Koh Lanta, Thailand

If I ever made memes, this picture would be the perfect one to use. I could use the caption, “If 2020 was a ship.” It would be the perfect representation of what life was like last year in all parts of the world. We as a society were not completely sunk, but we also weren’t floating along gracefully. We were operating at half tilt and hoping to somehow make it through. It isn’t just the larger countries either. Thailand is a great example of this. If you were able to travel to Bangkok at this time, it wouldn’t appear that it was a problem, but if you made it to some of the other destinations that relied heavily on tourism, you would have seen a different picture. It would be a place that was barely hanging on to what they had built and would barely be plugging along. This is what I saw of the southern island of Koh Lanta during the last leg of my winter vacation before the country moved towards a lockdown situation.

Koh Lanta is one of the bigger destinations for Europeans because of its long beaches, amazing surf, great food, and charming downtown area. I have been told that it is especially popular with people from the Scandinavian countries. There are the typical things you would see from a tourist destination in a tropical country. It has multiple resorts perching themselves in prime spots on the beaches, open air restaurants and bars, and shops selling merchandise to remind people where they had been at one point in their lives. The only thing it was missing was the tourists.

The old town there is one of the biggest draws for the tourists, and this is what the parking lot on the edge of it looked like right at the height of the lunch rush. Being there at a time like this had its advantages. I did not have to fight the crowds that I would have usually had to fight, and the beaches were for the most part mine, but at the same time it was a hard thing to see. There were many shops that were closed up because they just did not have the business that they needed, or if they were still open, the owners would sit at the edge of their business begging anybody who walked by to come visit their shop before they had to join the other businesses with closed doors.

Of course this meant that the cream of the crop were the establishments that survived. The restaurants we went to were some of the best food we ever had while traveling in Thailand. There was the French Bakery that served great sandwiches and burgers as well as making some great looking pizza. There was the Greek Taverna that was owned by a man from Greece. They did not have a big menu but the gyros that they sold there were made by hand and had an authentic flavor to them. There was Tuesday Morning, a small shack that on the side of the road that could have easily been missed, but had the best smoothies and great Asian inspired sandwiches and salads. And my favorite had to be the Diamond Cliff, a bar on the southern side of the island. It had the atmosphere of a ship and served great Thai dishes as well as western fare. It just showed me that the touristy places that usually thought about location and not so much about food could not compete with the places that actually knew what they were doing in such an economy.

There was still the charm of the location as I still came across various wats, temples, and mosques that allowed the citizens of the islands to hold on to their faith, but once again these places were empty. Normally in a place like this, I would have waited for a couple of minutes to get a picture as I waited in line for the other people to get in their pictures. This time I was able to walk right up and did not have to settle for a picture with some random tourist in it.

I don’t know if this was because of the aftermath of the situation that the world is experiencing right now, or if it is because the situation had finally arrived in full force in Thailand and the country was now preparing for its second wave in this catastrophe. It points out an important thing about places. No location should focus all of their energy in one direction. It is nice to know that a place can perfect themselves in that one direction, and there was enough evidence in Koh Lanta to see that they knew what to do with tourism, but they did not know what to do when this one thing was taken away from them.

I know that there is hope on the horizon and eventually the world will be able to turn that corner to getting back to the way it used to be. Some places are just going to have to limp along a little longer until that time comes, and Koh Lanta is no exception. It will take a long time for them to return to the place that I could see they once were, and I hope that they will be able to do that some day because I would like to be able to come back and experience it the way that it was meant to be experienced and not just watch it limp along like it is right now.

Back to the New Normal

            I have talked about my struggle before. Is it fair of me to talk about my travels while so many people are under lockdown around the world? Would this just make them angry, jealous or depressed? Would it do more harm than good?

            I could never decide if I should just wait until things opened up again before I started posting these stories again, and in the meantime, look towards other things I could write about while waiting for that moment. Things changed a little bit on this latest trip though. The day after we left, a large outbreak of Covid cases came out in Surat Sakorn, the province just southwest of Bangkok, and there was always talk of locking the country down again, making sure that its citizens were safe. During the first mention of the outbreak until this moment, I had to keep one eye on the news while keeping the other eye on my vacation. Well, the news came in the other day that they would restrict intra-provincial travel starting at 6 AM on Monday morning, and we were relaxing on the island of Koh Lanta on the southern tip of Thailand, a twelve-hour drive from our home. It meant that we needed to pack things up, get up early the next morning and take the drive back to our home before we got stuck somewhere far away from the comforts of home. It was Thailand’s turn to join the rest of the world as they braced itself for the fight against the second wave of Covid.

