Learning Who I Am!

Once in a while, I come to a standstill. It’s during those times that I find my head is the clearest. Thinking comes easy. And so, it’s during this standstill in Bangkok that I find myself evaluating my journey and what I’ve learned about me. In saying that, please keep in mind this has nothing to do with the people I’ve met or the things I’ve seen! This is truly my evaluation of me!

I’m not a tourist! This came as a huge revelation to me! There is nobody I know that reads and actually studies Lonely Planet books like me. I can tell you every great spot I should have seen while here. And yet, today when I sat here at the hostel and looked back through the pictures I’ve taken, the best shots were ones of ordinary life. I guess that’s why in these last few days, I’m not concerned with whether or not I see the Grand Palace and every temple in town. Watching the street vendors, seeing mothers walking with their children, watching teen-age girls giggle and flirt with the boys, seeing people enjoying themselves in the park – those are things that remind me that we are all one human race!

I can travel alone, but it’s likely I will chose not to in the future – at least not for this long of a venture! There are times when I wanted to share the joy of what I was seeing and experiencing. There were also days when I felt on the verge of being overwhelmed and eaten alive by this area of the world. The unrelenting heat, the total difference in culture, and the physical pains that I endured alone may have made me stronger, but it would have been nice to have someone to talk to during those times.

I’m quite content with hostels! Yes, guesthouses can be a little more quaint, but for me the hostels offer more of what I look for in travel. I found I could always make friends in a bigger group of people. Clean dorm rooms and good showers are important to me! Orderly processes of check-in and check-out seem to work better for me!

I’m a big city kinda girl! Bangkok was NEVER, EVER on my bucket list. But it was a necessary evil that I had to endure to come to SE Asia. I made sure I didn’t fly into here but Singapore instead. Dread consumed me for at least one whole day in Koh Tao knowing Bangkok was my next stop. So yes, this was something I learned about me that I think maybe I knew, but now, it’s confirmed. Big cities, even Bangkok, don’t scare me – they entice me! You can be sure, New York City is now on my bucket list!

I am blessed!! I never realized how rich my life is. At 54, I’m fairly healthy, I have many, many friends, two wonderful sons, family, and I am on the other side of the world. During these past few months, I have heard from so many people who are following my journey! Many friends and new followers are taking this voyage with me and so while there are days when I feel very alone, I know I can always log on to the Internet and find friends who are with me in spirit! For that, I am so thankful – I recognize now how my words touch others and how their words touch me!

Biggest revelation: I am strong! Much, much stronger than I ever imagined! Regardless of the physical pains I’ve endured here, I’ve maintained a positive attitude for the most part! I’ve figured out how to get from here to there and back again on my own. When the need for help arose, I asked for and accepted it graciously. When I was scared, I searched inside for strength and found it! And when I was lonely, I let myself feel loneliness and recognize it could be as short-lived as I wanted it to be! There have been people in my life who said I lack self-confidence. Maybe I projected that because I felt the need to be what was expected of me at the time. Travelling alone, I found the space to be just me and found that they were wrong about me.  I AM STRONG!!

For those of you following my journey, I want to thank you once again for your comments and encouragement. Many, many times when I needed support, you were there! I hope you will follow along as I head out of SE Asia and on to Europe where I will walk the Camino de Santiago! Thank you again everyone!!

Sometimes the best way to figure out who you are is to get to that place where you don’t have to be anything else.”  Source Unknown

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Sensing the end….

Wow! Last night lying in bed, I realized I’m down to two weeks left in Southeast Asia. I actually started to cry! I’ve had an incredible time and certainly, it’s not over yet. Luckily, my foot is feeling better and I’m ready to take on Bangkok with a vengence!

While I’m killing some time waiting for my night train to Bangkok from Chiang Mai, I thought I’d take a few minutes to reflect on my journey so far. I’ve learned a lot – like for instance, that I love pineapple shakes! Why can’t I make these at home – you can bet, I’m gonna try! There’s a million things I could list that I’ve learned about myself and you can bet in the future, I will blog about that! But for now, I really want to focus on what I’ve seen and felt here in SE Asia.

Mostly, it’s been a roller coaster ride for the senses! Let me explain!

