Tag: Thailand

Letting Go

Letting Go

“We must try not to sink beneath our anguish…but battle on.” –Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I’ve been feeling A LOT of emotions the past few weeks. It all started when I said goodbye to my parents. Since then, everyday presents new opportunities for self-reflection and growth. Change is coming. It’s drawing near on the horizon, and as always in my life, this is something that never ceases to trip me up.

Today was tough. I was incredibly overwhelmed from the moment I woke up. But what I’ve learned through a year of journaling and blogging is the power that comes when one writes down thoughts on paper. Getting those emotions out of the head is the healthiest way to deal with them. After a day like today, I needed to ask myself, why am I so stressed? What am I upset about; what is worrying me that I can’t put a finger on?

Today, just like any other day, I hope to finish it off feeling well-fueled, well-rested, content and grateful. Above all, I hope to finish the day off with a smile on my face. In order to achieve these goals, I must acknowledge the aforementioned questions though. Acknowledge that something is wrong, something is clearly bothering me, but that’s okay. It’s not so much that I am having strong feelings that is wrong; but it is incredibly frustrating for me when I can’t recognize those feelings and name them as emotions. Am I happy, sad, scared, overwhelmed?

First off, I have been feeling stressed. So much so that my body has broken out in an irritating, itchy, blotchy red rash. If my stress level is so high that it is manifesting itself in very real, very uncomfortable ways on the exterior of my body, then clearly it’s time to address this stress.

I’m stressed because a hell of a lot of things are changing in my life. There’s a hell of a lot going on, and there’s only so much that is within my control. And not being in control has definitely taken its toll on me these past few weeks. A part of me finds this quite strange. I have done so much this past year; I’ve seen so many places, met so many people, and grown as a person one hundred times over. I assumed control had nothing to do with the wonderful feelings of success I’ve had this past year.

Leave nothing up to assumptions though. Assumptions are misleading; assumptions can be wrong. Apparently, I’ve assumed lately that I’m living such a relaxed and go-with-the-flow lifestyle, and that this would help me deal when things aren’t in my control. That assumption is proving to be very, very wrong. For me, it still remains true that there are certain things in life where I feel like control is necessary.

Planning is one such area. I have always planned my life. From very early on, I knew what I wanted, when I wanted it by, and how I was going to get it. Through college, what I wanted was to graduate in three years. During grad school, my desire was to finish my schooling, and finally transition my role from student in the classroom, to teacher of the classroom. For three years of employment, despite loving my job and having wonderful coworkers greet me at work everyday, I always knew that Eagle Point wasn’t my final destination. From the very beginning it would never be my home; so I suppose during those first three years of teaching I always knew that I was going to move on.

Eventually I did. And not only did I leave my job at Eagle Point, but I left my home, my family, my dog, my friends. I left everything I knew and considered important in life, to set off on the adventure of a lifetime. Fast-forward through one amazing year and I’m left without a plan. I don’t have a job lined up for the fall yet; I don’t know what life is going to be like when I come home; I don’t know how I’ll handle the transition when I finally say goodbye to the incredible life I’ve spent the past year building for myself. I’m out of control, and that is a very upsetting truth to deal with at the moment.

It’s not just a lack of control that I’m dealing with though. Also troubling me is the fact that everything I do these next two months has such a finality attached to it. Everything I have come to know as typical life over the course of a year is about to end. Nothing will be the same when I finally board that first plane on 24 July 2017.

On the one hand, I’m really okay with this chapter of life drawing to a close. I do feel like it’s the right time to go; but it almost feels the same as ending a relationship. We all know that feeling. The one you get when you have been with a person for a significant amount of time, and you finally decide to call it quits. Even if you’re breaking up with someone for all the right reasons, it’s still incredibly hard to say goodbye. There’s so much you feel like you’re leaving behind; it’s not hard to forget, all too often, what you’re making space for.

This is how I feel about coming home. I know it’s the right choice; I know it’s the right time. But I am going to miss the days of being a traveling teacher. I am going to miss the opportunities to adventure and explore the world. I am going to miss living an ex-pat life. I’ll miss my job, I’ll miss the friends I’ve made along the way. But the thing is, come July, it will not be the first time I say goodbye.

I’ve already said goodbye once in the past year. I said goodbye to Thailand last October. I said goodbye to teaching English; I said goodbye to being hot and sweaty EVERY.SINGLE.DAY. I made it through that goodbye, and while I can draw strength from that fact, there’s a part of me that knows this time around is different.

I don’t know if I’ll ever live abroad again. Certainly I’ll continue to travel, explore, and see as much of the world as I can. But will I ever move to a different country again? That is a question too hard to deal with at the moment. That is a question best left unanswered. Instead of focusing so much on planning for my future; instead of spending all my time dwelling about the past, I turn to Emily Dickinson for advice; “dwell in the possibility”.

Possibilities are endless; this is an exciting truth. There’s still so much to do, still so much to see. Adventures await around every corner. And at the end of the day, “Everything has to come to an end, sometime.” -L. Frank Baum

Hua Hin: My impromptu weekend trip to the beach!

Hua Hin: My impromptu weekend trip to the beach!

“Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” -Tina Fey

Friday, 19 August 2016:

Last Friday, my weekend took a surprising turn, and I found myself making last-minute travel plans to get out of Ayutthaya for a few days. Earlier in the afternoon on Friday, feeling a bit unsettled about staying in town for the third weekend in a row (this is very unusual for me considering how I prefer to spend my weekend away from Ayutthaya, exploring new places in Thailand), I asked myself what would make me happy and content? My decision, I needed to do something more with my time off rather than just staying in my apartment all weekend.

Originally my plans for travel were prohibited by my influx of cash on Friday. Pay day was Monday, and by the time Friday rolled around I only had about 2,000 baht left. Feeling as though this wouldn’t be enough for an entire weekend away, I thought it best to do things around town and wait till pay day on Monday; then I’d be able to take a trip the following weekend somewhere when I’d have more cash to spend on fun.

