Destination Nepal: One Year Past

One year ago I stumbled out of my plane after 30 hours of sleepless travel to the airport in Kathmandu. I remember how I had to take a tram from the plane to departure area, and how it looked more like a military base than an airport. As I filled out my VISA the immigration officials gave me completely contradictory information, and when I couldn’t find my pen in my haze one of them tried to get me to pay him for his. One official told me I could only stay 90 days… the other assured me that I could stay as long as I wanted. I was confused.

As I exited the airport, there was Amy waiting for her mail delivered by some stranger from Michigan.  I was disoriented and confused as a dozen taxi drivers converged on me and I could barely communicate with the poor girl. I hastily said goodbye to her and looked for my driver. As I found my name plate, some random guy tried to take my luggage from me who I thought was with the driver so I let him. He wasn’t and immediately asked me for a $20 tip afterwards. As I sat in the car waiting for the other passenger to arrive, I could smell the strong stench of diesel. It was slowly raining but I had to get the window open for a chance at fresh air.

Finally my co-passenger arrived and took off down the bumpy roads of Kathmandu. A few flash images still stick in my mind: cows walking and sleeping roadside, a man sleeping under a tree in the middle of the road, shady-looking, drunk Nepalis walking the streets of Thamel, my co-passenger David asking me: “So you’ve never been in the third world before.” We arrived at our guesthouse but I could not sleep that night. I was too jet-lagged and anxious from all the crazy things I had seen the night before.

It has been one hell of a year of adventures. I pray there are many more still awaiting me in the coming  years.

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Full Moon Weekend at Koh Samet Island

I was determined to see a beach.  It was really all that I had craved for after being in land-locked country for so long. Even though we Michiganders may only enjoy the privileges of a warm waterfront for 3 months a year, we still relish our time with water. The common ritual is to roast our bodies to a crisp before submerging ourselves into the cold waters of Lake Michigan.

For my trip I decided on Koh Samet, a popular weekend resort of Bangkok residents. It was a reasonable 3 hour drive from Bangkok. Before leaving, I was warned about my adventures:

It’s a holiday weekend it’s going to be really busy. You don’t have a reservation?

You’re going alone to Koh Samet? Nobody goes a lone. Well it is a popular gay island, don’t worry you’ll have friends!

None of this phased me as I booked my ticket for luxurious 3-hour ride to the coast, which I imagined would be similar to the buses I took to Chiang Mai. I was wrong. As my driver led me to the place of departure, I was guided towards a mini-van. The only seat left was a nice tin space in the back with leg space for an over 6 footer. Memories of Nepal rushed into my brain. Well, at least this van was air-conditioned. As I quickly found out, the vans in Thailand are renowned for blasting comedy-talk shows are the highest volume possible. Also, the backseats are really bumpy – like, fly-off-your-seat-a-foot-into-the-air kind of bumpy. It was a fun ride.

In the van, I was immediately befriended by the other white passenger aboard, an energetic  South African named Ringo. As we started small talk, Ringo informed me that there was not a single reservation available on the island. Not one. It was a full moon party weekend of course! How foolish I was; that was the holiday my Bangkok friends were talking about. Ringo was in the same situation as me, but he was meeting up with friends who lived on the coast. He assured me there would be someplace I could stay. I decided then to become friends with Ringo.

Suddenly, I’m in drinking rum in the back of a pick-up truck racing towards Koh Sumet Island. My new companions were all English teachers recently relocated in Thailand, from the US and England, (and of course the South African). When we reached the pier to Koh Samet, we had the choice between taking a ferry and a speedboat. We opted for the Speedboat. There’s nothing like an introduction to a tropic island like hopping waves on in the front of a speedboat.

The party began as soon as I hit the beach. My new friends let me store my baggage in their single reserved room, thank god. The only sleeping tonight would be on the beach, if at all. The drinking began in the later afternoon, and didn’t stop until the late morning of the next day. It was quite the party. Most of the time was spent hopping for one beach party to the next, meeting other travelers and locals as we went. This continued on until about 5am.

The highlight of the night came sometime after midnight. As the parties raged on, we stripped our clothes and dove into the dark ocean. We swam under the moonlight, but we were not alone. Amidst the three foot waves, large strings of salp bumped into us in every direction. It was truly an ethereal experience.

