Boldly existing outside the box through conscious living and constant learning.
“No matter how long we go it’s never long enough, what does that mean?”
This was the beginning of a conversation my wife and I had on our way back from a recent trip to Thailand with some friends. It was a relatively short trip, but one that was packed with experiences and gave rise to a variety of feelings and convictions. I thought I would give you guys a brief recollection of the trip and highlight some cool stuff, then we can talk about the good stuff. If you want to skip to the “other” stuff and bypass the trip you can, it won’t hurt my feelings.
For as long as I can remember South East Asia, and in particular Thailand, have held a firm grip on my mind, always beckoning from somewhere I had no knowledge of or idea about. I found it impossible to pinpoint why or how, but I have always felt that in that part of the world could be found a place where things were different and where I wasn’t It is a bit of a mystery why it took so long for us to get there, but needless to say my excitement level for the shortish trip was unwarrantedly high. I cringe to say it because it goes against my personal philosophy, but I had expectations I was afraid might not be met. It turns out my fears were for not and in fact my expectations might have been too cautious.
To begin the trip we were to spend two days in Bangkok awaiting the arrival of the rest of our party and checking out one of the largest cities In the world. For the most part I am a person who tries to avoid urban environments when we travel, preferring to make my way outside the concrete jungle and discover a place in the country and the people there. Though Bangkok is a large city, it was surprisingly comfortable and interesting. Very clean in general, great public transport, and an interesting mix of modern elements juxtaposed next to traditional buildings and practices. Two days was just right, not too long where burnout set in, but enough to see some cool stuff and get a small sense of the city.
Our first day that we ventured out we happened upon a small corner area where people were giving offerings and lighting incense. We stopped to see what this place was about and found an amazing display of modern life coexisting alongside traditional practices. Business people, merchants, moms and kids all stopped here as they went about their busy days to take 5 minutes and give an offering. It was obvious that no matter where you needed to be, these minutes you spent there giving thanks and humility were far more important than the meeting you were late for. We gave our offering and left feeling lifted. A small thing, but one that sticks with me still.
The Grand Palace and What Phra Kaew: Regarded as one of Thailand’s most important cultural sites, the Temple of the Emerald Buddha is a sight to behold. Looking and at times pushing past the crowds you are witness to a beautiful and significant place full of gorgeous architecture and a functioning cultural center. Aside from the public areas there are corridors and places where people engage in Buddhist rituals and rites emanating entrancing sounds and hypnotizing scents of incense and herbs.
The Floating Market: Again, aside from the crowds this was an interesting experience. Hoping a boat and cruising through the congested and chaotic waterways gave those who are claustrophobic something to be challenged by. Goods ranging from handicrafts to artwork to textiles sat alongside delicious noodle soup and coconut drinks. There was even a guy selling pictures with his yellow python. We hurried past that. As we exited the main market our driver decided to take us to an out-of-the way little known temple about a 15 minute boat ride out of the market. I didn’t catch the name of the temple, but it was amazing.
The majority of our time spent in Thailand was on the island of Koh Chang, about 6 hours bus ride south of Bangkok and a 40 minute ferry ride across the bay. My overall impression of the island itself is sort of mixed. Much like most exceedingly beautiful places in the world the disease of mass tourism has struck complete with massive, all-inclusive (code word for no reason to leave) resorts to some degree. That being said we were able to find nice spots outside of that part of the island and place ourselves as close as we could to the ground and the people who call the island home. I mean it’s nowhere near this bad.
I first want to mention the very first place we stayed on the island. We decided to book only our first night on the island ahead of time and then wing it, which turned out to be fun. The first place we stayed was called Cliff Cottage . I feel in love with the place the moment we pulled up. It is in a part of the island, across a small bay from the local fishing town of Bang Bao, that felt smooth, slow, and like home. It sits on a cliff overlooking the ocean and has trees for shade, sand for feet, and hammocks for, well, you know what you do with those. There was a cool mix of backpackers, locals, and expats there that gave the place a good feel. One of my favorite moments of the trip was sitting on the rocks, feet in the waves, sunset showing beautifully and feeling so blessed. I can still feel the water and wind, I hope I never forget. For fear of sound enamored I will move on, but if you are ever there please check it out, it was awesome.
Another of our favorite places ended up being a small local reggae bar called The Lion Bar on Bang Bao beach. The two guys that run the bar are really interesting and have a cool story. They were welcoming and served a mean Chang Beer. We spend a lot of time on the beach in front of that bar. Between the beach, the jungle hiking, waterfalls and swimming with elephants, Koh Chang was pretty cool.
