I peeled back the skin of the banana. While the top was slightly bruised, I broke it off easily and threw it away. Then I took my first bite. It was just how I remembered bananas tasting – sweet and delicious. It reminded me how good banana smoothies were on a hot summers day. Not only that, but it also reminded me how much I used to eat bananas back home before the price rose to $14 a kilo (after cyclone Yasi tore its way through North Queensland where many of the banana crops are).
I used to make banana cakes with cream cheese frosting, eat bananas with my cereal and even with ice cream for dessert. Who would have thought a person could be so obsessed over one kind of fruit? All I knew was that I would have to make the most of it while I was here. A bunch of bananas in Thailand cost as little as 5 baht (about 16 cents) and the reality was that once I returned to Australia, bananas could still be about $7 a kilo – too expensive to have with breakfast every morning.
The house I stayed at in Chiang Saen was on the edge of a river surrounded by various fruit trees and chilli bushes. Every time I stared at the river I would feel an overwhelming sense of peace and when a slight breeze blew, the current would reveal itself and small ripples would form on the surface. Other days the river was calm and the only ripples visible would be when the occasional fish jumped. But one of the most spectacular moments was an incredible sunset I experienced. As I sat on the verandah and watched the sun go down, I was mesmerised by the colours that danced across the night sky. I had finally learnt to enjoy one of the many simple things in life.
During the day as we drove through villages and passed countless numbers of houses and schools, it occurred to me that many people had probably never travelled before. Most may have never ventured further than their own village or nearest city, let alone overseas. While some of Thailand’s population is quite well off, many are poor and work tireless days and hours as farmers under the scorching sun. Looking back on my experiences so far, it made me think that being a tuk tuk driver may not be such a bad job after all…
When I saw people working on farms or selling their goods at the market, I often wondered whether they were people who had dreams? Dreams of a better life, a life that didn’t involve working in the sun or having the same routine day after day. Then again, how many of us in the west follow the same routine on a daily basis? We wake up, we go to work, we come home and we go to sleep. It really got me thinking… Do we ever take time to stop, rest and treasure the simple things in life?
And while I’m sure some of these people do have dreams, many of them try to wash them away or toss them aside knowing such an idea is close to impossible. We often say in the west that if you’re not happy with what you do, then change it. And we are fortunate enough to quit our jobs and move on to something that brings us joy and fulfillment. But for the Thai people this is rarely an option and sadly for many it never will be. So let me ask you this. What is your dream?
“Dreams are free, so free your dreams.”- Astrid Alauda
After a night of very little sleep, one would normally find it difficult to wake from their slumber. But not I. I show no sign of grogginess or tiredness, just a build up of pure excitement and anticipation knowing that today, a dream will become a reality.
It’s 4am and pitch black. I dress quickly and make my way outside to meet the others. The air is crisp, cold and bites at my skin. Many have not woken from their slumber and peer at me through drowsy eyes while releasing enormous yawns.
We pile into tuk tuks and begin the journey. We pass other vehicles also making their way to the same destination. When we finally get there, we purchase our tickets for US$20 which includes our photo. For many it’s far too early to have their picture taken.
Darkness surrounds us, people turn on their flashlights and mobile phones to light the path. We walk in silence and hushed whispers. The walk seems long and before I know it, the group separates. I perch myself on a sandstone monument, an ancient ruin, waiting, waiting. The air is still and dense and people start to crowd around me. I begin to feel nauseous.
Time passes slowly, then quickly. Then I see it, subtle hints of colour. Purple, pink and orange until it finally turns a golden yellow. Sunrise over Angkor Wat – simple and magical and while the colours aren’t quite as vibrant as I’d expected, it’s still magnificent in all its beauty. A sight so amazing, everything and everyone around me disappears.
The group reunites for breakfast and afterwards we make our way towards the ancient temple. Excitement builds inside of me and suddenly I feel like a child again as if it’s all a dream. I am surrounded by the most exquisite Khmer architecture entwined amongst Hindu and Buddhist mythology.
I rub my hand over the weathering sandstone and pinch myself to see if this moment is real and it is. None of this is a dream. I am at Angkor Wat.
Could possibly be known as one of the cities in the world that never sleeps or if it does, only in the ‘wee’ hours of the morning. Best word to describe this place – HUMID! And I’m guessing that it’s like that most of the year, not just October. Forget showering because as soon as you step outside, you can feel the tiny beads of sweat slowly building on your forehead and before you know it, your armpits are sticky and tiny drops are running down your back. It’s also impossible to count the number of 7Elevens on two hands within a 500 metre walking distance. WTT – ‘Welcome to Thailand’.
Smog and the roaring engines of tuk tuks are common in this bustling city – everything fast – go, go, go! Scooters and motorcycles swerve in and out of traffic making sure they push their way to the front of traffic lights ensuring they get a decent head start. However, I still fail to understand this concept as cars quickly overtake them once the light turns green. I call this part of the story ‘Bangkok City’ for a reason, as it’s the phrase printed on singlets that every second vendor sells. Either that or Singha Lager’ or ‘Heineken’. Beer labels are printed on singlets, simple as that. Just like how every Aussie who has been to Bali wears a ‘Bintang’ singlet – it’s fast become an Asian trademark. But hey, WTT.
