Days 237-238: Art in Paradise

After nine adventurous days of hiking and biking through the Chiang Mai Province, I was happy to sleep in. My studio apartment was comfortable and quiet. I watched Master of None on Netflix until I realized I needed food other than my protein shake.

I didn’t feel like getting dressed and going out. I just wanted to veg out and relax. I couldn’t find many food options on Apple Maps, so I decided to walk around and find something. I put some clothes on, but didn’t bother with any makeup.

The neighborhood was mostly residential and business, so I walked and walked without finding any restaurants. Finally I found a small cafe in a hotel with good reviews, so I popped inside to take a break.

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The pink and red heart decorations reminded me that it was Valentine’s Day. The place was empty. I ordered a dessert and a blended coffee drink, and sat at the counter facing out to the street. I was glad that I started the trip with a group of people and a guide who taught me about Thailand. It made me feel comfortable to venture out on my own.

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I continued walking down a main street and suddenly arrived at an outdoor market. I perused the stalls and passed restaurants, unable to decide what to eat. Across the street was a huge modern mall called Maya. It was clearly the spot to be.

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I walked into the main entrance and was amazed. A glass elevator welcomed guests and displayed several floors of shopping. I browsed the mall and noticed stores referencing the U.S. called “New York-LA” and “Portland.”

Eventually I found a restaurant that looked appetizing. It was large and modern with English menus. I ordered a pizza and savored the taste. It had been almost two weeks since I had American food and I missed it.

I took my leftover pizza and continued browsing through the mall. I was feeling a little self-conscious because I wasn’t wearing any makeup. It’s strange. When I’m in workout clothes, I don’t mind not having makeup on and I’ll go out in public all sweaty. But if I’m in regular clothes, I feel like I should have some makeup on. I continued anyway because I needed to find a new piece of luggage.

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The cheap $35 suitcase that I purchased from the market when I first arrived in Chiang Mai was horrible. It wasn’t properly designed, so when it was full it would immediately tip forward and fall over. The black plastic feet on the bottom were also coming off, making it even more ridiculous. This was a replacement suitcase after the airplane ruined my duffle bag.

After looking at several luggage stores, I decided on a hard plastic suitcase with a one-year warranty made by American Tourister. Ironically, I had never seen that brand in America. It cost $127 USD, which I thought was a lot for Thailand. I decided to buy it because I would be traveling for many months and needed something sturdy.

Once again, I was dragging an empty suitcase down a sidewalk. There was a college next to the mall, so college students were out and about at a nighttime market. Lights hung overhead and created a romantic atmosphere. I spent the rest of the evening researching how to spend my time in Chiang Mai.

The next day, I took a Grab to Art in Paradise. It’s a 3D art museum where you can insert yourself into the pictures. At the ticket counter, the woman told me, “It’s better to come with a friend.” Yeah, well, I didn’t have any friends with me, so my only option was to go alone.

I knew it was better to go with a friend so someone could take your picture. There weren’t many people there, so I just took pictures of the murals. After I took a couple of pictures, a Chinese couple took a picture for me. It was nice of them to offer, but I didn’t want them to think they had to stay with me the whole time. There is an app that you have to use to get the pictures to turn into video. The couple showed me how to use it, communicating mostly through gestures since they didn’t speak much English.

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As I was waiting for the app to download, the couple continued to explore. All of a sudden, a girl walked up to me and asked if we could take pictures of each other. Tsui was from Taiwan, was petite, and had straight black hair pulled back into a ponytail. She didn’t speak very much English, but it was enough for us to communicate the basics.

As the app finished downloading on my phone, Tsui told me that she was traveling alone and staying in a hostel. She pulled out a binder with typed travel plans in different clear folders. She excitedly explained how lucky she was to meet me because she had made a sign, but was too shy to actually put it up. The typed sign read, “Wanted: Someone to take pictures with at Art in Paradise.”

The sign made me smile. It was perfect. We were both alone and needed someone to take pictures with. The app was working on my phone, but it wasn’t working on Tsui’s phone. We decided to use my phone so we didn’t have to keep switching phones, and I’d give her the pictures at the end.

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The art museum was really neat! Some murals came to life on the app, making it look like it was raining, or like a dinosaur was eating you. The 3D paintings were optical illusions like being on a suspension bridge.