The smells here are amazing and yet, not always pleasant! One minute it’s the smell of all the beautiful flowers and greenery that grows here. Then it’s the myriad of foods they cook here – curries and noodles and chicken and pork. The smell of cinammon is often found here. And then, there’s the smell of the street – garbage rotting and the always present smell of sewer water. And let’s not forget the dreaded durian fruit. You simply cannot describe the smell. The best I can say is that it’s a combination of sweaty socks, armpits, and possibly a hit of pineapple thrown in. It’s horrible! And yet, these people love this fruit…I can not bring myself to get it into my mouth! Sorry!

One of my favorite photos!

From the hot, sandy beaches to the crumbled, torn-up sidewalks, experiencing SE Asia is a challenge to even the healthiest feet! The concrete in Bangkok goes on forever. But in Malaysia, it’s a miracle to walk down any sidewalk without falling in a hole or tripping on an uneven sidewalk. Penang is simply the worst – I could never look up when walking in Penang – I always had to look at the sidewalk! The holes and loose bricks and uneven walkways were a constant threat! And the feel of icy cold water everywhere during Songkran in Chiang Mai – wow! The winner though, hands down, is the feeling of motion here. The ferries, trains, buses and minivans are not for the faint of heart! Dramamine is my friend!!

The sounds of SE Asia are amazing. The sleek Skytrain of Bangkok is barely audible. But outside the Skytrain, the sounds of touts is never-ending. Someone is always selling something and farangs (foreigners) are always the target! In Koh Samui, the sale is about MA-SSAGE?????? That’s how the girls say it…with a long delay in both syllables and as if asking a question. In Kuala Lumpur, the horns and constant traffic are only matched in volume by the Call to Prayer broadcast over the speakers strategically placed all around town. The greatest sound…the quiet Kob Kun Kaa (thank you) spoken by a Thai with the little bow of the head and the prayer-like position of their hands!

Padthai, banana pancakes, fried bananas, mango sticky rice, and of course, my favorite…pineapple shakes! The taste buds are always on overload in SE Asia. There are many things I didn’t try because I don’t like spicy food. But the things I have tried that I like, I just can’t seem to get enough of them! Pineapple shakes are my absolute favorite – I think it’s because they are so light and yet, so sweet! Last night, I tried fried bananas and they are awesome. The chicken and pork satay is always good when walking around….nothing like eating meat off a stick! Even western food is interesting…..nothing tastes quite the same! In Penang, I tried the Nonya style of food – way to spicy for me…but certainly an adventure!

By far, the eyes have the most to absorb here although the nose is certainly the runner-up! I could never be here without a camera because describing the beauty amid all the chaos that is SE Asia would be impossible!  The magnificent skyline of Singapore seen from the Singapore Flyer, the beauty of the southern Thailand lagoons and limestone formations and white beaches with crystal clear water, the serene and surprising National Mosque in Kuala Lumpur, the silent parade of monks walking through hectic and never-stopping traffic of Bangkok – none of these things can be described without photos!  And certainly, the people of Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand, working, smiling, living life just like we do in America.

All of these things will soon be a distant memory for me. I’m so glad I have the photos to help remind me of the smell and feel and sounds and tastes of SE Asia now that it’s getting near the end. I hope you’ve enjoyed it too through what I’ve written about, but hey, I still have two weeks in Bangkok!!! Get ready for more!!

Cheri 🙂

Ferryboat Madness in Thailand!

One of the most fascinating things about this trip so far has been the various forms of transportation that I’ve had the pleasure (or dread) of experiencing. Recently I blogged about the infamous minivan experiences! Now, I’d like to share the ferry boat fun!!

I love the water, so when I knew I would have the chance to “island hop” using the ferries, I was delighted. No stuffy minivan for me! These trips would be out on the open Gulf of Thailand waters! Sun in my face, I would have nothing to dislike about this kind of adventure! And for the most part, they were okay. But let me tell  you a little more about how the adventure with ferry boat travel REALLY goes!

First, do not expect a state of the art boat from any recent decade! This is after all, Thailand – the land that makes use of every old thing left in the world! While most times I admire their ingenuity, there are times when I wish they would operate in this decade! So okay…no worries because boats are pretty sturdy and the old workhouses deserve their credit!

Next, do not under any circumstances expect the boat to be on time. Of course, we learned that from the minivan adventure right? Trust me, the boats will be even more tardy!