Sitting at work early in the afternoon on Friday though, I was left thinking about what I would do over the weekend and how I would spend my time. When I headed to my last class of the day, and upon arrival I was informed by the girls that only twelve students would be in class today, the rest were going to Bangkok (why, I’m really not sure?…). Hearing that, I showed the girls what their assignment was to be, asked them to share it with the rest of the class, and told them to be prepared for a speaking test next week. When I was walking back to my office I realized it was the perfect opportunity to head out early and actually make something out of my weekend; as opposed to staying in Ayutthaya feeling unfulfilled by Sunday evening most likely. Norman Vincent Peale once said, “Empty pockets never held anyone back. Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.” Some very wise words, that I choose to live by in Thailand. I have a savings account for precisely moments like this in life; I can’t let life pass me by over here while I simply worry about money.

Still, I wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do, even by the time I was almost done with my walk home. I had several options floating around in my head. I could quickly get home and check on prices for something dramatic like Chiang Mai or Phuket, but that would cost a lot of money. And seeing how originally I wasn’t going to leave Ayutthaya this weekend because I was down to only 2,000 baht, I thought it best to save Chiang Mai for another week or two, when I actually take the time to plan out what I want to do, where I want to go, and how to make the most out of a short weekend trip up north before I leave Thailand in October.

When I finally arrived at home, I threw open my Lonely Planet book, and upon opening it to the section entitled “Thailand’s Top 20”, I noticed that Hua Hin was listed as sixteen on the list. At this point, I made my decision. Since I will probably miss out on seeing anymore of the Thai islands, including Phuket, before I leave for Germany in October, then this weekend was the perfect time for me to take the opportunity to see Hua Hin; especially considering how last weekend that was our original plan before the bombings put a dent in our itinerary.

Alas, as it stands now, on Friday night around 10:40pm, I found myself nestled in my top bunk at my hostel, Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel in Hua Hin. It was a good decision to leave school early, because after I finally made my decision where to go, I quickly threw some clothes and my swimsuit in my backpack, and headed out the door to catch the van that would take me to the beach.

We left Ayutthaya around 3pm, but as it was a Friday, we hit a bit of traffic by the time we were nearing Future Park (a GIANT shopping center on the outskirts of Bangkok). I made it to Victory Monument after 4pm, and actually found my van to Hua Hin exceptionally easily; considering the circumstances surrounding tickets purchases, signage, and the sheer chaos that is Victory Monument. All in all, we were finally on the road, headed to Hua Hin and the beach, by five. It took a little less than three hours to finally arrive.

Craziness that is the ticket booths
Craziness that is the ticket booths

When we were about forty-five minutes out we stopped for gas. I decided it would be wise to top up my data at 7-11 so that I could get walking directions to find my hostel, from wherever the van was dropping me off. (This is the process for adding data to a cell phone: you go to the check-out counter at 7-11, tell them your service provider, in my case, AIS, and ask for an amount in Thai baht of data you’d like to purchase. Then, the clerk hands you a receipt upon receiving your cash; on this receipt, an 11-digit number to dial in your phone; when you’re finished, you’ve added data to your plan.)

This thought process of mine definitely proved beneficial, because soon enough my timing and planning worked out perfectly. I could tell we were nearing the city because we drove past and through a tunnel of twinkle lights. At this point in time I turned on my data and grabbed walking directions to my hostel; coincidentally we had just passed it and walking directions put me there in just five minutes. How perfect! I essentially jumped out of the van at a stop light, and within minutes found my hostel and was getting checked in. I absolutely love it when my travel plans play out so smoothly.

My hostel last weekend was absolutely lovely, well worth the 380 baht/night (about $11). I received fabulous customer service, good amenities, and an excellent location too. After I found my room and dropped off my bag, it was still only about 8:30pm. Not feeling ready to turn in for the night I decided to go check out the night market just down the street from my hostel. Less than a five minute walk later, I stopped in at the 7-11, grabbed a beer, and wandered around for the next hour and a half (no open container laws in Thailand!).

The market in Hua Hin had really fair prices, friendly people, good food, and some nice finds. I ended up buying handmade journals for myself and some friends back at home. It was a lovely end to my Friday, so far my spontaneous trip to the beach was turning out perfect! When I had finished walking the aisles, I made my way back to my hostel, got ready for bed, and was eagerly looking forward to the next day. My plans for Saturday were very simple: just me, my kindle, and the beach!

Saturday, 20 August 2016:

What a moment I had on Saturday morning after I woke up. I didn’t get the greatest night’s sleep in my bunk on Friday night, so I woke up before eight. I decided to make my coffee, grab a yoga mat (the hostel provides them to use on the rooftop terrace for guests), and head up to the roof for a little serenity to start my day. I feel extremely blessed to experience moments like these and be in this wonderful place in life.

4th floor roof at Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel
4th floor roof at Chan-Chala Cafe & Hostel

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I am blessed to have the opportunity to head to the beach on a whim for the weekend. I think more than anything, a change of scenery is exactly what I needed this past weekend. Time alone, on new adventure, exploring another part of Thailand. On Saturday morning things were perfect: the sun was shining, I found myself sitting at a cafe table on a rooftop garden, just minutes from the beach in Hua Hin, cup of coffee in hand, my journal, and time with my thoughts. Saturday was surely going to be a great day.

Morning serenity

As I sat and thought about how this trip wasn’t planned at all, it appeared that it may end up turning out to be one of the best weekends to date. If only for what I would have been doing had I stayed at home in Ayutthaya instead. But thanks to spontaneity, I was able to think about how life is unfolding for me right now on a Saturday morning in pure bliss. I can do nothing but smile as I write this. Each weekend trip I take, I find myself living out an extraordinary adventure, I am happy and healthy, I am blessed, grateful, and humble beyond words.

J.D. Salinger said it best in The Catcher and the Rye, “It’s such a stupid question, in my opinion. I mean, how do you know what you’re going to do till you do it? The answer is, you don’t. I think I am, but how do I know? I swear it’s a stupid question.” I absolutely love this quote. It proves that letting life unfold in front of one’s self is the perfect way to go. Forgot the planning, the notes, the meticulous details; just go out, have adventures, explore, and live life to the fullest. Just BE.

Sunday, 21 August 2016:

I had an awesome day on Saturday, and if the previous day and a half were any sort of forecast as to how my day on Sunday would unfold, I knew that it was going to be a great day too. At 9:15 Sunday morning, I was getting picked up at my hostel to go spend the day at the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, before heading home to Ayutthaya Sunday evening. I was beyond excited for this experience, as I finally was living out my dream of the chance to meet, feed, walk, bathe, and fall in love with my elephant friends later in the day. But first, a re-cap of how I spent the rest of my day on Saturday.

