Blog Break

As I sit here in this tiny airport in the Himalayas, I realize what a long, strange trip is has been.

I left the US over a month ago, and have had a vast number of experiences so far. Yesterday, I had the realization that I have only “worked” in the traditional sense for a total of 4 months this year. Considering that I’ve lived in NYC and traveled to Austin, Baltimore, DC, Los Angeles, San Diego, Boulder, Thailand, Fire Island, India, and so many other locations along the way – it was a rather awesome moment.

India has been a phenomenal time so far. We’ve traveled from Delhi → Ranthambore → Udaipur → Jodhpur → Chandigarh → Dharamsala → Trivandrum → Alleppey and now to Kochi, and have had unforgettable experiences along the way.

Little amounts of money go a long way in these parts of the world, and it hit me that working a middle-income job for a year could easily allow a person the opportunity to travel for at least the same amount of time if you save and spend wisely.

Embarking on this journey, I had commit to myself that I was going to try and write daily, and aim to publish posts on a more frequent basis. This has proven far more difficult than I could have imagined. To be fair, internet connectivity has really jammed me up more than once, particularly in terms of uploading photos, but at the end of the day it is still an excuse. While traveling, there is an endless amount of things to do, places to see, and people to meet – and I’ve chosen to do those things instead of writing.

I’ve found that the longer I wait to write, the more difficult the actual process of writing becomes, largely due to the feeling that I have an insurmountable amount upon which to catch up on. As a result, the few times I have written the quality of my stories have suffered and I have not enjoyed the process as I’ve simply been listing things that happened in my struggle to catch up to the present.

The past few days, the blog has felt more like a past due homework assignment than what it was meant to be, a fun way of sharing stories with friends and recording memories. The self-imposed weight has caused me some stress and has prevented me from being fully present and focusing on the intentions I had set for this trip. Stress and not being fully present – particularly when traveling – are two of my least favorite things.  As a result, I have decided to take a break from the blog until I get back home and am excited to write again.

For the few folks that follow along, I appreciate you, and look forward to sharing more stories soon!

Much love,

Sahil

The Orange Juice Incident

After our slight flight hiccup, we managed to get from Chiang Mai to Bangkok and headed on towards the train station to catch our overnight ride to the ferry that would eventually get us to Chiang Mai.

Neither of us had been on an extended train ride, and were rather optimistically expecting a Hogwarts express like experience. The Chumpon express didn’t quite measure up, but it was manageable, and the bunk beds were actually pretty comfortable.

As we settled in, a seemingly friendly Thai woman was running up and down the aisles offering out menus and communicated that she was serving dinner. Hungry, we both picked reasonably priced meals which came with a beverage. We placed our orders, and she offered us water, orange juice, or a soda to go along with our meals and we both asked for orange juice.

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A deceiving smile

She came back with our meals, and after staring at our food for about 30 minutes (she forgot to give us cutlery), we had a solid meal and were generally satisfied with the overall experience.

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That was, until she came back with the bill. She handed us the bill, and to our surprise it was nearly double what we had expected to pay. Confused, we inquired further, and she said that we had to pay 90 baht each for the orange juices (90 baht is good for roughly two full meals in many Thai towns, and though only the equivalent of $3 each in USD, it is a significant amount in Thailand). As our meals had included drinks, we asked to see the menu and pointed at the to where it said “Free Drink!” in bolded letters.

The seemingly sweet woman began getting upset, and this is when things began to turn ugly. She started saying she gave us the large orange juice which cost more. We asked why she didn’t give us the normal size ones like we ordered, and in broken English she said that she was out of normal size so we had to pay extra.  Jason taught me this is a greasy, yet common, “business” practice that some Thai folks engage in to trick foreigners into false charges.  We told her we weren’t going to pay for the juices because she told us they were included, and then her fake smile made way for full fledged anger.

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She began yelling at us, repeatedly screaming “Just a moment!” for some lost in translation reason, and then started hooting and hollering about how she was going to “call the police.” As Jason spoke enough Thai to explain the situation, we were happy to have them come.