Tsui and I spent the next hour and a half going from painting to painting. She was very good at creating a dramatic scene for her pictures. I wasn’t as good. I was mostly awkward. We laughed our way through the museum.

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Once we hit the end of the museum, we sat at the cafe so Tsui could pick the photos she wanted and transfer them to herself on Facebook Messenger. As we sat there going through the photos, Tsui showed me her binder full of her travel itinerary.

Tsui was going to be in Thailand for nine days and had only been there for two days. During her time, she was going to an elephant sanctuary and riding an ATV. I had been looking at those same tours, but didn’t have anything booked yet. Tsui was impressive with her spreadsheets mapping out her entire trip. She had obviously done a lot of research.

Tsui asked me why I came to Thailand. I told her that I had some friends who had been and they all had wonderful things to say about it. I wanted to see the jungle and it’s also inexpensive. Tsui agreed that the food was inexpensive, but the outdoor activities were not.

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As the photos transferred over the WiFi, Tsui asked if I planned to go to the white temple in Chiang Rai. Because it was a few hours away, I decided not to go. She told me she will come back and go with her boyfriend. Surprised, I asked, “Why didn’t your boyfriend come with you now?” She told me she doesn’t have a boyfriend, but one day she will. Then she’ll go to the white temple with him. Otherwise, she’ll see all of the couples taking beautiful pictures of themselves, which will make her feel so sad. She made me laugh as she described herself taking selfies while couples took “couple pictures.”

The photos were transferred, so Tsui and I parted ways. I was so happy to have met her and I loved that she was also a solo female traveler. A week later, we became Facebook friends. I was getting a pedicure at the time and I saw what she had posted on her page that day. Facebook translated it to the following:

“Before I actually was a little worried about myself. Come here don’t know how to take pictures. Originally made a companion poster. I don’t dare to take it out without being shy.

Brace to this side. I found out there was a drop-alone girl too. I went to invite her to walk with me + take pictures with each other. She’s happy to promise.

Luck to meet her. Good get along, good chat, keep laughing. Also helped me take a bunch of pictures. After the walk, we’re next to the coffee shop. She’ll pass it to me when I finish the photo. How can there be such a lucky thing?”

When I read what Tsui posted, tears came to my eyes. It was such a perfect opportunity for us to meet. We did our best to communicate and she was such a sweet and fun soul. I continued to follow her adventures, watching her zipline, ride an ATV, and go white water rafting. She has an adventurous spirit and I love her zest for life.

After the Art in Paradise museum, I decided to walk two miles to a rooftop bar I found online. The walk would give me an opportunity to see more of the city. The sidewalks are narrow with lots of potholes, making it difficult to navigate. Sometimes fluorescent lights dangle above the alleyway. It also appeared that drinking in public was legal.

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As the sun went down, I came across an outdoor sporting event. There were stands full of fans cheering on all-women teams. I don’t know what sport they were playing, but there was a net in between teams of three. The women would hit the ball with their feet or their head. It was impressive watching what they could do.

I continued to the rooftop bar, following Apple maps. It often took me through alleyways in the back of houses. Clothes were hung out to dry since they don’t have driers there. Motorbikes lined the sidewalks.

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When I arrived at the Oasis bar, there was a dark, steep stairwell leading to the rooftop. At the top there was a small bar, some couches, chairs with pillows, and string lights hanging above. There were a few people there that were all sitting alone. I sat down and ordered a snack and a drink.

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I looked around and noticed the men and women who were sitting alone were all on their phones, but only inches from another person. It was so sad that nobody was talking. We were all solo, why not have a conversation?

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There were a few couples there and one couple arrived after me. They were around 30 years old and sat near me, so I could hear their conversation. He was American and she was Canadian. They talked about life, goals, friends, and family. The guy did most of the talking and then I heard him say, “This is the best first date I’ve ever had. I’ve studied psychology and want my own practice one day. I love that it’s not surface level. I love that you feel comfortable with me.”

The couple seemed cute and were entertaining. I ordered a Grab and went back to my Airbnb. I kept forgetting that the driver’s steering wheel is on the right side of the car and they drive on the left.