            There were mixed emotions when this announcement was made. The uncertainty of what to do fought against doing the right thing even though it was not something that we would enjoy doing. Logic prevailed and we joined the rest of the people who made their ways back to their homes to do their part. We had to cut our vacation short by a couple of days, but it was a small price to pay in order to make sure that we and those around us were safe. And I really can’t complain because while a lot of other people were not allowed to partake in those travel experiences, I had been enjoying life on a tropical paradise. But I realized that there was another thing that I should also be grateful for, the fact that the threat of a lockdown loomed over our heads the whole time we were on our trip.

            I know that sounds like a weird thing to appreciate, but hear me out because it changed the way I vacationed.

            A semester of school for a high school teacher is an exhausting experience, and by the time I put in that final grade, I am spent. I need those three weeks off to get my energy back and change my attitude. We have usually travelled to someplace relaxing to start our break off, and we have spent that time sitting around doing nothing of any importance. It has usually taken a week for us to get the courage to go out an explore our surroundings. I would not consider that time wasted because it is needed to get our heads straightened out.

            We were not given that opportunity this time around. Just knowing that our vacation could be taken away at any moment made us look at it in a different way. We needed to make the most out of our experience because the probability of spending time locked away in our home without anything to do loomed over our heads. It meant that if somebody offered us a kayak or paddleboard, we took them up on the offer. If there was a cave in a mountain that we could climb up to, we took on that challenge. If there was a choice of where to eat at for dinner, we did a little more research to make sure that we would not be disappointed in our choices. We sucked out the marrow from our vacation because the bone could be snatched away. In other words, we did not take the moments for granted.

            I cannot say that I have done this on my recent travels. Before Covid hit, I would happily move from place to place and every once in awhile take in everything that the place had to offer. I had become a little complacent with my travels, but Covid rejuvenated in me the reasons I loved travel in the first place and forced me to get out there are experience it in that way again.

            It takes me back to that struggle that I had when I first started writing about my travels, and now that I have thought about it, I am glad that I have made the choice that I have made. It demonstrated the ability to make the most out of every opportunity given to me. If this is the only thing that I take from this world-wide pandemic, I believe that it is an important lesson to learn. And I know that it might be hard for everybody else to see the same thing when they have been stuck in their homes through the holiday season, but I hope that they can see this as well.

            Before the world went into lockdown, people just muddled their way through life, rarely appreciating those moments that were given them, and making the most out of them. This does not mean just travel, but any moment where they could look back at with fondness. It could even be the smallest moment that is happening in your life right now, playing a game with your loved ones, taking a walk and waving to a neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or a sunset, or even sharing a laugh over a Zoom call. Whatever small thing it is, I have learned to savor it, for it might be some time before I get to have a moment like it again.

            I know I have been lucky with where I ended up and how well the situation has been handled in this country, but it had finally come to an end. This does not mean that I should be mad that this has been taken away from me; I should be happy that I was given the opportunity in the first place.

            I hope you can see that as well.

P.S. I was in the middle of putting a couple of other posts together before I was given this news to return home. My plan is to finish these posts and release them in the coming days, but understand that the trip is over and these are things that have happened before the lockdown took place. I am at home now, and I do not know when I will have the opportunity to get out there in the world again, but when I do, I will make sure to share it with all of you.

            Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please enjoy those moments when they are given.

Chasing the Sunset – Phuket, Thailand

One of the things that everybody visits if they come to the island of Phuket is the beach. It is impossible to miss one of them. They are all over the place. There are small beaches with an almost private feeling to them, big public beaches, sandy beaches, and even ones that are a little rocky. There are ones that look to the east in anticipation of the sunrise and there are one that look to the west and collect people on its shores to watch the sunset every night.

I have visited a lot of the beaches on my stay out here, and it has been a treat this time around. Phuket is still waiting for the tourists to return to the island, and the beaches are practically empty, but the city is ready for their return so they have been cleaning up the beaches which makes them really nice to walk on and enjoy.

The city life is a little different though. Many of the business owners have not returned and there are many for sale signs on buildings and restaurants that have not opened up in a long time. There are still enough of them out there to make it feel enough like a vacation and there are corners that are opening up again.

