Strolling through the bustling streets of Bangkok, where swarming mega-malls neighbor thousand-year-old Buddhist temples, I bite into a steaming chicken satay on a stick. It is a much-deserved treat after traveling 15 hours over the Pacific Ocean for my six-day trip.
Three days in the mountainous region of Chiang Mai, where cafes and temples abound; the remaining three in Krabi province and it's surrounding islands, where longtails melt into the horizon and you can toss back shots of tequila with freshly squeezed pineapple, mango, lemon, lime, whatever-you-prefer juice. In the land of smiles, there is no shortage of dazzling temples, savory food, and breathtaking hiking trails. Whether this is your first time in the country or you've come for a second helping of temples and pad see ew, read on to make the most out of your trip.
The world rewards you with worthy companions.
To scuttle across the uneven sidewalks of Bangkok in search of a tuk-tuk (imagine a three-wheeled bicycle, but with a motor), is quite an exciting feat. Then to negotiate a fare, which changes according to peak hours and traffic, is a whole other intricate dance. Eager to strike a bargain, we came well-equipped with the best advice by way of Google search and were ready to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate.
We had one day to explore Bangkok. Packed into a tight elevator, we struck up conversation with a man by the name of Bobby, who happened to be going in the same direction and offered to join us on our path.
We traversed traffic, hopped on tuk-tuks, and learned about the history of Thailand and Bobby's personal trek to the country (he originally hailed from Vietnam). Bobby helped us negotiate like the locals, telling us when we were getting ripped off and which shop offered the best singing bowls.
He was a tuk-tuk-hailing, street-navigating wizard, eventually leading us to Mah Boon Khrong Center, which had the grandest food court. As we made our way through stalls and little shops, he made us feel at ease, dropping gems in the form of real stories and struggles. He was like the uncle you talk politics with, often disagreeing over the details, but finding common ground in life's hard lessons and forgiving embraces.
When it came time for us to part, my group and I gathered our baht, eager to offer him some compensation for his gratiousness. Bobby would have none of it, intent on his eagerness to connect and pay it forward. When he traveled, he was often met by strangers who were keen on helping. No ulterior motive. Just a wish to genuinely connect and make friends.
We sat across the Hua Lamphong train station an hour before we were to depart and insisted on buying Bobby a beer. Finally he caved, and as we gathered around the table, sharing stories of our background and our potential futures, we remembered what it means to show up authentically. When you step forward with an honest heart and a genuine curiosity, the world rewards you with worthy companions.
You don't need words to connect on a human level.
On the overnight train up north to Chiang Mai, we met a digital nomad from California by the name of Nini. While the rest of the train slept, we spent a good portion of the night drinking wine and sharing stories. When we finally made it to Chiang Mai, we exchanged numbers, went to our hostels to quickly freshen up, and met again outside Hug Hostel.
After a bike ride to find some food, we walked from temple to temple, sitting to meditate and sharing an OM. A sacred sound and spiritual symbol in Hindu religion, the pronunciation of OM encompasses the totality of all sounds; linguistically, all words use some aspect of OM.
We sat with our new friend, eyes closed, following the pace of our breath, and we fell into this space where the chatter stops. The individual recedes to the background and the universal speaks. Later, Nini expressed that meeting our group of friends was exactly what she had been missing from her travels: sharing OMs, meditating, and connecting on a human level.
While words help us understand each other better, that day, I learned the power of silence; of being able to connect with someone on a non-linguistic level.
In order to ascend, you have to let go.
Sitting atop its throne on Doi Suthep mountain, the golden temple of Wat Phra, that is a must-see in Chiang Mai. We booked a guided tour up the mountain (about two miles), packed lightly, and met with our guide, Mr. Kum (who used to be a monk back in the day).
Gathered at the foot of the mountain, Mr. Kum turned to us, and with a beaming smile, relayed the most pressing lesson from his years in the monastery.
"You worry, you worry, you worry. About your job, you worry. About your family, you worry. About yourself, you worry."
We turned to one another, nodding our heads in agreement.
"Your job, let go," he said, motioning with his hands. "Your family, let go. Yourself, let go!"
For someone who is constantly planning, always ruminating in her head, his lesson hit home immediately. As we ascended the mountain, there were so many moments when I wanted to give up. As my group trailed ahead, Mr. Kum made a point to fall back, and as he encouraged me to rub more peppermint oil on my wrists (great for energy and concentration), he reminded me to take it one step at a time.
Plan to make it to the top. Then put one foot in front of the other.
And let go.
Image credit: Strangers & Friends in Thailand