Thursday, January 6, 2011

Thailand - land of smiles and unforgettable kind souls

Happy New Year everyone!

I recently went on an Island hopping tour in Thailand, with the intention to get away from family, who were too eager to show their hospitality to the point of overwhelming me. I just wanted to lie around doing nothing on gorgeous Thai beaches for a week.  Turned out the itinerary was so packed, I visited something like 12 beaches in 7 days. Instead of lying around, I ended up snorkeling, swimming, fishing, hiking, boating, and was exhausted every day.  However, my normally over-critical/analytical mind got a nice break. My thought process, often stuck in a habitual way of thinking, also got refreshed with new perspectives, so I call this trip a success.

A few examples of gorgeous beaches I visited
The beaches were as pristine and beautiful as expected. However, knowing that Thailand is an ultra-popular tourist destination, I was somewhat expecting an over-commercialize trip with local vendors trying to sell me stuff everywhere I go and scam me every chance they get. By the end of the trip I felt like I've never been pampered so well in my life and seriously did not want to go home.

The highlight of my trip was a 2-day camping trip on a remote island, with a pristine beach but a campsite full of mosquitoes, monitor lizards, and bathrooms with no hot water.

A monitor lizard. These guys are HUGE and like to hang out at the entrance of lady's bathroom  at night.

Despite all this, the people who ran the campsite absolutely won my heart. They operated the long-tail boat, carried our luggages, took us fishing and snorkeling, cooked us delicious breakfasts, lunches and dinners, and at night time, they laid out these nice straw mats for us to sit and relax on the beach. Then one of the whipped out a guitar, and started playing Thai folk music. One of the boatmen started to sing, and then all the others joined him. It sounded like heaven. The guys were shy at first, but after a few drinks (cheap Thai Whiskey), they were singing their hearts out like choir boys putting on their best performance and genuinely showing their joy on their beautiful faces. The only other times I got to see this kind of sincerity were maybe at elementary school performances.  As the night went on they started offering us what they were drinking and smoking. I felt like I was at their home and they were doing everything they could to make us feel more at home.  It was a magical experience I will never forget.

I was on this boat for quite a few days. Loved every minute of it.
The guys who ran our boat during the day. Later on more guys came out and formed a nice choir

It's really hard to organize all the intense thoughts and feelings I have about this trip. Below are a few points I wanted to mention:

1. I feel so blessed to have had the opportunity to spend a few days with these people, who were gentle, polite, smart, observant, hardworking, highly skilled at their jobs, and carried such gorgeous smiles. They went out of their ways to pamper and entertain us every day. Even though they did not speak much English, and I spoke zero Thai, I felt like they could often read my mind (really good hospitality skills maybe?), and they really enjoyed what they do.

2. Drinking and smoking: I know that these habits are bad for the body and normally avoid them, especially smoking. However, at this particular occasion, I felt that since I didn't speak their language or know their songs, sharing a drink with them was the best way to connect with the locals and I have a feeling they really appreciated it.  To be honest, they live a much healthier lifestyle compared to us anyways: getting up at 6-7am every morning, doing labor work, swimming every day, developing superb balancing skills running up and down the simple long-tail boat, eating freshly caught fish all the time, and living a low-stress life.  Actually, when I declined the cigarette they offered me (I was afraid I'd cough and tear up and make a fool of myself), they paused, looked at each other, withdrew their offer, and said to me, "Good to not smoke. Smoking bad for you!"  I thought that was really cute :)

3. Did I do any yoga during this trip? No. It just didn't feel right do bust out some yoga moves on this remote island (although many islands did offer yoga classes for the same price as back home, which is a total rip-off, compared to the prices of everything else there). However I felt on this trip I received every benefit that yoga has to offer. I got 2 Thai massages within 9 days. The first one fixed my tweaked neck which had been bothering me for days since before the trip. The second one fixed my achy hip flexors. Thai massage is also known as "Lazyman's yoga" so I got my asana and stretches in for the week. For exercise, I swam and snorkeled 7 days in a row. The last time I went for a swim was November 2009, so this was quite a feat for me. In a way snorkeling is a great pranayama exercise. I found when I didn't maintain rhythmic breathing, I got tired very easily, not to mention salt water splashed down my throat. Only when I finally got a breathing rhythm established, could I really feel at peace and fully enjoy the beautiful view of underwater sceneries. One thing I love about yoga is the connection I make with yoga teachers and fellow yogis. Yoga teachers go out of their way to pamper students, while the yoga community consists of many genuine people striving to support and connect with each other (shout out to the cyber yoga community!). It's pretty bizarre but awesome at the same time to experience the same level of connection and kindness from a bunch of young boys who fish and drive boats for a living. I was also fortunate to be traveling with a group of lovely travelmates from all over the world as well as a superb Thai tour leader who also took great care of us and got us from place to place smoothly.

The year 2010 was a time of my intense obsession with yoga. I am thankful since it was what I needed badly at the time. This trip cured my OCD and showed me that while yoga is a wonderful thing, there are alternative things in life that could offer me much joy too :) I am so lucky to get the chance to travel to remote places in order to gain new perspectives and am grateful to all the beautiful souls who showed me examples of goodness of mankind. There is hope for this world yet :)