Beautiful beach view in Hua Hin
Beautiful beach view in Hua Hin

After I had a nice morning up on the roof, drinking coffee, journaling, and a little yoga, I went downstairs, made myself some toast for breakfast, and then took a shower and got ready for the day ahead at the beach. First I needed to get cash though, in order to book my ticket to WFFT with my hostel. When that was all taken care of I headed down to the beach.

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I really am quite pleased with the hostel I ended up at last weekend. Not only is it a five-minute walk to the night market, but it only took me about ten minutes, maybe less, to walk to the beach on Saturday morning too.

When I got there, Hua Hin far surpassed my expectations, the beach is absolutely breathtaking! Way better than what I had on Ko Samet, and miles beyond when comparing it to the beach in Pattaya. This past weekend, as I predicted, really was turning out to be awesome, and one of my favorite weekend trips overall in Thailand. It’s a combination of everything: the beach, my hostel, the people, the spontaneity behind it all. By Sunday morning, I was having an absolutely wonderful time in Hua Hin, and the weekend wasn’t even finished yet.

When I arrived at the beach on Saturday morning I was taken aback by the white sand, cleanliness, and aquamarine water. Immensely more beautiful than Pattaya, I could totally envision spending my entire Saturday here relaxing and swimming on the beach. As it was still relatively early on Saturday morning by the time I had arrived, around 10:15am, I decided I would start my day with a stroll along the beach. I did end up having a lovely walk, but three and a half hours and nearly ten miles later, I had sufficiently overdone myself and was incredibly exhausted by the time I was finally done!

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I didn’t originally set out to walk ten miles on Saturday morning in the 90+ degree heat, but when the end of the beach had this beautiful hilltop temple and standing golden Buddha, my determination set in that I would walk to the end to check both of these structures out up close. Well if there’s one thing I am to a fault, it is determined; the moment I say I’m going to do something, I can’t stop or give up for fear of failure (imposed only upon myself, I might add…still haven’t quite overcome this quirk yet, but I’m working on it…). So ultimately, what this attitude led me to was a lovely, leisurely walk there, but a very tired, and just-want-this-to-end attitude on the way back.

When I was finally done walking I basically collapsed at a beach-front restaurant, I ordered a water, a beer, and french fries (in the end, these turned out to be mediocre, semi-soggy, flash-fried potatoes, but I really didn’t care at this point in time), while I tried to get my legs to relax. For some reason, on Saturday, the icing on the cake that was my nearly ten mile walk was that my RLS was acting up too, and my legs were aching the entire way there and back. This turned out to be one of the toughest parts about the whole walk, even more intense than the sun and heat, the fact that my legs were hurting as much as they were.

By the time I had finished my snack, I paid, got up from my lounge chair (as it was under an umbrella in the shade and I wanted to spend the rest of my afternoon lying on the sand in the sun), and found a bit of beach to set up camp for a little while longer. I quickly undressed and ran into the ocean as fast as I could. I had been waiting for this moment for nearly three hours, since my “leisurely” beach walk began. Fortunately, the water finally offered my sore legs a bit of a reprieve.

I ended up staying at the beach on Saturday afternoon for a little more than two hours after my walk. Then on my way back to my hostel, I stopped for an early dinner at an Italian restaurant and enjoyed a pizza that had far too much cheese on it for my taste, but still satisfied my dinner cravings somewhat. When I returned to my hostel I knew that I’d need a few hours to relax and rest from spending all day in the sun, so I watched a couple of episodes of The Good Wife in the comfort of the air-conditioner from my top bunk in my room.

By Saturday night, despite not being too hungry from my early dinner, I decided to head to the night market once more. I ended up spending the rest of my cash, a new tank for me, and a couple of other souvenirs for family and friends back at home. About an hour after I arrived, I headed in for the night, again very anxious and excited about the day ahead at WFFT on Sunday. I was very much looking forward to learning a lot, seeing a wildlife conservation center firsthand, and of course meeting all the animals who live there.

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Monday, 22 August 2016:

Well, I’ve reached the end of a long and exhausting day. A day to make all Mondays live in infamy. I had a wonderful weekend, but it made me very tired for work today.

Yesterday I woke up early, packed my bags, and got ready for my exciting day ahead. I was picked up from my hostel in Hua Hin at nine-thirty, we drove for about forty-five minutes to neighboring Cha-Am, where Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand is. Our day was one of the most exciting, hands-on tours I’ve experienced in a long time!

I learned a little bit about what they do at WFFT, and how they diligently work to combat black market animal sales in Thailand. Something I wasn’t very aware of before my visit yesterday, was how much a lucrative business like this is still surviving and thriving in Thailand currently. It was very sad to see and hear about the animals’ sufferings first-hand. My heart definitely opened fully, and I felt deeply for all of the animals who currently live there. It was such a blessing to see first-hand how hard WFFT works to recover, rehabilitate, and provide a safe environment for these animals. My heart melts for them, even now, just thinking about them.

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My day started with an introduction to Ban-Me. I got to meet her and quickly discovered how friendly and comfortable she is around all humans. Many elephants, similar to Ban-Me, are so used to humans based on their past experiences, whether they have been ridden, forced into hard labor, made to do show work with tricks or painting; regardless, all elephants that have been raised and rescued from captivity have gone through a process of elephant torture called the Phajaan.

This term, which literally means “the crush”, refers to the crushing of an elephant’s spirit, in order to get it to behave a certain way in captivity. The crush is a time in a baby elephant’s life when it is taken away from it’s mother. The infant elephant is crushed, meaning “to divorce the baby elephant from it’s spirit, or to split the will of a baby elephant” (ThailandElephants.org). Phajaan is a tradition long-rooted in the endangerment of the Asian elephant species. It was originally designed to make it so that the elephant being crushed, is eventually submissive to humans;

“Young elephants are frequently poached from the wild for the tourist trade…when young wild elephants are poached, the elephant’s family will be killed-which is [also] witnessed by the young elephant.” (www.thailandelephants.org)

The story of Ban-Me, as well as the many others whom I had the extraordinary privilege of meeting, interacting with, walking, bathing, and feeding on Sunday is that of perseverance, strength of will, and the true testament of a beautiful spirit. Elephants who have been rescued from captivity, like Ban-Me, come from similarly harsh and cruel paths, but now lead a life of socialization, safety, and love. I felt incredibly humbled to be in the company of such beautiful creatures, both inside and out, this past Sunday, during my six hours spent at WFFT.