Expect to pay for air-conditioning! I was okay with this because I figure if you want to be on the islands, it’s because you like water and the sun. I paid extra for all the rooms I was in on the islands because I wanted air-conditioning! The difference is that on these boats, you are basically in the sun for several hours. If you want out of the sun, you will be in the air-conditioned “lounge”. Let me explain “lounge” to you as best I can. It’s basically the bottom floor of the boat with bench seats, air blowing through extremely dirty ducts with no filter on them (sometimes you get the boat diesel fuel smell too as a bonus), and a little stand where someone is selling chips, soda, and of course, Chang beer! That would be the “lounge” area! And, to be in this lovely area, you must pay money! Otherwise, sit your butt out in the sun for several hours looking at the Gulf!

Biggest backpacks are always on top!

Give up your fears about your backpack getting dirty! Whatever you’ve seen at an airport when it comes to luggage handling will look like child’s play compared to the handling on these boats! I will say though, the boat hands do try to stack them neatly. However, you can expect that no matter what size your bag is, the biggest bags will always be on top. The reason for this is that the folks with the biggest bags are the slowest getting on the boat!!

Don’t expect the ship’s crew to wait on you in any way whatsoever! They have luggage to stack up and then, it’s basically time to either smoke hand rolled cigarettes (one right after the other) or take a nap in the shade. Trust me, these two things were done repeatedly and shamelessly on every boat trip I took!

Crew hard at work...sleeping in the shade!

Last, just enjoy the journey! For me, one of the great things about this journey has been that no matter what difficulties I’ve encountered (like boat ramps that are ridiculously narrow and look like they will fall apart…just sayin’), I know that these are making for moments I’ll never forget! They are challenges that I’m finding I can overcome. Sometimes it’s just a matter of not being afraid – other times it’s recognizing that I need help and not being afraid to ask for it! Either way, I’m having the time of my life!!

As always....loving the adventure no matter what!

Why I can’t lose weight in Thailand…..

It’s simple. The food is too damn good and there are way too many choices!!

When I was in Malaysia, the kids at the hostels would rant and rave about how good the food was in Thailand. But when I asked them if the food was spicy, they always said yes. Now, I don’t know what food these people were ordering, but I’ve had nothing spicy at all yet! I will admit though, several times I’ve been asked if I want “spicy” or not!

Let’s start with breakfast. Although I’m having a hard time finding these for breakfast, we’ll count them as breakfast food – banana pancakes. These are not your Aunt Jamima’s pancakes folks!! These start as small round balls of dough. They flatten the dough and then make it thinner and thinner which makes the size of the “shell” get larger and larger. The “chef” throws a hunk of butter on the griddle and then the thin dough. Most of the time the dough is so thin it has holes in it. A banana is quickly sliced up and tossed in the middle, usually with another slab of butter! (Already you can see this is my kind of treat!!) Then the banana inside is covered up by folding over each side of the dough and the top and bottom of the dough. The whole square is turned over and fried also! Once it’s done, the “pancake” is removed to a piece of paper, cut up in 9 or 12 pieces, and then sprinkled with sweetened condensed milk and a little sugar. Now really folks, we’re talking dough, bananas, butter, sweetened milk and sugar. I’m not seeing a downside to this treat!! The only thing I have found is that bananas give me heartburn so I have limited my intake of these especially since I only seem to be able to find these in the evening at the night market!

Dinner – pad thai…..basically fried noodles with vegetables and chicken and sometimes shrimp and of course, soy sauce! Folks, these people love oil and butter and that puts me on a first name basis with them! Honestly, I could eat this stuff every night of the week – oh wait – I pretty much have!! Really, I do vary my dinner because they also have chicken and pork satay which is basically just meat grilled on a stick. It’s fabulous! I also sometimes have fried rice with vegetables and meat. I’ve also had omelets with meats and rice…they are delicious too.

And fresh juice..I’m telling you, they use whatever fruit you want and put it in the juicer right in front of you. Pineapple, strawberry, watermelon, kiwi, orange….you name it…they juice it!!

The most amazing thing of all is the cost of this food. Tonight I had pad thai in a sit down restaurant and it was 45 Baht which is slightly more than $1 USD. Add in my Coke for 20 Baht which is less than $1 and there’s a meal!

So here’s the deal…I had this feeling when I was in Malaysia and not liking the food so much because most of it had a curry-like taste to it, that I was going to come to Thailand and eat less because I wouldn’t care for the food. WRONGO!!! I love the food here and it’s taking everything in me not to eat too much!!

So….why can’t I lose weight in Thailand? It’s simple – the food is so damn good and there are way too many choices!!

Some thoughts about travel….

Stacy, Jillian, Zamina, and Emily - 4 best roommates EVER!

