Tags Posts tagged with "Thailand"


When I found out that it was possible (albeit near-impossibility at that time) to visit this sacred temple on a day trip from Siem Reap in 2012, I immediately grabbed the opportunity to see it while it was then — once again — enjoying a short “time of peace”. For a very long time in the past, as a disputed territory, the promontory of the Temple of Preah Vihear and its environs have had some serious history of crossfires between the Cambodian and Thai military forces. In fact, a few months prior to my visit, several soldiers from both camps were killed in an unexpected clash.

The iconic first gopura, which contains some of the most impressive carvings in the temple complex.

Three years after that brave trip, as I look back, it is still perhaps the single most unique experience I have had in visiting a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Back then, it took me nearly four hours on a private vehicle to reach the temple from Siem Reap. Given the road constructions recently, the travel time is now reduced to nearly half of what it took when I went there.

The Temple of Preah Vihear never failed my towering expectations, to say the least. After all, it was confidently inscribed on only one criterium: “(i) as a masterpiece of human creative genius”. So far, only this temple, the Taj Mahal, and the Sydney Opera House are inscribed solely on this basis.

The second gopura: the carving style of the pediment is different from the first one.

In my opinion, the temple rightly deserves to be on the same ranks as Angkor Wat and Bayon, if not even better. The incomparable beauty of this site stems from the following:

1. its history – older than those in Angkor, dedicated to Shiva and, according to some sources, is also one of a few that has a history of critical lingam worshiping;

2. its architecture – the extensive 800m-long layout of the temple is unique, the galleries surrounding the central sanctuary served as inspiration for the arrangement of Angkor Wat 300 years later, and the carvings offer a different style from those in Angkor (notice the style of its nagas, and the impressive quality of its carvings can only be compared to those of the much younger Banteay Srei) .

The third gopura as seen from the elevated fourth gopura that encases the main sanctuary of the Preah Vihear Temple.
The third gopura: the walkway leading to the fourth gopura prior to the main central sanctuary is dotted with lingams. One lingam near the portal can be seen in this photo.

3. its relevance – a major pilgrimage site for Khmer kings, as well as a rare key temple off-route the Angkorian Royal Road;

4. its location – situated right beside a cliff, on top of the Dangrek Mountains to a height of nearly 600 metres. From the temple, one can already gaze at the Golden Triangle, an area shared by Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos; and, lastly,

The Infamous Golden Triangle: transnational boundaries of Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos.
The Golden Triangle

5. the geopolitical struggles and controversies associated with its WHS-inscription in 2008, and the earlier landmark International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling in 1962. More recently, in 2013, another ICJ ruling finally awarded the contested peripheral forest zone of the temple to Cambodia, putting an end to the long-standing dispute between the two Southeast Asian kingdoms.

As a military zone, several soldiers are stationed in and around the temple complex. A political statement such as that in the photo clearly asserts Cambodian ownership over the promontory and its immediate vicinity.

As the Temple of Preah Vihear lies in an active military zone, it comes, then, as no surprise that not many travelers take the effort in seeing this site when I made my visit. In the five pleasurable hours that I spent there, I only managed to see about three other civilians — who might just be even locals — in the temple complex.

Aside from the breathtaking view from the top, I truly enjoyed receiving blessings by chanting monks guarding the central sanctuary; as well as exploring the interior of the largely ignored vegetated Tower of the Long-haired Lady that is reminiscent of Ta Prohm in Angkor.

The central sanctuary guarded by a military personnel
The central sanctuary that is guarded by chanting monks. Outside, a soldier is also on guard.


The tower of the long-haired lady, an isolated structure that has been overgrown by plants and a tree.

Clearly, I got the strong impression that the Khmer people are indeed proud of the Temple of Preah Vihear as suggested by the displaying of the flags of UNESCO, Cambodia, and the World Heritage Committee not far from the first gopura. Such subtle declarations never fail to get noticed.

The temple of Preah Vihear together with its brother temple atop Phnom Chisor in the province of Takeo, which I also got the chance of visiting back in 2010, will always have special places in my heart for the wonderful experiences they have left me. In sum, the Temple of Preah Vihear clearly and easily justified itself as being one of the best single sites I have seen so far.

Just behind the temple: one simple mistake and I am history. The cliff drops to a height of 600 metres.
A view of the plains of the Preah Vihear province. This was taken at the edge of the Dangrek Mountain cliff.

There is no entrance fee to the temple. But, at the base camp, visitors have to pay for the motorbike that will transport them to the top for a fairly reasonable price. On this trip, I also went to the nearby town of Anlong Veng, visiting some ‘Khmer Rouge’ related sites such as the house of Ta Mok and the final resting place of Pol Pot.