For the most part, I can feel a more positive vibe coming from the people of Phuket then I felt when I was out here during the summer. They know that there is hope around the corner and they can get back to the thriving economy that this place once was. It will be a slow process and there will be a struggle to get back there, but they are up for the challenge.

You can see it on the west facing beaches of Phuket. The people who live here have come down to watch the sunsets. They know it is the one feature of the island that can never be taken away even though they have not been as great as they are during the summer months. During my whole trip out here, there has been a collection of storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and I have never been able to see the sun set completely. I have had some nice views of it as it has reached the storm clouds, giving a hint at how glorious it can be, but it has never reached that level of spectacular. But just like the people of Phuket, I know that those clouds will eventually disappear and I will once again get to see its beauty. I just have to keep on chasing it until I get to see it for what it can be.

Until next time, stay safe and be kind to each other.

What It’s All About

When the death of thousands does not matter
‘Cause it does not directly affect you,
It makes your agenda even sadder
Because you did not act on what you knew.
Now that you use your elite position
To make risky investments on a cure,
It shows that your financial intention
About saving this country is not pure.
Your goal is to stuff your pocketbook
And dance on the grave of America.
I weep for the integrity you took
Behind the obvious lie of MAGA.
It will take many years to recover
From the way you left my home in tatters.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

As I close up on this vacation, I reflect back at the great time I was able to have in this northern city of Thailand. According to Wikipedia, it is the country’s second largest city, but it is so much smaller than Bangkok and so much more intimate. I do not feel the hustle and bustle that goes on constantly in the country’s capital, and it reminds me more of the city that I grew up in. It does not only have to do with the mountains that are always looming to the west of the city, or the slower pace that the city likes to enjoy. But it is the smaller town atmosphere that comes with Chiang Mai. Though it does sprawl along the base of the mountains, it does not feel like you are very far from any place else and if you wanted you could walk across the main parts of the city and come across a few people that you know while you are doing it.

I also have to count myself lucky that I landed in a country that has a variety of cities to go and visit during this uncertain time in human history. Thailand has done a wonderful job of keeping this pandemic out of its borders, but it is doing it by making sure there are strict rules set in place about who can enter and under what conditions. It is also stressed on everybody the importance of frequent temperature checks as well as wearing masks to keep the whole population safe. Things have loosened up every day because of these precautions, and even though wearing a mask is sometimes a little annoying, it is a small price to have to pay in order to enjoy these freedoms.

I also feel lucky that I am able to enjoy the sunsets over the beach towns in the south of Thailand during one excursion and turn around to enjoy the cooler mountain air of Chiang Mai on another one. The temperature out here has never gotten to the point where it is too chilly to go outside, but it was definitely cooler than the oppressive heat that we have been experiencing in Bangkok.

As we head into the holiday season in a part of the world that celebrates it a little differently than what I am accustomed to, it is nice to know that we have moved on from the quarantine struggle at the beginning of the year, to a time where I can go out and enjoy what the holidays have to offer. I still miss the opportunity to take a quick trip to my home country, but I know that as things progress that there will be a day that I will be able to see it again, and it means that I just have to take in stride all of what this part of the world has to offer me while I am here.

Even though it is a part of the world I have been to earlier, and I am already planning on coming back again for the lamps during New Year’s Day, it is nice to be able to take in Chiang Mai a second time around. The first time I was out here as a tourist, trying to experience all of it that I could as fast as I could, but this time around I get to savor the moments a little more. I was able to revisit the places I really enjoyed the first time here, and I got to find new places to look for the next time I am out here. And I found those little things that made it an even better experience, the art that amazed me, the people that made me feel welcomed, and the signs that made me laugh because of their loss of translation. It has been a great trip, and I am happy that I have been given opportunities to take moments like this when they are not always available to everybody.

No matter where you are, things will open up again some day, and we will be able to travel the world again. Until then, make the most of what you have and enjoy the experiences that are given to you. I have, and it has made life just a little more interesting because of that.

Back in the Air

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that on a regular basis I am making my way to the local airport to take a voyage to various places around the world. With a pandemic taking over everywhere, this option has not been made available and I have not been on a plane since last January. Though I do not miss being packed into a tiny cabin with thousands of strangers and trying to find a way to entertain myself while trying to get comfortable, I do miss the opportunity that this minor inconvenience allows me to take. I miss the excitement of travel, going to see things I have not seen before, and eating new food and having small adventures. I get that this is not the way of the world right now, and there are people that are making bigger sacrifices to get through this trying time, but it has been my way of recharging my batteries and getting ready for another long stretch as a teacher. So when the first break came along this school year, I hopped on the opportunity to get out of Bangkok and visit another part of Thailand. Granted I only voyaged to a place where I have been before, Chiang Mai, but it is nice to have a change of scenery.