When you travel, you experience, in a very practical way, the act of rebirth. You confront new situations, the day passes more slowly, and on most journeys you don’t even understand the language the people speak. So you are like a child just out of the womb. You begin to attach much more importance to the things around you because your survival depends on them. You begin to be more accessible to others because they may be able to help you in difficult situations. And you accept any small favor from the gods with great delight, as if it were an episode you would remember for the rest of your life.”  Paulo Coelho   The Pilgramage.

I just finished reading this book and was struck by many of the passages and so, I’ll be using them for the next few blogs. The book is basically about one man’s journey on the Camino de Santiago of course, but many of the passages reflect my own thoughts about travel and at times, about life in general.

How often I’ve had the same thought but could never, ever express it as eloquently as Mr. Coehlo does in his book. It’s amazing how I’ve become attached to my backpack and the things I have with me now. Yes, most everything can be easily replaced while travelling, but it’s really more a matter of keeping close to those things that are mine from home. I have a little cross with me that my Aunt Sandie made…I like knowing that it’s in my bag, along with a few other special items. But I am especially careful about those things that provide me with security while traveling – my passport, money, bank cards, etc. They ensure me that I will always have a way to head home if I need to or provide me with shelter and food in the event of an emergency! A simple moneybelt becomes a security blanket!

I’ve found too, that I am more open to speaking with others. It’s necessary for survival for all travelers! We learn from each other – which hostels to stay in, which to avoid, how to get the bus from here to there, etc. And we are a comfort to one another when we need to be. When I was in Melaka, Malaysia and Sonia arrived from Penang, she was crying and upset about her journey on the bus. Just a few words from me and we were soon out walking at the night market and enjoying dinner together. I’m sure I will need that shoulder one day too and I have no doubt that someone will be ready to comfort me. It’s just the way it happens.

When I got here to Krabi, Thailand, I was hot and tired and frustrated from the mini-van ride which quite honestly, just about made me puke. It was an awful journey. On top of all of that, I found out the only bunks left were the top ones! Truthfully, I felt like that was going to be my moment. But unbelieveably, the girls I’m sharing a room with offered to trade…several of them! And so, the gods offered up this little favor in the form of wonderful roommates! And yes, it IS an episode I will remember for the rest of my life. To Zamina, thanks for trading bunks…you are a sweetheart. And to Stacy, Jillian, and Emily…..you are absolutely the most wonderful roommates….you all make me smile!

What great gals to be around!

Travelling truly is like a rebirth. I’ve forgotten over the years how wonderful people can be. It’s as if I’m looking at all the world through new (and wishfully younger) eyes!

Ending….to the waiting…I’m BOOKED!!!

Wow! December 13th and I am finally booked on my round the world trip!

So here’s the deal – I opted to keep the flying to a minimum. I’m heading out February 1st for Singapore. I have stops along the way of course, in San Francisco and Hong Kong! On February 3rd, I’ll be in Singapore. After that, I can decided when I want to move on to Malaysia and Thailand.

Now, about Thailand. Many of you know I have this ridiculous fear of snakes. I’m going to try and be a big girl and just relax and not expect snakes to come out of nowhere in Thailand just to scare me! But I will be cautious I’m sure. I haven’t figured out why I think they will be EVERYWHERE! But, the ticket is booked. I’m sure if I get too freaked out in Thailand, I’ll turn around and head back south or maybe further north to China! No matter what, it’s a done deal now!

After SE Asia, I’ll be heading to Europe for a few months. I’d like to see some of eastern Europe. I’m flying into Paris, but I’ll be doing lots of overland travel on the trains. Eventually, I’ll be heading to southern France to start my Camino de Santiago walk! I have a friend in Europe who will be holding my things for me for this journey!

After Europe, I’m heading back. I really have no STRONG desire to see Australia and South America right now. But, I am considering these parts of the world for my next trip. Oh God, already I’m thinking beyond this one. I’m obsessed.

So, I’m done waiting to purchase the ticket, done hesitating because of my fears about snakes, do I have enough money, where should I go; done thinking maybe I should just kill the travel bug altogether and settle in to another cubicle job. I’m done wondering when I should go, what’s the best time in regards to weather. I’m done worrying about travelling solo. Oh the list could go on and on! The truth is…..I’m ready!!!! 🙂

Oh and for those of you who think world travel is expensive, my ticket was less than $3000! 🙂 Thanks to Justin at airtreks.com for all his hard work in putting this together!