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              One of the reasons for selecting Thailand as a vacation destination was my desire to interact with elephants. I was told that Thailand was the place to experience them, and I even joked that I was looking forward to spending time with an animal I wasn’t too fat to ride. But when an opportunity presented itself for me and my wife to visit an elephant sanctuary, I didn’t know if I was brave enough to see elephants crippled and abused by members of my own species.

              I finally jettisoned my hesitation and we made the visit. At an elephant nature park 60 km north of Chiang Mai, I saw my first Thai elephant, and began my fascinating yet painful education of these magnificent creatures. At the dawn of the twentieth century there were approximately 100,000 elephants in Thailand. There are now fewer than five thousand. Elephants were used to supply the world’s unquenchable desire for teak. Then in the 1980s the timber industry was outlawed in Thailand to preserve remaining forests. Elephants no longer had jobs and most were sold to vendors for the tourist industry. These elephants were expensive to maintain and not always treated well.

              In the 1990s, an elephant nature park was created as a sanctuary for rescued elephants. Here, the animals were allowed to live much as they would in the wild. Sticks were no longer used to punish elephants that didn’t obey human commands. Instead of corporal punishment, only positive reinforcements in the form of  food treats were used. For an abused elephant, this must have seemed like heaven.

              Before coming to the park, one of the elephants had been sold to someone who beat her terribly. When she became pregnant and gave birth, her owner wouldn’t let her tend to her baby and it died. Depressed, she refused to follow commands. The frustrated owner took a sharp stick and blinded her. The nature park came to the rescue, purchasing her for three thousand dollars and bringing her to the sanctuary. Another female elephant, a longtime park resident, stepped away from the herd to greet the new arrival. Exploring the stranger with her trunk, she soon discovered the damaged eyes, bellowed, and entwined her trunk around the blind elephant as if to say, “I’ll be your eyes.” The two have been inseparable for ten years.

              We were afforded an opportunity to watch several elephants being treated for injuries, as well as experiencing them doing what they enjoy most, bathing in the river. Buckets were passed out allowing us to toss water at them, but elephants are bigger than I’d imagined and throwing a bucket of water high enough to reach their backs was challenging. My wife must have had trouble distinguishing me from an elephant because she doused me with more than one bucket of water. Experiencing these gentle giants playing in the water like children was exhilarating.

              There were approximately thirty-five elephants at this park, mostly female. It didn’t seem like that many elephants until we started feeding them—those guys could pack it away. The boys like to fight with the females—and often lose. They’re kept separate, but not always. Babies are born at the park. At the conclusion of our stay we traveled to a section of river where two females guarded the park’s newest resident, only three months old. One of the adults was injured in Myanmar when a buried land mine blew off her rear foot. In spite of her ability to hobble about, she wasn’t doing well. Then the other elephant gave birth and recruited the crippled elephant as a nanny. Now the injured elephant has a job and the two adults are happily raising the baby together.

              Visiting an elephant sanctuary was thrilling yet humbling; I couldn’t help feeling guilty for the abuse heaped on these magnificent creatures. I never got my elephant ride, but I did receive strength to step outside travel brochures, to avoid cliché photo opportunities and discover a more honest reality. This experience made me feel as brave as a superhero, ready to spread the word that we all need to be better caretakers of our planet and all its inhabitants, even if it means denying chubby tourists like me from getting that ride. 

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Welcome to Tiger Kingdom

High-pitched horns wailed in the chaotic traffic on the outskirts of Chiang Mai, Thailand. The exhaust from rickety jalopies and revving dirtbikes was captive in the congestion. I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt, which was damp with perspiration from the prominent humidity, because I sat in a windowless tuktuk, a three-wheeled motorcycle/automobile crossbreed taxi. The driver, a tan, scrawny man wearing faded jeans, a tank-top, and worn leather sandals, turned around and said, “Sorry for traffic, my friend. Very close to Tiger Kingdom.”

After escaping the traffic, the driver opened up the throttle down a dusty road, which paralleled a murky-brown river. He slowed the tuktuk to round a corner and then I saw the wooden “Welcome to Tiger Kingdom” sign up ahead. My legs jittered and I could not sit still.

Upon arriving inside Tiger Kingdom, I paid the driver and exited the tuktuk. I walked up the stairs to find tiger themed pencils, mugs, hats, shirts, and stuffed animals on racks and in display cases surrounding the front desk. A sweet Thai woman behind the desk asked what tigers I desired to pet. My options included baby tigers, young adolescents, or full grown, eight-hundred-pound behemoths. I chose the latter and paid the equivalent of fifteen US dollars to lounge with the tigers for fifteen minutes. The woman pointed to a hallway in the stained, wooden building and told me I would discover many tigers.

