Google Luang Prabang and you will find lots of articles about how picturesque the town is, its UNESCO World Heritage status, and how nice the locals are. Most of the authors visited Luang Prabang prior to 2010 and I can only imagine their reactions if they came back now.
There are signs on every block, imploring visitors to cover up their bodies. No bare chests or bikini tops. And indeed, these signs seem to be necessary, as the majority of young travelers seem to be wearing their favorite spring break outfits. I just don’t understand how Luang Prabang, a city with a staggering number of wats (temples) and midnight curfew for locals, turned into a destination for rowdy backpackers.
The town is still gorgeous but while walking around, I can’t shake the sense that its’ preservation is for the sake of tourist dollars, rather than for historical significance. And herein lies the everyday struggle with tourist cities.
After some exploring, Chiang Mai reminds me of hipster Brooklyn. While there are traces of actual, local culture in both cities, most of the establishments are artificially created for people (tourists/hipsters) who are looking for a certain type of vibe. It almost becomes a city defined by how people hype it up.
Gun range booth set up in front of a temple during the Sunday Night Market. Please tell me how this makes any sense. Even worse is that the shooters are most likely tourists who came to Chiang Mai to “get away” from the tourist scenes of South Thailand.
Honestly, these past two weeks in Thailand have almost seemed surreal. From the meditation retreat to solo scooting around Koh Phangan to watching a Muay Thai match with a friend from undergrad, Thailand has managed to live up to my high expectations so far. Latest pleasant surprise: being served three meals on a day train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.
Blogpost from 2008: This (click on it bitches!) will come in handy someday, guaranteed.
Hate to gush but backpacking around Thailand probably represents the pinnacle of my personal fulfillment for this whole trip.
Thailand route: Bangkok, Koh Samui, Koh Phangan, Ayyuthaya, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, east to Laos.
Lots of thoughts from the retreat but the biggest takeaways for me:
- mindfulness: how can I make any situation better or less bad?
- self-awareness: what effect do my actions create?
- everything is impermanent: both good and bad (pain vs. happiness)
Surprisingly, the biggest annoyance for me was not the lack of speaking or wooden beds/pillows, but was the routineness of every day. Having spent the last four months traveling and seeing, hearing, tasting something different everyday, the amount of sameness was jarring.
The other interesting thing was sharing this retreat experience with other participants. In a situation like this where there’s no speaking and minimal interaction between people, you rely solely on your actions to dictate how others see you. This goes hand in hand with being mindful and self-aware - what are your actions saying about you?
Also, I’ve managed to achieve what was previously thought impossible - finally being able to touch my toes while standing. Guess that’s what 6 days of yoga will do for you.
I celebrated my 26th birthday today in Bangkok. Wasn’t truly solo, since I’d met some good people in my hostel. But I will be spending the first week of 26 at a 7-day meditation retreat at the Dipabhavan Meditation Center on Koh Samui, Thailand. I will be spending the 7 days in silence, without any electronics or books. Besides the silence, I’m supposed to refrain from killing living beings (including mosquitoes), using any intoxicants, and having sexual thoughts. My daily schedule:
Here,” I said, pointing to the largely inadequate safety precautions. “What happens if somebody falls in, then?”
“The crocs get a snack mate, that’s what.”
“Yeah but what I mean is, who gets the blame? Would you get in trouble since it’s your ferry and you’re in charge?”
He looked at me quizzically. “Why would I get in trouble? Look mate, if someone’s dumb enough to get too close to the edge and falls in, that’s their bloody problem, not mine.
Nick Spalding, Life.. On a High
This exchange between the British author and an Australian ferry captain shows the different mentalities when it comes to rules.
While traveling around Asia, I always get the sense that there are no rules. Not in a lawless way but more so a feeling of freedom, that people are allowed to do more. The main reason for this is there are none of the rules and warnings that exist in the States. Because the lawsuit culture in the US is such that it’s possible to sue anyone over anything and possibly win, there is a lack of personal responsibility for our own safety. And so our lives are dictated by petty rules and regulations on a daily basis: No parking/standing/sitting/loitering.
A prime example is when Amy and I went biking around the temples of Angkor. As Cambodia’s most sacred and popular attraction, you’d think there would be “No Trespassing” signs everywhere. Instead, we lawfully biked into the park’s woods, got lost, and met local villagers who pointed us back to the main roads. All without any security personnel in sight.
So it’s official: I’ve booked my flight back to the States, flying into LAX on 5/28. I’m going to spend a few weeks in California and New Orleans before heading back to New York at the end of June. And with that, my six month adventure will come to an end.
But worry not, I still have a crazy six weeks ahead of me - Kuala Lumpur, Thailand, and Laos. Details to come!
While in Hanoi, the New Yorker in me couldn’t pass on a 3-course lunch with a glass of wine for $23 at Don’s, number 47 of the top 50 best restaurants in Asia. This was another part of my “glampacking” experience, a term coined by the broomies to describe my sometimes-bougie version of backpacking.
The meal didn’t blow me away by New York standards but it was definitely a nice change from all the alleyway eating I’ve done in Vietnam. Don’t worry though, I went right back to sitting on a plastic chair and drinking 25 cent beers after lunch.