She stormed off and reappeared moments later with a train conductor. Worked up, she quickly began explaining in Thai the situation while we shared our perspective. The poor conductor, caught in the middle of this awkward moment simply shrugged his shoulders as if to say keep me out of it, and quite literally walked away from the situation.

The little woman, clearly unsatisfied with this outcome, continued to scream “I get police!” as she ventured off into a different compartment. At this point, we had been arguing for over 15 minutes, and rather exhausted, Jason and I agreed to simply pay this woman the bullshit charges just so she would leave us alone. The only problem was she didn’t come back. Finally, after 30 minutes tense moments of hoping to put this experience behind us, she reappeared. Without a word, she threw a small orange juice container (the size we should have had with our meal in the first place) onto Jason’s bed and stormed off through the compartment.

At this point, our anger turned to disbelief, and we couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity of the situation. She had  the proper size OJ for our meals all along, but gave us big ones to make us pay more, and then due to our argument she put the small one on Jason’s bed so that she could show the police that we should pay for both!

Tired of arguing, we finally caught her as she bumbled through and begrudgingly paid her the “full” amount. Without even the slightest acknowledgement or thank you, she continued on her way.

As she walked away, Jason threw the small grenade shaped orange juice container on to my bed, and wanting nothing to do with it, I tossed it back to his bed. In midair, the bottle hit his railing, and as if in slow motion, the grenade exploded upon hitting the floor and splattered all over the compartment.

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A messy situation all around

 

Lesson Learned

Choose your battles

Sometimes, it’s better not to argue. I hate getting cheated more than anything. People trying to take advantage of others, particularly in a business context pushes my buttons and I generally won’t stand for it, which is why we fought back. Apparently she had done the same thing to all the foreigners in our cabin, and scared by the thought of the Thai police, they conceded. While I hated paying extra for no reason, particularly to someone like her, I realized that fighting it was much more of a headache than it was worth, and even if we had “won” it would have meant hours of argument, and after we left, she would simply do the same thing with the next foreigners on the train. It served as a reminder to choose my battles wisely, and remember what I really want out of a situation.

 

More Travel Mishaps

Still catching up to the present (only two weeks behind!), but here are some more stories from Thailand.

The morning of the 19th, exhausted from the shenanigans of the previous evening, we awoke exhausted and excited to embark on the next leg of our journey. We were headed to a small island called Koh Tao (Turtle Island), world renowned as one of the best places to dive and learn how to dive.

After many days of debate, we decided getting PADI certified was a good investment, and couldn’t wait to get started. The only issue was that it is a total pain the ass to get from Chiang Mai to Koh Tao, and just generally to move around Thailand. I’m not sure why, but getting pretty much anywhere feels like it requires about a million transfers and random stops.

Anyhow, our plans were set: we were to fly from Chiang Mai to Bangkok, hop on an overnight train to Chumpon, and then catch a morning ferry to Koh Tao. Total travel time: 21 hours.

A place down the street had this dank looking tilapia that I’d been meaning to try, so I packed my bags, and went to devour some fish. I had been running low on time and the taxi was waiting, so after quickly eating, I ran back to the guesthouse ready to get our long journey started.

To my confusion, instead of being ready to go in the taxi, Jason, along with the guesthouse staff were huddled around a computer with concerned looks on their faces. Turns out, we were had some flight issues. Instead of booking a flight from Chiang Mai – Bangkok, we had actually booked a flight the inverse direction from Bangkok – Chiang Mai. As we were already in Chiang Mai, the flight we had booked was rather useless at this point, and I started laughing uncontrollably. In the past 7 days, I had experienced more travel mishaps than I had in the past year.

There were a few more flights headed out that afternoon which would still allow us to catch our train, so we said goodbye to the Jaja family, and headed off to the airport to book new flights. Definitely a hiccup in our trip, but a manageable one, and a few days removed it’s rather amusing to look back on.