Ban-Me was eager to say hello, she shared many slobbery “kisses” as she accepted each banana offering that I made to her, and she seemed to do it all with a smile a mile wide across her face.

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Something that especially draws me into my fascination (some might call it an obsession…) with these beautiful gentle giants is their eyes. In every encounter I’ve ever had with an elephant, from my childhood days growing up and going to visit the African elephants at the Alaska Zoo; my more recent, yearly trips to the Oregon Zoo, where if you ask anyone who’s ever gone with me, they’ll attest to the fact that I could spend my entire day in the elephant zone just simply watching in awe and wonder; and now this new experience of meeting them up close, at a wildlife rescue center, every single elephant has a sparkle in their eyes when you meet them. They give off a wonderful expression of wisdom and patience. This look in their eyes is a testament to the truth that elephants never forget. They have an incredible sense of will, are able to cope with, and hopefully overcome some of the most brutal forms of animal exploitation and cruelty.

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What I love about elephants, is no matter their pasts, they still retain the ability to love and trust, again and again, despite all odds. We humans could learn a great deal from this sense of compassion of loving will.

Okay, okay, enough preaching…I’m obsessed, I can’t help it.

Back to my experience yesterday. After meeting and feeding Ban-Me, I was very much on ecstasy, overfilled with joy, excitement, love, awe, inspiration, and wonder. Yesterday, one of my lifelong dreams came true. That’s an amazing truth to experience, and for this, again I am grateful beyond words.

When Ban-Me had successfully devoured every last banana in the bucket, my tour moved on to another exciting encounter. From there, I was then introduced to the first group of the some seventy odd pairings of Malaysian Sun Bears and Asian Black Bears, that call WFFT their home. Again, I learned a lot about the cruel realities of black marked animal sales, that are still very much an ongoing problem in Thailand. My guide at WFFT on Sunday, her name is Laura, she’s been working at WFFT for twelve months now. She explained that black market animal sales is currently still a very serious problem in Thailand and other parts of Southeast Asia, due to a lack of education and awareness. If more people knew about these problems, then maybe they’d be more inclined to do something about it.

What I found most appalling is that sun bears and Asian black bears, similar to monkeys, gibbons, orangutans, tigers, iguanas, etc. are actually bought and sold as house pets on the black market. I mean, I don’t mean to oversimplify or sound rude here, but how dumb do you have to be to buy a bear for a pet? It is a freaking bear, after all! Come on! Use your little notion of common sense and put the parts of the equation together: cute bear cubs, plus time, growth and maturity, equates to large, strong, sharp teeth, long claws, a literal BEAR. We’re not talking about some big breed of dog that merely resembles a bear; we’re talking about a real, live in-the-flesh BEAR! Not an animal that time has EVER proven it successful to domesticate…

All joking aside, I’m sorry if I’ve offended anybody but come on…a bear as a pet? That’s just stupid. The only people who honestly should take offense to my tone, are people who’ve purchased, or at least attempted to purchase at some time, a bear as a pet in their recent pasts. And considering the fact that to my knowledge, I have met no such people, I’m hoping to not have offended anybody here with my rather flippant and under-approving tone.

But in reality, aside from any sarcasm or jokes, what I was left feeling when I met the bears at WFFT, including Pepsi, Cola, and Prayer (they have such cute names) was despair. Many of the bears rescued from black market sales in Thailand have ended up in monasteries. Their former “owners” get a glimpse of sense and realize that they cannot realistically care for a BEAR as a pet. So they decide to drop it off at a temple; and care for this wild animal thus falls into the hands of the monks living at the monastery.

This situation is highly problematic though. Buddhist Monks who live at a temple survive solely on donations they receive from the public each day. In the mornings they go out with a basket and walk around town collecting donations, which are then used to buy necessities for the monks living at the temple, including food and nourishment. I can’t say with actual concrete facts to back my theory up, but what I believe to be true is there can’t really be a whole lot of spare change lying around at the end of the day at a temple to feed a bear. Thus, these wild animals are given all the wrong things to eat, like rice, sugary snacks, and even pepsi cola drinks. To top it off, they have rotting teeth from the sugar-heavy diet and no way to burn off any calories as they are usually kept in very small enclosures. This is not the sort of life that any living creature deservers.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean to place blame here on the monks at the temples either. I merely believe that it would be better if, instead of agreeing to keep the animal that is dropped off on their doorstep, they should rather reach out to contact a wildlife rescue or conservation center first, as an alternate course of action. But here again, is where my guide at WFFT, Laura, argued that the problem boils down to an alarmingly low level, or lack there of, education.

In addition to the elephants and bears, on Sunday I also saw: monkeys, gibbons, two orangutans (which is quite ironic in that they are not a native species to Thailand…so how did they end being rescued from captivity here in the first place?), iguanas, otters, birds, slow loris, deer, wild boar, potbelly pigs, some chickens, the sweetest pack of former street dogs, and even a crocodile. It was a magnificent day, surrounded by mother nature’s beautiful creatures.

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Nom nom nom...
Nom nom nom…

I had an amazing, life-fulfilling experience, feeding, walking, and then bathing elephants. It was, as I already said, a dream come true! I may have already been in love with them prior, but now my obsession has been catapulted to a whole new level of extreme. But the best part of my day, honestly, wasn’t just with my giant, kindred-spirited friends. Rather what I loved most about Sunday was all the knowledge I gained from a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience! Yes, I had to pay money to go visit WFFT. However, it is not a zoo, in the sense that their doors remain open to the public at free will. Instead, you sing up for a half or whole day tour (I chose the full day because it included the afternoon with the elephants, DUH!) and in return you’re given a personalized tour around the entire facility. The staff who work there are extremely knowledgeable, and all share one common goal in mind, and that is to protect and fight for the rights of animals who are abused and exploited in captivity. I would recommend this experience to anyone who finds themselves in Thailand someday. I am a better person for having had such an unforgettable and humbling experience.

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Balance: the positives and negatives to solo travel in Thailand.

