Goodbye My Old Life ‒ Hello Asia!
I want to make it clear from the very beginning: I am not an avid traveler able to survive with just Spartan amenities. My parents didn’t go hiking with me in a backpack and didn’t teach me to put up a tent before I even learned to use a toilet. I had a totally sheltered childhood. I was protected from everything that could scare me ‒ a little innocent girl, or even worse, anything that could take me out of my comfort zone. Therefore, any ideas of traveling abroad, especially alone, were not welcome (to put it lightly) in my family. If I traveled somewhere, it happened rarely and only under the strict care of someone whom my parents trusted. For a long time, I had been nourishing a very “patriotic” plan to leave the country and, ideally, move to a country with a warm climate. I wanted to pack a small backpack with the most essential things, buy a one-way ticket, set off and start a new life. And it actually happened!
I found myself in an airport with only the stuff I could fit in my backpack, my passport, a ticket to Thailand, and my last salary. I didn’t have any savings, but I had my job and that was good. I appreciated that my company let me work remotely and would allow me to return to the office if something would go wrong.
I had no plan, no expectations, and no detailed knowledge of the country and Asia in general or any nuances of moving. Yet, I knew I could get some information from Google and decided that it was quite enough.
How wrong I was…
My first impression
As soon as I arrived at the Bangkok airport I started to feel uncomfortable. Fear whose nature I couldn’t understand and which I had no way of getting rid of was overwhelming me. I cheered up at the knowledge that I wasn’t alone. Aralia ‒ a more experienced traveler whom I got to know before the trip and who agreed to travel together for the first three months ‒ met me. Traveling with someone else is cheaper and more fun.
On our way to the city center of Bangkok, my fear was growing and gradually turned into panic. I was close to despair and frustration. I had never seen such a huge city before. There was a lot of noise, crazy traffic, total chaos, food which people were selling on every street and were touching with their hands all the time, unsanitary conditions, scorching weather, and high humidity (like when you come out of the shower and start sweating again). I was trying to keep calm as long as I could. Aralia took me shopping to chill out a little bit, but it didn’t help. I had a terrible nervous breakdown right in the center of Bangkok. I burst into tears sitting on the sidewalk near a trash can. I was all tear-stained and dirty. I couldn’t pull myself together, couldn’t explain what scared me all the time, and mentally already managed to make up my route back home. I scolded myself for the silly idea to move and promised that I would see the country for three months and then, tail between legs, would return home.
Happiness is at hand
As we were leaving Bangkok and moving closer to Phuket province, the fear started to dispel and soon disappeared altogether. My skin adjusted to the new climate quite quickly. We made our home in a quiet village of Kathu, in a condo located in the middle of the jungle. I immediately took a fancy to a room on the roof, between the gym and the sunbathing area and arranged my “office” there, closer to a Wi-Fi router. It was a perfect workplace! That feeling when you look away from your laptop and see not a gray office wall but a breathtaking view ‒ is great. Since my working day always started at 3 p.m. local time, in the morning and on the weekends I had a lot of time to lie on the beach, to see waterfalls, parks, churches, and other nice places. Is this not “happiness”?
I can drive a motorcycle!
The main means of transportation in Thailand is a motorcycle. Everyone here knows how to drive one: starting from kids who just got out of their diapers to grandmothers who can barely walk. And they all are brilliant drivers! They can fit up to five people on a motorcycle and in two months I didn’t see even a single traffic accident.
Since we lived far from civilization and it was too hot to go on foot to reach it, I had to learn to drive a motorcycle, too. Before the trip, I did a driving course and it helped me a lot. At least I wasn’t afraid of road markings after the course. Aralia who turned out to be a biker started to teach me. In two minutes she explained to me all the nuances of driving a motorcycle, made sure that I could drive two circles around the condo without any accidents, and then gave me her blessing for my first long-distance journey ‒ a 2-km drive to the supermarket. Despite the fact that I didn’t drive faster than 20 km/h, I felt like the queen of the road speeding at rapid-fire pace! However, this feeling dispelled very quickly when I hit a sidewalk. I revved the engine up at the most inappropriate moment and belly flopped. I didn’t scratch myself a lot. The flies that flew up to the smell of fresh blood made the most trouble.
In general, I am skeptical about religion and visiting temples. But is it possible to be in Asia and not stop in a Buddhist temple? Moreover, here they are at every turn. I must admit that here it was the first time in my life when I felt so peaceful in a temple. I could never relax in a church so much…
It is hard to describe the feeling I experienced in temples. It’s like being at home, and as if people were waiting for you here. Everybody understands you, is ready to listen and talk to you if necessary. There is no feeling that you will be condemned for failing to comply with the ritual. Even monks can leave you if you want to get lost in your thoughts or as Aralia puts it “to immerse in yourself.” You won’t feel this atmosphere in the so-called tourist temples where a lot of people take photos and make noise. It is possible to experience the feeling in temples off the beaten track. Now, visiting temples on the way is our good tradition.
Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai
We have seen so many beautiful and unusual places that a single paragraph won’t give it justice. We saw mountains, waterfalls, hot springs, the White Temple, the Black Temple, the Long Neck Village, and a lot more. I will briefly tell you about things that impressed me the most. Let’s start with the White Temple. Our tour guide told us that it was a new temple, which is only 20 years old and was built mainly “for tourists to have one more place for sightseeing.” But the temple is really amazing. The Asian love for small frescos and stucco is evident.
We arrived before the opening of the temple and what surprised me the most was a man with a mop. He was cleaning the territory before opening the temple. First, he walked and gathered all creeping animals and insects. Then he put them in a safe place and only after that began to clean the walkway. Buddhists are Buddhists to their fingertips!
After visiting the temple, we went to the Long Neck Village. Somehow I hadn’t known that it was a Thai village. I used to believe that it was somewhere in Africa (now I feel embarrassed). The village is notable for the women who used to put metal rings on their necks from early childhood. Since rings are heavy, over time their shoulders lowered and necks looked longer. This was thought to look beautiful. Contrary to common belief, the neck didn’t stretch and muscles didn’t weaken. Necks also didn’t break after removing the rings. It was totally all right.
Almost nobody wears neck rings anymore – there are only a few women in the village who have been wearing them for their entire lives. Others wear them just to amuse tourists.
An interesting story from the village is of a woman who gave birth to twins. There used to be a custom in the village concerning twins: to kill one of the children. This was done either to gain the favor of good spirits or to scare away evil ones. But some years back the locals abolished this strange custom and both girls are 25 years old now.
My decision to stay
Surprisingly quickly I got used to the nomadic way of life and got addicted to having new expriences every day. Asia is so big and visiting just one country appeared to be not enough for me. Cambodia and Vietnam are my next destination. After that, I still have to decide where to go next.