Beautiful Strangers

I arrived in Vientiane yesterday.  I wandered the streets with no direction and became very sad.  I had been advised to skip Vientiane and was told, “It’s just another city.”

As I walked the night market, not looking at anything, I thought about all the wonderful people I met in Luang Prabang.  Now, everyone had scattered on their separate ventures, and now here I was wondering why I was there and lonely.

I found an outdoor restaurant and ordered a beer.  As I perused the menu, I looked up into the eyes of an older gentleman smiling at me.

“I saw you there, and you looked sad.  I thought to myself, what can I do to help?  So I smile at you and I see you smile back.  That’s better.”  He tells me in his French accent.

I needed that.  As I devoured my chicken and onion with fried rice dish he exclaimed, “My God, well I know you’re not going to starve!”

I laughed and told him my favorite thing about Southeast Asia is the food.

Soon after he said goodbye, an older couple sat down on the other side of me.  Right away, the gentleman asked where I was from.  He and the woman had met on a Thai island in 1981 and kept in touch through snail mail all this time.  Now, years later, here they were, traveling together.

I told them I had just come from Luang Prabang and the woman said she did too and saw me there.  The man weaved his hands back and forth- the flow of people coming in and out of your life.

I was feeling lost for a brief time in this big city, and these strangers lifted my spirits and made me smile.  You’re only allowed to be sad for a moment here, so keep your glass half full and someone, perhaps a beautiful stranger will fill it.

  

Pai, Thailand 

    
Pai had some really amazing spots to visit.  Surely Thod Lom cave was incredible, especially arriving around dusk when all the bats came out to feed-Nat Geo status.  But everything else, the town in particular, was less than ideal.  

First off, I pictured in my mind remnants of its past music blues and jazz glory.  A safistication fused with a crunchy, conscience living community.  Instead, it was crowded streets with little architectural beauty, young party folk, and a haze that covered the skies due to slash and burn deforestation.  Not quite what I was expecting, but of course you find the gems within this small town that keep you returning.

Luckily, I was staying at a bungalow away from downtown.  My nights were quiet and peaceful.  I stayed long enough to visit the big white Buddah in the mountains, Pai Hot Spring, and the Mhor Phaeng waterfalls, all of which made the visit worth while.

I met travelers you felt you were supposed to meet.  Many people travel to Pai for the Rastafarian vibe that runs strong there.  I met a man that was ecstatic in finding out I share my birthday with Bob Marley.  I connected with a healer when I told her a psychic I knew told me I’ve been the nun, monk, priest uplifting humanity from the monasteries in my past lives.  Everyone has their unique stories and background, and you all find yourselves sharing your lives in Pai.

The theme of dualities is so present in Southeast Asia.  There are not many places in the world where you regulaly go to temples in the morning and find yourself drinking a ‘happy shake’ at night.  You will surely find the spiritual and hedonistic life in Pai.

  
  

Chiang Mai to Pai

  

  
Chiang Mai was a mixture of dualities.  The old and the new, temples and rooftop bars, busy streets filled with tuk tuk drivers and motorbikes, yoga studios and massage oasis at every corner.

I loved it, but I could only stay so long.  Night market after night market, massage advertisement upon advertisement, I began to understand the slogan ‘same same.’

So, yesterday I got a van ride to the Northern Mountains of Pai.  There were about 11 of us.  Mostly French.  The road there was as windy as it gets and two people began puking in plastic bags.  It was only then that I realized why there were plastic bags tied to the seats. Ew.

I gave my Guest House a call and they picked me up from the bus station.  Mountain View Backpacker Guest House is located on the outskirts of Pai, overlooking the mountains.  Private bungalow, queen size bed for $9/night. C’mon!

I waisted no time and got a motorbike lesson.  Time for cruisin’, trekking, swimming, and relaxing.

   
    
 

Bangkok to Chiang Mai

  

  

Well, so far, so good! 

Bangkok is huge (no pun intended)!  I was fortunate enough to make a fellow solo traveler friend during my flight from SFO, and we decided to share a room at The Sananwan Palace in Bangkok.  Super helpful, friendly people.

The next day we ventured to Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Phro, home of the Emerald Buddah and Reclining Buddha.  What an adventure.  Because we were in the outskirts of Bangkok, we took an open cab/bus, a regular bus, taxi, train, and finally ferry to get there.  Worth the chaos and confusion!  Note to self, come early and not on a weekend!  

Wat Phra Kaew was mobbed so we immediately opted for Wat Phro.  The crowd was much more manageable and there were times of silence and no one in sight.

We parted ways in the morning with plans to meet in Chiang Mai.  She had a flight booked and I was going to the train station for a 12hr ride to get there.

Of course, booking on the fly doesn’t always work in your favor.  I arrived at 9:30am and my train was leaving at 10:00…PM!  LOTS of time to kill…

So naturally, spa day!  Unfortunately, I had no idea what I was doing.  Got ripped off by a tuk tuk driver ($5 more than you should pay is a rip off here) and got lost in Chinatown.

After wandering aimlessly, bombarded by strong smells and endless vendors, I got it together and found Dahra Spa.  Ahhhhh…

Afterwads, I made it back to the station and was happy to find the couple I sat with on the plane, waiting for their 2 month in advance booked train ride at 7:30.

When I finally got on the train, I was greeted by my own sleeper cubby.  12hrs of peace and quiet.

  
Now I’m in Chiang Mai, reunited with my solo travel buddy and relaxing at The Cat House near our hostel.  Life is good. 
 

12:15pm 

  
Sitting at the SFO airport right now, waiting for my flight to Thailand with a 3hr layover in Wuhan China.  I feel incredibly calm.  Seasoned.  

The anxiety of preparation has been replaced with this laissez faire procrastination.  I was up packing and organizing until 3am last night, only to wake up at 4:30am and hit the road.  Exhausted. 

I’d love to have a cigarette but I’ve passed customs.  I planned on quitting upon arrival for obvious health reasons, and I’m highly doubtful Southeast Asia will carry American Spirits.  But of course I bought a pack yesterday for nostalgic reasons.  Vices.

Alone again, off to a foreign country.  There’s that part of myself that says, ‘what do you get yourself into?’ And then another part answers, ‘discover the unknown.’  Seeker.  

Let’s see what happens. 😉

The Art of Letting Go

  

When thinking of what the phrase ‘letting go’ entails, thoughts of self sacrifice, patience, and forgiveness come to mind.  Not always simple  virtues.  For the past 3 years now, the art of letting go has been a constant theme in my life.  Not staying in one place for  more than a few months has forced me to come to grips with the reality that nothing is guaranteed.  How is one content?

Relationships are the hardest part.  Especially if you are a hopeless romantic such as myself.  I live most intensely in my mind, and find a constant battle with my head and my heart a game of tug of war at times.  I’ve come to the conclusion that any relationship started must live with the understanding that it is temporary.  This can take the fire out of dreams when I know it eventually ends in goodbye.  Fortunately,  I’m not completely cinical, and can at least, for a brief   and beautiful moment, fall quietly in love, and then let it go.

This is never an easy process.  There’s always that tiny voice inside that says ‘what if?’  But I have to remind myself of what is.  The comforting side is the freedom to follow my dreams beyond my attachments.  

I’m leaving for Southeast Asia in less than a week, and no inkling of a question mark is holding me back.  To be able to do that and focus my energies towards inspiration of a greater path has made my qualms with letting go worth it. 

The key word is choice.  One way or another, this transitory life sacrifices one thing for another.  However great or small it may be, I’m grateful for that freedom and the allowance of my inner self to let go.