Balance: the positives and negatives to solo travel in Thailand.

“Life is about balance. Be kind, but don’t let people abuse you. Trust, but don’t be deceived. Be content, but never stop improving yourself.” -Nishan Panwar

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing this post. Last weekend I shared a slightly less rosy view of life in Thailand, and I must admit, I was not prepared for, let’s call it “the myriad” of reactions that I received. But onward I forged, writing and posting about a different side of Thailand that I’ve experienced over the past four months or so, sharing it for the first time with family, friends, and readers.

As I mentioned, I was a bit taken aback by the myriad of reactions, and as such my mind has been spinning ever since. I am not writing this story today because I feel as though I must defend myself. My blog is my own, it is full of my own feelings, my own emotions, and most importantly my own opinions. Therefore, readers must remember to take into account what I have to say with at least one small grain of salt, and know that there’s always more than one side to every story that you hear.

With that being said, I have decided it is best for myself, for my evolution as a writer, for my growth as a traveler, to write and share this story today. I will benefit from putting my thoughts onto paper, and that is the reason that I’ve decided to share the following words with you all.

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Yesterday, when I arrived at work in the morning, I was feeling very off and uncomfortable. Almost as if I was getting a bug, and being so close to the end of the semester, getting sick is the last thing that I want. I managed to take an hour nap, sitting at my desk, resting my head on my backpack; and while it was not necessarily the most comfortable setting, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to take a nap mid-morning at work in the first place. Counting my blessings…

After pushing through the day, albeit feeling much better following my nap, I knew I wanted to go home and stream a restorative yoga video to help my body and mind unwind and relax. (Brief side note here, if you like online yoga videos, but haven’t checked out DoYogaWithMe yet, do so now! It’s an absolute MUST!) Unfortunately, the wifi in my apartment was acting up yesterday and I was unable to stream a full video without significant stops and interruptions.

If you don’t know the premise behind restorative yoga, it is “the centering of your breath and body- aligning the physical and mental by practicing stillness or gentle movement for extended periods of time…” Think of it very loosely illustrated as “adult nap time.” Therefore, with that being said, one cannot successfully practice stillness nor quiet the mind if your video is constantly being interrupted by re-buffering delays.

This is not the first time I have experienced such a problem. It has happened before, a few times. Sometimes I try reloading and waiting out the poor connection. Other times I switch to Travis Elliott’s 108 Days Yoga Challenge, as you can stream the cross-training video for free on YouTube (another awesome video to checkout if you like streaming yoga online). But yesterday I knew cross-training was going to be too much for me so I did something new. For the first time since beginning my regular practice four months ago, I led myself through fifty minutes of restorative/yin practice all on my own, without the help of an instructor, video, or anything of the sort.

I am very proud of myself for having achieved this so successfully. I believe it speaks to how much knowledge I’ve gained about poses in a restorative practice. I also believes it speaks strongly to mindfulness. I believe it represents that I’ve come a great distance with regards to mindfulness, since beginning my practice. I don’t believe when I first began, that I retained neither the knowledge nor the discipline that it takes to guide ones’ self solely through restorative or yin yoga. All I can take out of yesterday’s experience is that it is evidence that what I’m doing every week truly is making a difference and having a positive impact on my life. In many more ways than one too.

For this discovery, I am very proud of myself. I take it as a moment of victory, that when I set my mind on something and truly commit myself, then look at what I’m able to achieve. Look how far I’ve come. I also take it as encouragement to not give up. Keep pushing forward and discovering more victories through weekly practice, commitment, and dedication to something (new or old) in life. Stay committed; stay the path; your efforts will yield wonderful results. Mine certainly have done so, and I’m just so happy and proud of myself for how far I’ve come.

This story also brings me, once again, to a very recurrent theme throughout my writing: gratitude. Again, I must express my gratitude for all the experiences afforded to me in Thailand. I believe the level of commitment to my practice that I’ve wanted to reach for some time, would not have been possible, had it not been for my decision to move across the world on my own. I needed time, and space, and I’ve found both those elements to life over here.

Timing. It’s funny how things so often come down to just that. I have the time to focus on myself since moving to Thailand. Time everyday focused on self-reflection, evolution, and growth. Time to put my needs and my happiness before all else in life. Clearly I didn’t have such time (or rather didn’t know how to FIND/MAKE such time) back at home. Or else, I don’t believe I would have fallen into such a dark space, in the months leading up to my departure. A space full of depression, self-doubt, anxiety, and frustration.

That space has since been filled with an endless amount of brightness and light! It is now a space full of happiness, laughter, adventure, new relationships, smiles, and love.

Traveling solo was exactly the remedy that I needed, to combat the rut I found myself in at just twenty-six years into life. I needed to get away from everything, but not because I was running away from my fears. Rather I needed time and space to be alone for a little while, to recenter and focus my life. And that’s exactly what I’ve been doing for the past four months, and for that, I am thankful.

Following my blog post last weekend, that was written to ultimately explain why I have decided to leave Thailand after only half a year, many people reached out to me. Again, the myriad of responses and reactions that I received came as quite a surprise, if I’m being honest. Some people extended their sympathy and loving words of encouragement and praise. While others though, read into my blog with a negative perspective of my words, and for this reason, I believe, misinterpreted my opinions quite drastically.

Let me explain. I did not write my last blog as a blast against Thailand. I did not write it to completely contradict all of the wonderful things I’ve shared and the positive experiences I’ve had in Thailand over the past four months. Rather, as a writer, I believe I owe it to my readers the justice of sharing the whole story about my experiences while in Thailand; and among the positives, there also have been some negatives scattered here and there too.

The problem lies then, with the fact that I have previously only discussed the positives for some time now, as it relates to my experiences in Thailand. Why? Well ironically because I’ve actually been afraid of how people might react to the “whole” truth. It seems now, in hindsight, that some of my fears were indeed warranted.

I’m not saying here that what I’ve been writing these past four months hasn’t been the truth, because it has. Every single wonderful experience and smile that I’ve shared along the way has been real. It is the truth, but there’s indeed more to the “whole” truth that I haven’t been brave enough to share (or at lease not until a week ago…).

But I hope to calm the voices of doubt by explaining that everything I write is simply my own opinions, and it’s certainly not meant to be taken/intended to be read as facts. If anything, opinions must be more heavily scrutinized. Therefore in no way do I write these words neither to ever deter people from moving to Thailand, nor deter them from having their own life experiences and adventures.

