Hindsight – The Best Posts of 2020

It is that time of the year again where we all look back at where we have been, and reflect on the lessons learned there. By far, 2020 will be remembered where there was a lot to be learned. I hope that we can take a lot from the experiences of this year and use it to grow not only as people but also as a world wide society.

When looking back at the posts that got the most views this year, I noticed that they had a sense of positivity to them, and I know that not all that I posted this year could say that they had that spin on them. It is nice to know that even though I might have found some dark places in this dark time, it did not bring people down and they still searched for that positivity in their lives.

I hope you enjoy the look back as much as I enjoy presenting it to you, and I hope, like me, that you look forward to 2021 with a new sense of revitalization as to what great prospects it may bring.

#10 To Choose a Side of the Valley – Wangen versus Murren

Most of my posts come from the first few days of 2020 when there was only a hint of disease taking over a small town in China. At this time, the hope of the year was still in front of me and I was wrapping up one of the best trips I have been on in a long time. It was great seeing snow again, and being forced to wear winter weather. This picture was taken on one of the last days on this trip as I sat on the balcony of our hotel room in Murren, Switzerland. My mind often wandered back to the beauty of this part of the world.

https://johncollings.com/2020/01/10/to-choose-a-side-of-the-valley-wangen-versus-murren/

#9 In a Valley in the Swiss Alps – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Like I said, many of the most popular posts come from my trip to Europe and the beginning of the year, and this is no exception. Lauterbrunnen is a small town in a valley in the Swiss Alps and is the perfect home base for exploring these mountains. It is not nearly as cold in the valley as it is when you find your way to the towns closer to the top, and the views from down below are still as dramatic as they are up top.

https://johncollings.com/2020/01/06/in-a-valley-in-the-swiss-alps-lauterbrunnen-switzerland/

#8 A Phuket Sunset – Siam Summer

After a tough semester of teaching on-line and being quarantined, Thailand had done well enough with the world-wide pandemic to allow travel to open up again, but only for those who were living in the country. It was never my plan to get to know Thailand as well as I did this summer, and it was interesting to drive down to Phuket and see how much this island had been affected by Covid-19. It has picked up since then, but it is still wrangling with the devastating effects it had on its economy. I got to experience it with mainly only its residents, and I still wonder what it would be like to see it when it is full with its regular amount of tourists.

https://johncollings.com/2020/07/20/a-phuket-sunset-siam-summer/

#7 Never Forget Dachau – Germany

I am actually really glad that this post had the reception that it had. Dachau was one of the more earnest moments of an unforgettable year. I did not know it at the time that I walked around the site of the Nazi’s first concentration camp, but a lot of the images and lessons learned there would haunt me all year long as I saw similar things play out on the political stages all around the world. It is one of the places that I believe everybody should see at least once in their lifetimes, right up there with Auschwitz and Hiroshima.

https://johncollings.com/2020/01/04/never-forget-dachau-germany/

#6 Koh Yao Yai – Siam Summer

Koa Yao Yai was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. I was able to travel to this exclusive island in mid-July just as it was starting to open its doors again, and they were trying to entice tourists to come and stay. The prices were too good to pass up on this amazing island, and I am so happy that I was able to stay in this little paradise. I am pretty sure I will never be able to afford it again, but it is one of those things that make me look back at this year and realize that I was pretty lucky to be stuck in Thailand for this worldwide crisis.

https://johncollings.com/2020/07/17/koh-yao-yai-siam-summer/

#5 Fortress Hohensalzburg – Salzburg, Austria

This was one of the more touristy posts I gave on this trip. It is a must do if ever traveling to Salzburg, and it is really hard to forget about because no matter where you are in town, this imposing fortress is staring down at you from its hill. It is a fun way to spend a day in Salzburg and really lets you feel that medieval experience that you want to get when you travel to Europe.