This was also the first time that I have gotten back in a plane for a long time. It was only a one hour flight, but it was nice to know that this part of my life was starting to boot up again. Of course there were come concerns. Is it safe to be in a cabin with recycled air with so many people? How will things be different? Are they going to be as strict or will there be even more regulations, making air travel even more annoying than it was before?

Would there be some benefits? Would they separate us even more on the plane, giving all of us a little more room? Would they stop with food and drink service because it would require us to take off our masks and it was only a short flight anyways? Would getting off the plane be more organized without people pushing and shoving each other to beat each other off the plane?

Well, all of my questions were quickly answered. It was basically the way it was before, except everybody was required to wear a mask, and we had to wait for them to dismiss our row before we could get our bags and walk off of the plane. I actually liked that part. There are places in Asia where it is ridiculous to get off the plane. As soon as they land, people lose their minds as they try to be the first person off of a plane, even if they are seated all the way in the back row. I have had people shove me out of the way to try to make it one or two rows further up and get off the plane a couple seconds before me. I get the idea of wanting to get off a plane quickly, but I think when you do this, it only slows down the process, and lowers the respect I have for humanity in general.

As for the recycled air, I did happen to watch a piece on the nightly news the day before we left that demonstrated that air travel is actually safe, and even though you are seating right next to a person, they way they move the air through the cabin makes it like you are seven feet away from each other. Basically all of the air is pushed to ground and they are constantly bringing new air in from the top of the plane to replace the air that is being pushed out at your feet. All small air particles are pushed down away from places where you could get infected by a deadly disease. It was reassuring to hear this, but I have gotten sick after many plane long plane flights, and wondered how this explanation could account for that. Luckily this was a short flight, and I can’t recall having the same problem with my health on flights like this.

Overall, it was a quick, easy, and now very affordable way to get to my destination. I am still not able to leave the country because of a fear of being able to get back in, but it is nice to know that air travel is an option if I want to use it. I noticed that many international flights were cancelled yesterday as I looked for where I checked in, and hopefully someday these restrictions loosen up as well. Until I can see other nations of the world, I will continue to explore this great country of Thailand.

Until next time, be safe, and experience something new.

Drive on the Coast

We have made the afternoon for a drive
Over the wooded hills along the coast.
It feels good to get out of the hive
To chase away the collected year’s ghost.
Others are not willing to venture out
And reclaim the civilization’s shore.
Taking their time is what it is about,
And I should not coax them out of their door.
Until then, I am alone on the road,
Breathing in deeply, the wafting sea air
Where, at one time, my memory had stowed
What it had once been like to have been there.
This idea of freedom is fleeting,
But at any chance, it is worth repeating.

The Common Fight

We face this situation together.
There is no way we can reach victory
If we do not look out for each other
By protecting common territory.
I know we live in the land of the free
And our beliefs need to be respected,
But my right to freedom ceases to be
When simple courtesy is neglected.
These are the rights afforded to all men
To feel safe while walking down the street,
But this allotment begins to end when
My rights and your comfort start to compete.
It comes down to a simple thing to ask,
Have the decency to please wear a mask.

A Note about Travel Now – Siam Summer

I have struggled with whether I should be writing this blog about the time I have spent in downtown Bangkok right now. There are many countries in the world that are still under lockdown and many place are only starting to open their doors back to the world to see what it is like out there. A bunch of uncertainty hangs in the air about what will happen next and whether it is safe to go out and enjoy life again. Bangkok is also going through this. They just happen to be a little ahead of other countries with getting back to a daily hustle and bustle, yet there is still a long way to go. There have been a lot of question bouncing around the back of my mind as I wonder who stayed in this place before us, whether the places I have been going to have been taking it seriously, and why do some people believe they are above common safety reason by walking around without a mask. It makes me wonder if we are safe by doing this.

Then I think about the other side of it. Why am I living overseas? I am here to experience other cultures, and travel and see the world. It is the main reason that we made this choice, and if I spend all of that time in a little house looking out at my mango tree and waiting for a soi dog to walk down my street, I am not really living the life that I wanted to. I know that there are many people out there thinking the same way as they spend another day in quarantine, and it would not matter where I was in the world, but I would have to go through the same kind of experience of staying indoors. Though some people might believe otherwise, this is not a problem that is isolated to one country; it is a worldwide problem. It is just some countries did a better job of handling the problem than others, and if I am living in one of those countries, should I take advantage of it?

