Thursday, March 21, 2013


9:57am: Greta and I are walking into the basecamp bungalows for the last time before we part ways and journey off  to our next destinations. A Thai resident and basecamp worker greets us with a kind smile and asks us what we have planned for the day and we respond regretfully that we will be leaving. The man frowns back, "No leaving... you leave, no more sunshine." We both smile and I begin to sing, "Ain't no sunshine when she's gone." We make the way back to the bungalow, I grab my backpack, say my goodbyes to Greta, and head towards the pier. As I pass by, Mr. Sunshine yells out to me, "Hey, my friend, I see you when you see me!" I smile and wave. I walk about thirty feet more down the dirt road. A Thai man is sitting on a hammock, swaying with one leg propped up in a hold while the other traces lines on the ground. He waves to me and calls out, "you leaving?" I respond accordingly and he follows it up with, "My friend, good luck to you... Tonsai miss you." My smile is unmistakable. This is what a community feels like. This is my place.

Yesterday I laid on my belly, rocking and swaying with the waves, surrounded entirely only by water, with rock and sandy white beaches in the distances. The sun was setting and Greta and I had kayaked out to the middle of the ocean to see it. For a minute, I'm taken away from the moment. My legs are hanging off the end, floating on the top of the water and my face is squished into the side of the bright red kayak. My eyes keep alternating between opened and closed. I want to close my eyes, count my breaths and feel the moment, but the sights are too astounding to close your eyes for more than a few seconds at a time. My face is nearly at water level and the sun traces a dancing line of light that reaches out from the distance and finds my face. I feel alive. I want to engrave this moment in my mind and keep it safely tucked away there forever. Just then, while trying to pull myself into a sitting position, I topple off the kayak, into the water, scratching my stomach and then kicking a big piece of coral in the water... I might write gracefully but let's not forget how UNGRACEFUL I really am. A perfect seal on a perfect moment.

Two nights ago I laid flat on my back with the soft sand of Tonsai  cushioning my back. Looking up to view a sky full of stars for the first time in months left me feeling breathless. I don't remember the last time I saw visible stars, but it was surely not during my year in Seoul. The green lights in the distance paint the horizon a turquoise blue, only fading to black where dark silhouettes of the island rocks shoot up to the sky. Aside from myself and  my four friends, there are hardly any other people on the beach. The only interruption is the reggae music coming from the bar behind us, but it's welcomed by the swaying of my feet in the sand as I lay back on my elbows. Here everyone speaks about wanting to "get away" from the touristic beaches and finding somewhere untouched. I'm unbiased and honestly just happy to be anywhere as beautiful as this. While others are spending their time looking for this untouched place,  here I am enjoying it. It leaves me wondering: Is this real? How did I get here? (And) Do I have to leave?

Three days ago I rock climbed  for the first time. I'm not talking rock wall type stuff; I'm talking real massive cliff rock climbing. I met up with two of my friends from Korea here, one  of my favorite couples, Arvi and Robin. They are avid climbers so when they told me to come join them, I knew I could trust them not to let me die. I would be lying to say that I wasn't scared at first. However, once I reach the top of the 30m boulder and Arvi called out, "now turn around and take a look," all my fears dissipated. I was at the top of a boulder, the clear water ocean outstretched behind me, and my friends looking  like ants below me. Untouchable. This must be a rock climbers heaven. The next day, Greta and I hiked from one  island to the next, making our way from Tonsai to Railay. It took a lot of time and sweat to make  it there, but once there we were greeted by caves, massive rock formations with climbing  ropes leading us up and down to a beautiful blue lagoon and a viewpoint overlooking the islands. After our hiking adventure, we  made our way to Pranang Beach to watch the sunset before venturing back over to our side of the island.