Just as I made it down the hallway, I came upon a gargantuan enclosure with a pool, several trees, boulders, and two tigers inside. An employee trained a tiger with a thin bamboo pole. He pointed to various places and this menacing, regal creature stopped at the end of the pole, whereby it received a juicy piece of meat as a reward. The other tiger, lounging atop one of the boulders, yawned and revealed its intimidating fangs. It shook its head, chuffed, and resumed sunbathing. These tigers looked healthy, full of life, and the staff obviously cared about them. When researching this outing in Chiang Mai, people raved about the beauty of the facility and the fact that the tigers weren’t drugged or harmed in any way. After seeing these majestic creatures, I could not fathom drugging them for financial gain, which certain places near Bangkok do.

I continued along the dirt footpath and wandered around enclosures with various sized tigers inside. The large tigers lounged and people lay on them, scratching the furry bellies. The little cubs played around like kittens, clawing at balls of string and other toys in the enclosure. The adolescent tigers were the most active, horsing around and playfully biting. One man, who was inside the adolescent tiger cage, got frightened when two tigers got more rowdy than he was prepared to handle. But the staff member remained calm, gently approaching the beasts and separated them. I was inspired by the connection these people shared with the animals. They understood the harm those tigers could cause, and seemed grateful to be in their presence.

“You are petting tigers, my friend?” A male staff member asked me. My face was pressed against the cage. My fingers clutched the cage and I felt like a child at the zoo for the first time. I turned to the employee and nodded. “Come this way.” He opened a door, closed it, and then opened the second door leading into the enclosure. My heart raced. I was fresh flesh amid five eight-hundred-pound beasts. The employee, who wore tattered jeans and a Tiger Kingdom shirt, smiled at me as he pointed to one of the tigers. “This is Big Joe. Please, lie down,” he said, gesturing me to lie on the tiger.


The tiger’s warm fur was smooth. Big Joe turned his head around to look at me. His onyx eyes were piercing. In that moment, I fully appreciated the severity of the situation and was grateful not to be a shredded piece of meat between his teeth. I understood my place and recognized Big Joe as a greater, powerful being. Thais revere tigers because they embody courage and strength and while I acknowledged those traits, there was an innate gentleness present. Perhaps the Thai trainers transmitted compassion to the tigers via their Buddhism. By respecting and loving the animals, they in turn respect humans. I consider myself privileged to have entered into that reciprocal relationship between man and beast. 

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I don’t know how I ended up in Narita airport that night, curled up by the window using my Jansport as a pillow and trying to find rest while a night janitor vacuumed not far away. I  remember staring, fully awake, past the hum of jet engines to what I knew was the skyline of Tokyo, and a nightlife just getting started. I was leaving Japan that night. I would be in Bangkok by morning. The blue lights of the runway winked at me out of time. I had bought a ticket in an senseless state, and was still baffled that my spontaneous decision had real consequences. I had no destination or purpose in Thailand; no work to do, or sites to see. I didn’t even have a map. But that didn’t really matter—I can’t read them.

I was working in Tokyo at the time, but I wanted to get away. I needed a vacation from Japan, which had become stifling and rigid for me as I repeated the same routine everyday. So one evening after work, as I lounged in front of my laptop with a few Asahi beers, I found myself staring at yet another booking site. I imagined a beach where James Bond solved international crime, a place where curry was so spicy your ears sweat, a country where massages were practically free and drinks were sipped from coconuts. With one click of my mouse, I spent two paychecks on a red-eye flight from Tokyo to Bangkok.

Slowly, it began to sink in—now I would actually have to go to this strange place. I was exhausted from trying to live in Japan, to fit in and look like its customs came naturally to me. And now I was headed into yet another culture, vastly different from the Western one I grew up in.

But as I booked my way to Bangkok that night, I felt another sensation, one that had nothing to do with the empty beer cans by my computer. I felt wild and brave, calm and confident, energized and optimistic. It was a heady cocktail of hope, mixed with strength, splashed with curiosity. I had lost my wits, and been handed a set of new ones. Though fleeting, I wanted more of this feeling.

For many years I repeated the same impulsive pattern, booking flights spontaneously in search of that ephemeral feeling. Since then I have woken up in a lot of new cities, guided by nothing more than my anticipation for the new and undiscovered. I have wriggled my toes in sand from ten different countries. I have eaten all the local delicacies that don’t squirm as I swallow them. I’ve single-handedly kept the coffee industry alive by buying flat whites and long blacks at every cafe that dare have WiFi. I’ve held my camera up in front of the things they tell me I should, and I press the button that shows everyone “been there, done that.” But still, I haven’t had a good handle upon the feeling I chase for longer than a moment. It is elusive, jumping just ahead out of grasp. 

