You meet a lot of free spirits with unconventional stories when you travel around Thailand. Twenty-somethings who previously worked for years at a desk job until they earned enough savings to couch surf and teach English across Asia. One young woman lost her job unexpectedly days before her vacation, another guy lost his house to a fire; both took it as a sign to start a new chapter of their lives here. Still another guy I met had traveled for decades around the world seeking out differences, only to realize that people really are the same no matter where you go.
I talked with a Bostonian today in my favorite cafe in Chiang Mai, who shared her plan to renovate a farmhouse in North Carolina with her boyfriend when she returns from her 2-year sojourn across Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos. Their farmhouse will be a beautiful venue for weddings, art shows, and parties, like something you would see on the pages of Dwell magazine. For now, she’s taking up odd jobs she finds on workaway.info, before she looks for an English teaching gig in Vietnam.
Our hosts here in Chiang Mai, Mark and Alanna, are young newlyweds from California who moved here to start their socially responsible trade business that will benefit some local hill tribes. Their two-story house in old city Chiang Mai is open and inviting, with light green walls and paintings of elephants here and there. When I got here this morning, after 24 hours spent on a train, I was thrilled to see their place has air-conditioning and a washing machine, too.
I’ve learned some important lessons in my short time here, through my conversations with foreigners and locals:
Knowing basic Thai phrases is helpful, but smiling and shared laughter are great substitutes to connect with the friendly people of Thailand.
Finding peace in the chaos of a loud, hot, crowded place comes from within. Dig deep if you have to.
Many people here are making their dreams a reality, not because they are rich, but because they have the passion and courage to try.
The things you miss most from home are what you most treasure in life. For me, I find myself missing a home I don’t have yet, in a cute little neighborhood somewhere in Portland. I miss my friends, my family, my dog. I miss writing without interruption.
As we round out our trip here in Chiang Mai, I am making a mental shift to focus less on what I miss and more on the now. I will drink in every moment I have left in this country. From the bar hopping tonight with our AirBnB hosts, to riding and bathing elephants tomorrow, and cooking classes the day after, I will be present.
With courage, love, and intensity,