Thailand is one of those countries that did a great job of containing this virus. It is not completely under control yet. There are still cases popping up daily, but they are so minor, the biggest spike being 17 people one day in the last couple of week with it usually being under five people daily, that it would seem silly to keep a population of people at bay. Like I have been talking about in my last posts, it is not completely opened up yet, but there are opportunities out there, and as long as I take reasonable precautions, I can enjoy my time out here, and still feel safe.

But this is not the worry that I have while writing this blog. My thought is about all of those people who are reading this still stuck at home while I am out there enjoying life again. I know that I have a lot of readers in America and they have been going in and out of quarantine. I understand your suffering because just like many other people in the world, I have gone through the same experience. It was not fun, and the walls of my place started to beat down upon me and I felt like I would never leave that place. But the time I spent in near isolation paid off as the causes of the disease died down and Thailand is now a safer place to live in. Yes, there are a couple of inconveniences. I have to wear a mask when I go out and I have to be aware of my proximity to other people. They ask that I check in as I go into stores so if there is an outbreak they can contact me about the way I have been exposed, but this is a minor problem compared to the bigger ones that could happen if I contract the disease. It is then that I become a danger to other people, and I do not know if I could have that responsibility on my conscience.

This whole summer has been great to see Thailand without all of the tourists. I have been lucky that way, despite the fact that things were not always open the way that they usually are. I know people are suffering right now, but it is nice to see that things are starting to turn around for them, and the economy is starting to pick up again. But know that just like you, it has not been an easy journey, and they is still a long way to go to fully recover from this. But they understand that everything is very fragile right now, and another outbreak could cause everybody to revert back to the devastating lifestyle we had to endure earlier this year. I hope that never happens, but I am also doing my part to prevent this for coming back as well.

I guess the reason that I wrote about my travels this summer was not to cause you frustration and anger because somebody was able to do something that you were not, but instead I wished to give you hope and inspiration that if you do the right thing, that travel could be in your life again as well. It may not look the way that you had thought it would, and many opportunities might not be available to you, but make the most out of the situation, and you will still find that life can be rewarding. Just know that it will happen again someday, but until then, do you part to help mitigate the problem and you will enjoy that reward even more when you finally achieve it.

A Phuket Sunset – Siam Summer

The sunset from Kata Beach on Phuket Island, Thailand

Most of yesterday was spent traveling and getting situated in our new place. We opted to stay in a Condotel this time around. Yeah, I had never heard of them either, but basically it is a small apartment that is treated as a hotel so you can have a small kitchen and a living space. It is nice to have a kitchen again, and we went to the grocery store so we did not have to eat out for every meal. There was also the washing of clothes that needed to happen on these longer voyages, and a little bit of down time. By the time we got to a place where it was comfortable to go out and explore, it was time for the sunset.

The view from the southern tip of Kata Beach

Considering I have spent the last few nights going out to watch the sunset, it seemed like the right thing to keep up the tradition. This time around we had to walk fifteen minutes to Kata Beach in order to catch it. The walk over reminded me that Phuket is still trying to get up and running again. Many of the places around town were closed down except for the occasional bar, massage parlor and convenience store. It depressed me a little to think that there was still much to endure in this tourist destination and I wondered where all of the people might be found.

People coming back to the beach

Coming to the beach helped me see that there were people out there ready to take advantage to the beautiful weather and the rising surf. It wasn’t as busy as I suspect that it gets normally this time of year, but it was nice to know that things were starting to pick up again. It also made enjoying the beach perfect. I did not have to jostle around to find a spot to relax, and there was enough space to stroll up and down it leisurely. It made for a great spot to watch the sunset.

The Surf House across the street from the beach opening back up for business

There were also a couple of business that had opened next to the beach as well. I counted at least five restaurants that were getting back to helping the small amount of tourists that have arrived out here from other parts of Thailand. Granted, they were still not at full capacity, but it was nice to see that they were open and the whole town wasn’t closed down completely.

It gives me hope that my time out here will be fun and I will get to experience a little bit of Phuket’s culture. At least it will be an educational experience to see what a tourist town is like during the down parts of the year and they grapple with the same problems that the rest of the world struggles with. It is nice to know that things are heading in the right direction, and I hope that wherever you find yourself that they are doing the same thing for you as well.