And so I search the corners of this world for where it might be waiting for me—permanently. I know what I’m looking for, and I am certain it is waiting in a new city I haven’t yet been. I imagine stepping into its central square and, like a plug finding a socket, I am filled with an energy that illuminates my full potential. I bend down and kiss the cobblestone and spend the rest of my life thanking this place for being here, for waiting for me, for being perfect for me.

Even though I booked a red-eye to Thailand, I never found much sleep that night. As I watched the sun rise over Bangkok beneath the wing of that 747, eating rice porridge that didn’t taste entirely awful, it was there—the feeling. It was the transient, electrifying awareness I longed to find for good. I didn’t know it then, but in that airplane hurtling for a southeast Asian paradise I had found my place. 

I am there when I peer out of windows that overlook a fresh set of streets I’ve never seen. I am aboard trains and planes, buses and ferry-boats, cars and trollies. I am pulling in, sailing away, touching down, screeching to a halt. I am without a map, or an umbrella, or the proper currency. I am wandering without a destination. I am energized, but I am serene; humbled and at peace.

I am strong. 

I am hopeful. 

I am moving. 


I am lost, but I am wending my way around—even if I can’t find it on a map.

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Leaving the Comfort Behind in Thailand

My Thai taxi driver and I zoomed down the highway from the airport at record breaking speeds. Passing through tollbooths so fast that if you blinked, you’d miss the exchange of money. There wasn’t much to see out the window, so I attempted a conversation with the driver. He spoke about 15 words of english and I spoke about 2 phrases of Thai. The conversations were brief and filled with lots of laughter at our feeble attempts at communication. I felt like I was in a smog filled dream as we drove. How can I be here? After all these months of planning and talking about it, the time is now. It’s been rough. Let me just say, choosing to leave behind any level of comfort is hard. Personally, I left behind a town that I had finally gotten used to, friends i love and cherish, and my very cozy room on the second floor of a beautiful blue farm house surrounded by goats and horses. Why do any of us choose to leave behind the lives that we’ve spent some of our most formative years building? And, is it worth it? I’ll get back to you on that one.

Flash forward 2 weeks, and as we left Railay beach after an afternoon of boats serving us beer and pad thai along the shore, a storm came in. We waited under the shelter of a small structure with about 20 other tourists, the storm brewed stronger and stronger. “Time to go!”, our boat driver told us. “Right now? Alright…” we all said as we exchanged worried looks and nervous laughs. We grabbed our belongings and tried helplessly to shelter our belongings with our bodies and make the walk out to the boat. When we had arrived earlier, the boat had taken us straight to shore, but at that moment, we found out how drastically the tides change in Railay. We shuffled along with lightning striking the mountains around us. We feverishly attempted to stay on the broken remains of a sidewalk that laid about 2 feet beneath the murky ocean water. We led the group of tourists and moved slowly, trying not to trip. Once safely back in the boat, we shivered and laughed and sat impatiently as we took the cold longboat ride back to Krabi. We longed for those enticingly hot showers in our surprisingly chic hostel. My friend inspected her wound and we huddled under the thin top on the longboat.  Oh, did i mention this had been right after my 8 hour overnight bus from Tak to Bangkok, my 1 1/2 hour flight from Bangkok to Krabi? 

Thailand is a land full of surprises, and definitely not always the good kind. If you want to live here, you better have a good sense of humor. Sh*t happens. You gotta be able to roll with it and laugh along the journey. After my brush with an ocean monsoon, the days in the islands turned more and more into what I had imagined. Days spent lazing around by a pool, drinking sugary Thai cocktails (they add sugar to EVERYTHING), frolicking in beautiful azure waters with towering limestone cliffs making up the backdrop. I spent the bulk of my trip in Koh Phi Phi which is an island that’s small, beautiful, and full of tourists. I’ll save you the stories of my Koh Phi Phi debauchery, primarily because my mother might read this. I will say that I made some amazing friends from all over the world, got to limbo under fire, stand on the same beach Leonardo DiCaprio stood in the Beach (along with about 300 asian tourists), ate a lot of seafood, etc. I trust you get the picture; it’s a pretty fun place to act like a carefree backpacker. 

