to end – equipping me with experience, insight, culture, and much more to last a lifetime.

Living, Laughing, & Loving, Jay

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With Burma ahead, a glance back at my time in Laos

It’s nearing midnight. In a few hours, I’ll board a flight to the magical land of Myanmar (aka Burma) where a recent opening to tourism presents an opportunity to interact with authenticity. My decision to go to Burma was recent and rather spontaneous. Originally, I planned on staying a few weeks more in Laos to get off the beaten path and experience the distant villages and the common folk. But before crossing into Laos, I met a man named Michael Brandle (Swiss, 31)  in the Akha Village of Northern Thailand. When I found out he has been traveling for 15 months, and plans on another 9 months to go, I knew he would have something interesting to say, or recommend.

(from left to right) Michael Brandle, John Pegios

(from left to right) Michael Brandle, John Pegios

His advice was simple: “Go to Myanmar.” Through our conversations, he (basically) communicated the following message: “I don’t give a damn what you had planned in Indochina (Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam)…that will all still be there in 5-10 years and you can see the land then. Burma, however, is offering a small window of opportunity before the tourism industry catches up, and the people start to see you as dollar signs instead of foreign visitors to their home. On this 3-month trip of yours, change course – you’ll thank me later.” Out of his entire travel experiences, having gone to countless nations, he says his trip to Burma a few months back was easily his favorite. I combined that with a similar message received from numerous other travelers who had this look in their eyes when they said the word Burma or Myanmar…like they had seen something truly special and out of the ordinary. Well – here we go. Look forward to my post after I return to Bangkok on the 28th! 🙂

Laos of Love

Though I knew my time would be short and rather ‘standard’ for a visit to Laos, I still set out to enjoy my time in the country.

The Gibbon Experience

WoW! That was the word going through my mind on this 3-day, 2-night adventure deep into Bokeo National Park of Northern Laos. When we weren’t trekking, we were zip-lining. When we weren’t zip-lining, we were swimming. When we weren’t swimming, we were feasting. When we weren’t feasting, we were sleeping deeply in our tip-top tree house. And the whole time – we were smiling. 🙂 The Gibbon Experience is an organization established to cease the wildlife encroachment and poaching by tribal people for profit. The program has turned these men into expert guides leading travelers through an exhilarating trail of nature hikes, cross canyon zip-lines, and stays in 300 meter tree houses. I had an absolutely incredible time, and would recommend it to anyone going to Laos. IMG_6619IMG_6694IMG_6721

Luang Prabang

To describe this city, I’d elect to use the word quaint. Not long after quaint, however, would be touristy. It’s a beautiful city nonetheless, full of colonial French architecture and stellar views of sunset on the mighty Mekong River. The city seemed to attract a brilliant breed of open-minded backpacking travelers, some of whom I was fortunate enough to share deep conversation with at our hostel. For the most part, I walked many hours around the city taking in the surreal setting. And, it is a ‘must’ to see the Waterfalls up the road. At night, we gathered around the bonfire and jammed with guitars, laughing and spreading positive vibes.

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Vang Vieng

After Luang Prabang, but before Vientiane (the nation’s capital), is a booming city called Vang Vieng. What they have created here is a giant playground for young adults. Ran almost entirely off of tourism, visitors have a plethora of options for activities – kayaking, tubing, motor boating, mountain biking, swimming, go-carting, 4×4, and so much more. I spent the first two days with a buddy named Andrew. We rented mountain bikes and explored the villages beyond the city, and ended up at the famous Blue Lagoon on our way back where we leaped from 20 meters high into a pool of refreshing cool water. In the heightened backdrop of the lagoon is a series of caves. With our headlamps on full blast, we charged into darkness to see a unique view of what nature has to offer. The city is beautiful, and from my bungalow there were brilliant limestone mountains in site. With tremendous Wi-Fi (always a plus ;), I spent a day lounging about and sharing lengthy conversation with the owner of the guesthouse: ‘Gregarious Joe’, as Lonely Planet writes.

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Vientiane

Then, it was on to the nations capital where I had one goal in mind – BURMESE VISA. The city ended up being quite friendly and charming, as I spent two days on bike exploring its many colonial style streets. The people are much richer here than anywhere else in the country, and English-speaking is common. This allowed me to engage in quality conversation with locals and gain a grasp on the governmental system and national culture.

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The People

As always, it is all about the people. I have stayed away from monument seeking just for a photo, and instead try to engage in conversation wherever these travels take me. The people have been the best part of this trip, though not far behind is nature! 🙂 ‘The People’ means not only locals. The local citizens do have a lot to teach me and I enjoy the insight I receive. However, I also include fellow travelers in the mix. I’ve come to find that most travelers are extremely interesting people with incredible stories and personalities. They come from all backgrounds, with varying experiences and opinions. Though, they all (pretty much) share one thing in common – an open mind!

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Onward We Go

Thanks for reading. Again, I am looking forward so so much to Burma tomorrow through the entire month of February. More to come!