Rather in my personal opinion I believe I’ve done just the opposite for my readers. Look through my past four months of blogs and you’ll easily uncover far more positive reasons to come here than negatives. Just because I’ve sprinkled a few negatives in my stories over the past few weeks does not mean that I don’t enjoy life here.

Please do not read into more than what I’m saying. All I’ve tried to do is paint a better, more complete, and well-rounded picture of my life since having moved to Thailand. I would never intend for a single negative to completely erase or eradicate all of the positives that I’ve been writing about over the past four months. But in an attempt to tell the “whole” truth, I finally worked up the courage to shine a small light onto another side of living abroad. And to my dissenters’ opinions or beliefs about me after my last post, I say this:

I am living a real life over here, and as such, in life with the positives will always come at least a few negatives. Because as the saying goes, which is as true now as it ever has been, there’s no such thing as perfection. And along that line of reasoning, then I must admit that Thailand is not perfect. Neither though, do I believe, was my life back at home before I moved; or nor do I anticipate a perfect life in Germany when October rolls around. Rather as with everything, everywhere, and everyone, moving to Germany and starting a new job and a new life in Europe, will too bring with it a few negatives along the way. But this is normal. This is life. And this is something that I’ve decided that I’m ready and willing to risk; for without risks, life will cease to offer us rewards.

balance

Alas, I must repeat, I do not regret for even a mili-second, my decision to move to Thailand. Nor am I closing the door on this chapter of my life with a sour or upset impression of this wonderful country. Just the opposite is in fact true. When I look back on the five months I will have spent living, working, and exploring in Southeast Asia I will remember my time only fondly and with a smile on my face.

Thailand has truly been wonderful to me, despite a few hiccups along the way. But hiccups, just as they are an annoyance when they happen in life, are too a simple fact of life. Something to be overcome, not something to concede defeat to; something to view as a challenge that can and will be defeated, not an impossibility.

So to that, as I have said so many times before, I express my deepest and most sincere humility and gratitude towards Thailand: to the people, the places, and the culture that I’ve experienced; which has allowed me to grow, evolve, and blossom into a beautiful version of myself. Someone who is happy, healthy, and very proud of the person whom I am today.

“A good traveler has no fixed plans, and is not intent on arriving.” -Lao Tzu

Ubon Ratchathani: Motorbikes, wax, candles, and more!

Ubon Ratchathani: Motorbikes, wax, candles, and more!

“Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger in the long run is no safer than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” -Helen Keller

So much to write, such a long weekend. Earlier this week I traveled to Ubon Ratchathani, with fellow teacher traveler Laura, and we had an absolute blast! Ubon is the easternmost province in Thailand. It borders both Laos and Cambodia. Not only was this trip a chance to travel east, but the true purpose of our visit to Ubon was it’s world-famous candle festival that celebrates the beginning of Buddhist Lent, on 19 and 20 July.

The Ubon Ratchathani Candle Festival is the country’s most elaborate traditional parade of life-size wax sculptures to wats (Thai temples) at the start of the Lenten period. This tradition is rooted in preparation for rainy season, when devout Buddhists donate items for the personal use by monks. During Buddhist lent, monks retreat to their temples and live off only donations provided to them and the light of candles. Also called Vassa, it is the annual three-month period taking place during the rainy season, that dates back to the era of Gautama Buddha. Rooted in Indian traditions, it was common to not travel during the rainy season so as to not harm crops, animals, or even themselves at times. The celebration of this period has evolved into a national two-day holiday all across Thailand, though Ubon is home to the original and most elaborate candle festival to date.

Our trip started on Saturday, last weekend, though we didn’t leave Bangkok until 6pm. I had a lazy morning at home, before getting packed, showered and ready to go. I met up with Laura at 1:15 to head to Bangkok for our flight to Ubon. We settled on flying after I overheard another co-worker last Wednesday mention how he was unable to buy his train ticket as early as last Monday, 11 July. This came as quite a shock to me, because I have been under the impression that you don’t pre-book tickets for Thai train travel. Instead, you just show up to the counter prior to the time of train you’d like to take and ask for your ticket. Although true for most every other time of year, being that Ubon is home to the original candle festival, apparently people from all over Thailand flood the small city for the holiday weekend, making train, van and bus travel virtually impossible for last-minute travelers.

Prior to making it to the airport, Laura and I had a bit of a trip ahead of us. First, we took a van to Victory Monument, then we transferred to the Sky Train (BTS) for one stop, and finally we switched to the city line that took us directly into the airport. It was really nice for once though, because Laura already knew how to get to Suvarnbhumi (BKK) because she had just done the trip three separate times when her family was in Thailand visiting two weeks ago. This meant that I got to simply tag along, follow her where she went, and didn’t have to meticulously plan how to get to the airport from Ayutthaya, aside from taking a taxi. It ended up taking quite a while for us to get where we needed to be, we rode the Sky Train the wrong direction at first, mai pen rai, but we finally arrived to get in line to check-in for our flight by 4:15.

This turned out to be perfect timing actually. We found our gate and then decided to grab a drink while we were waiting to board. We stumbled upon a small Irish pub where I enjoyed a delicious Guinness on draught. One of the many things I miss in Thailand is access to good beer. About half way through our drinks though, while Laura and I were deep into a great conversation getting to know each other a little bit better, we were interrupted by a guy sitting next to us at the bar. He interjected, started saying some really odd, and honestly very confusing things about Americans and how we talk, and namely what we talk about. Laura and I were both utterly confused and just wanted to finish our drinks and leave. I’ve met such a wide range of people over here, and most of the time other ex-pats are a delight to talk to, but this guy certainly does not make that list.

Our plane ended up being delayed almost an hour, thanks #thaitime, but we finally took off by 7pm. We landed in Ubon just about forty-five minutes later, a very quick flight, and found a metered taxi to get to our hotel, The Outside Inn. What a delightful place! The man who owns the hotel is originally from Portland (small world), the staff was very nice, spoke excellent English, and were all very eager to help. They have a restaurant as well, Brent’s wife does most of the cooking, and they serve delicious Mexican food in Thailand! For dinner on Saturday, after unloading our packs in our room, Laura and I shared a plate of nachos, tried their “crazy spicy” salsa (it was SPICY, but so good), and had some drinks before heading up to bed.