I want to express is how terrifying it can be to make such a leap of faith into a new country and life, as temporary as it may be. But, also the fact that the most terrifying choices we make, tend to be the most memorable and most rewarding. I chose to teach abroad because I didn’t want to just be another backpacker in Southeast Asia. If you have the opportunity and means, why not really LIVE somewhere? Spend some time getting to know a new group of people, a new culture, a new lifestyle, and you will be rewarded with finding a deeper meaning in yourself as well. All of us have reasons we can come up with about why we can’t travel or take these risks. Here’s the thing, if you want it bad enough, you can make it happen. 

Author’s Bio: Hailing from the big city of Chicago, Chandler craves oceans, mountains, and the perfect sandwich. She has a long list of places to see before she dies, but first, another episode of this show sounds just fine.

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Around the world, Thailand is known as, “The land of smiles” for good reason.  No matter where you go within the kingdom, the people that you will meet are more than likely to welcome you with open arms.  They are famous for their welcoming nature, curiousness and carefree attitude towards life.  A common way to be greeted by Thais is by the question, “Have you eaten yet?” If the answer is no, more than likely, the party or person will invite you to join them in sharing any plate that they are eating.  Even if you’re on a tour to Thailand, the locals will be more than likely to invite you in and have a bite to eat.

Apartments can be a great place to meet people.  Unfortunately, many apartment complexes around the world have a locked entry followed by a hallway lined with apartments on each side.  There is no personal connection or anyway to really meet your neighbors or get to know anybody in the building.  Many people can live years not knowing their next door neighbor.  Not the apartment complex I lived in.  My apartment complex in Chiang Mai had a double door entryway that was unlocked 24 hours a day with a big lobby that had two or three couches as you walked in, along with a television set.  There was also a front desk and mail boxes.  The amazing thing was; no matter what time of day, whether it be morning, noon or night, there was almost always someone downstairs eating.  It was the perfect setting to make friends.

The first day I lived there was one I will never forget.  My wife (whom is Thai) and I had just arrived in Thailand after living in the USA and did not have any furniture, television or anything of value.  We had a suitcase full of clothes and that was it.  After getting settled in on the third floor, we wanted to explore the area to see what was around.  We got as far as the apartment lobby and didn’t leave for the rest of the day.  “Have you eaten yet?” was the first statement we heard after coming down.  In front of us was a group of 7-10 people that we had never met before in our lives.  Every one of them were looking at us waiting for us to answer.  We had planned on going out to eat but figured that if we were going to live in the apartment, we might as well meet whom we will be living next to and get to know everyone.  “No!” was our response and within seconds, space was made for us.  I had visited Thailand a few times before but looking back retrospectively, this was this moment that I fell in love with the country.  It wasn’t the scenery or the history, it was the culture and the food that made me never want to leave.

My “brother and sister” in Thailand

We planned on staying for ten to fifteen minutes to get to know everyone.  Of course this is Thailand and we were on “Thai time”.  Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed.  This whole time, it seemed like the planned fifteen minutes of getting to know a few people.  In that hour and a half, we had eaten 3 different kinds of rice, at least 7 different dishes and more vegetables than we could handle.  By the time we said our goodbyes to retire to our room,  we met over twenty people whom had come and gone;  all joining in for a few minutes here or there, bringing food and leaving when they had their fill.

Within a week, I knew almost everybody in the apartment complex and had eaten pretty much every kind of food northern Thailand had to offer.  Because I had my own company, I worked from my apartment.  After a month of living there, I had made the lobby of the complex my office.  Because I had so much free time, I had become the baby sitter of the owner if they had errands to do.  I was the tutor if somebody needed help with their English homework.  If nobody was at the front desk, I would sign for packages.

I lived in that apartment complex for over three years.  I became great friends with so many of the people that I lived next to.  I watched two children grow older and now consider them the brother and sister I never had.  I would take them to the zoo, swimming or wherever they wanted to go if their parents had to go out for the day.  I ate hundreds, if not a thousand meals with my neighbors.  I was invited and went to festivals with my neighbors to all around the country that are not in guidebooks and got to experience many activities many foreigners have never had the pleasure of experiencing.

At one point, my wife wanted to get United States citizenship and in order for that to happen, I had to return to the states to sponsor her.  The day I left Thailand to return to the USA to go back to school, fifteen people accompanied me to the airport.

Even though I have not seen any of the people I got to know since returning to the USA, I still keep in contact with them on a weekly or monthly basis.  I made more friends in those three years than I have made at any other period in my life.  A part of that time period in my life rubbed off on me and always stuck.  I used to greet people with a simple, “hello”.  Today, if I plan on meeting somebody, I normally bring food with me along with the question, “have you eaten yet?”