It’s Thai Time

This experience is now certainly in full motion. The past 17 days have carried me from the limelight of Bangkok to the isolated hill tribes in the far north – and everything in between.

Plane to Bangkok

Since embarking, I have traveled the following route: Bangkok – Pai – Lahu Village- Soppong – Chiang Mai – Chiang Rai – Akha Village.

Bangkok

After getting off the plane and entering the Sky Line, I noticed a majority of locals wearing breathing masks like that of medical professionals. The reasoning revealed itself the moment I stepped out of the public transit and into the sweltering smog that radiates every square inch of the city streets. The city was pretty much how I imagined it to be – loud, busy, hot, and smoggy. Walked for the first few hours, I was taking it all in.

My first stay was a cute little French-owned guesthouse south of the chaotic scene in an authentic neighborhood. There, I relaxed after a lengthy travel and got an hour of shut-eye.

Bangkok Hostel

As afternoon began to fade into night, I headed back out to do some exploring. This presented the simple reality – in Bangkok, things can get really weird at rush hour…

While walking down a sidewalk of a busy street, soaking up the scene with all 5 of my senses, I was honked at from behind? Turning around I was aggressively confronted with a line of motorbikes ranging from ordinary civilians, to motor taxis, and even police. This forced me to march onward in the gutter between the street and walkway. “Well, this is Bangkok,” I thought to myself…

Besides the apparent chaos, I saw a conglomeration of ethnicities, cultures, and lifestyles. The faces I peered into were only a percentage Thai. Roaming and working the streets were also Chinese, Burmese, Vietnamese, Malaysian, Indonesian, Indian, Pakistani, Caucasians, and so much more. There were also many types of street art, activities, food, and other festivities. To compare, Bangkok is New York City gone Asian.

As I drifted to sleep, I thought of the Thailand I had imagined…green, smiley, and peaceful.

When I awoke, I made my dreams a reality.

Pai

The 12 hour overnight bus I took landed me in Pai, a quaint town embedded in the sleepy mountains 3 hours north of Chiang Mai. After putting my pack down, I set out on my motorbike to see the beauty before my eyes. I hit a cozy hot spring, fed a few elephants, and overlooked a spectacular canyon. This is what I came here for…

Elephant Feeding

Hot Spring

Pai Canyon

After sundown in Pai, the streets invite locals in to share some famous Thai dishes with the traveling vagabonds – a very lovely scene where interaction thrives and laughs are shared.

The next day, based on a recommendation from the owner of my guesthouse, I ventured off the beaten track to a ‘secret’ waterfall she knew about. In fact, she was exactly correct. In the 14km trek across uncountable streams that soaked my pants to my knees, I didn’t see a single other foreigner and only occasionally made eye contact with a local working deep in the forest. Birds were singing, water flowed in pristine conditions, and foliage emerged from every angle of the eye. As the sun continued to transcend across the sky, I reached the waterfall with not another person in sight. I found Eden!

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The next day, a group of 7 of us began a 2 day 1 night trek into the hills beyond Pai towards the border with Myanmar. 8 Hours of trekking each day brought pain to our legs, but sensation to the eyes, ears, and appetites! Our guide spoke of the true history behind the hill tribe people.

In 2002, the government began the intensive crackdown on opium production and sale within the border. The tribal people, however, had relied on the drug as the primary cash crop. With this now outlawed, most were forced into ‘reservation’ type environments (such as Soppong) where they were (re)educated, subsidized for crops such as rice, and stripped of their native religion and lifestyles. We were fortunate enough to be connected with a few families who resisted and continued their way of life in the hills – individuals of the Lahu Tribe. They were welcoming, charming, and extraordinary chefs.

Trekking

Lahu Tribe

Overall, the trek was a phenomenal workout, valuable educational experience, and fantastic nature exploration. As we returned that night and got beers as a trekking crew, we laughed and joked about bits and pieces from the trip. This was the first group of friends I made on this trip. The initial travel anxiety began to fade, and I felt comforted by the company of others.

Chiang Mai

Welcome to backpacker central! Chiang Mai is the major city of the north, which hosts foreigners from all corners of the globe. The charm is present in the local people who truly welcome others, and in the fellow travelers who often make this stop a prolonged home due to the comfort and ease of life. Most speak English here, and the major source of revenue appears to be tourism within the old city.

Here, I rented peddling bikes to explore the central parts. A motorbike led me to the tip-top to Doi Suthep (Thailand’s greatest temple) for sunrise and morning offerings to devout Monks. I indulged in an incredible cooking class with Zaa-B-Lee. And, the people surely showed me a good time. I met many who had decided to stay in Chiang Mai for many weeks. It was obvious why. The town turns into a backpackers delight at sundown where beer is far more common than water and music rings down each street.

After a 3 days, I hit the road again seeking more adventure and less comfort. Though in retrospect, I have very positive sentiments toward Chiang Mai!