https://johncollings.com/2020/01/01/fortress-hohensalzburg-salzburg-austria/

#4 James Bond’s Peak – Schilthorn, Switzerland

When I was in this part of the world back in 2007, I was on a very limited budget and could not afford the brunch at the top of this Swiss peak. I almost did not believe it was worth the price earlier this year, but I am glad that I decided against being frugal and went up to this restaurant and had breakfast. It was fun going up and coming down this mountain, and I will never forget this experience. The post really picked up after the death of Sean Connery which is weird because this peak is most famous for the first Bond movie after he stopped playing the iconic character.

https://johncollings.com/2020/01/08/james-bonds-peak-schilthorn-switzerland/

#3 Their Insanity

I have only had one of my other poems make the top ten list, but there was something that struck a nerve with a lot of people when I first posted this poem. It was early in the lockdown stage that everybody in the world was feeling, and they might have understood the sentiment I was trying to get at with this poem even though that was not what it was written about.

https://johncollings.com/2020/05/03/their-insanity/

#2 A Toast to the End of the Semester

The image of a half full bottle of champagne sitting in front of this statue on the university campus in Salzburg is what inspired this poem. I did not post the poem with this picture until the end of the last school year, but it was around the holiday season this year that the poem started to gain in popularity. It took a year to get back to that feeling of the end of the semester, but I hope it helped everybody rejoice when the difficulty of both school semesters ended.

https://johncollings.com/2020/05/18/a-toast-to-the-end-of-the-semester/

#1 It’s No Rayong – Siam Summer

The title of this post started as a joke between a few people that I travelled to Rayong with earlier this summer. It was one of the first places that opened up after lockdown, and we went there for a couple of days before traveling to Koh Samet when that finally opened up. Rayong was not the best place to stay, but it was nice to be out of Bangkok. This post was about a comparison between Rayong and the amazing island of Koh Yao Yai, and people must have really loved it because the still visit it today. I do not know if it is because they want to know more about Koh Yao Yai, or if the title makes them laugh, but either way thank you for visiting it.

https://johncollings.com/2020/07/16/its-no-rayong-siam-summer/

Honorable Mentions

As always, these are posts that received a lot of traffic this year even though they were not posted this year. Some of them have taken a couple of years to gain in popularity, but the last one is the one I can guarantee somebody visits on a daily basis. The funny thing about “Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else” is that it was a throw away post that has now become one of the ones that gets the most traffic. It just goes to show that I do not know what will speak to the public, and what will not. It is always surprises me which posts do well, and which just disappear into obscurity.

You Can’t Go Back to the Green – The Holidays Day 20

https://johncollings.com/2019/01/09/you-cant-go-back-to-the-green-the-holidays-day-20/

Being Indiana Jone – Hua Hin, Thailand

https://johncollings.com/2019/10/13/being-indiana-jones-hua-hin-thailand/

Lessons from Ankor Wat

https://johncollings.com/2017/10/11/lessons-from-angkor-wat/

Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else – Around the World Day 39

https://johncollings.com/2018/07/25/bend-sucks-move-somewhere-else-around-the-world-day-39/

Thank you for joining me in my travels this year. I am sorry that it was not as diverse as it has been in previous years, but it has been an interesting year for everybody. I hope that when things loosen up again next year that you find these posts and the other ones that I will continue to post inspiring and that you get out there and see the world. It is a great way to experience life and I would love to hear about some your adventures some day.

Thanks again for the interesting year.

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.

Let’s Talk about Food – Nai Harn Beach

It can’t all be about the beach and playing in the water. There has to be a time to fuel up, and the Nai Harn Beach part of Phuket has a lot of options of great food all over the place. I have not really found the street food stalls that you would expect to see in a city of Thailand, but enough of the restaurants serve good Thai food that I do not feel like I have to worry about talking much about that. It is all of the other cuisine that is made available out here that makes this place a gastronomical heaven.