Getting to know the locals is one of the best ways to see or visit any country.  By spending time with them, tourists can see the heart and soul of a destination instead of just seeing the sites that attract them to that area.

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    One scenario in my not so old life has just happened this year that really made me lost. Losing a baby in the womb and having a miscarriage for a woman like me is really a terrible and painful experience life could bring…
     I was really devastated, having regrets, and felt lost and down for this catastrophe that came my way couple of months ago.  And one more thing that made me so helpless was the thought that my husband was away when this happened. Coping without each other is really the hardest — cause he works as a seafarer and he is most of the time away from me and our eldest son. We live in the Philippines but the marine cargo vessel of my husband usually travels from China to Brazil and back and forth.
      But God has been so good all the time that early this year, their vessel was assigned to discharge cargoes in one province here in the Philippines.
          Since it was a great news for me and my four year old son, we instantly booked a plane ticket going to Cagayan De Oro to be with his dad.
           And alas! after our almost two months stay in the vessel, I became pregnant for the second time.  And no words can explain how happy we are when we found that I’m expecting.  And my son and I are both happy going back to Manila with the great news.
             During my first trimester check ups, it was always a good news and findings.  The baby was pretty good and healthy and it was a very good heartbeat.. I would pick out names in the internet and baby books, and excited for the baby’s gender.
              But nobody said it would be very easy and life sometimes is like an awful roller coaster..  Upon reaching my second trimester, everything has changed.  It was the daybreak of July 18 of this year when it happened.  I’ve lost the baby in my womb — there was no heartbeat anymore– and the little one inside me automatically went out of me.  I was in total darkness, those bright red blood running in the floor made me realized that our little happiness is gone..
                                   But God is so good all the time.  With the help of families and friends’ sympathies, prayers, and help, I was able to feel fine.  But still in grief.  Two months after recovering from an emotional and physical pain, I was still completely lost after all.  But somebody in my mind was telling me to make an escape to be able to completely heal my wounds and start a fresh new life.. So I have decided to book a ticket going to a nearby country.   And I’ve chosen to visit the kingdom of Thailand.
                 They say that “Destiny is both a matter of chance and choice.”  And I believed that I was really destined to visit the beautiful kingdom.
                   Their state of the art international airport created a great feeling on me during my arrival.  People and airport staff were very courteous and helpful. The impeccable airport interior design is so breath taking!  And then my long lost friend picked me up! I easily recognized her because of hearing her shouting my name out loud.  She is working there as a pre-school teacher.
                    The Kingdom of Thailand is really a must-see destination.  The people were very religious and they respect the King, and Queen, and Buddha, their God.  In visiting The Golden Buddha place in Wat Traimit, it was totally a great experience.  We went up to the temple barefooted as a sign of respect to their God.
                      Thailand is also a good place for shopping and dining. Tourists from different walks of life are everywhere especially in Bangkok.
                        Other beautiful attractions in Thailand are Chang Mai, where you can enjoy n elephant ride,  Pattaya, where goods are sold while riding on a boat,  The calm and beautiful beaches in Phuket, the state of the art architectural designs of Wat Aron as well as the other temples, and many many more.  I would say that Thailand is one of the best places on earth!
                        My stay became worthwhile and I really enjoyed my short vacation there.  And in that way, I felt good and okay after of that so much things that I’ve gone through.  I would say that I have found myself again after my lost..
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Gratitude Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

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The rain has finally stopped. As Hannah helps me with my harness, she turns to the stormy sky, smiles and says, “Lucky you. It’s a beautiful weather to skydive.” Indeed it is. Weights of grey clouds hang high in the sky of Pattaya, but the lustrous blue sky behind them are yearning to break through.

Joseph and I have to wait in the common area for the sky to clear up a little more before our turn is up. Nervous hands are rubbing, awkward small talks are exchanged, and an uncertain laughter is echoing in the corner. The air is slightly chilly, yet I can feel heat generated from nervousness emanating from within. People come in and out. Ultimately, we are left alone with this lady and the three of us nod unanimously in silence. “Hi, I’m Kelly,” she introduces herself.

She tells us about herself: a Taiwanese travelling in Thailand with a group of colleagues who are skeptic about her impromptu decision to jump because she is acrophobic. I can feel my eyebrows raise a little. “Yes, I am afraid of heights, but at times in life we have to do things involuntarily, so when I am finally able to make my own decision, I am going to do it despite my fear,” she tells us. I nod in agreement.

Hannah signals to us that it was our turn. It takes twenty minutes to reach the plane and in no time, Joseph and his tandem skydiving instructor are sitting beside Hannah and me at about 12,000 feet up in the air. The clouds are close at hand from the open door and before you know it, both of my legs are dangling on the edge of the door with Hannah strapped to my back. I lean my entire weight on her as we rock back and forth. She raised her fingers in my face, counting down from three to one.