Lesson Learned 

It’s going to be OK. Whatever happens, remember it’s not a big deal and that you will be okay. Energy flows where attention goes, so keep the adventure, not the mishap in mind.

There’s always a solution. It might not be ideal, and might take you longer than you had hoped – but whatever it is, there is almost always a way to make it better. It might not appear instantly, but instead of panicking, spend your energy looking for that solution and move forward.

 

Sabai Sabai in Chiang Mai

So, I’m a couple weeks behind on the blog (I’m actually in Udaipur, India at the moment with Aude) but don’t want to forget all of the memories from Thailand, so I’m going to continue to write about those as I attempt to catch up to the present. Here’s a bit more from our trip to Chiang Mai!

Chiang Mai Happenings

Our time in Chiang Mai was unique from all of my previous travels. The laid-back culture, friendly people, and delicious food made me feel extremely relaxed and in no hurry to really do anything aside from enjoy life. Opposed to bouncing around from place to place and attempting to jam in as many experiences and sights in as possible, we felt totally OK with simply staying in our own little soi (street) in Chiang Mai most of the time – and that was exactly what we did.

Despite few planned adventures, there were many distinct memories from the trip to Chiang Mai. I’m still trying to catch up on writing, so in no particular order or flow, I’m writing out a few memorable experiences from the trip.

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Baan JaJa

As mentioned before, we found a perfect little guesthouse called Baan Jaja, and the place itself became one of the highlights of our trip. The rooms were clean, extremely cheap (~$5/day), had hot water, was very welcoming, and most importantly had a great common space to hang out and meet fellow travelers.

We met some really great people, and I’m always amazed at the stories and lifestyles I hear about when traveling. One of those interesting people we met was a fellow named Jonathon who we had met at the hostel.

 

Jonathon

Just 20 years old, Jonathon had already graduated college and was traveling in Thailand for a few months as he figured out his next moves. A fascinating fellow, he had just completed a 12-day silent meditation retreat, was a wood worker, and budding entrepreneur. He also was apparently a former gymnast of sorts.

We all hit it off quickly, and ended up hanging with Jonathon a good bit of our time in town. Jonathon had mentioned that he was able to do backflips, and Jason and I had both been meaning to learn from quite some time.

After a crazy night out, the next morning we decided it would be as good a time as ever to give it a shot. We grabbed some lunch, bought some more elephant pants, and then headed on over to the park.

 

Walking Meditation and Backflips

After some meandering, we finally made it over to the park. Having had some neck scares in the past while attempting backflips, Jason and I were both rather apprenehensive. To ease our minds, we decided it would be a good idea to meditate to calm our minds before we jumped in.

As Jonathon had just returned from a meditation retreat, he offered to guide us through the meditation session and taught us some new techniques. Since graduating college, I’ve begun meditating rather frequently, but this session was very unique. To start, we began with a 15 minute silent walking meditation, which I had never done before. The goal was to help you ground yourself and clear your mind before entering the sitting portion of the meditation. To do so, you would very slowly and intentionally lift your foot up, move it forward, and plant it in the ground so as to feel the earth underneath you and awaken your senses. Lift, move, plant.

It was a great way to calm the mind, and I felt a great sense of clarity and creativity throughout the walking portion. After 15 minutes, we sat down in the grass, and Jonathon guided us through the rest of the meditation.

More present and with clear minds, we began practicing roundolphs in preparation for our backflips. As we were practicing, this little Thai ninja frog of a man showed up out of nowhere, and began busting out backflips, treeflips, and pretty much every other type of flip you can imagine.

I wasn’t able to get over my mental block on moving backwards, but Jason was able to fully rotate on a couple, and I’m excited to continue learning once we’re back home. After a quick frisbee sesh, we decided to call it a day and headed back towards Baan Jaja.