While in BC, be prepared to temple hop until you drop (literally). Either you’ll exhaust yourself from the heat or the walking or in my case, both. While each temple is unique in it’s own way, once you’ve seen a few, enthusiasm tends to disintegrate. After all, there are only so many photos one can take. The best piece of advice I can give to the gents is that when temple spotting be sure to wear shoes that are easy to slip on and off while for the ladies, remember to cover the knees and shoulders. If you remember these simple things, you’re all good. WTT.
It didn’t take me long to realise pedestrian crossings in Thailand have no meaning, but don’t worry; I didn’t learn that through a near death experience, just careful observation. When you’re crossing roads in Bangkok you’ll look right, then left and right again before thinking silently to yourself, “I’m going to be waiting a while…” And although traffic going out of the city can be horrendous, at worst it’s quite astounding the infrequent honking of car horns. Thai people have an incredible patience with one another, particularly when it comes to driving. It’s almost like they can anticipate the other vehicles next move which explains why indicators are rarely used. Maybe they just aren’t needed. WTT.
Chiang Mai & Chiang Saem
The further north you move in Thailand, it quickly becomes apparent that the English language is spoken less here than in the south. But it doesn’t matter because its beauty and hospitality quickly make up for that. The countryside is breathtaking – green and refreshing. Just looking at it revitalises the soul and brings a sense of peace and calm. Lush rice fields surrounded by a backdrop of sweeping mountains that seem never ending. Pure beauty. There is no wondering why the people here are so content. They are simple people, living simple lives but they couldn’t be happier. I have learnt to treasure the small and humble things in life, like the power of a smile. Whether it’s a smile from a stranger, a child or friend, a smile brings warmth and is radiant in its own way. What if us in the West, took a few minutes each day to stop, quiet ourselves and learn to take pleasure in the simple things in life. It might just change our perspective on a few things…
While there is a phenomenal amount of landmass, nothing can surpass the power of the mighty Mekong River. It still amazes me how three countries – Thailand, Laos and Myanmar (Burma) are separated by this one body of water and together form the famous ‘Golden Triangle’. The Loi Krathong Festival celebrates the spirit of the river and rightly so. It’s only after you gently place a lotus gra` tong on to the water that you completely comprehend the intensity of the river and its supremacy. Its rapid currents would surely engulf anything that touches its surface. Hence why life jackets are compulsory when boarding one of the many boats that glide along this extravagant mass of water. WTT.
From my experiences thus far however, I would have to say that food is one of the greatest loves of the Thai people. It is the one thing that can be shared and satisfies not only the stomach but also the soul. I had every intention of losing weight before embarking on this journey by telling myself I would be eating rice and vegetables and walking everywhere as exercise. Looking back, that was an overly optimistic thought. Everything delicious is cooked in oil including my all time favourites – pad thai and banana roti pancakes. It’s a tragedy but hey, WTT!
I know people often warn you about eating off the street and while you do need to careful (to an extent), street food is the best – authentic, mouth watering and cheap! Also, after spending some time in a traditional Thai home with my friend’s mum, I haven’t gone hungry for a second. A massive bowl of rice, 2-3 times per day = a carb overload and certainly not helping with the weight loss program. On top of that I have tried a vast array of different fruits that I can’t remember the names of but they have been edible and most of them quite tasty. WTT.
Aside from the natural beauty Thailand has to offer and it’s many edible delicacies, there is the not so beautiful art of mastering the squat toilet. Whether you like it or not, if travelling up to Northern Thailand, there is no way of avoiding the dreaded squat toilet. And I admit, some people’s fears and phobias of this are far worse than others. Obviously for Thais, using a squat toilet is second nature but to Westerners, it’s as foreign as can be. The taller you are, the more awkward it is and the one note I can confidently make is that it requires balance. Western toilets are a luxury and when you do come across one in Thailand, it’s five star indulgence! WTT. I have made some interesting observations along the way like the patriotism of the Thai people although patriotism seems like an understatement. Almost ever house you pass in the north has the Thai flag out the front. Some look new, the colours vibrant and alive while others appear tattered and slightly faded – weathered from years in the sun. Oh, and I can’t forget to mention their beloved King whose face can be seen in every home, shop, market and hotel in Thailand. While I don’t know much about him apart from the fact that he is a good man, I can see it in his eyes. His face is gentle and kind, a true father to his people.
Apart from the Kings picture, I have additionally lost count of the number of dogs and cats that roam the streets in the heat of the day and take late night strolls under the milky moonlight. Many of the dogs have inbuilt road sense, although there have been the odd one or two who have sniffed death. WTT.
I have also learnt that every village has its own temple and school. With a population that is about 95 per-cent Buddhist, it’s no surprise students are taught the practices of Buddhism from a young age. I often wonder to myself, how many of them will grow up to become monks or practicing Buddhists who regularly attend temple. And part of my heart sinks knowing these children have not been taught about their true creator; the creator of the heavens and the earth. But my hope and prayer is that one day they will.
New Zealand or ‘Aotearoa’ as the native people call it known for its natural beauty and picturesque landscape is fast becoming one of the world’s hot new travel detinations.
Ask anyone these days where they would like to go for a holiday and it can be guaranteed that New Zealand will be on the list. Although New Zealand advertises itself as the ‘youngest country on earth’ it does not mean it lacks history or cultural diversity.
‘Aotearoa’ which means ‘land of the long white cloud’ is what New Zealand’s native Maori people call their country. Maori culture is culturally rich as displays much talent in traditional and contemporary arts. But it is not just the Maori history that tourists find attractive.
New Zealand has much more to offer including its friendly atmosphere and sense of individuality. So why not visit and see for yourself?