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 232: Thoughtful Conversations in Thailand

The REI Adventures group enjoyed the warm sun after enjoying a delicious breakfast at our second homestay in Thailand. The property sat on top of a mountain, so we had a picturesque view of the rising sun and surrounding area.

We packed up and began to hike to our next destination. The hike was mostly downhill as we made our way through the thick vegetation. As we got closer to another small village, we saw a huge pile of garbage strewn along the side of the mountain. Surprised to see the trash in such a beautiful landscape, a few of us stopped to look at it.

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We asked one of our guides, Sak, why it was there. He said that’s where the villagers throw their trash. Once the pile begins to stack up against the side of the mountain, they burn it. One person in our group was disappointed to see that the trash was ruining the landscape.

I pointed out that we have landfills in the U.S. too, it’s just hidden from our view. The amount of trash created from the small village was likely much less than the trash we create. I think it’s easy to criticize other cultures when they don’t do things the way we do it, but I didn’t have a problem with it. They need to do something with their trash and they’re located in a remote area on a mountain. From what I could tell, the villages don’t generate that much trash because they’re mostly living off of the land.

Walking through the village, we passed homes that were drying fresh coffee beans. There was a small coffee shop there and Tri let us stop there to get a drink. I sat outside with Clark, Cathy, and Terri. After enjoying the break, we continued our hike.

I had been in the middle of a conversation with Clark when we started hiking again. He usually hiked in the front because he’s a fast hiker, but he stayed in the middle with me so that we could continue our talk. Because we were hiking slower than he’s used to, he looked in awe and said, “Wow, the trail really is beautiful isn’t it? I’m usually just looking at the ground.” I laughed, “See Clark, you need to hike slower so you can stop and smell the roses.”

Clark is a retired Principal at a middle school. He told me about how he courted his now wife. When they were young and dating, he went over to her house one day and started loading her furniture into a van and told her that she was moving in with him. He just knew that she was the one for him. It was sweet to see the joy in his face as he talked about her and the love they’ve shared for decades.

Clark moved from New York to Albuquerque, New Mexico when he retired not too long ago. He loved the outdoors and found a beautiful home with hiking trails in his backyard. There was a period of time that he purchased the unfinished home while he was still living and working in New York. He went to New Mexico from time to time to finish the work that needed to be completed to make the house livable.

Clark told me about how he’s been denied housing throughout his life because he’s black. I was saddened to hear he still experienced it when he moved to New Mexico. Neighbors often assumed he was a construction worker. Even after he’d explain he is the homeowner, they continued to treat him poorly and as if he were not someone who was a part of their neighborhood.

Clark is a smart man. He’s been successful throughout his life and is very charismatic. His siblings are all extremely accomplished and have impressive work experience. It was frustrating to hear about times they’ve experienced discrimination because of the color of their skin. I told Clark about times I’ve lived in mostly black neighborhoods and was told to “go back to Santa Monica or Seal Beach” because I’m white. Clark and I agreed that being able to talk openly about our personal experiences was part of the solution to combating racism and stereotypes.

I had several running jokes with Clark and there was never a dull moment with him. I like to picture him as the principal who kids loved, even though he can be stern when he means business. He was often a leader in our group because he has a natural ability.

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We stopped for a quick break and Clark was back to the front of the line. In the back, I talked with Kristen. We had a great conversation about infertility. Being women of childbearing age, we both have felt pressure for a pregnancy to go perfectly. One in seven couples in the U.S. will experience infertility. I have many friends who have struggled with this and it’s hard to watch their pain and suffering.

Kristen and I agreed that it shouldn’t be taboo to talk about infertility. In general, people are more open to talking about it than they used to be, but I think there is room to open the conversation. A couple who is struggling with infertility or miscarriages shouldn’t feel ashamed to talk about it. I know people who didn’t even take time off of work after going through a miscarriage. It’s not an easy conversation to have with someone, but it beats suffering in silence.

I really liked hiking that day because of the meaningful conversations I had with people. Talking with Clark and Kristen really fueled me. They had great insights and perspectives, and I felt lucky to have met them. So often, we have superficial conversations with those around us. I heard something a couple of years ago at a recruiting conference that said we are expected to leave our true selves at the door when entering our workplace in the name of being a “professional.” It’s one of the reasons I left my job. Corporations in America have become stale and lifeless. Showing your true self, your vulnerabilities, is taboo. Maybe by putting ourselves out there we can break this trend?