On Sunday our day started around 7am. We woke up, had breakfast downstairs, and asked about how to get to Pha Taem National Park, one of the things on our agenda for the week. Brent gave us two options; we could rent a car for the hour-forty-five minute drive there, for one thousand baht; we could add a driver as well for just three hundred baht extra; or we could rent motorbikes from the hotel for 250/day. Laura and I were sort of on the same page at this point. We both really wanted to go to the national park, but we didn’t want to pay 1300 baht, and we also were very interested in learning/practicing how to drive a motorbike, something on my Thailand bucket list.

Our final decision, we rented the motorbikes on Sunday to drive around Ubon, get familiar and comfortable with them, and then we’d decided whether or not we wanted to drive them to the national park the next day. Sunday turned out to be a great day, despite the nearly-unbearable heat and humidity. We drove around Ubon, went shopping, walked a bit in the 100+ degree heat, checked out the carnival, then had lunch at a great placed called Peppers Cafe. It is run/owned by an American/German ex-pat living in Thailand, who says everything he puts on his menu are things he can’t live without in Thailand (salad, pasta, pizza, Mexican, German food, French food, to name a few…). We made it back to The Outside Inn for a quiet evening, Laura and I played cards, and shared a pitcher of Chang (Thai-style lager) from the tap.

Despite a lovely day, I ended up running into a few bumps along the road on my own on Sunday. My shorts got very wet from riding the motorbike all day in the heat, and this caused me to have some serious chaffing problems, ouch! It grew more and more significant as the day wore on when we were walking around the carnival and doing some shopping. Instead of driving from place to place, we parked the bikes, walked around, thus my legs were pretty raw after a long, very HOT day. I still managed to have fun though, even after I tripped on a fallen electrical cord on the sidewalk and scraped the top skin of my toe off too. It didn’t feel good by any standards, but it looked far worse than it felt when it was gushing blood. At this point in time, we were still making our way back to our parked bikes, my legs were raw, my toe was bleeding, and all I wanted to do was get back to our hotel room, change into long pants, and relax. All injuries aside, we made our way back to the park, made an obligatory first-aid stop at 7-11, and finally reached the bikes before getting home for the night.

If Sunday was a lovely day, then Monday turned out to be magnificent! This was the day we ventured away from Ubon to explore and go hiking in Pha Taem National Park. Monday morning we woke up, had breakfast, got driving directions, and by 10:15am having only one day experience driving a motorbike, Laura and I set off on our adventure. Since I had little experience from the day prior driving on any main roads, the drive to Pha Taem was quite intimidating from the beginning. I basically had white knuckles the whole way to the park, and although Google maps predicted our ride would take about an hour and forty-five minutes, that estimation was for cars and we were driving much slower than the speed limit, especially on the way there. It took a while to get accustomed and more confident with my ability to drive. Ultimately it wasn’t my own abilities that concerned me though. Rather I was much more nervous by what everyone else on the road might do, Thai drivers are insane!

Long story, and an even longer drive to the park, but a little over two hours later we finally reached Pha Taem. The first stop, prior to reaching the park entrance, was Wat Tham Khuha Sawan. This temple sits on a cliff overlooking what’s called the “Two-Color River”. The place where two rivers join, the brown Mekong River and the blue Mun River, it also creates the border between Thailand and Laos. The views were amazing, the temple was quite beautiful, and there was a huge gong painted with many Asian flags on it, although I’m unsure of it’s significance.

When we reached the park we paid our 400 baht entrance fee and stopped at Sao Cha Luang and Lan Hin Taek. The first of which is a unique rock structure, and the second is a rock with a huge crack separating it down the middle. From there we drove on to the visitor’s center, saw the place of the “First Sunset in Siam”, had a coffee and got to pour wax for the candle festival on Tuesday. Up next was the day’s highlight.

The hike through the park follows a path along the base of a 600-meter cliff edge, painted with ancient hieroglyphics depicting daily life in Thailand. This hike was just magnificent! I took way too many pictures, of course, but none of them truly do justice to the views we were afforded on our hike. Although I didn’t bring enough water, and I was sweating an abnormal amount, the day was still so much fun.

After our hike we drove further into the park to see one of the waterfalls, Soi Sawan. Unfortunately this waterfall turned out to be nothing more than a small swimming hole. Not quite the grand sight we were hoping to see. Not to worry, we enjoyed a further bit of a hike, hopped back on our bikes, and headed back to Ubon around 4:30. We wanted to beat the sunset back and just about made it into town, right as the sun was setting and it was getting dark. I am at a loss for anything more to say than it was so much fun!

Monday certainly was a day not to be topped, but definitely matched by the events on Tuesday at the Candle Festival. On Tuesday morning Laura and I decided we would sleep in, eat breakfast, pack, and stay at The Outside Inn until check-out at 11am. We both wanted to enjoy our last bit of time there and wished we could have stayed another night. Eventually though, we packed up and were ready to find our new hotel we had reserved for Tuesday night, before venturing to Thung Si Muang Park to check out what it looked like for the Candle Festival that evening. I had made our reservation for Tuesday night on Hotels.com (we couldn’t stay at The Outside Inn on Tuesday as they were already fully booked when I requested our dates), I already paid for the room, and had received a confirmation number and a receipt, my credit card was already charged. The place we were staying at wasn’t nearly as nice as The Outside Inn, but it put us about one kilometer closer to the park for walking purposes and was a bed to sleep in. With our packs on our backs and directions on Laura’s phone, we headed out at 11 in the 90 degree heat, with 70% humidity, and walked to Thawesook Grand Mansion. Once we arrived, we simply wanted to ask for a place to store our bags till check-in later, but as it turns out we were in for quite the surprise.

First problem: the girl working at the desk spoke no English. No problem, mai pen rai, I’ll just show her my booking confirmation and payment on my phone…or so I thought. Second problem: the hotel was overbooked, for quite possible the single busiest night out of three hundred and sixty-five days in Ubon, and we didn’t have a room! Third problem: this being the busiest night of the year, in an otherwise relatively small, quiet, non-tourist town, I had discovered that basically everywhere else in Ubon was also fully booked. Okay, still no need to panic, although I was getting slightly frustrated by this point, being that I had already paid for my room in full.