After the first few seconds tumbling out of the plane, we are in our free-fall position in the middle of nowhere and that is when I stop my screaming, completely awed by my bird’s-eye view of the flat earth obscured by a thin layer of cloud mist. A wash of hills and peaks stop themselves abruptly at the endless horizon of the sea under the crisp blue sky. Despite the height, I can see the roofs of houses and buildings speckled themselves like salt and pepper on the olive greenery. I mouth to myself repeatedly, “Beautiful.”

Hannah releases the parachute and I can feel my heart drop. It was over in minutes and she asks if I want to touch the clouds, which was relatively nearer to the sea. There is no reason for rejection to that. I spread my arms out and feel the nip in the air whipping against my skin. This is it, this is why I am here: to thoroughly experience the choice I made.

As soon as we land, we head to the common area and Kelly is nowhere to be seen. A new tandem skydiver approaches us with eyes flickering with uneasiness and asks whether it was frightening. “Yes, it is. But a wise person once told me…” Before I can finish my sentence, I see Kelly waving and jogging toward us. 

About the Author: Justine Wong is an amateur traveler and writer who is currently travelling around Asia. 

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There are 762 curves on the highway between Chiang Mai and Pai, Thailand, according to the postcards and stickers plastering walls of tourist shops in the sleepy valley town. Minibuses service the area daily, but as every backpacker worth his baggy fisherman pants will tell you, the best way to enjoy these hills is on your own time. Motorbikes can be rented for dollars a day all over northern Thailand, and it takes nearly no time or skill to learn to drive one. A motorbike offers more autonomy, more freedom, fewer carsick neighbors, and fewer time constrictions.

Motorbikes also have fewer wheels, though. Two, to be exact, both of which are critically necessary for navigating the steep Route 1095, and around curve number 581, (or it may have been 495, or 613 – I kept a poor count), my number was cut abruptly in half. The back end of my bike fishtailed as the rhythmic slap of busted rubber on pavement overpowered the purr of my motor. I slowed to a shaky halt in the nook of a steep curve as my travel companion Nia pulled up behind me, speechless. We had met only days before, but we certainly were both stuck in this now.
“This is not the best place for this to happen,” I managed, eyebrows raised. We’d stopped directly in the line of traffic, hidden by the hills until the last moment. Then again, nowhere on this mountain was the best place for this to happen.

It wasn’t the worst, though, as I was soon to find out. As we looked at each other in shock, phoneless, clueless, and stranded, a hero was already descending down the hills. With khakis and a deep tan in place of a heavenly glow, I didn’t initially recognize my guardian angel, but these things tend to take you by surprise.
“No English!” he called to us, in English. We waved our hands dramatically and made “oh stop” faces, hoping to reassure him, pretending he was just being modest about his linguistic abilities. Now was not the time for self-conscious communication. To keep him from having to bridge the language gap alone, we dove into fierce pantomime, pointing wildly to the rubber strip that had once been a tire with ridiculous explosion gestures and pout-lipped shrugs. Standing up from his crouched position, the man attempted urgently and nonverbally to tell us what we had known since the fishtailing had begun moments earlier. He paid little attention to our theatrics, but he had landed on the theme of the narrative – there was no way this bike could carry me 50 more kilometers through the mountains.
“When you’re right, you’re right,” we tried to confirm with our expressions. “What a pickle we seemed to have landed in.”
“You go Pai?” he asked after a moment.
“Yes! Pai!”

We responded a little too loudly, eager to have landed on a word we all understood. “Pai!” the two of us continued to shout like lunatics, and “Pai!” the man would always respond, thinly mirroring our enthusiasm, the way a kind neighbor might respond to someone else’s baby learning a new word. We are all in agreement.

We might have been content to rejoice over our shared goals for a while longer, but my champion was a man of action. I was overtly appreciative and supremely unhelpful throughout the proceedings, but no matter – he didn’t need me at all. A quick lift and a whir of ropes later, I was squatting alongside my bike in the back of the truck, humming up the hills as steadily as I had been only twenty minutes before.
For all the hype given to the motorbike journey’s grand scenery, no one really champions the view from the bed of a stranger’s pickup truck. It has its downsides, of course – the seat above the wheel is jutted and tiny, and your muscles might cramp after hours of clutching an unsteady motor vehicle through endless curves. You no longer have the freedom to pull over at any coffee shop or waterfall that piques your interest. However, the pickup truck method is not without its charms. In exchange for your autonomy, you get gratitude. Trade in your misplaced faith in your own independence, and receive a deeper faith in humanity’s altruism and hospitality. If you’re looking for a healthy dose of gratitude and faith in humanity along with your adventure, I can’t recommend it more highly.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.