To start off with, I have not eaten many lunches out here. I have been moving a little slow in the mornings; it is vacation after all. And the resort that we are staying in, Nai Harn Beach Resort, serves the best breakfast buffet I have ever seen. They will make omelettes, or eggs benedict for you fresh, and the rest of the food is so well prepared that it is hard to believe that you are eating at a buffet. I am usually so stuffed afterwards that I am not hungry again until mid afternoon, so there is no reason to think about lunch.

Dinner has been a different story, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every place we have been to. The highlights have to be Rustic and Blue, a favorite of ours from Chiang Mai. We have been to that place at least four time during our visits to this northern part of Thailand, and we were really excited to see that there was another one in Phuket, right by the place where we are staying. The food is western cuisine with a heavy dose of seafood dishes in the Phuket version of the restaurant, but there are still enough of the other favorites to make it a comfortable. My favorite is the grilled cheese sandwich with maple bacon and jalapenos.

There is also the Green Tamarind Burger which took a little longer to find, but it was worth the search. The food there is obviously burgers, but could easily be the best burger I have found in Thailand. They make their own buns, and they have fresh ingredients that just make the burger a juicy treat to eat.

And if you are in the mood for Italian, there is Trattoria del Buongustaio. This is right next to the Nai Harn Beach resort, but it is not associated with the resort. The owner is always around helping the customers, and the food has an authentic Italian flavor to it. Most of the food comes with fresh seafood, and has a little bit of a kick to it that reminds you that you are in Thailand.

It has been one of my favorite experiences in this part of Phuket, and I am glad that it has opened up more so I could experience it. It makes me just as excited for the rest of the trip and I hope that the country stays open long enough for me to experience it, but with new Covid cases confirmed up north, it might end sooner than usual. If that is the case, at least I was able to have these moments in Nai Harn Beach.

The Importance of Play – Nai Harn Beach

There are many reasons that many people go on vacation: to relax and recharge their batteries, to see and experience different places in the world, and to go visit loved ones. No matter the reason for travel, it is really important to understand and participate in one of the biggest aspects of it, play.

Play is one of the things I believe the most in. I know that there is a time to take things seriously, and we always need those moments to unwind, but play is the time in our life where we truly find our passion and make the most out of the moments that we are given. It is the time when we find real joy and experience a variety of emotions that allow us to say that we have really experienced life. It is the one thing that I try to incorporate into my lessons, because when my students are actually having fun with their learning, it is when they are really processing the information and internalizing it. The lesson that they are supposed to be learning suddenly becomes their passion because it is now a part of their playtime.

There are times on vacation where I just lounge by a pool or stroll on a beach and do not find time for play. It makes the trips relaxing, but it does not make them memorable. It is those times when I go out a play that I start to have a good time with my vacation. The Nai Harn Beach Resort understands this and gives their guests many opportunities for play on the beach that the resort overlooks. They supply the guests with boogie boards, paddle boards, snorkels, and kayaks. The waves are not big enough right now to make the boogie boards of much use, but the rest of the stuff there has made for some memorable moments.

I have gone out on the paddle board a couple of times to place myself in complete isolation from the rest of the society hanging out on the beach, and today Christine and I took one of the kayaks out to check out the other beaches nearby and the island right across the bay from us. It was a little bit of exercise to get out there, but it was completely worth it. We ran into local fishermen, and in the rocks near the shore we were able to observe schools of tropical fish float underneath our boat. It made for a memorable day.

Which makes the nights even more worth it. It is almost as if I earned the moments of relaxation after the moments of play. It has created the perfect balance on this trip to make every moment the most that it possibly can.

Looking for a Sunset – Nai Harn Beach

I think I have hit that point in this vacation where I am starting to feel more like myself and am ready to take on bigger adventures. I am sorry if my posts have not been that exciting the last couple of days, but if you are ever in the mood for one of those relaxing beach vacations, I would highly recommend Nia Harn Beach. It is a little off the beaten path on the Phuket island, but it has some great restaurants within walking distance, the beach is relatively quiet with calm waters during the winter months, and the place just begs to be lazy for a couple of days.