We met some interesting folks too. One day we needed to do laundry so we set out in search. Just as we left the bungalows we saw a sign that said “laundry.” How serendipitous. We approached the small house that was obviously someone’s home in town. We looked around, knocked, and tried to find someone. Pretty soon a woman came out and we asked about doing laundry. Even though she spoke little to no English we agreed on a price and we left our clothes with her. On our way back at the end of the day we stopped to pick up our clothes. It was dark so we had a hard time finding the woman we left the clothes with. Others around the neighborhood didn’t seem to know who she was. Cool, we thought, we just donated all our clothes, I hope someone who needs them gets them! But, as luck would have it, we just stopped by one more house and asked around. Pretty soon she is running toward us, finally we found her. I leave Kolena at the house and she walks back with me to get our clothes. As she hands me the bag a man walks up, presumably her husband, or many not, and takes the bag from me. He roots through it and takes out a pair of socks, hands the bag back to me, and walks off. My assumption is they were his socks mixed in with mine, but I am still not sure. If they were mine I am sure he needs them, so it’s all good.
Like I said, the trip itself was much to short but we left with a deep desire to come back, which is what you hope whenever you leave a place. More than the things we did there we are grateful for what we brought home.
The Good Stuff
Now we can talk about why you are here, to read and to hopefully learn along with me about Unboxed Living. This trip left me with a few questions/ideas, which is always a good thing. If you have read any of my writing you know that I see deep purpose in travel and in engaging with other parts of the world. I try not to overstate the simple, but the act of leaving home and going somewhere is an essential part of who we are. So what did I learn?
Confirmation of Expectations
As previously stated I do my best not to have expectations of any place we visit, but I couldn’t help myself here. Expectations are most often products of our own preconceived notions and rarely fall in line with the reality of a situation. I would go as far as to say that expectations can be limiting factors in our efforts to find meaning in places and situations. Naturally you can understand my hesitance to allow myself to go into this trip with them. As a rare occurrence, in this case, my expectations were not only confirmed, but surpassed in most areas. Thailand felt like home. It felt like a place where life has a shape, a tangible and priceless gift that makes it worth living. I don’t know if it was the way you can move around the region, the people, the food, or just feeling like you belong somewhere but it happened. Life is best lived doing as much pants-seat-flying as possible and I felt like this place was conducive to that to the highest degree.
Thoughts of service and expansion
If you are not familiar, Kolena and I along with our friend Sally Lunetta are the founders of a nonprofit organization called Unboxed Lives. We can’t help but move through the world looking through the glasses of our work sometimes, even when we are not working. For the most part our work has been centered in Africa and we sort of operate at times limited in our vision due to this fact. As we moved around Thailand and saw what we have come to understand is how the majority of the world lives we came to realize that our scope must be much larger. The need for empowerment, service, and the breaking of barriers is needed everywhere and we should be thinking that way.
This is not to say we can do anything about it right now, but just a shift in mindset seems a valuable product of the trip. It also is a reinforcement of the value seeing the world. Without getting out there how can we ever expect to have a full view of the reality of things and the world we live in?
Every time I travel I feel more and more avowed in my conviction that this life is more than the sum of the things we own and the tasks we do. It is at time difficult to operate with this set of principles and ideas here in our society. So much so that I begin to question who is right and who is wrong, or are we all wrong? The pressures of society and the taxing effects of life are enough to drain even the most convicted person of their will to fight the good fight. I forget things here at home. Only by going out there do I remember.
Along with this notion is the idea hat with each passing day our time here on earth is shorter and that the indescribable and immeasurable opportunity for adventure and connection is out there waiting for us. That only by our own ability to break free from pattern and tradition and to see the ultimate truth are we assured of a life that is our most full. No matter what that means for you, the act is the most important part. The act of being you and of choosing you. Just as it is with any travel we do I come home feeling full and energized, armed with the knowledge that my oddity is contextual and that the way I think about life is not as much of an anomaly as it seems day-to-day. I would encourage you to remember the same and do what you need to do to remind yourself of that fact.
There is not a way to explain it or to justify it in my mind to myself or to you, but for whatever reason this trip has forced Kolena and I to get serious about what we are doing with our life, to peel back the filter of the place we live and the years of conditioning and get serious about things we have put off for too long. It made us ask questions: What do we really want to be doing? What do we value? Where do we belong? Why has it taken us so long to get there? What does this life mean for us? We find ourselves flung into the throes of something by which we cannot see the outcome, but which feels right. A renewed belief that what we feel in our hearts can, and will, be what we do with our lives.
How this adventure turns out is not known, but does it really matter as long as it is indeed and adventure? For us, the time seems to be the present and the days of wishful thinking are drawing to a close. The question becomes what will it take to make a move and when it is time will we be ready? Will you?