(Note: I had to steal pictures for this post, since my electronics were locked safely away the whole time I was on the island)

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Destination Bangkok

Ahhh Thailand, what a world apart from Nepal. You’re a hot, steamy son of a bitch. You lure people in with your promises of paradise, your endlessly delicious cuisine, and nonstop parties and beautiful tanned bodies. It seems a lot of people fall in love with you, for the right and the wrong reasons. Young, inexperienced teachers come to celebrate your beaches. Creepy, old, rich men and young beach guys come to sample your young women. And it seems everyone here knows how to party.

Between my visits to Chiang Mai and Koh Sumet island, I’ve been making stops in Bangkok. I don’t know what to think of the city. After coming from Kathmandu, it seemed so organized, verdant, and full of activity. Eating on the streets here is super cheap, and much tastier than Kathmandu. I don’t have to worry about food sickness. Taxi’s actually cost less… a lot of things do when your outside of the tourist and party scene. But it has this oppressive heat. And going out here just gives me the creeps, with the sex industry booming and loads of obnoxious  and sometimes belligerent tourists. Always good and bad as in anyplace.

I’m on my last day in Thailand and I don’t want to leave the house. It’s really sunny today, ruining my desire to do anything. I’ve already seen two movies here, gone to malls at least 5 times, and the beach just once. That’s what the locals do… whatever the hell you can to stay cool. Riding on the bus or going to a mall is nice relief from a sultry existence. I’ve had an amazing Couchsurfing host… he’s one of the Ambassador’s of Thailand and somewhat of a local celebrity for CS. His house has been converted to a hostel for CS’ers… a great place to meet and hang out with travelers and their Thai friend’s alike. It’s certainly been a great experience staying with Toom!

Last week I arrived and forced myself to do some Bangkok tourism, visiting the Grand Palace of the king and the reclining Buddha. It was quite epic and beautiful! The royal family must have been, and probably still is, loaded with cash to build all of these gold temples. You can seen the king’s photos virtually anywhere, as he is a revered person in Thailand for which all must show respect. You have to pay respect to the king’s/national anthem at the cinema before the movie starts! They just love the king. (It’s illegal to insult or mock him)

Bangkok’s seedy side is all it has been made out to be, and I’ve tried to avoid it as much as possible (I wasn’t so lucky in Chiang Mai and Koh Sumet… but we’ll get to that later). Khoasan Road is the tourist/backing district where many chose to stay, complete with a huge bar scene. My first and only night there an American guy tried to pick a fight with me. I was embarrassed for our country. I decided not to go back to Khoasan.

Next up: Chaing Mai and Koh Sumet.

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The final hours

“If it’s still on your mind, it’s worth the risk.” – Johann Von Goethe

Tomorrow I hop on board a plane headed towards Chicago via Japan, therefore making today my last full day in Asia. I can’t be disappointed with my bold and memorial journey to explore some of he most exotic and interesting places on the earth. What began as an idea to travel and see India, evolved into a living experience in Nepal with a full-blown Asia tour attached.

Well, I never made even made it to India. Life happened and Nepal took me by surprise. Unforeseen circumstances forced me to trim down my ambitions and settle for a more realistic trip. I chose Thailand as one country to explore before heading onto home.

In Nepal I saw and experienced a lot of crazy, strange, bewildering things that I accepted as normal and unremarkable after adapting to them for so long. Upon entering Thailand, the culture shock was real again. Born again were the feelings of being lost, confused, and unable to comprehend a culture that was utterly foreign to me.

Anyhow, back to the point of this post. There is a Midwestern ideal that staying home is the best. That despite where you go, nothing will be better than the warm comforts of your home. I’m sure some people will tell me that this was my “experience of lifetime.” Yes, it was and I will always remember it fondly.

While I understand what they are saying, they are utterly wrong. But people are missing the point. Maybe this is because I’ve changed so much, or maybe I just unlocked a part of me that always was.  The experience has awoken a desire in me, to explore and never stop being curious about the world. I have met so many people where travel is a lifestyle, where adventure is necessary to survival, and who leave their homes regularly with ease. I don’t want to fall into line with a secure life. I want their flexibility and freedom.  And now I know it’s not as hard to have as I once thought.  It just takes a lot of guts.

So I counter your experience of a lifetime statement by saying “This is just one of my lifetime of experiences.” Sorry, I didn’t get this “out of my system”. Hell, I’m addicted as ever and I see no real cure in sight. Give me the culture shock any day. I’m ready to be lost and confused again.

I’m going home because I need to rehab a injury, to save some money, and realign my career goals. After that, anything is possible. I will love my time back in Michigan to see my family, friends and enjoy the luxurious lake shore. Just don’t expect me to settle anytime soon.