Staying in Tonsai was like a small slice of heaven. Sure, we had no WiFi access on the island, had electricity for only a few short hours in the evening, cold showers, a bucket of water to flush the toilet with,  and a bungalow lacking airflow but excelling in insect population, BUT, we also had beautiful scenery, outrageous adventures, and a Thai community that made us feel like family every day. It was worth every second.  Backpacking has definitely taught  me how to be more laid back about things and  Tonsai especially has taught me how people can live happily without having it all. Happiness and a good life does not come from what you have but what you making  of it. Happiness is not a destination, it's a mind set. I'm happy.

Sunday, March 3, 2013


My head hangs out the window as I take my first 3rd class train from one  place to the next in Thailand. The wind crashes against my face and my lips form a smile as my mind wonders back to Chelsea. She always loved sticking her head out the window in the car and Lauren and I would tease her about her  puppy like tendencies. It's amazing how even while I'm the other side of the world, often times, simple moments can bring  me right back to my loved ones at home in the states.

I'm taking the train to Ayythaya after spending another two days in Bangkok. After I allow myself time to enter into memories of car rides with Lauren and Chelsea, I bring myself back to now. I let the wind fall across  my face as I encounter more recent memories made here in Thailand. I think back to the Thai man who offered me the sincerest smile when I boarded the train and the old woman who kindly asked me where I was  heading with a smile. I think about the little Thai boy who I found playing in boxes on the street and how he asked me to stack them three levels high and then reached his arms towards the sky requesting that I pick him up and set  him inside. I recall his giggle and his grandmother's smile as she watched him interact with me. I remember the feeling when I stood at the top of Wat Arun, with the city outstretched before me. Last night I sat in a tuk tuk with two other travels from Whales and Denmark. Our driver was racing through the streets so quickly that we were holding on for dear life. It wasn't until he started doing wheelies that I feared my life. I think back to the drivers face after I screamed and when he slyly said, "Enjoy?".  I look at my map and see print scribbled on it in black marker; two Philippino women I met briefly at a market lunch gave me their contact information and told me to call them if I ever visit Manilla. Memories. Moments that make up your life. I smile to think back on these recent ones and  how they will stay with me forever.

I think about the last week and that although it's taken me until today to realize it, I know I can conquer this trip on my own. The truth is that I have been a bit back and forth since I got here. I started out excited but quickly became hesitant about whether or not I was cut out for this kind of travel. It requires a lot of patience, motivation, and self reliance. I've been questioning myself a lot... until now. I realize that today I conquered a lot on my own. I somehow managed to make it to the floating markets and back (allowing myself to put trust in my own judgement and the sincerity of others), found my way back to my hostel, managed to take a public bus to the train station, bought a ticket, boarded a train, and now I'm on my way. As simple as it sounds, I have been worried about completing tasks such as these alone in a foreign country that's new to me because this isn't  Korea and  I don't have the same cushioning I had upon arrival there.

So now, as I begin my journey north, I feel better than I did yesterday and the day before that and the day before that. I know that this journey is going to make me stronger as long as  I have faith in myself and an open mind to the things around me. I'm laminating the memories from chapter one of my trip and starting to fill up another page today. Today I was reminded of the Rachel I became in Korea. The one who learned how to delight in uncertainties instead of stress about them. Once again, I'm reminded that perhaps having no idea what you are doing or where you are going is the beginning of life when you learn to live freely.

Lastly, I must admit one last thing... I couldn't stop grinning when the conductor came to stamp my ticket and asked my destination SIMPLY because  I felt like I was aboard  the Polar Express. SWEET.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

SURPRISE: Welcome to Bangkok

If  I were to make a movie about the life of a backpacker in Bangkok, Thailand, this is how the opening scene would play out...