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Womp Womp Wallet

On the walk home, I stopped by a stall to grab some food, and as I looked in my bag for my wallet, and after some searching I couldn’t find it. Poured out everything in my bag and did it once more, and unfortunately, the wallet had disappeared. We circled back to the park, retraced our steps, and even stopped back at the store but the wallet was nowhere to be found.

It didn’t make any sense. I hadn’t taken the wallet out of my bag, we had been 5 ft away from our bags the whole time, and I had intentionally placed the bag in a way that would make it difficult to steal, and my camera was still in the bag too. The fact that I was totally sober and was unsure if it had simply been dropped/misplaced or stolen left a sour taste in my mouth, but se la vie. Fortunately, I didn’t have too much cash in the wallet, had separated a card and some cash, and was with Jason so though definitely a setback, it wasn’t the end of the world. 

Wats are Cool

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Kitty

There were beautiful photos from around the world lining the guesthouse, and we later on found out that the guesthouse owner, Kitty, had been the one to take the photos. She was a very wise and caring person, and after years of traveling, she had decided that she wanted to create a place for travelers to come and call home while out on the road. Really wonderful and inspiring woman, and made me think that it could be fun to one day open a guesthouse myself.

Shopping

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Got some sweet new pants. Like many a thai woman, the girl in the middle fell in love with Jason.

Nights Out

Chiang Mai is fun. Went to a few awesome bars with people we met in the city and had a great time. Internet is super slow over here right now, so I’ll add some pics once I have better connection.

Food, Food, and more Food

Chiang Mai has the best food in the world (that I’ve experienced so far). Yep, it’s amazing.

Incredible flavors, tons of spice, cheap prices, and seemingly unlimited variety. Just on our street alone there were 4 or 5 restaurants that we could not get enough of.

There is a northern dish we tried called Khao Soy, and it has quite possibly been the best dish had since getting to the country.

 

Lessons Learned

Always separate your cards and keep some spare cash on hand – You never think about it until your wallet is gone, but without it you can be royally screwed for a couple nights. Always keep a backup card, as well as some cash to keep you afloat in case of emergency.

Roll with the punches – Even if shit hits the fan or something goes missing, don’t freak out and do not let it negatively impact your trip. It’s all just part of the adventure, and besides, life wouldn’t be nearly as exciting if everything always went according to plan.

Eat Khao Soy – Seriously, my taste buds had a minor foodgasm.

Say Hi – In my opinion, the people are the best part about traveling. Say hi, make some new friends, and say yes to new adventures.

Travel at your own pace – It’s your trip. Don’t do anything just because you feel like you should. If you want to simply laze around town and eat, go for it – but if you want to explore all day, that is totally awesome too. Just don’t feel like you should or should not do anything while traveling – it’s your trip.

TL;DR

There was so much to see, smell, eat, and experience in Chiang Mai that I’ve had a hard time trying to concisely write about it. Looking back, it was an unforgettable trip filled with wonderful people, delicious food, and elephant pants. It’s a charming city, and I cannot wait to get back. If you’re traveling to Thailand, it’s a must see.

-Sah

Cooking Class w/ Eing!

Eing’s Cooking Class

Our first morning in Chiang Mai, we had stopped by a little restaurant called Eing’s and ordeed some delicious breakfast omelets. It was fantastic, and the next morning we came back for more Thai deliciousness.

Over the course of the couple days, we befriended the owner of the shop – a quick-witted, fiery little Thai woman named Eing.
She spoke great English, and the three of us became fast friends.DSCF2568

After devouring another delicious meal, I half-jokingly asked Eing if she would teach me to make my favorite Thai dish, and favorite dish in general, Kaprao (Basil Chicken). Thinking I was kidding, she sarcastically said something to the extent of “sure, sure”, but after some persistence, I actually convinced her to agree to a lesson the following day!

The next morning, Jason and I headed over to Eing for our daily breakfast routine, along with our new friend Johnathon from the guesthouse. True to her word, Eing began bringing all of the ingredients to make Basil chicken out as we arrived, and the cooking class had begun! Johnathon asked if he could join as well, and Eing kindly agreed to let him cook his meal as well. Photos below!