Biking through Chiang Mai

Doi Suthep

Chiang Rai & Akha Hill Tribe Village

Back to nature I went. Chiang Rai is the sleepy neighbor of Chiang Mai, and a springboard for trekking and outdoor exploration. After an incredible night out at the local Saturday market where authentic goods are sold to locals and travelers alike, I headed for the best-kept-secret of the region: Akha Hill Tribe Village.

The Akha have done their best to maintain their traditional culture, and to support their village they invite a small number of visitors at a time to peer into their way of life and habitat they call home. I arrived with eyes wide open as smiles welcomed me off the back of the transport truck. Little kids, playing with sticks and tires (or whatever they had at their disposal), ran up to give me high fives. And a stunning waterfall radiated from 100 meters away, effectively calling my name. I spent the first afternoon there reading Alan Watts esteemed writing, The Wisdom of Insecurity, while endless amounts of water peacefully crashed from 100 meters into a pool of shivering temperature then proceeded downriver to supply for the tea plantations and rice paddies.

I spent the next day with two guys who arrived that morning, Michael (Switzerland) and John (Australia). One of the best parts of this trip has been the other travelers, especially those who share a similar mindset. After watching a marvelous sunrise at the crack of dawn, we trekked all day through the various villages, overlooked stunning landscape, and talked for hours on end. When we got back, I hung out with the locals talking about how life has changed for them over the years, and sharing stories from our pastime. As night crept and the temperature plummeted, we sat around the central bonfire and continued simple conversation.

Sunrise

Akha Kids

In Conclusion

During the start of my travels, I was staying focused on getting my bearings straight. This blog was a brief overview of my doings so far. In the future I hope to write more often and provide more insight, rather than wait to the end of a country and compile so much into a readable page. It’s difficult, though, when there is always something to do and you’re living in the moment…so we’ll see.

I have done my best to get off the beaten ‘tourist’ path as best as possible, and would consider myself so far successful. This trip has been incredible, and I know as I head to Laos tomorrow it’ll only get better and more authentic! Thailand is a fantastic country, but it’s heavily traveled and thus hard to gain novel respect from locals.

As always, my focus has been on the people and nature…rather than the monuments, beer, or other famous stuff to see. That is the way I will continue to travel, knowing there is so much more to learn…

Peace & Love,

Jay

With ‘Lift Off’ in the Rear View Mirror

Smiles: all day, every day.

I honestly had very little idea as to what it would be like backpacking solo around Southeast Asia. It was something a lot of people talk and write about as being the “best thing ever” and “life changing”. This obviously caught my attention. Graduation was on the horizon and a window of opportunity presented itself between the end of courses at USD and Teach for America. And with Semester at Sea in my back pocket, my foundation for travel had already been set.

So far, it has been a very unique experience. Expectations have subsided, and spontaneity has taken its place. Minor mistakes have been made (summing to insignificant monetary amounts, fortunately) due to lack of prior experience, though these have been necessary to teach. Therefore, like the cliché, I don’t see it as mistakes, but rather lessons. No matter if it’s sports, dance, reading, or whatever – the more you do something the better you get at it. I definitely believe travel is not excluded from this.

Semester At Sea was an incredible introduction to travel, in which experienced vagabonds passed down an abundance of fundamental lessons to us collegiate dreamers. I see it as a truly valuable experience which started my travel engine. From here, now, the sky is the limit. These are some of my favorite takeaways from SAS going into this backpacking trip:

(1) It’s all about the people and culture, rather than pictures with monuments. (2) Be open to trying new things, foods, conversation, and perspectives. (3) The more you know about where you go, the better your experience will be. (4) Seize the day, every day – Carpe Diem. (5) And … leave America’s favorite activity – binge drinking – at home.

I do hope to expand my (currently petite) arsenal of travel wisdom going forward. The current journey will surely help. Maybe one day I can teach 20-year-olds about the do’s and don’ts related to vagabond exploration … we shall see! 🙂

As for now, I believe travel teaches us not only about the world and it’s alternately cultured people, but also about ourselves. It’s an opportunity to take a step back from the monotony of American life – continuous cycles of work hard and play hard. In these experiences – traveling – our minds are further unlocked as we are sponges soaking in newfound realities. This ‘dual-journey’ for me has just begun. For one, I am seeking to better understand these novel environments, cultures, and people. Just as important, however, I am reflecting day in and day out (with the aid of my beloved journal) on my thoughts, emotions, perspectives, goals, behavior … so on and so forth. This, I feel, is helping me settle confidently into my person. I feel already to be getting a better grip on moments of fleeting moments of negativity, anxiety, and overthinking. My time is spent instead being present, making a conscious effort to smile often, internally framing situations positively, and in general just slowing down (amongst others).

I will do my very best to blog often going forward about my experiences. I’ll likely leave out the personal development flowery shenanigans – reserved for my journal and private conversations. But nonetheless I hope to share my travel experiences and acquired insights/opinions with those of you who care – hopefully at least one other besides mom!

Peace & Love,

Jay

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