The first thing before any rational solution could be made was getting past the significant language barrier between Laura, myself, and the Thai front desk associate. Somehow, by the grace of God, and a seriously good dose of fate and good karma, there happened to be a Thai man who walked in to the lobby minutes after us, had been waiting (and listening…) all the while to our conversation (or rather lack-there-of, if you take into consideration the language barrier), who wound up speaking excellent English and offered to translate for us! Wow, did we luck out. The man told us even though our hotel didn’t have a room for us, they were working on finding us a different place to stay. We were instructed to take off our packs, sit down, and help ourselves to a cup of coffee while new arrangements were being made. About fifteen minutes later, after feeling frustrated, helpless, then eternally grateful for the kind Thai gentleman, Laura and I climbed into the back of a taxi to be driven to a different hotel with a room for us for the night.

Once we left, both Laura and I thought whether that situation would have turned out much differently, had it not have been for the helpful Thai gentleman? It’s a bit ironic, but based on my Thai travel experience thus far, honestly we probably would still have wound up in the back of that cab. Only major difference being because of our Thai gentleman friend, we knew why we were in the taxi and “where” we were headed. Without his help, we probably would have been ushered into the back of said taxi, looking at each other, neither one of us having a clue as to what was going on, but just simply hoping for the best…Chalk it up to Thailand travel and just go with the flow.

By the time we finally reached our new hotel, it turned out to be much further away from the park than I had hoped. One nice thing about leaving The Outside Inn was to have a shorter walk in the heat, but in reality, we had no such luck. All in all, despite my frustrations, and despite it’s less than ideal location (down some random back alley off a busy, Thai city street) our new hotel, called Varinthorn Residences, turned out to be fairly nice with very well-decorated rooms. When our room was finally ready we unloaded our bags and then headed out on foot to see what was going on at the park.

Something unique in Thailand (and probably many other countries where it is always so hot…) is how big into nighttime festivities everyone is. They’re really into night markets and often times things don’t get going till after five, due to the heat I can only assume. Despite it being just around 1pm we still decided to check out what was going on at the park at this point in time. By late Tuesday afternoon, Laura and I could start to see what we imagined would soon turn into an expansive production that evening. Streets were blocked off, there was a kid’s carnival setting up, lots of shopping, vendors selling everything from clothes, to jewelry, even hand-crafted wooden furniture was for sale. The options for street food were endless, the only thing missing by late afternoon time on Tuesday were the floats and the thousands of people who flood the city from all over Thailand to celebrate the traditional beginning of Buddhist Lent. A few hours of walking around and shopping later, it was still only 4pm and there was still no sign of candles yet.

At this point in time we were worn out, exhausted from Monday’s long hike, and dripping in sweat yet again due to the day’s heat and humidity. We decided to take a taxi back to our hotel, as I was far too tired and hot to walk again. Then, around seven we would grab dinner from Pepper’s Cafe again, finally making our way back down to the park on foot to see the highly-anticipated wax sculptures and parade floats. Again, things got a little bit more interesting when we tried to grab a tuk-tuk back to our hotel. After the first two drivers looked at the business card I handed them, with an address written in Thai, but seemed utterly confused as to where we wanted to go, I got slightly nervous. Not because we wouldn’t be able to walk home in the case that we ran out of other options, but rather because neither Laura nor myself could remember how to find the random alley our hotel was on, and no search results came up when we tried googling it for an address. Another potential crisis was adverted here because finally the fourth driver we asked seemed to have a grasp on our desired location. After settling on a fair price, (I’ve learned my numbers in Thai which helps IMMENSELY with bartering), we were driven back to our hotel, and I paid much closer attention how we got here for later on.

I was quite exhausted, and passed out for a two hour nap, nearly the moment I walked in the door and collapsed onto the bed. We got ready for dinner around six-thirty, walked to Pepper’s Cafe, and had a delicious dinner that did not disappoint. I am noticing that although I like Thai food, when I leave Ayutthaya on the weekends, I am more inclined to find alternate choices of cuisine, since Thai food is all I eat during the week. Pepper’s had wonderful salad (with REAL dressing, not just Mayonaise) and delicious Italian-style pizza. After dinner Laura and I walked back down to the park and were blown away by what we saw! Our expectations were far surpassed, and I am so glad we made it work to visit Ubon for this once-in-a-lifetime sight-to-see.

First, the parade floats! I should mention, I’m a pretty big parade-fanatic already, am a lover of floats, and easily impressed by what people can design, build, and create to be a moveable piece. Therefore I certainly expected to be impressed by floats made entirely out of wax, but I didn’t know just how amazed I was going to be. It was beautiful artwork, and uniquely Thai, a cultural experience I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to see up close.

Next, the crowds! As I mentioned before, Ubon is a relatively small, quiet city, without a lot of reasons for tourists to normally come visit. Except for once a year, in July, that is, when thousands of people flood the city to do the same thing that Laura and I were there for. Now I’ve been in crowded places before. I’ve gone to fairs, music festivals, amusement parks. I’m no stranger to crowds and how they’re organized and controlled in the West. But this is certainly not the West, and a huge festival in Thailand is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced in my life. Organization, what a concept? Security or crowd control, what is that? Nah, people in Asia live a much more “relaxed” lifestyle. Instead of over-planning and preparing all the fun out of an event, they like to just let things happen their own way. Traffic was backed up for miles, people walk in and out in the same places because there’s certainly no need to distinguish between an entrance versus the exit. You walk wherever there’s space, and you make space to walk where there’s none. It’s a (for lack of a better descriptive term) giant, shit-show, cluster-fuck! It’s a free-for-all, go-where-you-please, do-what-you-like, madhouse!

For example, I’m certainly no expert and I didn’t see any signs posted, but past experiences and common sense lead me to believe you’re not supposed to touch the wax sculptures. Going into Tuesday night I would have declared that with one hundred percent certainty. But based on what I saw when the floats finally arrived, I can no longer say that what I thought was a rule everywhere, also applies in Thailand…who knows?

What I do know is that despite the heat, travel mix-ups, heat, and sheer volume of people that flooded Ubon last week (did I mention the HEAT already?…), I had an amazing time! It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that I am so grateful to have experienced, and I surely will never forget!