One of the things that I like the most about it is that the it had a nice view of the west and there should be a good view of the sunset almost every evening. I have gone out the three nights I have been out here in order to witness one of these highlights from nature. Unfortunately, this is the best one I have seen so far. Something has always seemed to pop up in order hide this from view. The first day had big violent rainstorms out in the distant sea that obscured the sunset from view, and the second day was too cloudy for it to make an appearance.

It does not mean that I will not continue to try to get that elusive picture of a great sunset. Last time I was down here, I could out every night and catch an amazing light show on the horizon, but it is funny what s difference a couple of months makes. The sun shifts a bit, the weather makes adjustments as well, and now the sunset is hard to come by.

But it is important that I continue to look for it. If I give up and let myself by satisfied with the small example I collected earlier, I will miss the bigger show when it comes around. I fear that too many people give up too early when there is something spectacular on the horizon, and if we would just practice a little patience, it will be another beautiful sunset.

The Healing Properties of Water – Nai Harn Beach

The Celtic culture uses many aspects of nature as symbols to express certain ideas within their stories, and many of these symbols have found their way into the literature of the world. The strange thing about these symbols is that they have a duality to them that can express things that are the complete opposite of each other. One of the best examples of this is water. It can be a destructive force that can wipe out a civilization, but it can also be a healing entity that can restore a person and show them a new life that they had been missing all along. Both of them work hand in hand to form this world. We cannot build something better unless we first destroy the mess that we have left behind. We cannot find something new within ourselves if we don’t wash away the thing that is holding us back.

This has to be the reason that beaches are such a big draw. They are the place where we can find this property in such great quantities that we cannot help to feel the healing qualities that it has to offer. Many people are not big fans of these tourist destinations and I get the reasons why. You spend a lot of time wiping away the sand off of your body and somehow you seem to grab suitcases full of the stuff to bring back with you. Most of the time it is almost impossible to find a nice spot where you are not disturbed by other people. So why would people want to come here?

Well, there is the plethora of water sports that they can participate in and if the world is tilting the right way, there are huge waves that will crash on the beach bringing the surfers to their shores. But I think it is something more. I felt it yesterday as I wandered into the warm waters of Nai Harn Beach. All of the work and stress from a semester as a high school English teacher was washed away. I no longer had to worry about lesson plans or grading essays. I didn’t have to reread books I have read numerous times and guide students who may not have read them through their intricacies. I didn’t need to worry about yearly evaluations or the problems that were happening behind the scenes of my school. I could find myself in the moment, laying on back in a huge body of salt water and let it wipe away all of these worries and just enjoy where I ended up.

This is the reason that people search out destinations where the land ends and the ocean begins. They need to wash away the pains and stress of everyday life in the healing waters of the ocean and be rejuvenated into something new that allows them to look at the world in a more positive and joyful light. After a year like we all have had, I hope you can find that place of calm so the next year is something that you are not only willing to conquer but you are looking forward to the possibilities that it will offer.

Afternoon Arrival – Nai Harn Beach

It is amazing the difference that one night can make. The previous night I had slept at a roadside hotel made out of repurposed material to a hotel that is a destination in itself looking out over one of my favorite beaches in all of Thailand, Nai Harn. It is not that I would ever have been able to afford to stay at this place normally, but considering that the usual tourists that come to Thailand are absent this year, a lot of the higher end hotels are having great deals, and I am taking advantage of them while I still can. In a year, I will have to go back to spending nights in private rooms in hostels, and hotels made out of shipping crates, but right now, it is five star locations overlooking some spectacular scenery.

We arrived later in the afternoon after another good day of driving. It is a nice feeling to be able to get out of the car for a little while and enjoy the place where we have stopped. It is also nice to know that we have left Bangkok just in time. This morning news of a Covid outbreak in the region to the south of Bangkok has put that area under lockdown, and it has not meant that it has crept into the big city yet, but it has put the people living there a little more on edge. Hopefully it does not mean a lockdown of all Thailand in the future, but only time can tell. It just means that this might be our last hurrah for a little while as we go back to a culture of being safer with what we do and how we interact with other people.