I went to bed happy with how my time in Chiang Mai was turning out. Solo travel often brings new people into my life, making it more interesting. Even though I don’t speak Thai, I was able to get by. A lot of people knew some basic English. Other times, I used Google Translate. It was shaping up to be a great city to explore.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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Day 2: Driving to Klamath Falls, Oregon

I left Merced, CA and headed to Sacramento, CA. I’ve only driven through Sacramento once before and never stopped. I wanted to see a little bit of the city so I decided to stop for lunch. I found a place on Yelp that had good reviews in the downtown area. When I walked in, it was like walking into a familiar place – a place that has quality food, is a little pricey, and cares about customer satisfaction. It felt like my previous life, the life before crappy 2-star hotels.

I sat at the bar, a few bar stools away from a guy who was around my age. Across the bar was another guy, but he was about 15 years older. Why is it that every time there is a someone eating alone, it’s a male? I purposely sat somewhat close to the guy around my age because I thought maybe we would strike up conversation. We glanced at each other but then returned to doing our own thing. When people first glance at me, I get the sense that they think “Is she alone? WHY is she alone?”. They look at me with this peculiar look. The bartender did it too. But after her peculiar look, she looked happy to see me alone. I get this from women fairly often. It’s like a “Yeah, you’re doing this alone! Go you!”. I always appreciate those looks.

It was close to 2:00pm so it wasn’t very crowded, but I could tell this was a place that was a popping during peak hours. I ordered a pizza that had shrimp on it, and a glass of white wine. It was so delicious and made me feel more comfortable, like my old self because I was used to eating in nicer places with quality ingredients. It’s funny, in general, I’m a very frugal person. When I make an expensive purchase, I do a lot of research to make sure I’m getting a good deal. I’m not afraid of asking for a discount or using coupons. I don’t spend money on things I think are frivolous. But there are certain things, like quality food, that I’ve become accustomed to. Sure, my bill was $28 for lunch (with tip), but I justified it because it was quality food and wine, filled me up, and in that moment, I needed it for my sanity – to feel like me again.

After lunch, I continued to head towards Klamath Falls, OR. When I had installed the roof-top cargo to my car days before, the guy who helped me told me about Klamath Falls and said it had great hiking. I didn’t know anything else about it. I had never been north of Sacramento before (on the west coast).

As I drove through northern California, I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was! There are mountains, giant green trees, and crystal blue lakes! The drive was so breathtaking, I forgot how long I had been driving.

I came across a small town called Weed. As I passed through Weed, I saw a little souvenir shop that was capitalizing on their town’s name. Smart.

Just as I passed through Weed at the base of Mt. Shasta, I saw a sign for a Living Memorial Sculpture park. The sign came out of nowhere as I was started to climb up a large mountain. There were virtually no cars around and it was 6:30pm. I pulled my car over and decided to go check it out so I flipped a U-turn. After all, isn’t that what random road-tripping is all about? Stopping spontaneously at places you see signs for?

I pulled into the gravel parking lot and there weren’t any cars around. Well, there was one empty car, under a tree off to the side. I parked my car and walked over to a monument. It had an American flag on top with lots of names of veterans. Then I saw a little wooden sign post with some fliers near the entrance to the large parking lot so I drove over to grab one. This sculpture garden is “A place to remember. A place to Mend” and said “Dedicated to Veterans of all conflicts”.

To get to the sculptures, you drive your car down a one-lane gravel road. I parked my car when I got to a circle, which had 6 different little trails you walk down to see each sculpture. I was literally the only person around and the sun was brightly shining down, starting to set. There was a postcard perfect snow-capped mountain in the background.

I walked to each sculpture and there was a beauty in the emotions that each one displayed. This artist has a way of invoking emotion through tall, sharp, metal. The tragedy of war is seen through the sculptures, and it made me feel for the soul of the solider and their families.

The artist is Dennis Smith, a Vietnam War Marine Corps sergeant. He has said, “Each sculpture has personal meaning for me in terms of life experience and personal incidents. Through the arts we have the means to peacefully consider violence and to ask questions as well as to offer possible solutions.”

Here are a few of my favorites.

“The Greatest Generation”

“Those Left Behind”

“The Why Group”

“Korean War Veteran”

“All Wounded Warriors”

“Coming Home”

After spending some time gazing at these beautiful, emotional sculptures, I continued driving to Klammath Falls, OR. I crossed over to the Oregon border and arrived to the Days Inn around 8:00pm. I checked in for 2 nights and it felt good to rest for a bit and to plan for my next few days.

Post Edited by: Misty Kosek