We arrived at a restaurant for lunch and ate outdoors again. We enjoyed coconut water straight from the coconut. We were staying in a hotel for the next two nights, so we checked in and each had our own little hut and outdoor shower. It was a beautiful resort with a pool.

We had some extra time so Tri, our guide, offered the option for us to climb up a sticky waterfall. Most of us decided to go because it was just a 20-minute van ride. It’s a tourist spot, so there were several people in bathing suits climbing up.

The waterfall had a few different levels. It is called a sticky waterfall because the sediment forms a white coating on the rocks, making it sort of sticky. Even though the rocks look slippery, there is enough traction for your feet to climb up.

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The water poured down from the waterfall, but thankfully there was a rope on the side to assist with climbing up. Some of the rocks were large, so I had to take huge steps. The green parts of moss were slippery, so we were advised to avoid them. As I climbed up, I stumbled on one of the large rocks and slipped. My left knee hit the rock and scraped it up a little. I was disappointed because my right knee had been hurting over the last few days. Now both knees were in bad shape.

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The waterfall was beautiful, unique, and refreshing. Once we finished climbing up, we headed back to the hotel for showers. We had the option of getting a Thai massage and almost everyone wanted one. The hotel called in extra masseuses, but there were only so many time slots available before dinner. The group created a list in the hotel lobby before everyone was present. Of course, when I arrived, I was left with a spot nobody else wanted. I was getting frustrated that these lists were always made to without everyone present. I paid the same amount for the trip, but somehow always got whatever was left over. I had come to expect it.

I didn’t have time to shower before my massage appointment, but thankfully the waterfall cleaned off most of the dirt from the hike. In the bathroom of my hotel room, there was a set of blue denim clothes. I figured they were to wear for the massage so I put them on. The pants were so big, however, I had to hold them up or they’d fall off my waist.

I arrived to the small hut for my massage. Two mats were on the floor under an air conditioning unit. Terri was getting her massage at the same time and she was already being worked on. The masseuse didn’t speak any English but she showed me light colored pants and a shirt for me to put on. I put them on and laid on the mat.

A Thai massage is notorious for its uniqueness. It involves a lot of stretching as the masseuse pushes and pulls your body in all sorts of directions. After ten minutes of my masseuse trying to raise my legs and realizing I was about to rip the pants she provided, she had me change back into the baggy clothes that were in my room. I could stretch better, but I had to try and make sure they didn’t fall off.

The massage was comical. The petite masseuse had to put in a lot of effort to move my body around. She laughed and looked at the other masseuse, who laughed in return. I laughed along with them because it’s just absurd how much taller I am than them. I thought, “They must think I’m a giant.” Terri occassiably looked over at me as we laughed at our various stretching positions that were often painful.

After my massage was complete, I took a shower, got dressed in non-hiking attire, and got ready for dinner. We all walked ten minutes down a dirt road to the same place we ate lunch. We were able to drop off dirty clothes for cleaning and were told they’d be ready the next evening. A few of us shared some wine and laughed at our experiences with the massage. Scott is a few inches taller than me and his masseuse laughed at him too. We are not just tall, but also inflexible, which added to the comedy.

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After dinner we walked back to the hotel. I was happy to have a bed after two nights of sleeping on a thin pad on the floor. Unfortunately, the bed was hard. I ended up finding this to be very common across Thailand. I usually prefer a firm mattress, but these all seemed extremely firm.

My roommate, Nicole, and I told stories of dating as we lay in our beds. She had been married for around 13 years and on their anniversary, her husband said he wanted a divorce. That was a cruel thing to do to somebody. Nicole and I talked about the woes of online dating. She was currently dating a guy who she called her “part-time boyfriend” because he was only around part-time. He was a pilot, so he was often out of town. He was younger than her and she enjoyed his company, but he wasn’t someone she saw herself with long term.

I told Nicole about my ex-husband and guys I had gone on dates with. We bonded over some of our similarities and talked until we started to fall asleep. I was happy that I was paired with Nicole. We had a lot of the same interests and she was easy to talk with. I enjoyed her friendship and company during the trip.

Post Edited By: Mandy Strider
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