A Final Goodbye in Thailand

Forks were a luxury in a place without toilets or running water. When your daily existence depends upon the secrecy of your location, survival itself takes precedence over dirty hands.

I’d been living in Mae Hong Son province for three months, used to scooping up rice with a bare hand or stabbing fish heads with a flat Chinese spoon. Yet as the students prepared for our good-bye feast, I noticed the cutlery gleaming proudly next to stacks of mismatched plates and glasses.

My co-workers and students in the Karenni National Women’s Organization (KNOW) – a group working to improve the status of ethnic Burmese refugees living inside the Thai border – were technically illegal. They had no right to run a school, reside at an address or carry a passport. No right to be in Thailand at all.

But for just one evening, these security concerns would be ignored. Instead of dining quietly at the big oak table, we pushed furniture and routine aside to celebrate the relationships formed since my volunteer placement began.

Rosie and Shal Gay carefully laid bed mats on the floor as seating, and the erratic electricity became festive lighting.

Even the dinner looked glamorous. My stomach had long adapted to wild ingredients, from small birds to the “jungle beast” that turned out to be one unlucky monkey. But the meat strips now sizzling on hotpots cost money: chicken thighs, slices of beef – and was that bacon?

“Thebwe, thank you so much for everything.” I gestured at the spread with open palms, honored at the optimistic sendoff.

“We want to show thebwe to you, too.” Mie Mie retrieved a surprise bottle of Coca Cola from the fridge. “Where are you going tomorrow?”

Traveling was a rarely-discussed subject. For many of the students, the concept had been misconstrued by ten or more years in a refugee camp. To wander for pure entertainment – and not to escape a military regime – seemed utter extravagance.

“Bangkok, a stopover in South Korea and then home,” I explained.

“You are so lucky to be American. You are free to go anywhere in the world.”

Mie Mie’s frank admiration stopped the pre-programmed moan in my throat. I typically responded to such statements by quoting the limited number of working visas I could get, or how difficult it had been to enter Myanmar last month. Only in comparison to the limitations of my co-workers did a U.S. birth suddenly sound appealing.

“You will remember us after you go? We will miss you, Teacher,” Shal Gay chimed in.

Embarrassment flooded my cheeks. Why was I leaving? Because three months felt like an eternity after years on the road? Or, because it was easier to hide behind the bravado of a departure, rather than challenge myself by staying?

“Of course! I will never forget any of you. And one day, I promise I’ll be back to help the Karenni cause…”

I also wanted to promise that, like them, I didn’t need a passport. I would burn mine up, or rip out the pages and watch them wash down the open drain that ran through KNWO’s outdoor kitchen.

But I couldn’t. That blue book – the one I sometimes flipped through with glossy sentimentality, rubbing visas and studying faded dates – was my ticket to independence.

“Soon, you will get your visas and can visit me in the States!” I teased Mie Mie, hinting at a joyful reunion we had no control over. Her family waited patiently for official U.N. Refugee Status. Until then, the only trips she could take were clandestine jaunts between the office and camp.

“We will see.” She grinned and shrugged with typical Karenni fatalism.

Mi Nyo called out the beginning of dinner. Tongs hungrily snatched up the roasting meats, mingling spices into the air with wisps of different languages. The students wrapped me up in a handmade longyi and I, surprised by a sudden wetness at the corners of my eyes, repeated my promise to return someday.

Later, after the forks found their way back to the cabinet and bare feet shuffled students and teachers off to bed, I considered this vow.

During the previous months, I’d practiced the ritual 100 times: scribbling in my journal one final promise to cherish other people and return to other places. Always convinced that a fearless explorer sought out new destinations, while a cowardly one contentedly stayed behind.

For once in this journey, I recognized how tentative such courage could be. At 7:00 tomorrow morning, the honk of the town’s only tuktuk would signal my release. At that moment, remaining here would require more audacity than driving away.

So in the end, I wrote nothing. Memories meant more than words. Stretched out under the mosquito net, I fell asleep with my passport in my hand.

About the Author: Kelli’s parents lament the fact that their desk-working, mortgage-paying daughter was traded at birth for the perpetually moving, always broke girl who now writes home… Unwilling to settle down in small town USA, Kelli would rather live out of a backpack than a closet. And so she continues searching for fresh stories, smiling faces, spicy foods and reasons to celebrate.

Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.