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Finished product!

Since I first tried basil chicken as a kid, I had wanted to learn how to cook the dish – learning from Eing made for an authentic, fun, and simply perfect experience that I will never forget.

Thanks for everything, Eing – I cannot wait until we meet again!

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Cheers,

Sahil

Chiang Mai Chillin’ & The Secret Rock Quarry

Chiang Mai – Day 1

Our flight took to the skies early morning, and we arrived in Chiang Mai before noon. Neither of us had ever been to the city before, but had heard it was a must see. The city lived up to it’s reputation, and then some.

While having no real plans, we figured we’d stay in Chiang Mai for a few days, head north to the hippie town of Pai, and then come back to Chiang Mai before taking off to the islands down south. As we left the aircraft, we realized we had no idea where to go in Chiang Mai, and made friends with an eccentric and memorable character named Ryu in hopes of help. An odd man to describe, he was wearing Google Glasses when we first saw him, and carried multiple smartphones on his person that he spastically switched between as we interacted, his mind raced from one unfinished thought to the next. He gave us a general direction to head in, and bags in hand we attempted to flag down a cab. Instead, we found a Song Tao, which was even better.

Such a tourist.

Jason has spent the past year teaching in a town called Satun, which is a relatively small buddhist and Muslim city located in the South of Thailand. During his time here, he’s picked up an impressive amount of the language, and it has been an invaluable resource so far. He told the driver a general area, and we got dropped off in the city center. With no particular place to stay just yet, we grabbed some street food and began wandering around in search of a spot to sleep for the next few days.

A couple travelers told us about a guesthouse they had just left, and mentioned they loved their experience. It was a TripAdvisor recommended guesthouse called Baan Jaja, and staying there proved to be the best decision we made our entire time in Chiang Mai.

We were greeted by a slightly awkward, yet energetic woman named Ja and she informed us that they had a 2 bed, AC room available for 500 baht, and split two ways, it was 250 baht/night per person. The room was great, and with Thai Baht to USD is roughly 30:1 at the moment, we were paying $8/night. After paying ~1400/month in NYC, you could say it was a welcome change of pace.

 

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Greeted by Ja at Baan Jaja

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Our humble abode in Chiang Mai

We tossed our bags in the room, grabbed a dank meal, and lazed around the rest of the day. Exhausted, we grabbed a quick meal, explored the night bazaar, and called it a day.

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Glass Blowing at the Night Market

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The first of many ridiculously delicious meals in Chiang Mai

The Secret Rock Quarry

After enjoying the previous day lazing around, we woke up the next morning ready to explore.  I had messaged a few friends asking for tips, and my buddy Max mentioned a secret Rock Quarry where we could go cliff jumping that sounded pretty epic, so we decided that was the move for the day. The only issue was that since it was relatively unknown, there were very few listed directions on how to get there, and the street we had to turn on had no name. Fortunately, Jason made an expert map to help us find our way.

(Ok, the back of the napkin map has gone missing for the moment so use your imagination).

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Strange play at the temple we stopped at

We rented a scooter, and with our handy dandy map in hand, we took off towards the quarry. To our disbelief, despite following the detailed directions we had some trouble finding the spot. We took a pit stop at a random Wat (temple) we found on the way, and decided to give it one more shot.  We took a guess and turned on one more street, and began driving down a random backstreet. I was close to giving up until we saw an elderly white man walking his dogs down the road. I asked him if he had any idea where this place was, and he said “Keep going straight and you can’t miss it!”

The quarry was beautiful, and totally worth the wandering.

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Secret Quarry

It must have been an old mining quarry, and we were the only ones there when we arrived. We walked over to the edge of the highest jumping point, and contemplated the safety/depth of the water below. It must have been at least a 50 foot drop, and aside from an epic bridge jump in Sevilla I had never jumped off anything remotely that high before. We figured it looked safe, but given the distance of the drop and the whole potential of dying thing, we weren’t looking to take any chances.