An alarm goes off at 6am and a girl rises quickly in an attempt to dismiss it without waking the other 15 people asleep in her room, and  more specifically the thirty year old German man sleeping unnecessarily close to her who has a very specific fear of spiders. She trots to the bathroom and gets cleaned up for the day ahead. Sometime between 7 & 730, she is supposed to be picked up by a bus en route to the floating markets just under two hours south of Bangkok. She slides on her shoes, clicks the sunscreen shut and checks her watch. 6:47. Always better to be ahead rather than behind. Being that she is the only one awake at this hour, in a hostel on the outskirts of Khaosan Rd (a backpackers drinking paradise), she silently slips down the steps and out the door and takes a seat on the sidewalk in front of "Born Free Hostel." She waits. 7:00. And she waits. 7:30. And she waits some more. 8:04. In the mean time she swaps Malaysian coins with a boy from Germany, smiles at the local Thais biking by, chats with a friend in America, and sits with her feet plotted in front of her, only interrupted by the sound of passing motorbikes and the frustration building slowly inside her head. 8:17. She starts to wonder if the bus is ever coming when the hostel owner swings open the door and greets her with a smile. The girl questions him and the man and his girlfriend make some phone calls only to realize that the transport reservation had gone unseen the day before. She is assured, "Wait ten more minutes and they will come. Their mistake." The hostel owner slips out and rounds the corner to seven eleven. Three minutes later a Thai man semi frantically busts through the door, "floating market, floating market!" At this point the scene is picking up pace. The girl rounds the corner and exits the doors  only to see a motorbike sitting in front of the hostel with a Thai man saying "you come with me, let's go." She points to the bike wide eyed and says, "Mini bus?" The Thai responds back, "No, no. I take you car. Let's go."  You can sense the hesitation in her demeanor but she hops on anyway. WHEN IN BANGKOK. Off they go, all the while, passing the hostel owner with a wave, and riding on and off streets and sidewalks. They pull into a back alley (it's eight am.. do murder scenes take place this early? NAH. Relax Mom). The Thai man points to his car. The girl looks at him, then back to the car and questions him, "you and me.. together only?" He answers back, "Yes we go. Let's go. Okay, okay?" Zoom in and freeze on the girls face. At this point you can actually SEE the hesitation written all over her face. She asks again, "Floating market tour?" He reassures her, "Okay. Let's go." She gets in and eyes the papers in his hand that she verifies as a list of tourists signed up for the same tour. A good sign. She skeptically asks the man, "We drive all the way there together? Only two? You drop me off.. how do I get back?" The Thai guy puts on his pink sunglasses, pops in a piece of double mint, and shrugs, "Hmmm... Maybe, I don't know yet?" The screen freezes on the girls expression that can only be described as somewhere between what the hell, this is hilarious, and I'm gonna die. The title fades into the screen in bold letters, "SURPRISE: Welcome to Bangkok," and the song "Don't worry, be happy starts to play." END SCENE.

This is what my life seems to be in south east Asia. If I had to come up with a one word slogan to explain what life is like here, simply put, it would be "SURPRISE!" I have only been in South East Asia for a week and it has already taught be something that I THOUGHT I had already learned in Korea. In Korea you get things thrown at you here and there, but in these south eastern countries, it's more a fly by the seat of your pants place than anywhere else I've ever been. And so, I believe it has taught me something already, and that's NOT to stress about things that you cannot control. In this country if you make it a habit of stressing every time something doesn't go as planned, you will spend 80% of your time stressing.

The story above really did happen this morning and although I spent at least 50 of the 90 minute drive there planning my method of escape and plotting out a way to get back to Bangkok if I got left in the middle of nowhere, he really WAS with the travel agency and he got me there in one piece (although barely, the driving on this country gives me nearly the same rush as bungee jumping). I knew he was an okay guy at one point when he hit the brakes too hard and outstretched his hand in front of me.  Sold.

The situations I've been in lately have been absolutely absurd. It's no wonder to me that Bangkok has a reputation of "crazy," but as it is teaching me to relax about things more  I'm really starting to like it. I think finally, after a passing week here, I'm starting to mellow out and  join in on the backpackers vibe of, "just go with it."

Oh and just a small brag worthy update: I have eaten a grass hopper and a scorpion. I have also held a 20-30lb boa constrictor around my neck. I have done wheelies on a tuk tuk ride AND fish ate dead skin off my feet. WEIRD.