Until then I find out more about that, I will just have to enjoy the beach lifestyle I find myself at. Where the hotel is at, I have only a two minute walk from the top story down to the beach and then I can relax on the sandy beach, jump into the warm Thai waters, or even borrow one of the paddle boards or kayaks to explore more of the bay. Basically, my goal to make the most out of the freedom while it lasts because in this time, we do not know when for the sake of the health of others that it will be restricted for a time.

The fun that can be had in the waters will be a little different this time around as well. Last time I was here, over the summer, the waves were huge and the bay was filled with surfers looking to catch one of the waves. This time the surf is not as crazy. I am really surprised by how calm the waters are. I can see through the clear blue water down to the bottom this time around where as last time there was so much sand and sediment swirling through the water that I could never see an inch into the water even though I was standing right over it. I guess that is the difference in season and part of the reason that tourists make their way out to this part of Thailand during this time of the year as opposed during the summer months. The beach is still not very crowded though. I guess that is another bonus for finding myself here at this time in history. Those crowds are not allowed in the country just as it makes it really hard for me to leave the country.

I am happy to have finally arrived and I look forward to the next couple of weeks off from work. I hope things stay safe and I won’t have to cut things short, but in the meantime, I will make the most out of each opportunity that comes my way when I can grab it. I guess that is one of the better things to come out of this situation. We all have started to appreciate those moments that we used to take for granted, and I know that I am able to have more than most people, but I have really learned to make the most out of them. I hope that you can do the same wherever you find yourself, and that you can make it the greatest that it possibly can be.

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

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.

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.

Phuket – Siam Summer

The view of the Big Buddha from Karon Beach

I have really enjoyed my time in Phuket, and I don’t know if it is because I came during a time when it is not overcrowded with people, or if it is just the general vibe of this tourist destination. It is definitely one of the places that I will have to return to so I can get a perspective on this place as how it is meant to be experienced, and I still have to make it up the hill to visit that ever elusive Big Buddha.

Businesses who have not opened back up yet across the street from Karon Beach

Though on my last day here, there were many more places that were starting to open up, the majority of places still remained closed. I went to check out Karon Beach which is usually considered one of the top three beaches in the city, and we, once again, basically had the beach to ourselves. It seemed like a coordinated plan of everybody in the city because there wasn’t the usual small restaurants that I see all over the place in Thailand and some of the convenience stores in the areas were closed down.

The closed down resort on the northern end of Karon Beach

I think the most depressing example of this was the resort at the end of the beach. I could tell that this place is usually packed with people because it has great rooms that look out over the ocean, easy access to the beach, and a pool to wash off with after a day of trouncing around the sand. But it, like so many other resorts in this town, had closed down to wait for a day when the people decided to come back and visit.

The sunset over the busier Kata Beach

Like I said earlier, it will eventually happen, but Phuket is going to do it on its own schedule. This is not the height of their tourist season and there are no international flights coming into their airport right now, so why should they push the envelope if there is a chance that they might have to close everything down again when they get back to the height of their tourist season. There were a couple of restaurants opened, and a couple of resorts. The bar across the street from where we were staying opened their doors yesterday and started to crank 90s rock music to attract customers. It didn’t look like he got any yet, but he had built up the courage to make the try.

It is really a great place with many exciting things to see and do. Some of them I didn’t get to do because they were closed down, and others I made an attempt to try but didn’t complete the challenge. All in all, it was a great place to come to and I will be back. It will be a completely different experience as well because it will be a different crowd of people. It will happen here just as it will happen wherever you find yourself right now. You just need to be patient, and let it happen in its own time and when it is safe to happen.

Until next time, be safe and treat each other well.