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Awesome British Lads

As we sat contemplating the leap of faith, two jolly British lads Toby and Scott,  appeared at the quarry. Toby waded into the water, gave the thumbs up saying we were all good to go, and so it began. The three other dudes took the leap of faith, and I was the next man up. After a few moments of skepticism, decided I couldn’t think about it any longer and ran off the rock. It was an exhilarating, yet terrifying experience, and despite my ass still being sore from the awkward landing – I couldn’t be happier I did it.

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Jason Jumps

We spent the rest of the afternoon jumping off rocks and shooting the shit with our new friends, and then headed back to the place as the sun began to set. It was on this drive home that I truly began to value Google Maps and gps systems. We got back to the main city area, but after a few turns we thought were in the right direction, realized we had no idea how to get back to our soi (street). After a few frustrating attempts at reading a map on the back of a scooter, I yelled towards a biker next to us and signaled for help at a red light. I pointed at the map. he and his wife conferred, and then said follow us, and we obliged. Bobbing and weaving through traffic, the kind folks got us back to the right place, and we finally made it back to Baan Jaja.

Lessons Learned

Asia is remarkably cheap – I already knew this, but it’s so awesomely inexpensive that I felt it was worth a mention. The only thing that costs you a considerable amount is the plane ticket, but once you get here, you can live well off $20/day in the right places

You don’t always need a plan – While it can be a bit more stressful, showing up to a place without a plan can also be a lot of fun, and allows you a great deal of flexibility to explore new places, extend or decrease the length of your stay, and so much more. While there are definitely certain trips which need extensive planning, remember that it’s more than OK to figure it out as you go

People are Awesome – If those friendly folks hadn’t led us the right way to get back home, we very well may have still been driving around Chiang Mai looking for our guesthouse. People around the world are incredibly kind and helpful – and though it can be intimidating at times, it never hurts to ask for help

Just Jump – I had been scared shitless when I was standing up on the ledge, debating whether to jump or not. I had always wanted to go cliff jumping, but as I stood on the ledge it felt like the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I decided I had to just go for it, and though it felt risky, it turned out to be a ton of fun, and I would have regretted not doing it later. Though an unusual analogy, it had me thinking about other decisions in my life, and was a neat reminder me that you never know unless you just jump, so why not?

Chiang Mai is the best – That is all.

I’m attempting to catch up on blog posts now – so expect a barrage of stories and mishaps coming soon.

So I shaved my head

Yep, that happened.

I had entered the trip with the intention of growing out a travel beard and letting the flow go, but that didn’t last long. On the second day in Chiang Mai I felt compelled to shave my head, so I decided to go for it. On some level, it was simply curiosity to see what I would look like, but on a deeper level I think it was meant to challenge my perception of looks and their impact on human interactions and my self-confidence. And besides, I figured even if it did look like complete shit, it would have grown back by the time I made it home in December.

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Before.

Despite rationally knowing better, I often think about how I look before I go places, and it has often impacted my confidence and self-perception in many of those situations. This is dumb. The idea of shaving my head always seemed ridiculous because I had big ears when I was a kid, so figured I would just never do that unless medical reasons forced me to do so. One of my goals for the trip has been to do things that scare me, and this definitely being one, I decided to prove to myself that it really does not matter how I (or others) look, it is more about how I interact with the world around me.

We found a little barber shop around the corner, Jason explained in Thai what I wanted to do, and the woman sat me down and got to work. I immediately began questioning my decision making process as she buzzed off large chunks of hair, and thought I had made the biggest mistake of the week (well, actually, I guess showing up at the wrong airport still might top this), but I was too far in to turn back. I closed my eyes, and in just a few short minutes, it was all over. DSCF2407DSCF2413

I didn’t recognize myself in the mirror for a few moments, but after the initial self-consciousness, I reminded myself to relax and it was all good. 10 days later, I’m happy to say I did it. Here’s to pushing limits and stepping into fear of all forms.

Cheers,

Sah